Al-Ahram Weekly Online   21 - 27 April 2011
Issue No. 1044
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Egypt turns the page

After 33 years in power, the Supreme Administrative Court has ordered the dissolution of the former ruling National Democratic Party and the sequestration of its assets, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

After lengthy judicial disputes, the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) ordered on 16 April that the 33-year-old National Democratic Party (NDP) be disbanded and its assets, including its central headquarters in Cairo and provincial offices in 29 governorates, be sequestrated.

The SAC order followed complaints lodged by Mustafa Bakri, editor of the weekly magazine Al-Osbou, Ahmed El-Fadali, chair of the Democratic Peace Party, and Mahmoud Abul-Enein, a political activist. The complaints were supported by the SAC's legal consultants, who recommended that the NDP be disbanded and its assets sequestrated.

According to a report by the SAC's consultants, the NDP lost its legitimacy after ousted former president Hosni Mubarak stepped down from power on 11 February. The party had also violated the values and principles on which it was founded in August 1978.

"The NDP has violated articles 4, 8 and 17 of the 1977 political parties law," the report said, arguing that "while these articles state that political parties should call for democratisation and national unity, the NDP opted to monopolise power, instill social disunity, spread political corruption and abuse the rights and freedoms enshrined in the 1971 constitution."

These despotic practices, the SAC report concluded, had led to the 25 January Revolution.

The report added that "rather than strengthening the multi-party system, the NDP has had an interest in disrupting rival political parties, using the state security apparatus to wreck other political forces, detaining political opponents and pursuing discriminatory polices against important sections of Egyptian society."

NDP senior leaders had exploited their positions to accumulate vast fortunes, the report said, leading to an illicit marriage between businessmen, who had invaded the party's ranks, and politicians.

"NDP senior leaders doubled as government officials and parliamentary heavyweights, thus disrupting the principle of the separation of powers and leading to a proliferation of nepotism and opportunism," the report said.

The SAC report said that the NDP had played a major role in spreading despotic practices and that it had been heavily involved in rigging elections, stripping the Egyptian people of a say in running their own affairs and selecting their representatives in parliament.

The SAC order comes just days after former president Mubarak was summoned for interrogation on charges of corruption and of giving orders to fire on demonstrators.

Mubarak is presently in Sharm El-Sheikh International Hospital, where he is receiving treatment for heart problems. He is soon to be transported to a military hospital near Cairo.

Mubarak was appointed deputy chair of the NDP when it was founded by the late president Anwar El-Sadat in August 1978. When Mubarak took office as president on 14 October 1981, only a few days after Sadat's assassination, he was selected as chair of the NDP.

Throughout his 30 years in power, Mubarak ignored calls from opposition forces to dismantle the NDP, deciding to appoint his younger son Gamal chair of the party's influential Policies Committee in 2000 and party assistant secretary- general in 2006.

Gamal Mubarak's policies, which favoured business interests, caused great disappointment among opposition parties and youth-led protest movements, resulting in the rise of the 25 January Revolution.

The SAC order also comes only four days after Talaat El-Sadat, a nephew of president El-Sadat, was appointed chair of the NDP. It also comes after several senior figures in the NDP, among them the party's former secretary- general Safwat El-Sherif, Zakaria Azmi, former chief of presidential staff and assistant party secretary-general, and Ahmed Ezz, a businessman and party secretary for organisational affairs, were remanded in custody on corruption charges.

NDP spokesman Nabil Louka Bibawi told Al-Ahram Weekly that "while the SAC order must be implemented immediately, it can be appealed against, and this is what the NDP's leaders will now do."

Bibawi said that the NDP had as many as 400 offices in Egypt, some of them the property of the party and others, around 100, rented from other owners. "We are ready to give up the rented offices, and we will appeal against the SAC order in order to retain the other offices in the party's possession," he said.

