Al-Ahram Weekly Online   26 August - 1 September 2010
Issue No. 1013
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Race of signatures

The race to collect signatures in support of presidential candidates continues as opposition parties and the Muslim Brotherhood wonder whether or not to boycott parliamentary elections, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Senior officials from the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) denied this week that the party had a hand in organising the campaign supporting a 2011 presidential bid by Gamal Mubarak, the younger son of President Hosni Mubarak and chairman of the NDP's influential Policies Committee. NDP Secretary-General Safwat El-Sherif announced that "the ruling party is strongly against the pro-Gamal Mubarak campaigns".

"Let me say very clearly that there is no doubt that President Mubarak will be the NDP's candidate in the 2011 presidential election," said El-Sherif. "President Hosni Mubarak is our only option and we will announce this during the NDP's annual conference, scheduled for 9-10 November."

According to El-Sherif, the pro-Gamal Mubarak campaigns "are haphazardly organised".

"The ruling NDP would never condone campaigns organised in such a frivolous way. They are individual initiatives with which party leaders have no connection."

El-Sherif revealed that the party's secretariat- general meeting on 18 August had discussed the campaigns.

"I affirm that the 34-member secretariat, which includes Gamal Mubarak, rejects the campaigns," said El-Sherif. "Some people thought that by organising these campaigns they could sow the seeds of division in the party. What I would say to them is that the NDP is bigger than they are and Egypt can never be manipulated by posters or online Facebook campaigns."

El-Sherif wondered "what we, as NDP leaders, can do to stop such pro-Gamal Mubarak campaigns".

"Should we intervene and ask the Interior Ministry to remove the pro-Gamal Mubarak posters or what?"

He concluded that, "all we can do is to urge people to see these campaigns as an exercise in freedom of speech and nothing more."

El-Sherif's press announcement was the strongest reaction so far on the part of the NDP's old guard against the pro-Gamal Mubarak campaigns. It was clearly intended to end reports suggesting that President Hosni Mubarak will step down next year for health reasons, thus allowing his son Gamal to launch a presidential bid.

"President Hosni Mubarak is in good health," said El-Sherif. "He will visit Washington next week to attend the launch of Palestinian-Israeli direct talks."

The pro-Gamal Mubarak campaigns continued despite El-Sherif's remarks. The so-called Popular Coalition for the Support of Gamal Mubarak (PCSGM), founded three months ago, focussed last week on Cairo's densely-populated poorer districts. Hundreds of posters were plastered on walls in Manshiyet Nasser, bearing the words "vote for Gamal Mubarak for the sake of Egypt and its people". The campaign organisers say they have already collected more than 3,000 signatures from ordinary citizens in the latest phase of the campaign. Daker Abdellah, PCSGM's organiser in Manshiyet Nasser, insists they are well on the way to making their target of 10,000 signatures in the first week. "Our aim," he said, "is to silence the opposition and Muslim Brotherhood who believe that they will one day govern Egypt."

Magdi El-Kordi, PCSGM's coordinator, said the pro-Gamal Mubarak campaign has mobilised more than 8,000 young activists. He denied rumours that NDP businessmen, especially the banking tycoon Ibrahim Kamel, are funding the campaign.

"All I can say is that the NDP's old guard are spreading false rumours about our activities. We all know that they do not want Gamal Mubarak to be the president of Egypt because when he comes to power he will rid the country of all the symbols of corruption," he said.

A second pro-Gamal Mubarak campaign, organised under the slogan "Your vote is a trust", also focussed on poorer Cairo districts like Al-Zawya El-Hamra, Al-Shorabiya, Al-Sahel and Shobra as well as the middle-class district of Hadayek Al-Qobba. Marwa Hodod, the campaign coordinator, said on 20 August that "the signatures we have collected in support of Gamal Mubarak have increased from 22,000 to 48,000 in a single week".

The campaign organised three months ago in support of Mohamed El-Baradei, the former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), also continues apace. The campaign's organisers announced on 20 August that more than 800,000 Egyptians have signed up in support of El-Baradei's political reform manifesto "Together for Change". Officials of the National Assembly for Change (NAC), founded last February by El-Baradei, claim they have gathered 660,000 signatures online, with another 145,000 signatures collected on paper documents.

Muslim Brotherhood MP Saber Abul-Fotouh expects the total to reach more than a million by the end of this week. The Brotherhood is actively participating in gathering support for El-Baradei's seven-article manifesto which calls for independents to be allowed to submit presidential bids. Brotherhood officials allege that out of 660,000 online signatures, their website was responsible for collecting 560,000.

Abul-Fotouh says the number could exceed three million by the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Many NDP officials have questioned the authenticity of signatures collected online.

"How can change be achieved on the basis of signatures collected via Facebook and other websites when most of them are invalid?" asks El-Sherif.

NDP officials stress that regardless of numbers, the pro-Baradei signatures carry no legal weight. Speaker of the People's Assembly Fathi Sorour, in an interview with Al-Ahram journalists on Saturday, underlined that "ways of amending the constitution are clear and they do not include collecting signatures or any other frivolous practice".

Al-Ahram political analyst Wahid Abdel-Meguid argues that "in addition to the fact that most of the signatures in support of El-Baradei cannot be verified those who are organising the campaigns just want to collect one million signatures to send the message to the outside world that there are a lot of Egyptians who want change and support El-Baradei as a president".

Meanwhile, opposition parties and the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood are still torn over whether or not to boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for the last week of November. The Coalition of the Egyptian Opposition Parties (CEOP) -- which includes Wafd, Tagammu, the Nasserists and the Democratic Front -- met on 18 August to discuss a document calling on President Hosni Mubarak to amend the 1956 law on the exercise of political rights to include new guarantees aimed at ensuring the parliamentary elections are marked with integrity. The document called for the polls to be placed under the full supervision of judges from the Court of Cassation and for the proportional representation slate system to replace the individual candidacies currently in place.

El-Sayed El-Badawi, chairman of the Wafd Party, called on President Hosni Mubarak to make use of his constitutional prerogatives to summon the People's Assembly for a meeting before the end of the second week of November to discuss their document on election guarantees. El-Badawi told a meeting with Wafd leaders on 22 August that the regime should "expect a harsh response from us if they ignore our demands for election guarantees".

"We still believe that the principle of a judge for every ballot box should be re-instituted. It is the best guarantee for ensuring that integrity is the hallmark of the polls," said El-Badawi.

CEOP leaders have so far refrained from threatening to boycott the polls. Lawyer Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka, a Shura Council member and deputy chairman of the Wafd Party, said "boycotting the polls is like committing political suicide".

Abu Shoka made it clear that it was up to the General Assembly, which convenes on 17 September, to decide whether or not to boycott the polls.

"There will be a secret ballot, and every member will vote on the boycott. I think most will reject it."

The majority of CEOP members, with the exception of the Democratic Front party, are currently rolling up their sleeves in preparation for the parliamentary elections.

Muslim Brotherhood leaders say that they are waiting for a final response from CEOP members.

"We all adopted the principle 'let every one participate or everyone boycott'," said Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badei. Brotherhood MPs, however, insist that "the movement's guidance office has reached a decision that participation is more effective than opting for a boycott".

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