Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Ayman Nour submitted candidacy papers for last year's presidential elections, just seven years after becoming the first politician to run against former president Hosni Mubarak.
Ayman Nour submitted candidacy papers for last year's presidential elections, just seven years after becoming the first politician to run against former president Hosni Mubarak.

Egyptian politics ‘like a dialogue between deaf people’, says Ayman Nour

Controversial politician has been accused by liberal media and political groups as being a Muslim Brotherhood sympathiser and a fair-weather politician on the hunt for greater power. But he denies the claims, saying he is also a critic of president Mohammed Morsi.

CAIRO // A huge painting in the living room of Ayman Nour goes to the heart of why he is one of the more intriguing and controversial politicians in Egypt today.

The 3.5-metre tableau shows groups of famous liberal politicians from the past 100 years, many of them now deceased, standing in front of Egypt's parliament building. It features Saad Zaghloul, the founder of the Al Wafd Party and a former prime minister, and Fuad Serag Eddin, another veteran Wafd politician.

In the centre is Mr Nour leaning close and whispering to Fathi Sorour, one of Hosni Mubarak's closest aides and the very man that revoked Mr Nour's parliamentary immunity in 2005 so that he could be jailed.

"I kept it because it shows history," Mr Nour, 48, said during an interview on Thursday. "I may not agree with some of the characters in it, but it helps me to remember what has happened in my life, the ups and downs. Sometimes it helps me see things clearer."

Lately, Mr Nour has been in one of the down periods. He has been accused by liberal media and political groups as being a Muslim Brotherhood sympathiser and a fair-weather politician on the hunt for greater power, no matter how he achieves it.

The most polarising example of what his opponents describe as his chameleon nature was his hosting of a secret dinner at his penthouse apartment this month on the tiny island of Zamalek with Khairat Al Shater, the deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Amr Moussa, a liberal opposition leader and former foreign minister of Egypt.

The meeting was controversial because the National Salvation Front, an umbrella group of political parties that oppose President Mohammed Morsi and his Islamist supporters, has refused meetings with the Brotherhood and officials until the government meets demands for a new unity government, amendments to the constitution and more political openness.

When media reports of the meeting emerged, Mr Moussa lashed out at Mr Nour as the source of the leak.

Mr Nour was also among the politicians embroiled in a diplomatic incident over a hydroelectric dam being built by Ethiopia that Egypt fears will reduce the flow of the Nile. During a meeting that was inadvertently broadcast on Egyptian television, he called for Egypt to leak plans for a military strike on Ethiopia to pressure Addis Ababa to scale the project back.

Nonplussed in his trademark outfit - all black save for a white seersucker jacket, Cohiba cigar and rectangular glasses - Mr Nour described the accusations against him as part of a conspiracy wrought by remnants the Mubarak regime.

"They say I am a Muslim Brotherhood supporter, but I criticise the president all the time," he said. "There is a group of people who were servants of the old regime who still want to take revenge on me. What is being written about me is not just lies, but terrible, awful contradictions to the truth."

Mr Nour is no stranger to Egyptian politics. The son and grandson of Egyptian parliamentarians, he entered politics in the early 1990s with the New Wafd Party. He broke away in 2001 to create Al Ghad Party, or Tomorrow Party. But his true entry into the limelight came in 2005 when he became the first person to run against Mubarak in presidential elections.

He placed a distant second, winning just 7 per cent of the vote in elections widely believed to have been fixed by the Mubarak regime, but what came next assured his place in Egypt's troubled history with democracy. Soon after Mr Nour's defeat, Mubarak's government accused him of forging signatures on election documents. He was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison, losing control of the Al Ghad party in the process.

He spent two years in prison, securing a medical release because of his diabetes, but when he came home to his Zamalek apartment he was confronted with the same huge painting in his living room. There he was talking to Mr Sorour, the man who helped send him to prison.

Expecting to feel anger, he instead found himself "cleansed of hate" by his prison experience, Mr Nour said.

"The crisis of prison made it possible for me to see things better and not hold onto negative things."

He applies the same lesson to Egypt's latest problems. When listening to Mr Morsi's speech on Wednesday night, he felt that the president "was full of anger and unforgiveness".

The whole country was wracked by this kind of debilitating emotional turbulence, he said.

"The January 25th revolution was a beautiful dream, but now it has turned into a nightmare," he said. "The most disturbing thing is everyone has become more extreme and more willing to break the law. The rhetoric is filled with insults. Even families are split. It's like a dialogue between deaf people."

Eight months after Mubarak's resignation, Mr Nour appeared on course to finally take a greater role in Egyptian politics with a new party, Al Ghad Al Thawra, but the group only won two of the 498 seats in the new parliament because many liberals were suspicious of his associations with Brotherhood figures.

Nonetheless, Mr Nour remains a frequent commentator in the media, sometimes for controversy but also for his pithy predictions.

A month before the 2011 uprising, Mr Nour remembers saying that "Egypt was pregnant in its eighth month" and that the baby would be a "revolution".

On Thursday afternoon, before the mass protests scheduled for tomorrow, he said that "Egypt has a false pregnancy and its possible that it will lead to the death of the mother and the child".



Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 A view of a defaced portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during an anti-North Korean rally on the 102nd birthday of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung in central Seoul. Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters

Best photography from around the world, April 15

The National View's photo editors pick the best images of the day from around the world.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National