The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Stacher on NDP convention in ARB

Check out Josh's take on the recent NDP convention in the latest issue of the Arab Reform Bulletin:

Although the younger Mubarak spoke in terms of consensus, process, committees, and programs, his descriptions did not match what actually took place. NDP delegates from the nation's 26 governorates used the conference to air personal concerns and rub shoulders with the country's political elite, but did not appear to be included seriously in policy debates. The few who offered constructive comments at plenary and committee sessions were often politely ignored as senior NDP members simply reiterated policy statements rather than addressing criticism or suggestions.

On the conference's final day, when attendees voted to transform the presentations into party policies, dissent was entirely absent. Secretary General Safwat Al Sharif reminded party members that the papers being voted on were well studied and that President Mubarak had approved the measures. The climatic moment of internal democracy happened in an instant. Almost before Al Sharif could finish saying “all those in favor,” he declared the measures “approved” as hands immediately flung into the air.

The political reform proposals adopted in rapid succession are ambitious, if only on the surface. Political Training Secretary Muhammad Kamal said the NDP would propose amending 20-25 articles of the constitution during the parliamentary session that will begin in November. According to speeches and policy papers at the conference, amendments will pave the way for replacing the state of emergency with a specific counter terrorism law, rebalancing parliament's powers vis-à-vis the executive, changing the electoral system (most likely to one of proportional representation), and increasing local governing council powers.

While the proposals sounded impressive, however, no specific amendments were discussed at the conference. Given the NDP's failure so far to consult with opposition forces, there is widespread suspicion that the actual legislation to be introduced will favor the interests of the ruling party's upper echelons.
So Muhammad Kamal is now "political training" secretary. I wondered what happened to him after the elections. I think Josh did well to highlight the lack of a clear agenda for the NDP's constitutional amendment program. There is every reason to consider that, as Gamal Mubarak had said in the past, that the end of the emergency law will be postponed and that many other amendments won't be made. The experience of the May 2005 amendment to the constitution to allow for multi-candidate presidential elections is likely to prove the model for the future: small committee drafting of the amendment, approval by rigged referendums or rubber-stamp parliaments, and voila: tailor-made political reform that is not reformist and doesn't really involve politics in any meaningful sense of the term. What we are likely to see is the usual pre-recess parliamentary farce in June: suddenly, MPs will be given two days to approve a dozen laws and amendments, none of which will have been submitted to any kind of serious debate.

My prediction: before long, the NDP itself will start getting bored with pretending to be a democratic party with internal dialogue and just start going back to its bad old ways. Why keep up the pretense?

Also, Josh or anybody else, you may be able to answer this: did NDP leaders discuss reviving the "dialogue with the opposition" of early 2005? And did you encounter any NDP figures who were unhappy with the Gamal crowd's methods, like the group of 60 or so MPs (or members) who published a critical open letter shortly before the convention?

Plus: elsewhere in this issue of the ARB, on Yemen's election:

The Yemeni presidential election was about more than just esoteric notions of political reform; it was about the real issue of presidential succession. As in Egypt, where speculation abounds over the grooming of Gamal Mubarak for succession, there is widespread concern among Yemen's opposition parties over the prospect of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 37-year old son Ahmed inheriting the reins of power.
Within 10 years the entire Middle East will be run by mafia-like families, with their dons and capos and hereditary leadership. Actually most of the region is already run by mafias anyway. Middle East politics classes should make viewing The Sopranos compulsory. I think of Hosni Mubarak as Paulie.