Commenting on the SAC order, Yehia El-Gamal, deputy prime minister, said that the NDP had lost its legitimacy after the 25 January Revolution. "Even before Mubarak was deposed, the NDP was considered by many Egyptians as being simply a political club for opportunists," El-Gamal said.

"In its last days, the NDP was involved in activities carried out against the 25 January Revolution, including trying to launch a coup," he said, adding that protests in Tahrir Square on 1 and 8 April had speeded up the dissolution of the NDP, giving the governing Higher Council of the Armed Forces (HCAF) the justification to launch a strike against it.

El-Gamal said that the SAC order had opened a new page in the political history of Egypt. "This will be a page free of political corruption and opportunism and marked by multi-party competition and democracy," he said.

Many observers believe that the dissolution of the NDP will now lead to the dissolution of Egypt's local councils, which are dominated by the NDP as a result of the 2008 municipal elections.

Should this happen, then these two actions will meet two main demands of the 25 January revolutionaries, who have suspended protests in Tahrir Square in order to give the government time to consider their demands.

Meanwhile, the SAC order has split the rump NDP into two factions, the first led by Talaat El-Sadat and the other by present secretary-general Mohamed Ragab.

El-Sadat, selected NDP chair on 13 April, has said that he plans to form a New National Party out of the remains of the NDP, also arguing that the SAC order was "politically motivated".

"Regardless of the court order, we are ready to form a new party, which will include members of the NDP who believe in democracy and political reform," El-Sadat said. "If the newly-amended political parties law stipulates that a party should have a core of at least 5,000 members, we are also ready to collect more than 10,000 signatures."

The NDP was responsible for many of Egypt's recent achievements, he said, including forcing the Israelis to withdraw from Sinai, with the party's founder Anwar El-Sadat also leading the nation to victory in the 1973 War.

Nevertheless, in his efforts to reinvigorate the party El-Sadat may be facing a difficult job. Many former NDP members have now resigned from the party's ranks, especially following the arrest of former senior officials, including Mubarak himself, pending investigation into corruption and other charges.

El-Sadat said that details of the New National Party would be announced on 28 April "in spite of the fact that it is very costly and cumbersome to set up a new party now."

"At least LE3 million are needed to establish a party at the moment, not to mention the fact that registering the names of party members is a difficult and time-consuming process," he said.

El-Sadat also said that he had only accepted the post of chair of the NDP on the understanding that "all corrupt members would be dismissed from the party's ranks."

Talaat El-Sadat's younger brother, Mohamed Anwar Esmat El-Sadat, told the Weekly that "it is a hopeless to try to cleanse the NDP of its corrupt elements -- it would be like treating a human body for cancer."

For his part, the leader of the other NDP faction, party secretary-general Mohamed Ragab, has announced that younger members of the NDP also aim to form a new party by the name of the New National Democratic Party because they feel that the party has been unfairly penalised and that it has the right to participate in the country's political life.

"The NDP is necessary to strike a balance against the Islamist and religious parties that aim to control Egypt's political life," Ragab said, with Bibawi adding in an interview with the Weekly that "the best choice for the party now is to form a new party that espouses the political reform and democratisation associated with the 25 January Revolution."

Meanwhile, Gamal Zahran, a former independent MP and a professor of political science at Suez Canal University, has submitted a request to Assem El-Gohari, chair of the Ministry of Justice Illicit Gains Office (IGO), to review the financial statements of all members of the NDP over the past five years.

"We want the IGO to find out how many officials of the former ruling party used their membership of the NDP to accumulate vast fortunes," Zahran told the Weekly, adding that "if any of these people are found guilty of gaining illicit profits, they should be referred to trial and banned from exercising their political rights."

Zahran has also asked IGO officials to investigate the financial statements of Gamal Mubarak's NGO the Future Foundation. "This organisation was used by Gamal Mubarak to get money from businessmen in return for getting them into parliament on the party's list and thereby offering them a kind of political immunity," Zahran claimed.

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