NDP overhaul a meager concession, says opposition

The drastic reshuffling of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), which ended up in in the dismissal of President Hosni Mubarak’s son, Gamal, as well as his longtime protégés, still falls short of meeting the expectations of the opposition, experts say.

In a sudden move, Mubarak sacked the NDP executive board, eliminating Gamal Mubarak and the party’s unpopular old guards, such as Head of the Shura Council Safwat al-Sherif, Minister of State for Legal Affairs Mufid Shehab and Presidential Chief-of-Staff Zakaria Azmy.

To quell public outrage, Hossam Badrawy, an NDP reformist long known for advocating democratic policies, was appointed as the party’s secretary-general, replacing al-Sherif. The former parliamentarian has also taken over the influential Policies Secretariat from Gamal Mubarak.

“This is a change within the party but not within the system,” said Amr al-Shobaki, political analyst with the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “As long as there is no change within the political system itself, these concessions cannot make up for the blood of martyrs.”

For the last eleven days, Egypt has been swept by massive protests. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in different provinces demanding that te 82-year-old president step down. Clashes between protesters on one hand and police and thugs on the other has left at least 300 people dead.

In response to local and western pressures, Mubarak made his first concession last week by sacking the cabinet. His new government was marked by the heavy presence of ministers with military backgrounds and the dismissal of at least five businessmen, who were blamed for corruption and the introduction of unpopular neo-liberal economic policies.

Shortly afterward, the prosecutor-general chased some of Mubarak’s former executives, including former minsters of trade and commerce, tourism, housing and the interior. They were were banned from travel and had their financial assets frozen.

Ahmed Ezz, Gamal Mubarak’s close protégé, was on the top of the list of the regime’s scapegoats. The steel tycoon was sacked from the NDP secretariat, banned from travel and had his bank accounts frozen in preparation for investigation. 

“Mubarak is sacrificing people who have been around him, and meeting some of the opposition demands. He is doing all this for the sake of staying in power,” said Ammar Ali Hassan, political analyst. “These developments show that the party wants to circumvent the demand to oust the regime."

Hassan saw the dismissal of the president’s son from the party’s highest echelons as a positive sign. “This means that the option of hereditary presidential succession is over,” said Hassan.

For almost ten years, the president’s 47-year-old son had been promoted within NDP ranks until he became the party’s assistant secretary-general. While making his way up to this post, Gamal had served as head of the influential Policies Secretariat, the body in charge of hammering out the government's economic and political policies. The former banker's hasty rise had raised suspicions that Mubarak was grooming his son to succeed him.

 “To meet the cost [of the uprising], the structure of the political system itself has to be reformed…So far no constitutional article has been amended,” said al-Shobaki.

Last week, Mubarak announced that he would not run for a sixth term in office, promising to amend two constitutional articles that would relax eligibility conditions for presidential candidates and limit the number of presidential terms.

For decades, liberal intellectuals and opposition groups have demanded more reforms, including the lifting of the state of emergency, easing restrictions on the formation of political parties, the exercise of political rights, and full judicial oversight of elections.

In recent weeks, the opposition on the street has reduced all these demands into a single slogan: “Mubarak! Depart!” At least one million Egyptians rallied in downtown Cairo on Friday to voice this demand in unison.

According to Hassan, Mubarak's concessions will only steel protesters' resolve. “This NDP overhaul will only encourage protesters to keep pressuring the regime until Mubarak leaves.”

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