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The National Democratic Party (NDP) is seen as the center for much of the political corruption, profiteering, nepotism, and negligence that plagued Egypt throughout the Mubarak era. When the Supreme Administrative Court dissolved the party on 16 April and ordered the confiscation of its assets, the decision signaled a major victory for the Egyptian revolution. It also raised profound questions about what should happen to the party’s remains.
The party may be dissolved, but many of its power structures live on. After 33 years of near-absolute control over Egypt’s politics, it will not be easy to completely dismantle the NDP.
Under Hosni Mubarak, the NDP was the only institution in Egypt able to mobilize people and resources freely in all governorates and on all political fronts. At least 90 percent of all members of parliament who served in Egypt during this period came from the party. No other institution in the country boasted nearly as much political or economic power, except for the government itself. Indeed, the relationship between the two was close. Part of the reason the Supreme Administrative Court decided to confiscate the party’s assets was that a lot of government money became mixed up with the party’s.
Along with their free hand in running the country, the NDP also boasted a membership of around 3 million, and a layer of entrenched political actors, operating within a well-established network of mutual benefits.
Unlike most other parties, the NDP didn’t operate with a clear ideology, but, according to many of its old members, was a conduit for personal gain.
“Many of those who were in it joined because they have a lust for power, or they found that it was the only way to get anything done in the government,” said Fathi Gleed, former NDP member and member of parliament.
The party’s leadership and political actors also have a lot of experience in putting thugs to work for their benefit, and know how to most effectively reach and manipulate certain constituents, financially or emotionally. It is difficult to imagine the immediate elimination of such wide-ranging influence.
The coming parliamentary elections represent a pivotal moment in the future of the former party’s members. Rashwan calls it “the one battle” offering former party members an opportunity to try to regain power, first as individuals, then as a potentially reunified force.
Gleed says that for the majority of his former peers, the battle continues. “They know what they stood to gain from the former system, and will fight to be put in the same positions again,” he says. In the majority of their districts, former NDP members are the only known
political faces from the past 15-20 years.
Making an impact on the scene will be a tall order for newcomers, especially as they to overcome the pay-per-vote system that prevailed through two election cycles.
Some analysts warn of the reformation of the party under different auspices.
“The alliances that held it together still stand,” Dia Rashwan, a political analyst at the Al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, wrote in a recent opinion article.
Rashwan argues these alliances persist politically through the former party's 3 million members, administratively through its past prominent members still in power, and financially through the capitalist structure that helped fund it.
The political framework that kept the NDP running, however, may have been more flimsy than expected.
In the Manial district, for example, Fathi Gleed estimates that only 250 out of its 8,000 NDP members were active. “In most districts, NDP members would go and pay people to join the party, also paying many of their dues,” he said. Those who were active, he says, were mostly foot soldiers who took orders from the party’s leadership.
According to Sabri Shabrawy, a former member of the NDP and the Shura Council, this centralized form of leadership and decision-making makes the party easier to dissolve.
“The NDP political infrastructure is an illusion. There is no loyalty among its members, because its members ultimately meant nothing to the tight circle of leadership at the top,” said Shabrawy, a critic of the NDP’s recent hegemonic tendencies. Many of that top leadership is now in jail on charges of profiteering and ordering the murder of protesters.
When steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz entered the NDP leadership in the early 2000s, eventually becaming the secretary for organizational affairs, the collusion of money and power became a more defining feature of the party. While the party controlled LE27 million in funds, according to former members, the majority of the party’s financial muscle came from individual pockets.
As Gleed explains: “We used to pay for our campaigns, local NDP headquarters, and general administrative expenses ourselves.” Gleed, who won his first election as an independent says that he became an NDP member after realizing that independents had no voice in parliament.
Shabrawy believes that the organizational power of the NDP in recent times was centered around Ahmed Ezz. “With him went the NDP’s organizational capabilities,” he says. Ezz is now in jail.
NDP members and pundits alike see Ezz as the orchestrator and facilitator of many of the corrupt electoral tactics that allowed the NDP to monopolize the last few election cycles. According to Fathi Gleed, he would guarantee 80 percent of campaign funds to chosen NDP candidates, who acted as the party’s pawns.
“With Ezz [and some of the other financial backers] being tried, the bonds that kept people financially tied to the party also disappeared,” says Gleed.
The coming parliamentary elections will be a litmus test for the ability of NDP members to regroup and reform.
According to Rashwan, it will also represent the first step in the recreation of a new NDP-type entity in Egypt, exercising the same damaging policies it enacted before. “The elections will allow its candidates, divided during the elections -- and regrouped under the banner of corruption afterwards -- to influence the coming government structure and the constitutional founding committee,” Rashwan writes.
The proposition seems a disinct possibility. “Many of the corrupt members will find a way back into politics. They will pay for it themselves, and do anything to get back in. It will start with improving their public image,” says Gleed, who resigned from the party last February.
However, according to some, the former ruling party's key weakness lies in it's reliance on strong leaders: it has known only two former presidents -- Mubarak and Sadat -- as party heads. Its centralized form, which was once its main strength, according to Shabrawy, is now the main reason why it cannot regroup. “Any institution based on individuals does not survive after the individuals are gone,” he says.
Gleed and many others think that if a new corrupt political party similar to the NDP forms, it will take on a completely different shape and will be based on newly formed networks. But the old party’s formal structure is clearly over.
“The NDP is completely done,” Gleed says.