Al-Ahram Weekly Online   18 - 24 October 2012
Issue No. 1119
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Waiting for the winner

Amani Maged reviews the programmes of the two leading candidates for the chair of the Freedom and Justice Party

Participants at the Freedom and Justice Party's (FJP) national convention will elect their party's new chief tomorrow. The main contenders to replace Mohamed Morsi, who stood down as FJP chairman upon becoming president, are Mohamed Saad Al-Katatni, former speaker of the People's Assembly, and Essam Al-Erian, FJP vice president and acting chair.

The competition is increasingly being viewed as between the "reformist" and "hardline" wings of the party. Many younger members of the Muslim Brotherhood accuse the Guidance Bureau of trying to shoehorn Al-Katatni into the post and are launching a counter campaign supporting Al-Erian. They hope to win sufficient support among participants at the convention, the only MB members entitled to vote, to secure a victory of Al-Erian who is seen as a reformer within the conservative group.

Some MB leaders have responded to allegations that the Muslim Brotherhood's leadership is interfering in the FJP's elections by making counter claims that some MB youth are fabricating a scenario in which if any candidate but Al-Erian is elected it will constitute "proof" that the Muslim Brotherhood has controlled the election.

"The participants at the FJP national convention are free to choose whoever they want as the leader of the party, even if it is a woman," said MB leader Ahmed Abu Baraka.

Sabah Al-Sakari, the only female candidate, has already withdrawn in favour of Al-Katatni. Muslim Brotherhood ideologues recently ruled that a woman can run as head of the party because it is equivalent to a prime ministerial post and does not fall in the category of supreme ruler, for which only men are eligible.

Many commentators believe that Al-Sakari, who served as FJP secretary for women's affairs in east Cairo, only stood for the party's chairmanship to enhance the FJP's democratic fa├žade and create an impression that it does not exclude women from leadership posts.

The MB leadership may claim it is neutral as far as the party's chairmanship elections are concerned but it is less circumspect over wider issues of independence.

Mahmoud Ghozlan, from the Guidance Bureau, says the Muslim Brotherhood still regards its political wing as an infant that requires care and attention until it learns to stand on its own feet. Speaking to the press, Ghozlan stressed the importance of coordination between the MB and FJP on whether or not to field candidates in presidential or legislative elections and on whether or not to participate in government.

"The party does not sustain the consequences of such decisions alone," he said. "The MB does, however, allow the party freedom to determine its day-to-day operational and financial details."

Other MB figures have little patience for such equivocation.

"As long as the party has to consult the Guidance Bureau members of that office might as well become party members to make the whole thing transparent," remarked one.

The rivalry between Al-Katatni and Al-Erian is not just between hardliners and reformists but also between advocates of keeping the FJP tied to the MB and those who want to see the party evolve into a modern political force. The latter believe Al-Erian is the man for the job.

Opening his campaign Al-Katatni declared that "the party the people chose to contribute to the reconstruction of Egypt after the glorious January Revolution still needs time to complete its internal construction, a task that will require great effort and lengthy political experience".

He vowed to implement a nine-point campaign platform -- "A strong party to help build Egypt" -- which reflects his vision for "building a party that is strong in its corps of members, its programme, its communications with others, and its ability to put its programmes into effect".

The most salient points of Al-Katatni's platform:

- To complete the development of the FJP and its institutional structures, inclusive of the technical secretariats and party chapters throughout the country, especially in Upper Egyptian and border governorates.

- To politically empower women in the party.

- To ensure that the party retains its lead and obtains the majority in the forthcoming parliamentary elections.

- To extend bridges of understanding to other political parties and work together with all national forces.

- To develop the financial resources of the party.

- To train a new generation of leaders.

- To strengthen Egypt's international role.

Al-Katatni has stressed how happy he is to have Essam Al-Erian as his rival for the chairmanship and pledged that if he won he would seek Al-Erian's assistance in building the party.

Al-Erian says his own platform aims to strengthen the party, expand its membership base throughout the country, preserve what it has in common with other political forces and factions and open new pages of cooperation with those forces. He pledged to promote the development of skills and talents among the FJP's rank and file to enhance their performance in all fields, not just parliamentary elections. He further vowed to promote the participation of woman and youth in the highest echelons of the party.

Like Al-Katatni, Al-Erian stressed the need to address problems in Upper Egypt which he said was more important than Sinai at present and which requires a new approach because of the grave challenges posed at the level of security, sectarian relations and education. In the event that he wins he will devote his full attention to all such issues, he said, adding that he would create teams of assistants in all branches of the executive and furnish material and technical support to all governors and ministers.

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