Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
6 - 12 April 2000
Issue No. 476
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Rallying round the leaders

By Amira Howeidy

Finding the Labour Party's branch in the Saray Al-Qubba district was not difficult on the evening of 29 March. The branch's small villa was surrounded by truckloads of central security forces, giving dubious importance to a public rally, organised by the Committee for Coordination between Political Parties and Forces.

Inside, video cameras of the Arab satellite channels had their lights on, focusing on the terrace of the villa, where leaders of the opposition parties sat in two rows, waiting for what they viewed as a "historic" rally to begin.

Fiery speeches were made by Khaled Mohieddin, chairman of the left-wing Tagammu Party, Ibrahim Shukri and Adel Hussein, chairman and secretary-general respectively of Islamist-oriented Labour, Ibrahim Dessouqi Abaza of the Wafd Party, Dia'eddin Dawoud, chairman of the Nasserist Party and Mustafa Mashhour and his deputy, Ma'moun El-Hodeibi, of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. They all spoke of the absolute "necessity" of having free and fair elections because "our nation will never make progress unless we choose our parliament freely."

Large posters reading "No to the emergency law, no to the rigging of elections and the will of the people"; "No to referring citizens to military courts" and "21 years of emergency law are enough" decorated the walls. Fervent slogans, chanted by Labour supporters, punctuated the three-hour rally.

Labour Party
Shukri delivering a fiery speech while other opposition leaders listen and wait for their turn
(photo: Said Abdel-Hamid)
"It is no coincidence that advanced countries, that we want to emulate, have democratic governments as well as flourishing economies," Mohieddin said. "We, too, must have democracy in order for us to improve our economy."

Criticising the government for "secretly" proposing two bills which aim at ensuring judicial supervision of polling stations and revising the definition "workers" and "farmers," Tagammu's chairman argued that "the whole point of this is to thwart our attempts to introduce a good law on the exercise of political rights." Such a draft law was prepared by opposition parties nine years ago, but never found its way to parliamentary debate despite Mohieddin's attempts to have it discussed throughout the past few years.

As the date of the presidential referendum approached last September, the opposition, together with a number of human rights groups, established a committee that revived the call for political reform and demanded that the opposition's proposed law be debated. The committee also campaigned for the repeal of the emergency law, but was confronted by a government decision to renew it, which gained parliamentary approval two months ago.

At the rally, opposition leaders found it their "duty" to express strong objections to government policy. Dawoud argued that "the road of liberating the Arab citizen is the road to liberating the ballot boxes" and spoke of the importance of "giving the people the right to express themselves freely and choose [their representatives]."

Labour's Hussein spent more than 30 minutes objecting to what he called the government's "insistence on making the Egyptian citizen feel humiliated and depriving him of his right to decide."

"I call upon all the opposition parties to unite and work together to confront [vote-]rigging and co-ordinate among themselves in the coming elections and never run against each other in the same constituency," he added.

More speeches followed, reiterating "must do's" and condemning government actions that "paralyse the opposition's activities and agendas."

After the first hour or so, signs of exhaustion crept across the faces of several leaders, the youngest of whom is the Liberal party's Helmi Selim, who is in his late 50s. Although introduced to the rally as the Liberal Party's chairman, Selim remains one of the contenders to the post, following the death of the party's founder and former leader Mustafa Kamel Murad last year.

Although the legality of the tenure of other opposition leaders remains uncontested, questions have been raised on whether their belief in democracy is genuine. Several members of some of these parties have walked out in protest against what they consider a lack of democracy inside the party structures. "Young" members of Labour, the Nasserist party and the Brotherhood, in their late 40s, have attempted to establish their own parties because they despaired of ever occupying leading party posts in the near future.


Related stories:
Government honours electoral promise
Reform lobbyists seek stronger backing

 

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