Egyptians fear return of Mubarak allies

November 18, 2011

Atef Hammam strolled through a garbage-littered Cairo slum on a recent evening dressed in a dapper suit adorned with a lapel pin of the Egyptian flag.

Flanked by local leaders, Hammam, a former member of Egypt’s long-dominant National Democratic Party (NDP), shook hands at sidewalk cafes, visited a school and kicked a soccer ball into a goal, prompting boys on the field to erupt in cheers.

But Hammam, one of about 1,000 former members of deposed president Hosni Mubarak’s party known to be running for parliament, will need more than soccer skills to persuade residents here to vote for him.

Ahead of the Nov. 28 vote — the first of six stages of parliamentary voting and the first election since Mubarak’s ouster in February — former NDP members have been trying to outrun the party’s reputation and convince voters that they were not involved in the corruption, cronyism and disregard for the poor attributed to the NDP.

The NDP was dissolved after the revolution, and its former members are running under new parties, as part of old parties that took them in or as independents. Egypt’s highest court gave them a boost this week, ruling that former NDP members may run for office. But the decision deepened fears among some Egyptians that NDP stalwarts, possibly with the tacit backing of the country’s interim military leaders, could return to power.

Under Mubarak, the party rigged elections through intimidation and payoffs. Today, there are fears that segments of the old regime might again wield influence and undo the gains of the revolution. There is also concern that those tactics could be used again.

Battling Mubarak-era remnants

In some places, Egyptians say, the intimidation has already begun.

Mohammed Attiya, a lawyer in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, has filed 20 lawsuits with the local court to stop former NDP members from running for parliament. He has yet to win in court, but he says he has been receiving daily death and kidnapping threats against him and his four children for a month.

Attiya blames the “felool,” or remnants, a word used to describe holdovers from the Mubarak era. On the eve of the Eid al-Adha Islamic holiday this month, he woke up to find his Mitsubishi vandalized, its windows smashed. The message was clear, he said: Drop it.

“This won’t scare me, and it won’t stop me,” he said this week.

The battle against Mubarak-era remnants is as important to Attiya as the election itself. With them in the running, he said, the election will be a sham — a sentiment shared by others. Online campaigns have popped up to expose former NDP members running as independents and new parties led by some holdovers that have adopted names such as “Freedom” and “Egypt the Revolution.”

Essam Sharif started Emsek Felool, or “to catch remnants,” an Internet and street campaign that lists former NDP members running as candidates and parties that include them. He and others blast text messages imploring people to report to the group former NDP members who are running. The group’s fliers call them “representatives of smuggling, gambling” and squanderers of the country’s wealth, and they caution people about the dangers of a potential NDP resurgence, particularly in rural areas, where the party often worked with tribal leaders who had great influence over their communities.

Although Sharif has embraced Egypt’s new promise of democracy, he said he doesn’t trust the old NDP members to respect the democratic process. “If NDP comes back to parliament, they will reintroduce the Mubarak regime and resort to the old tactics and influence our constitution,” he said in a downtown coffee shop as he lit his cigarette with a lighter emblazoned with the words: “The revolution continues.”

Sharif said that, in the past, these politicians used money, power and connections to win the vote, and that they will try to do it again. “They are frightening, and they are leading the counterrevolution in the Egyptian street.”

‘Felool’ defend themselves

Hammam was elected to parliament in late 2010, and his name appears on Sharif’s Web site even though he served for only 37 days before parliament was dissolved after Egypt’s winter uprising. Sharif and others from the poor Bab al-
Sharia district of Cairo accuse Hammam, the general manager at a petroleum company, of using his position in the last parliament to employ relatives and NDP members. They also say he has tried to bribe voters.

Sitting in a streetside cafe in Bab al-
Sharia, where he grew up — and which he was elected to represent, though he now lives in the wealthy neighborhood of Nasr City — the independent candidate bristled at the accusations. He is a good man, he said. He asks young people about their qualifications before he offers to help them find work. He’s getting assistance from the same local leaders who helped him win the election last year, such as Mohsen Khatib, the former leader of the local NDP.

“We served the people before, and I have influence here,” Khatib said. “I can advise people who to vote for and who not to,” and he tells voters to pick Hammam, he said.

“The felool are good,” said Mohammed Adel, another former NDP member from the area. “In the past, everyone sought to be part of the NDP because it was the ruling party. The top was corrupt. Now the good people of the NDP are left, like me.”

As Hammam strolled through the streets of the neighborhood, his local supporters whispered promises of jobs if he was elected. Hammam stopped at a storefront that hosts his local campaign office, said a prayer and walked inside, surrounded by residents.

“What is the meaning of felool?” he said. “They are the pieces left when it explodes. The weak were destroyed, and the strong parts stayed after the explosion.”

But many Egyptians disagree. Even the least corrupt are guilty, said Mohammed Kamel, a 42-year-old shoemaker in Bab al-Sharia.

“Even if he is good but was mute and blind to the corruption, then he is to blame,” Kamel said. “We all reject them.”

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