The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

The price of resignation

Hannah Allam of Knight Ridder has a profile of Osama Al Ghazali Harb, the recently resigned "reformist intellectual" of the ruling NDP:

Osama el Ghazali Harb, a noted political analyst and the editor of a foreign-affairs journal, served on the influential policies committee, which Egypt's ruling party created in 2002 to breathe new life into President Hosni Mubarak's stagnant regime. When Harb abruptly exited March 5, however, he said democratic reform in Egypt was a sham and hinted that the committee, led by Mubarak's son Gamal, was just a means of eventually replacing father with son.

The Egyptian press called Harb's resignation "a bombshell" and "an embarrassment" to the government's attempts at reform. Then state-backed papers began a campaign to discredit him, picking apart his earlier expressed opinions and suggesting that he resigned because of disappointed personal ambition.

The episode suggests that moderate reformers such as Harb have little chance to make an impact, and their failure opens the field for more radical Islamists such as Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

"I don't think the others (reformers) will resign now. They are hesitant; they are afraid," Harb, 59, said in an interview. "In any democratic tradition, it should be easy to resign, to say no." His voice dropped to a hiss: "But not here. This is Egypt."
For some more detailed background on Harb, you might take a look at this Cairo interview.

The striking thing about Al Harb's resignation, as Hannah mentions in her story, is the way he was attacked after he announced his resignation. His decision was not just used by anti-regime intellectuals to score political points, but seems to have taken as a personal insult against the "reformist" coterie in the NDP. In his interview last week, Gamal Mubarak dismissed Al Harb's resignation as insignificant and blown up by the media. Hacks have attacked him relentlessly in the pro-Gamal press. I wonder what, over time, will be the full consequences.