Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Egypt: Disbanding of the Egyptian Ruling Party Raises Questions About National Reconciliation

Source: ISS

The Disbanding of the Egyptian Ruling Party Raises Questions About National Reconciliation

Phakamani S. Lisa, Intern, African Conflict Prevention Programme,
ISS Pretoria Office

The popular uprising that began in Egypt on 25 January 2011 led to the downfall of long term Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak after three decades in power. Since then, many Egyptians have been calling for the ‘purification’ of the country’s political system of those associated with the former leader - particularly for them to be tried for various alleged crimes, including corruption and the murder of more than 800 protesters during the revolution, while in power. In addition, they requested the disbandment of the former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). As a result, in late March, the Supreme Administrative Court called for the dissolution of the party as well as the nationalisation of its assets. The allegations against the party vary from corruption and rigging of elections to violating party values as well as inciting social disorder, restricting freedom of expression and curbing political freedom.

The Tunisians had done the same with their former ruling party soon after the fall of President Zine el Abedine Ben Ali in early January this year.

The call for the NDP’s dissolution was supported by members of the coalition that championed Egypt’s revolution. They strongly believed that without this, the former ruling party could have still been used as a tool by ousted President Mubarak or members of his defunct regime to launch a counter- revolution and recover power. Some of the major political parties also believed that the NDP was still in a position to undermine the transition towards a democratic Egypt.

Over the decades that NDP was in charge of Egyptian affairs, there was little separation between the party and the government. In view of the party’s use of violence to disturb social order and blatantly infringe the rights and freedoms of citizens, its dissolution may be justified. This could also satisfy many people. But would measures to eliminate it (such as disbandment) lead to free and fair elections, and prevent its members from influencing political events in the country? Or should Egypt look for less radical measures to facilitate the transition?

Perhaps the Egyptians (as well as Tunisians) should have considered a few things before calling for the disbandment of the former ruling party. Disbanding the party and banning some former dignitaries does not prevent others from recycling themselves in other parties or political movements. In late April the NDP renamed itself the New National Party (NNP). Unless anyone associated with the party is also banned from standing in elections, some members could stand as independent candidates. It is important that the latter measure should be taken, and that criteria should be devised to identify and justify those that should be prevented from holding any public office. The difficulty of this lies in the fact that some may have been beneficiaries of the party by default and not by any design on their part.

A better course of action may have been to leave the party in tact so that people can identify its members. After all, as journalists Michael Slackman and Mona El-Naggar recently wrote in the New York Times, the NDP’s image is tainted and its leaders now ‘make docile inmates’ whilst ‘still stunned to find themselves behind bars’. For example, the Egyptian fact-finding committee has confirmed that about 846 people were killed over the18 days of revolution and that the former Interior Minister, Habib Al-Adely, and other top officials of the defunct regime ordered police to use live ammunition against peaceful protestors. The committee also confirmed that there were snipers shooting from rooftops. Mubarak made no attempts to stop the violence and might have fuelled it by announcing that he would only retire in September. As all these facts are in the public domain, the party does not stand any realistic chance of winning in elections - specifically when its members can clearly be identified. Some of its prominent members cannot hide themselves, but others could.

What the issue of disbanding NDP represents goes beyond a single political party. It also touches on the crucial issue of reconciliation in the country. Egyptians are very resentful about what they have experienced at the hands of the former regime. But as in the case of members of the former ruling regime, perhaps on an even bigger scale, some people benefited from the regime not necessarily because they approved of its actions, but because they were compelled to connive with some of them. Some may have even joined the party because that was the order of the day, or perhaps their jobs and livelihood depended on a certain course of action.

This is not in any way to suggest that there should be impunity. Public funds and assets that have been identified to have been stolen by Mubarak, his family members and associates, must continue to be recovered and handed over to the State. Those charged with serious crimes must also be fairly tried and if found guilty, face the consequences. Most importantly is the need not to focus on retribution. Perhaps Egyptians should start with their current military rulers who inevitably also benefited from the defunct regime. After all, the head of the military council was the Defence Minister of Mubarak for about two decades.