Ayman Nour & the struggle inside the NDP

Sorry for my erratic presence of late. I was in the US for a stretch and was a bit overwhelmed upon my return to Egypt, thus had little time to post. Anyway, I missed out on much of the Hizb al Ghad fun, so I'd like to chime in, if a bit late.

When Hizb al Ghad was approved by the political parties committee there was much speculation about why it had succeeded where so many others had failed, including Al Ghad itself on a number of occasions. Why had Safwat al-Sherif, head of the Political Parties Committee and hardly a proponent of multi-party democracy in Egypt, suddenly warmed to Nour's venture? One of the more widely circulated, though not very convincing, theories was that there was a deal between Ayman Nour and the regime, wherein Nour agreed not to oppose another term for Mubarak in exchange for a license for his political party. Nour's arrest, the theory goes, was a result of Nour's backtracking on this deal. Other's have portrayed Nour's arrest as the beginning of a clampdown on, and a warning to, an increasingly bold opposition. Accordingly, his arrest has been portrayed as a victory for the NDP old-guard, the aging anti-reform lions embodied by the likes of Safwat al-Sherif and Kamal al-Shazli, and a blow to the progressive, reformists of the Gamal Mubarak wing.

Or is just the opposite true?

Another theory worth chewing on has been making the rounds, though I have yet to see it written about in the press here. A handful of astute observers with long experience in the ranks of the opposition here are convinced that the rise and fall of Ayman Nour is a result of the internal struggle occurring inside the NDP. However, it’s argued, Nour threatens Safwat al-Sherif far less than he threatens the Gamal Mubarak wing of the NDP, which is playing to position itself as the only viable alternative to succeed Hosni Mubarak. So Safwat al-Sherif approves Hizb al-Ghad, a liberal, pragmatic, reasonably pro-US party with a plan, thus dealing a blow to Gamal Mubarak and gang by providing the very thing they fear the most: an alternative (Remember, Madeleine Albright, during her recent visit here, said that the US would gladly support Egypt’s opposition were there a credible opposition.). Nour's arrest on trumped up charges, they argue, has been the response from Team Gamal.

As a sidenote, such reasoning has implications on why we have witnessed a relative increase in political freedoms of late-- anti-Mubarak protests, new political parties, self-declared presidential candidates, etc. The conventional wisdom is that this is because Egypt is caught between pincers, increasing internal discontent and opposition spurred by deteriorating economic circumstances on one side, and post-9/11 US-led foreign pressure to democratize on the other. If we are inclined to accept the above mentioned theory, however, then we should consider a third factor: that the political opening is a product of a measure of instability inside the regime as two factions compete for control. The opposition is allowed greater space because each NDP faction hopes to use the opposition to weaken the other. Perhaps a historical parallel could be drawn with the political tolerance shown by Sadat in his first couple years after succeeding Nasser, before he consolidated power.