The Internal Stakes of the 2005 Elections: The Struggle for Influence in Egypt's National Democratic Party

By Collombier, Virginie | The Middle East Journal, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

The Internal Stakes of the 2005 Elections: The Struggle for Influence in Egypt's National Democratic Party


Collombier, Virginie, The Middle East Journal


Beyond the relative opening of the political system that characterized 2005 in Egypt - with the President being elected directly for the first time and the increased competition allowed during legislative elections - the 2005 elections also constituted an opportunity to consider and evaluate the internal struggles for influence under way within the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). In a context largely influenced by the perspective of President Husni Mubarak's succession and by calls for reform coming from both internal and external actors, changes currently occurring at the party level may have a decisive impact on the future of the Egyptian regime.

In a recent article dealing with authoritarian regimes' persistence in the third wave era of democratization,1 Jason Brownlee analyzes the role of ruling parties and the importance of coalition management in these regimes' durability, notably through the examples of Egypt and Malaysia. Indeed, in his view, the institutions on which a regime relies - and more precisely the ruling party's capacity to mediate the relationships between elites - seems to matter far more than the holding of elections. The preservation of the regime thus would depend mainly on its internal cohesion.

As far as Egypt is concerned, such a hypothesis has turned out to be particularly relevant, especially in a context largely influenced by the effect of President Husni Mubarak being at the head of the state and the National Democratic Party (NDP) since 1981 and by the issue of succession (Mubarak now being 77 years old). The NDP as a hegemonic party2 mobilizing the ruling coalition's members thus constitutes one key factor to be considered when analyzing the consolidation strategies implemented by the regime.

In his article, Brownlee highlights the linkage between the durability and stability of the Egyptian regime and the ruling party's capacity to preserve its internal cohesion in the face of opposition, mainly through mediation and the resolution of internal conflicts. Indeed, since the end of the 1990s, and especially since 2002 - when the NDP committed to change3 - internal struggles within the party have become more and more obvious and visible. They have fueled debate and discussions in the press, with journalists and commentators sitting back and watching the match between the so-called "old guard" and "reformers" - the latter group being headed by Gamal Mubarak, the President's younger son.

In that context, the 2005 elections proved especially important in that they helped us consider these struggles of influence and assess the balance of forces between each group. Moreover, these elections also provided us with clues regarding the possible evolution of the Egyptian regime, notably through a study of the current transformations in progress within the ruling coalition.

THE PARTY'S YOUNGER GENERATION: ATTEMPTING TO "GETRID OF THE DEADWOOD"

The NDP is actually a significant institution, a "miniature political system"4 whose internal processes are of particular importance, especially when they take place within the framework of a hegemonic party-system. Even though informal internal processes are necessarily characterized by disagreements, rivalries, and maneuvers - whatever the exact status of the party - this article will mainly consider the formation of "inner-circles" and clans within the NDP. In his reference book on political parties,5 and more specifically in the section dedicated to parties' leadership, Maurice Duverger pays particular attention to the constitution of leading teams or clans within the party itself-teams which, according to him, are the result of a "spontaneous solidarity that comes from a community of origin or training," the "fruit of a deliberated pact made between a few men who generally belong to a young generation, who unite to get rid of the deadwood, to take leadership positions from the older and monopolize them to their own profit. …

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