Al-Ahram Weekly Online   17 - 23 March 2011
Issue No. 1039
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

NDP's battle of the camel

The image of Egypt's former ruling party was further discredited after two of its MPs were arrested on charges of masterminding the now infamous camel battle against Tahrir protesters, Gamal Essam El-Din reports

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Preliminary investigations indicate that the horse and camel attack was orchestrated by senior NDP members

Prosecution authorities on Sunday ordered that two former deputies of ousted president Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) be remanded in custody pending an investigation into their roles in planning the notorious horse and camel attack on Tahrir Square democracy protesters on 2 February.

The two are Abdel-Nasser El-Gabri and Youssef Khattab, former NDP deputies in the People's Assembly and Shura Council respectively, representing the district of Haram in Giza governorate. El-Gabri and Khattab have big ranches for breeding horses used by tourist riders around the Pyramids.

A fact-finding committee, set up by the Higher Council of the Armed Forces (HCAF), submitted a report to the prosecutor-general on Saturday, stating that the "battle of the camel" in Tahrir Square on 2 February was most likely orchestrated by some former NDP senior officials. According to the committee's initial report, a preliminary investigation showed that "some NDP leaders in cooperation with former NDP MPs and police officers were involved in inciting dozens of thugs, horseback riders and owners of camels in the tourist area surrounding the Giza Pyramids to attack Tahrir Square protesters using bladed weapons to force them out and to retaliate for their attempts aimed at humiliating Mubarak and compelling him to resign from office."

Many political analysts agree that the 2 February camel battle was a turning point in bringing about the downfall of Mubarak's regime. On the night of 1 February, Mubarak delivered an emotional speech in which he stated he would resign from office in September and that he knew no other land than Egypt to live and die in.

Mubarak's speech left a positive impact on most Egyptians, who were to be outraged the next day by some NDP senior officials and businessmen hiring thugs and horse and camel riders to battle pro-democracy demonstrators in downtown Cairo's Tahrir Square. The attack sparked an anti-Mubarak backlash across Egypt, reinforcing the resolve of Tahrir protesters to step up their calls for ousting Mubarak.

The committee's report indicated that the battle of the camel might have been launched under the orders of Gamal, the younger son of Mubarak who aimed to inherit power from his father, and Safwat El-Sherif, the NDP's former secretary- general. Gamal Mubarak and El-Sherif, alongside four other senior NDP officials, were forced to resign from the party's executive office on 5 February, or three days after the battle of the camel.

Prosecution officials indicated that El-Sherif could be summoned for interrogation on the charge of ordering El-Gabri and Khattab to organise the camel battle. As many as 26 thugs arrested two hours after the camel battle allegedly admitted that El-Gabri and Khattab had hired them to launch the attack for LE300 each.

NDP businessmen and labour activists close to Gamal Mubarak and El-Sherif also faced charges that they had roles in masterminding the camel battle. Among these are the two Giza NDP business tycoons: Ibrahim Kamel, a multi- millionaire with diverse investments in Egypt, Britain and Russia; and Mohamed Abul-Enein, the former chairman of parliament's industry committee and board chairman of Cleopatra Group.

Worse, the fact-finding committee's report stated that Aisha Abdel-Rahman, the former minister of manpower and Hussein Megawer, chairman of the General Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions (GEFTU), were clearly implicated in carrying out the 2 February attacks. "They played a role in transporting truckloads of stones from South Cairo's district of Maadi to be used by thugs to injure Tahrir Square protesters," the report said, pointing accusing fingers at El-Sherif, stating that he gave Abdel-Rahman and Megawer direct orders in this respect.

The new revelations about the camel battle came to further discredit the NDP's image in the eyes of the public.

On 12 March, Mohamed Ragab, NDP secretary-general, announced that the party had accepted the resignation of Gamal Mubarak, El-Sherif, Moufid Shehab, the NDP's former assistant secretary- general, and Alieddin Hilal, the NDP's former secretary for media affairs.

Ragab also announced that as many as 21 NDP members had been kicked out of the party. "All of those who currently face trial on corruption charges were fired from the party in a purge aimed at cleansing it of any corrupt elements," Ragab said.

The list of those removed from the NDP includes business tycoons Ahmed Ezz, Mohamed Abul-Enein, Motaz Raslan, Shafiq El-Boghdadi; and former politicians and officials Habib El-Adli, former minister of interior; and Amr Asal, chairman of the Industrial Development Agency.

The flurry of resignations and oustings came on 10 March, just two days after four leading officials of the NDP's newly-appointed executive office decided to resign from the party's ranks, leaving it in complete tatters. These included Mohamed Abdellah, NDP secretary for media affairs; Mohamed Kamal, NDP secretary for indoctrination and training; Mohamed Heiba, NDP secretary for youth affairs; and Maged El-Sherbini, NDP secretary for membership affairs.

Abdellah told Al-Ahram Weekly that severe divisions had shaken the party in the last few days. "Many of the NDP's members in provincial governorates," said Abdellah, "refused to re-join the party's ranks unless all of its leaders linked with Gamal Mubarak and Safwat El-Sherif were kicked out."

Abdellah indicated that "in particular, the names of Mohamed Kamal and Mohamed Heiba were singled out as two former associates of Gamal Mubarak and Safwat El-Sherif, respectively. "

The NDP's one-month-old executive office has been in turmoil since the start of the youth revolution on 25 January. After Gamal Mubarak's resignation, a new team including Hossam Badrawi, a businessman and a reformist political activist, was entrusted with heading the party's secretariat general and Gamal Mubarak's influential policies committee. Badrawi, however, decided to resign just a few hours before Hosni Mubarak stepped down on 11 February.

As a result, a new team was appointed for leading the NDP's executive office. It included Mohamed Ragab, the NDP's former spokesman in the upper house of the Shura Council, as new secretary- general.

"At first I thought that the NDP could be resurrected but this proved to be quite impossible," says Abdellah. He argued that the NDP was so discredited in the eyes of the public after many of its members, especially businessmen linked to Gamal Mubarak, were referred to trial. The 25 January Rev dolution's youth strongly believe that the NDP could be used as a tool by the ousted Mubarak to launch a counter-revolution.

"I decided to resign primarily in response to the demands of public opinion and the 25 January Revolution that the NDP must be dissolved," says Abdellah, a former president of Alexandria University. Abdellah argued that "Mubarak's grave mistake was that he left the NDP and the state affairs in the hands of his son, thus sparking the outrage of millions of Egyptians, especially young people."

The resignation of Abdellah and other NDP officials is a harsh blow to the NDP. Abdellah was one of the leaders who participated in founding the NDP in August in 1978 and was the first chairman of its office in Alexandria. There were high hopes that Abdellah, a trusted member could keep the NDP alive after ridding it of corrupt officials. Abdellah believes that the NDP has become almost dead and that "it is better for its good faces to form another party with another name."

Meanwhile, there have been widespread calls to dissolve the NDP, which has ruled Egypt for more than 30 years, and strip it of its main offices in all governorates. On Sunday, Tarek El-Awadi, the newly appointed director of the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, alleged that the land on which NDP headquarters is built, originally belonged to the museum and as such should be returned to it.

Several lawyers have also filed lawsuits, asking that NDP offices in provincial governorates should be sequestrated. Nabil Louka Bibawi, a Coptic member of the NDP, said NDP's offices are either owned by the party itself or rented. "The rented ones could be given back to its owners while the ones owned by the NDP will be kept in the

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