Egypt’s Labor Party Running out of Time
By Mahmoud Al Abed
The Egyptian authority versus Islamists battle has taken many forms since the I920s, but always, one single fact has characterized the conflict.
Whether it was the government during the monarchist Egypt, the Junta reign that seized power in 1952, the pro-West regime of late president Anwar Sadat, or his successor president Hosni Mubarak, the people in power have always had to contain the Islamist expansion.
The Egyptian Islamists fall into two groups: the moderates who want power through constitutional channels, and those who resort to the gun to impose Islamic rule in the Arab country. Both want power but the means they adopt to achieve it are different.
The latest version of “legal Islamists,” the Labor Party, is the only party licensed to work in public. But since May, it has been subject to a fierce attack by the authorities following bloody student riots, which, it was claimed, were provoked by the party’s mouthpiece, Al Shaab Newspaper.
The newspaper, long a thorn in the government's side, led a campaign in that month against the re-printing by the Culture Ministry of "A Banquet for Seaweed" by Syrian novelist Haider Haider, which it said defamed Islam.
Late July, authorities froze the activities of the Islamist-oriented party and asked a special court to dissolve it.
Egyptian prosecutors filed nine charges against the leaders of the Islamic-oriented opposition party.
The charges included having links with the banned Muslim Brotherhood and with "members of fundamentalist organizations working against national unity".
Apparently, the party did not get away with claiming its legitimate right to play a role in Egypt’s political life through peaceful means.
However, one would question whether attacking a writer in a newspaper by accusing him of insulting Islam was unwise provocation or a mere expression of opinion. The constitutions in civilized countries, however, guarantee individuals the right to express their opinions.
But, there is always a ready excuse for persecuting any group by the authorities in our part of the world, that is, safeguarding national unity and security.
Al Shaab was accused of "offering a platform" to these groups "to incite to harm general order and to spread the groups' principles.”
The party had good news on Saturday. Egypt's administrative court overturned the ban on the publication of Al-Shaab.
That was the only good news. There were three bad pieces of news for the Islamists. First, Al-Shaab's printers, the state-run Al-Ahram newspaper, refused to publish the biweekly, saying the courts had not definitively settled the issue.
Second, the court said it was not within its jurisdiction to rule on the Parties Committee's decree of the same date to dissolve the party.
Egyptian law says that the Parties Committee has to make a formal request to the Parties Court to get a political party dissolved. So the party members have to wait, and here comes the third bad news. The elections are eminent, and while all parties are preparing for the battle, the Labor Party has to wait for a final ruling.
At least, if Al Shaab is re-printed, the Islamists will find ears listening to their complaints about the government which played all “legal” tricks to get them out of its way for a “clean” electoral victory.
The elections are scheduled for October 18th. And although the Labor party cannot nominate candidates to run for parliamentary seats under its banner, its leaders will go for the elections individually. Undoubtedly, it will be a less tough a job for these Islamists if they are not waiting for a court ruling that might send them to jail for 15 years.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)