Opposition groups in Egypt had arrows slung on them from all sides in a year marked, not only by criticism and crackdowns from the ruling regime, but by differences within themselves and between each other.
The Muslim Brotherhood
The Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition group, though not officially recognized, received heavy blows from the regime for the third consecutive year, with a series of arrests of its members in the governorates and higher councils.
Prominent among the detainees was Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, who was arrested in late June for belonging to a banned international organization and released two months later. Amidst the arrest campaign, divisions within the group began to surface, mainly over the appointment of new members to the group’s highest council, the Guidance Office, and a new Supreme Guide to replace the current Mohamed Mahdi Akef.
It was reported that Deputy Guide Mohamed Habib had not been informed of the decision to hold the new internal elections, and rumors abounded that he was being pushed out of the picture.
“There are differences, leading member Essam El-Erian, who was later appointed to the new Guidance Office, told Daily News Egypt, “but they are not as pronounced as is made out in the media.
Habib, who was one of prospect candidates to take over after Akef, along with Aboul-Fotouh, were not elected in the Guidance Office board. Both are often labeled as reformists who advocate a more active role on the group’s part in Egypt’s political life.
More secular opposition groups also had their fair share of travails in 2009. Matters seemed more optimistic earlier in the year, when former presidential candidate and former Ghad party leader Ayman Nour was released from prison in February after serving four years for fraud, an accusation his supporters claim was fabricated.
He was released but not hindered. The Lawyer’s Syndicate disbarred him and he was no longer allowed to practice. Additionally, because he had been convicted of a crime such as fraud, considered a “dishonorable crime, he is also not eligible to run for any political office.
In an interview with Daily News Egypt in March, Nour said, “The regime sees you as a competitor to Gamal Mubarak so you have to pay the price of this competition . I will not secede to the inheritance of power for Gamal Mubarak, nor will I declare that I will not compete with him. I will not leave the scene and escape; I live in Egypt and I will fight in Egypt.
In May, he claimed that he was attacked outside his home as he headed to his office in downtown Cairo. Nour claimed that he was in his car with the window rolled down when two assailants pulled alongside him on a motorcycle and set fire to the spray from a gas canister aiming it at him. Conflicting reports that it was merely a “hairdresser accident served to cast doubt on his version of events, especially since the dermatologist he had consulted said in an interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm that he arrived to the hospital with his barber. Nour’s eventual divorce from his long-time partner and fervent supporter Gamila Ismail amid his continuous public denials that they were about to separate have also added to his loss of credibility.
October showed some promise for opposition groups when they united to launch the Egyptian Campaign Against the Inheritance of Power, which was formed by Nour and opposed the possible succession of Gamal Mubarak as president after his father Hosni.
In a show of solidarity, opposition groups from across the political spectrum gathered to launch the campaign. “Islamists, liberals, leftists and nationalists have joined this campaign knowing that fighting the inheritance of power is tied with the fight against the current corrupt, oppressive regime and fraudulent elections, said nationalist-leaning Karama (Dignity) Party MP Hamdein Sabahy.
However, the unity was short-lived when the Kefaya Movement for Change pulled out of the campaign over differences regarding dealings with American officials.
Kefaya spent 2009 trying to prove that it is still relevant. A movement that reached its apex during the presidential elections of 2005, it has since tried to recapture the spirit of this heyday with little success.
In February Kefaya’s new leader Abdel Halim Qandil, a veteran opponent of Mubarak’s regime, announced the formation of the Coalition of Egyptians for Change, a cross-party platform whose members will engage in peaceful civil disobedience to bring about regime change.
Cross-party interaction of a different kind demonstrated the worst in Egyptian politics when Qandil and Nour engaged in a public schoolboy spat facilitated by the media. Al-Masry Al-Youm reported in November that Qandil had accused Nour of “working with suspect foreign agencies known for their animosity towards Islam. The agencies in question turned out to be the National Endowment for Democracy and the Carnegie Institute.
Kefaya subsequently pulled out of the Campaign Against the Inheritance of Power after the group’s head, Nour, announced plans to visit the US. Qandil said, “How can we confront a regime that has ties to America, with an opposition that has ties to America?
Boycotts were also a theme of Kefaya’s year. The group boycotted US President Barack Obama’s speech at Cairo University in June, describing the President’s visit as “a dose of artificial oxygen for Mubarak’s regime in crisis.
In early December, Qandil announced that Kefaya would be boycotting the 2010 and 2011 parliamentary and presidential elections and elect an “alternative president.
The announcement was made during a protest to commemorate the group’s first demonstration five years ago. Kefaya was instrumental in opening up spaces of protest that did not previously exist in 2005 and 2006. The group’s power to mobilize protestors in Cairo faded when the elections ended and public anger petered out; only around 100 protestors joined its last demonstration.