Friday, June 6, 2008

El Ghad Opposition Party Speaks to Bootcamp

By Dina Basiony

Photo by Jasmin Bauomy

Belal Diab’s words were strong, blunt and assertive. "We want Egypt to be a civil, secular society," he said. "Despite all the pressures imposed on us from the government and the religious groups, we will continue!" Diab is a 20-year-old literature student at Cairo University. He is also head of the students' committee in Egypt’s El Ghad or "Tomorrow" opposition party.

Diab, along with five other representatives from the party, met with Journalism Bootcamp students at the party’s offices in downtown Cairo.

El Ghad is a liberal, secular party, founded in 2003.

Wael Nawara, head of the party’s executive board, accused the Egyptian government of making things extremely difficult for El Ghad from the beginning – the party only managed to secure its official status after its application was denied five times on technicalities.

But the troubles didn’t end there. Ayman Nour, a member of the Egyptian parliament and a former journalist, was elected the president of the party. Three months after El Ghad became official, Nour was arrested on charges of forgery.

He was released after the party organized protests and sit-ins, but was rearrested and remains in prison.

Nour is well-known in Egypt for having run for the Egyptian presidency in the countrys’ first-ever multi-party elections in 2005. He came in second, with 12% of the votes. Nawara said the election was rife with irregularities such as ballot stuffing and intimidation of voters. “There were 600 complaints of irregularities,” he said. "[But]the government-appointed high committee for election denied the validity of the complaints."

Diab explained that decades of political oppression and ignorance of the basic concepts of citizens' rights and freedoms among most Egyptian youth are now beginning to have an effect - a generation of young people are angry, and eager to make a difference in their country.

"The insufficient, inefficient education system that the Egyptian government is overlooking constitutes a national security crisis," said Diab, a literature student at Cairo University." The failing education system produces a failing society."

Bootcamp students questioned Diab and Nawara on their party’s stance on environmental, economic and gender issues. Nawra responded bluntly to questions on policing and security measures in Egypt.

"[Egypt] has become the state of the police and the country of prisoners," he said. "Security should serve the people not the government."

When it comes to effecting change in Egyptian society and politics, Nawara acknowledged that his party is fighting an uphill battle. "We need patience, courage, and effective means to solve our problems…if this doesn't happen, the whole world will turn into third world countries, "he said.

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