Is Egyptian democracy an oxymoron?
Allow me to rephrase that: where does Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) place the emphasis – on “national , “democratic , “party or on the ever-present qualifying adjective “ruling ?
One cannot ignore the fact that since its inception by then President Anwar Sadat in 1977, who is credited with introducing “real pluralism to the political system following over two decades of single-party rule, the NDP has had a singular monopoly over the political scene.
Ironically, when the NDP’s predecessor, the Arab Socialist Union (ASU) was formed by then President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1962 to replace the Nationalist Union and to spread Arab socialism, it was the sole political party until 1977 and was meant to “serve as a conduit of government directives from top to bottom and of popular needs and wishes from bottom to top, according to its definition in the “Historical Dictionary of Egypt by Goldschmidt Jr. and Johnston.
When the NDP was formed, supposedly to create more diversity of opinion within the People’s Assembly (PA), it (again ironically) hoped to put an end to the ASU’s tradition of attracting those who joined it to protect their own rights and prestige or to attain higher positions within the bureaucracy, yet not necessarily to revolutionize Egyptian society and values.
Fast-forward 30 years and not much has really changed.
The NDP’s emphasis has clearly been on “ruling party, to the detriment of any alleged nationalistic or democratic concerns. A state of emergency in place since 1981 which has systematically trampled civil and human rights, powered by an overwhelming NDP majority in the PA (Egypt’s legislative body) is nothing short of a masked dictatorship, hardly distinguishable from the pre-revolution monarchy, giving birth to the paradox of the modern-day Arab states’ “republican monarchies.
Some have even argued that in the years between 1923 (following Egypt’s declaration of independence and the formulation of the 1923 Constitution that became the basis of parliamentary government) and the 1952 military coup, Egypt had enjoyed a much more vibrant parliamentary democracy, despite breaches to its sovereignty and open antagonism by then King Fouad.
The cosmetic amendments to article 76 of the Egyptian constitution in 2004, introducing multi-candidate presidential elections, did nothing more than pave the way to the 2005 farcical presidential race whose results were a forgone conclusion.
This leads to the recently rekindled issue of the Ayman Nour case.
Nour, the ex-chairmen of Al-Ghad Party and the first runner-up in the elections, has been languishing in jail since late 2005 after being found guilty of forging powers of attorney required to start Al-Ghad. The accusation was widely seen as politically-motivated to settle scores with Nour, a fierce critic of the regime who had managed to rally wide public support, especially among Egyptian youth.
Set for release in July 2009, Nour, who is a diabetic and who has been suffering from health setbacks recently after a blood clot hit his left leg, has been pushing for health amnesty for about two years to no avail.
His wife Gamila Ismail has recently taken his case to the International Parliamentary Conference (IPC) in Geneva where she hoped to place pressure on Egypt to have Nour released for health purposes.
As expected, the Egyptian delegation, headed by PA Speaker Fathi Sorour (who has been the house speaker of our “democratic PA for as long as I can remember) refused to attend the IPC’s human rights session where Nour’s case was tabled.
Burying their heads in the sand is nothing new, but the most dangerous thing about it is how they fail to see that their actions have embarrassed Egypt and, to quote a classic accusation leveled against all opposition, has “tarnished Egypt’s image beyond repair.
Their attitude reminds me of the classic story of the “Emperor’s New Clothes – the duped Emperor was the only one oblivious of the fact that he was “as naked as the day that he was born as he walked in the royal procession in pomp and arrogance.
An angry response by Sorour’s delegation, as reported by Daily News Egypt yesterday, said that Egypt refused the HR commission’s request to release Nour on grounds of ill health, stating that it “considered it to be interference in Egypt’s judicial system and a subversion of the commission’s agenda, rendering it impartial.
In a blatant reversal of the truth, according to Nour’s wife Gamila Ismail, the delegation claimed that Nour was receiving full medical treatment behind bars and that he was currently in good health, despite evidence that he now requires a wheelchair because he can no longer walk, according to Ismail.
So to go back to my initial question: is Egyptian democracy an oxymoron?
One need not go beyond the case of Ayman Nour to answer it, but if you’re still wondering, just Google search “Saad Eddin Ibrahim , “Egypt’s political detainees , “press freedom in Egypt , “torture in Egypt .
Rania Al Malkyis the Chief Editor of Daily News Egypt.