Opposition Can Seriously Damage your Health

Since I started writing in Facebook a few years ago, quite a few of the friends I meet or make at Facebook give it straight to me. That I lose a lot of my credibility by being associated with, in their words, “controversial political figures from the opposition." To tell you the truth, when I decided to join the founders of El Ghad Party in 2003,  I was faced with the same friendly warnings.

I must say that they were, still are, very well-intentioned, because sometimes they come from the people closest to me, including my own family. I realize that the reputation of many opposition leaders is tarnished with scandalous character assassination campaigns which can magnify the personal flaws of anyone beyond proportion to discredit him or her and destroy their reputations. But here comes an ironic paradox. The accusations and dirt digging only manage to influence the opinions of certain people, mostly the elites, who usually suffer least from status quo. The average simple men and women who cannot survive the status quo and actually go to polling stations to vote, either do not closely follow these dirt campaigns or are miraculously unaffected by them. The living proof of this is Ayman Nour’s case. For as long as I remember, Ayman Nour has always had his most candid critics from Cairo’s elites. White-collar writers, thinkers, business people and professionals.

 In 2005, following his arrest on forgery charges, Egyptian media launched the most ferocious character assassination campaign it had ever mounted on anyone in Egypt’s history of journalism, on the man who publicly challenged Mubarak on the seat of the presidency of Egypt. Several newspapers and talk shows would devote incredibly huge space to throw all kinds of accusations on Ayman Nour. From casting doubts on the source of his “wealth,” to claims that his doctorate degree was fake and that even his father was not his real father! Nevertheless, and despite all sorts of harassment to El Ghad Party and Ayman Nour’s Presidential campaign in Egypt’s first multi-candidate presidential elections, Ayman Nour managed to get over 540,000 votes from Egyptians if you trusted government figures, mostly from simple men and women who reside in Egypt’s poorest towns and villages from Aswan to Areish.

In all objectivity, like him or not, Ayman Nour stands as one of the very few home-grown politicians in the last 60 years who addressed the real issues of Egypt and stood up in the face of tyranny and oppression paying a heavy toll from his life and freedom. Until El Ghad Party started its campaign demanding an end to Mubarak’s then 24-year-long reign and gathering public resistance to the replication of the Syrian example in Egypt in the person of the President’s son, no one had dared to publicly or privately oppose the president. Writers would criticize a minister, a governor or even the prime minister, but Mubarak and his family were off-limits. In the 90's Ayman Nour himself was a part of the co-opted opposition which exercised self-censorship in speech and action. It was like a secret "code" where opposition and independent politicians and writers would observe a system of self-imposed "red lines". Everyone had their own ceiling. Some writers and politicians were allowed to challenge or criticize officials at sub-ministerial levels and very few would be allowed to raise that self-imposed ceiling up to the Prime Minister - but that was it. Mubarak senior and junior and a few other "symbols" of the authoritarian regime were totally off-limits. Of course code-breakers would be subjected to severe punishment as to set an example and enforce the system. For instance, Abdel Halim Kandeel, former editor in chief of El Araby Newspaper and later one of the leaders of Kifaya movement, was kidnapped in 2003, stripped from his clothes and thrown in the desert in response to a series of daring articles where Mubarak himself was mentioned.

El Ghad, however, changed, indeed broke that "code". In March 2004, El Ghad drafted a small booklet with a few questions to the Egyptian people. The booklet was titled “Change Now”.  Internal party discussions about the title of the book took more than 5 hours, since even members of an opposition party at that time felt that using the word “Change” was an open invitation to harassment from security apparatus that could end them in jail. In September 2004, El Ghad developed and published a draft of a new constitution for Egypt. This was simply unprecedented.  In December 2004, a new opposition movement called “Kifaya,” the word literally means “Enough,” organized the first opposition demonstration of its kind in decades, with participation from El Ghad leaders and members.

In January 2005, Ayman Nour was stripped off his parliamentary immunity and arrested on forgery charges. He was released six weeks later on bail pending trial yet ran as the main opponent to Mubarak in September 2005 elections in which he came second amidst wide election irregularities, rigging, fraud and abuse of power favoring the incumbent president. In 2008, April 6 youth opposition movement was launched mainly by young members or ex-members of El Ghad Party. Ayman Nour, and El Ghad Party, like them or not, championed democracy, freedom and change in Egypt in the past 6 years and paid the price while most others took comfort either in the warm arms of the regime, in silence, in absentia or in salon-style elitist political activism.

This is why Ayman Nour and over 100 others from El Ghad Party have been arrested and jailed on and off during the past 4 years. This is why El Ghad Party was banned by the Parties Committee, headed and controlled by the ruling party leaders. This is why El Ghad Newspaper, once selling 170,000 copies, the second largest after Al Ahram, was banned in 2007.  This is why El Ghad Party headquarters was torched  in 2008 in broad day light as the police cleared the streets for the attacking thugs while members and leaders of El Ghad Party gathered inside. The thugs, who are registered felons, were never arrested or charged although their photos were widely published on the Internet and even in El Badeel, an independent newspaper that since then seized to exist.

Surely one loses credibility and a lot more when one is involved with a party that is targeted by a regime which owns and or controls all media outlets, including independent media, in a country where the same regime also controls permits for foreign media correspondents wishing to operate in Egypt. But the sad news is, it is not only credibility that one loses. One loses a lot more when in active opposition. The few hundred activists from El Ghad, Kifaya, 6 April Movement and other opposition groups, pay heavy sacrifices and work under severely hostile circumstances in parties or movements which are plagued by lack of financing, poor organization and security infiltration in addition to other flaws and chaotic conditions. In all fairness, being in opposition can seriously damage your health.