Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
1 - 7 June 2000
Issue No. 484
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Labouring on

By Mona El-Nahhas

While the socialist prosecutor-general proceeded with his investigation of the Islamist-oriented Labour Party, Labour leader Ibrahim Shukri enlisted the assistance of lawyer Raga'i Attiya, who is on good terms with government officials, to help resolve the party's crisis.

Allegedly in return for his good offices on behalf of Labour, Attiya, who is believed to be the government candidate for the chairmanship of the Bar Association, has been promised Islamist backing in the association's elections next July. Shukri, for his part, appeared to be giving assurances of a less confrontational party mouthpiece, once the party and its paper are allowed to resume activity.

Labour activities were practically frozen last week and the publication of its mouthpiece, the bi-weekly Al-Shaab was suspended by the government-controlled Political Parties Committee. Their decision followed a split in the party leadership after two senior party members, Hamdi Ahmed and Ahmed Idris, were chosen by two different party congresses to replace Shukri. They claimed that Shukri and the party's secretary-general, Adel Hussein, had dropped the party's socialist platform and turned Labour into an Islamist organisation by means of an alliance with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

The Political Parties Committee, in effect, suspended the party's activities until the rivals reach a settlement, and referred the party's dossier for investigation by the socialist prosecutor-general. Because of the large number of documents that need to be examined, the socialist prosecutor-general has asked two of his assistants, rather than one, to carry out the investigation. The investigators questioned Hamdi Ahmed, who accused Shukri of inciting sedition, of financial and administrative irregularities, and of violating the Political Parties Law by changing the party's platform.

The Bar Association's Attiya is already involved in consultations with the aim of reaching a settlement of the Labour party's crisis.

"We will make every effort to assist the Labour party," Attiya told Al-Ahram Weekly. In return for his services, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group, which is in alliance with the Labour Party, promised to back Attiya in the Bar Association's elections, a source close to the Brotherhood said. However, he cautioned that it is possible the Brotherhood would renege on its promise.

Nominations for elections in the main and branch syndicates closed on Tuesday. Eleven candidates are running for syndicate chairman, including Wafdist lawyer Ahmed Nasser and Nasserist Sameh Ashour in addition to Raga'i Attiya. More than 160 lawyers are competing for the Association's council seats.

The Islamists' list of candidates featured eight lawyers, all belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood. A source close to the Brotherhood told the Weekly that in addition to the posted list, other Brotherhood lawyers may contest the elections, revealing their affiliation only at the last minute in order not to provoke the government. The name of Montasser El-Zayyat, a defence attorney for Islamist groups, was not included on the list. The Brotherhood nominated Mohamed Abul-Wafa to compete for the seat of Qena constituency in Upper Egypt. The nomination is contested by El-Zayyat.

Sources close to the Brotherhood attempted to defuse the confrontation, but their efforts have not succeeded. "Since 1994 I have been taking the side of the Brotherhood and backing them in every situation, but it seems that their memory is not good," a disappointed El-Zayyat told the Weekly. He expressed hope that "elections will result in a council representing the various political trends and not an Islamist-controlled one."

Wafdist lawyer Ahmed Nasser warned of government interference in the elections. He does not believe that the deal between Attiya and the Brotherhood will have an impact on the elections.

Labour leader Shukri is openly backing Attiya. In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly Shukri pronounced the government-backed lawyer as "the most capable candidate and is worthy of the post of the Bar Association's chairman."

Shukri suggested further that there will be a drastic change in Al-Shaab's editorial policy once publication is resumed. "In the coming stage, we will be keen on achieving a sort of coordination with governmental circles, instead of quarreling with them," he told the Weekly. Shukri added that freedom of expression should be maintained but "without excesses." However, he asserted that there will be no change in the party's leadership, affirming that Adel Hussein will remain as secretary-general. Hussein was accused by prominent party members of rigging the party's latest elections, taking unilateral decisions and allowing Islamists to seize control of the party.

Shukri praised the position taken by the Press Syndicate on the suspension of Al-Shaab. The Syndicate's council, under Ibrahim Nafie, decided to appeal to President Hosni Mubarak to step in and resolve the problem. It also decided to take the issue to the courts.

Shukri himself contested what he described as the "illegal" decision of the Political Parties Committee before the Administrative Court. The court opened hearings on Tuesday.


Related articles:

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Intellectuals fight back

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