Thursday, December 22, 2005

Kudos to Abdel-Nour

Liberal politician Mounir Fakhry Abdel-Nour gave the following interview to Al Ahram weekly last week:

In the wake of the Wafd Party's poor showing in both the presidential and parliamentary elections, some of the party's leading members have been demanding an intense process of internal party reform. Their goal is no less than regaining the Wafd's standing as the nation's strongest opposition party. The key to that, they say, is replacing party chairman Noaman Gomaa.

Why did your differences with Noaman Gomaa only surface after you lost your parliamentary seat?

We have been very critical of the way Noaman Gomaa has been managing the party for quite a long time; it's just the situation reached its peak following the presidential elections. He had promised, several times earlier, to amend the party's statutes to limit the chairman's power. In fact, he has made that same promise since 2000. So that's the core of the problem -- the balance of power within the party itself.

It seems ironic that a liberal party should have that kind of dynamic...

We probably made a huge mistake by not stopping him from having unlimited control of the party and its mouthpiece. We weren't scared to stop him; it's just that we were trying to preserve the party's unity and maintain its strength. We were wrong.

Weren't you against the party taking part in the presidential elections?

I was always against the idea, although I voted for it [during the party's higher committee meeting] because I was convinced that it was an opportunity to unite the party. And it did, in fact; we appeared to be a strong and united group. I also thought it was a chance to show that the party has a clear ideology, and that it would help boost our chances during the parliamentary elections. I still maintain my position, had it been played correctly.

Why wasn't it?

Our candidate appeared weak, lacked charisma, and -- more importantly -- lacked commitment.

Why didn't the party choose someone else to run? Some people wanted deputy chairman Mahmoud Abaza.

[Gomaa] would not allow it. He said that if it weren't him, it wouldn't be anybody. He didn't do his homework, and he took it lightly.

Maybe he took it lightly because everyone knew who the winner would be...

Candidates running for presidential elections around the world might know they will lose, but they still run to represent their party. He failed, and he failed us. Ironically, after losing, he blamed party members for making him do something he didn't want to do; he said we were part of a conspiracy to undermine him, that we had links to the NDP, and were promised rewards in return. After the elections, we had a very good higher committee meeting. Most of those who spoke asked for reform. I was the most outspoken; I asked that the younger generation [take on leading positions] in the party. He did not like that at all, and later criticised me. After that, all my concentration went into the parliamentary elections, and I was very busy. He did not call me once, or support me. I was told that Al-Wafd journalists were given firm instructions not to mention anything about me or cover my campaigning. After I lost, he did not call me; more importantly, I found out that he was happy that I lost. I didn't utter a word.

But you did say, on satellite TV, that Gomaa was preventing the party from reforming; he considered that an insult, and that was why you were dismissed...

I did not attack him. I blamed the party's leadership for what happened to both the Wafd, and Egyptian politics in general, which is in dire need of a true liberal party. I also said that he was happy that I lost, and that is a fact. I then left for France; while there, I found out that he had [demoted] me from deputy chairman to party counselor. He deals with the party like he owns it, like it's a party with no statutes. I told [independent newspaper] Al-Fagr that the decision was null and void, and that at this point dealing with him is impossible. That it was either he or I in the party. So he fired me.

So what is your plan?

My plan is very simple: to work on reforming the Wafd Party, which cannot take place unless Gomaa leaves. A majority of the party's members support me, and are fed up with Gomaa. The reform will be real, meaning the door will be open to Wafdists who have been kicked out, and others who escaped Gomaa's dictatorship, as well as all believers in democracy and liberalism. I am giving myself until the end of 2005 to kick him out; so yes, you can say I am in a hurry. If I fail, I will call for the formation of a new party that will fill a huge gap in the political map. I will ask all the reformists to join the party.

Isn't this what Ayman Nour tried to do when he started the Ghad Party, after trying and failing to kick Gomaa out of the Wafd?

I will not make the mistakes that he did.

Nasserist mouthpiece Al-Arabi claimed that the US was offering to give you a huge amount of money if you ousted Gomaa...

That is a completely fabricated story. Gomaa always accuses anyone who opposes him of being an agent and a traitor. It is ridiculous to say that the US will give me $130 million if I kick him out. The US will not pay $130 dollars to oust Gomaa, because he is not a threat to them. I am not ashamed that I have good relations with everybody; I am open to all ideas, and to everyone.

Where does the party stand now?

The party is at a crossroads. It can either play a fantastic role by reforming itself and filling an obvious gap on the Egyptian political map, or else it can become a party of the past.

As a Copt, are you concerned about the Muslim Brotherhood's strong showing in the parliamentary polls?

There is a fear amongst liberals, socialists, intellectuals, women, Copts and others. The fear is based on a feeling that the Brotherhood could curtail people's freedoms, or put citizenship rights into question. Their position towards Copts is not very clear. We should call on the Brotherhood to clarify their position towards a whole series of issues including the constitution, democracy, the role of women, the position of Copts, tourism, banking, the arts, etc. They are not clear, which raises concerns and fears.

In spite of all the violations, they won 88 seats; if there hadn't been intervention, they would have probably won much more. The results no doubt indicate that it is the most well organised political group. They only fielded about 150 candidates, and 88 won. Next time the number will be much, much bigger -- unless all the other parties consider this a wake up call.

A few days ago Abdel Nour was re-instated back to his position in the Wafd party by the reformers of its high council committee, which also stripped No'man Gomaa of his despotic powers which he has abused over the years to the effective alienation of all sympathizers to the history and ideals of the Wafd.

However I don't think this re-instatement will spell any benefits to the Egyptian political scene since No'man is still clinching on to the party's chair with his teeth...and there will be no progress as long as he effectively leads the party, because he is by no means a liberal to begin with. So progress will only be seen when he is voted out in the next party elections...but this is an unfortunate waste of time. So maybe Abdel Nour's re-instatement was a step taken to derail him from forming an effective liberal party, and therefore a ploy to derail the emergence of a liberal party in general for the time being. [Which makes Gomaa, at worst, a crony willing to be freely used by the government, or, at best; just one incredibly dictatorial bastard.]

The MB's strong showing was indeed a wake-up call to Egypt's parties and politicians, including himself, who before the elections did not concede that the parties had a problem and instead only focused his criticisms on the ruling regime. Better to learn than never at all.

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