Egyptians try to 'Save the Revolution' as Signs of Repression Return
CAIRO, Egypt — In the two chaotic months since the revolution that toppled president Hosni Mubarak began, Egyptians have desperately longed for the return of some semblance of stability.
They got some of what they wanted late last month when Egypt’s battered stock market finally reopened to gains after losing nearly $12 billion during the uprising. The security situation seemed hopeful as well as police forces returned to the country’s lawless streets.
But Egyptians have also started to witness the kinds of things they hoped they would never see again — things that were familiar during Mubarak’s three decades of autocratic rule.
Several detainees have come forward with allegations of torture at the hands of the country’s revered military, which assumed power in the wake of Mubarak’s departure. A popular blogger was arrested from his home this week, reportedly charged with publishing a scathing critique of the performance of Egypt’s interim government.
Now, even Mubarak’s own National Democratic Party — widely criticized for its corruption and use of intimidation to maintain control in Egypt for more than 30 years — is quietly regrouping for a return to political prominence.
Thousands of Egyptians gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday, in an event billed as “Save the Revolution Day,” demanding an end to corruption and the complete dismantling of the National Democratic Party, or NDP.
Some analysts believe that remnants of Mubarak’s former political party, which claims about 2 million members, could be a strong competitor in the country’s parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for September.
With the NDP potentially poised for a comeback, Egypt’s frustrated revolutionaries now worry that their hard-fought gains could be slowly slipping away. And many are fearful that the vestiges of Mubarak’s old order are creeping back in to fill the void.
“We want an end to corruption and the NDP gone from Egypt altogether,” said Ahmed Bakry, 21, an engineering student protesting in Tahrir.
The NDP appeared to be in shambles during the initial days of Egypt’s revolution, when enraged protesters torched and destroyed several of the party’s office buildings — including their Cairo headquarters along the Nile River.
Soon after the ouster of Mubarak on Feb. 11, in fact, most of the senior leadership quit the party.
A few NDP members — including steel magnate Ahmed Ezz — were detained on corruption charges. Egypt’s military-led transitional government slapped travel bans on several others pending investigation.
Still, the NDP remains an active — if not the largest — player in Egyptian politics.
“We have apologized for corruption in the past and fired all members accused of abuse of power,” said Mohamed Ragab, the current head of the NDP. “We are now moving forward, rebuilding with new faces. And our loyal members want us to get back on the streets right away.”
Despite resignations of some of the more public top posts, Ragab insisted that grassroots support for the party remained strong.
In Egypt’s recent nation-wide constitutional referendum, 80 percent of voters accepted the amendments, effectively speeding up the process toward legislative and presidential elections.
Observers noted that with less time for newer political parties to mobilize support, Egypt's referendum vote provided the NDP a clear advantage in the upcoming election with its already-established networks.
Even in post-revolution Egypt, NDP influence remains strong partly because of its previous three decades of unchallenged rule, especially outside of the capital.
“Ragab is gambling on the idea that the NDP is still strong in Egypt’s provinces outside liberal Cairo,” said Mohamed Abdelleh, a former NDP leader. “Tribal support for the NDP, where families are connected with local leaders, could be huge. Voters outside Cairo represent a huge slice of the pie.”
Even with such a wide base of support, the NDP faces many challenges going forward.
After the revolution, disagreements over the direction and message the NDP should take led to the resignations of several newly appointed members that had been given the task of reforming the party.
Abdelleh and other leaders quit, saying that little work was being done to combat the negative public perception of the party.
“Rebranding should be non-negotiable. For the sake of the Egyptian public, you need to have new colors, a new logo, and a new name,” said Maged Al-Sherbeeny, a former NDP leader who left the party in March. “The NDP has been burned into people’s minds as a symbol of corruption.”
Image problems aside, political activists in Egypt said their biggest fear is that a resurgence of Mubarak’s former party would give counter-revolutionary forces an avenue to return to power.
Ragab, however, denies that he or any member of the NDP has had communications with the former president, who himself is reportedly under house arrest in the luxurious resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Several lawsuits have been filed against the NDP, seeking to legally dismantle the party for good.
Ragab, however, is determined to broaden its appeal among Egyptian voters, especially among youth. At an NDP conference scheduled for later this month, the party will announce its “centrist and moderate” election platform, according to Ragab.
“If Egypt’s revolution called for greater democracy, then surely all parties have the right to participate in the future — including the NDP,” Ragab said.