x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Egypt party fire opens political wounds

The storming of the headquarters of the opposition al Ghad party last week by a faction of its own members is the latest sign of the party's internal chaos.

CAIRO // The storming of the headquarters of the opposition al Ghad party last week by a faction of its own members is the latest sign of the party's internal chaos, but is also symbolic of the disarray of Egyptian opposition parties in general. A group of around 200 Al Ghad members, who support the party's pro-government deputy, Moussa Moustafa Moussa, as opposed to Ayman Nour, the party leader and jailed dissident, broke into the old building in downtown Cairo on Thursday morning and torched the party offices. Seven people were taken to the hospital suffering from smoke inhalation and mild burns. Nour's wife, Gamila Ismail, who was inside the headquarters during the rioting, came out onto a balcony and shouted: "Down, down, Hosni Mubarak." From the street Mr Moussa's supporters chanted back at her: "Here is the traitor," the Associated Press reported. After the violence, Ms Ismail and 40 of Nour's supporters as well as 14 Moussa loyalists were arrested and questioned for several hours. They were all released on Friday. She accused the police of siding with the rioters and suggested government involvement, citing newspaper photos showing Mr Moussa's associates throwing Molotov cocktails at the headquarters. "The front page photos presented incriminating evidence against Moussa and showed the criminality of the state," she said yesterday. A photo of Nour remained hanging from the balcony of the gutted headquarters, but the huge banner carrying his name and the orange flags of his party are gone. Nour, a former lawyer, was imprisoned in Dec 2005 for five years. He was alleged to have forged signatures on petitions to register Al Ghad. He had run for president in Sept 2005, finishing a distant second to Mr Mubarak, the Egyptian president. Mr Moussa claimed the right to succeed him as leader after his imprisonment and take over the party headquarters and newspaper. He recently won a court order to take over the headquarters, even though it is originally Nour's legal office. Ms Ismail has tirelessly campaigned for the release of her husband, who suffers from diabetes and heart problems, and recently met with George W Bush, the US president, whose administration has pushed the Egyptian government to release Nour, and criticised him for not doing enough. The publicity surrounding the case has irked the regime, which says it is an internal affair. The latest fighting has also drawn attention to the weakness of Egypt's 24 registered political parties, many of which only come to the public's attention when they make the news with internal fighting. The majority of Egyptians do not even know most of these parties exist. "After [the right to establish] political parties was announced in 1977, we now have 24 parties, but only one per cent of Egyptians know their names, and they won only nine seats [out of 454] in parliament in the 2005 elections," said Diaa Rashwan, a political analyst. In 2006 the al Wafd party turned in on itself when Noaman Gomaa, then the party leader, refused to recognise the election of Mahmoud Abaza as the party's new leader. Mr Gomaa and 14 of his supporters were arrested after a 10-hour clash with Mr Abaza and his loyalists at the party's headquarters in Cairo, during which the offices were set on fire and 28 people were injured. Even political movements that are united struggle to make an effect on the political scene. The Muslim Brotherhood won 88 seats in parliament in the 2005 elections, running as independents as they are officially banned, and are regularly subject to mass arrests. "Most of the political parties in Egypt are an illusion - they are not parties in the sense that is known in democracies," Mr Rashwan said. "We have quasi-political parties like al Wafd and the leftists al Tagammu and the Nasserites, but where is the Al Ghad Party without Ayman Nour?" Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party says the existence of opposition parties is a sign of democracy in Egypt. But as one columnist noted, so weak are the parties that trade unions and other organised interests are beginning to prove a more effective form of representation. "Unorganised opposition movements as well as professional syndicates have taken to the street, gaining some of their rights, while the opposition parties are in deep sleep," Mahmoud Mosallam wrote in the independent newspaper Al Masry Al Youm yesterday. "The opposition in Egypt is going through an acute crisis in their mind, heart and body." nmagd@thenational.ae