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INTERVIEW: Times are hard for Egypt's sidelined liberals - Daily News Egypt

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INTERVIEW: Times are hard for Egypt's sidelined liberals

Reuters CAIRO: Short of cash, out of parliament and shadowed by a rival party with the same name and logo, the liberal Ghad Party of imprisoned Egyptian opposition politician Ayman Nour is struggling through a rough patch. Ihab El-Khouli, the lawyer elected last month to lead the party in Nour s absence, said the party …


Reuters

CAIRO: Short of cash, out of parliament and shadowed by a rival party with the same name and logo, the liberal Ghad Party of imprisoned Egyptian opposition politician Ayman Nour is struggling through a rough patch.

Ihab El-Khouli, the lawyer elected last month to lead the party in Nour s absence, said the party owed LE 700,000 ($120,000) to the state company which prints its newspaper and LE 200,000 in bills for its offices.

It has had to close some of its provincial branches to save money and has not been able to pay all party employees on time, he told Reuters in an interview on Thursday.

I don t have the means to print leaflets. We were even thinking of … setting up a centre for studies on liberalism, but there are no resources, he added.

It s a far cry from the heady days of 2005, when Nour s supporters hailed him as the country s future president and the pan-Arab media lionized him as a serious contender for power.

Nour was de facto leader of the opposition through his control of the largest single opposition block of seats in parliament, and he came a distant second to President Hosni Mubarak in the first presidential elections in September 2005.

But the Ghad Party lost all its parliamentary seats in elections later the same year and Nour has been in jail since December 2005 on what he says are fabricated forgery charges. Khouli, who works out of Nour s carefully preserved office at party headquarters in central Cairo, said the party also faced occasional harassment by security forces and a blackout on coverage of its activities in the government media.

But he said he still saw a role for the party, which preaches liberal secular democracy along European lines and says it still has some 27,000 members.

If we submit to the will of the regime, then there will not be any change at all, he said. We have an important role in enlightening people, as a party which believes in political and constitutional reform and in the rule of law.

Given a free choice, he said, many Egyptians would choose liberalism over the other options on offer – the authoritarian system which Egypt has known for the past 50 years and the Islamist trend represented by the Muslim Brotherhood.

If the window of democracy were opened and the liberal forces in Egypt were organized and united, then we can say that the liberal trend, including the Ghad Party … would be the real alternative, he said. That is why the regime is frightened of the liberal forces.

Political analysts said the authorities went out of their way in 2005 to break up the Ghad Party and thwart its activities, including by encouraging an anti-Nour faction to challenge the leadership. The dissidents have adopted the name and run a newspaper almost identical in appearance to Ghad s.

One common explanation for the hard line against liberals is that Mubarak wanted to show the United States that he was the only alternative to the Islamists.

Khouli said that party membership had not declined since Nour s imprisonment but many members were young and did not have the money to pay subscription fees.

The party also feels the loss of Nour, a skilful politician who built up a strong following over many years in parliament.

Ayman Nour has charisma and popularity. He is much loved and has parliamentary experience, but Ayman Nour and I have been partners in political action since 1984, the new leader said.

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