A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Increasing Irrelevance of Ayman Nour

Not to get into American politics too deeply, since I'll offend half my readers and that's not the subject of this blog, but the recent controversies over former Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin's decision to resign as Governor of Alaska (not just to quit at the end of her term but to resign this month) has puzzled and confused the pundits and many of her devout supporters, leading to a lot of debate as to whether she's played a brilliant political hand, or proven herself a quitter, or is trying to avoid a scandal, or what. Unless she knows something we don't, she seems to have made herself less, not more, likely to win higher office. Sometimes political figures make puzzling, even seemingly self-defeating, decisions.

That can happen with political candidates in the Middle East, too. Case in point: Ayman Nour.

You'll remember Ayman Nour, who's been active enough to have his own topic in the "Categories" file of this blog, with seven posts just since January up to this one; I refer you to that list rather than link individually, but the story so far: former Wafd Party figure, split with the Wafd Party (actually kicked out), started the Al-Ghad (Tomorrow) Party, ran against Mubarak for President in 2005, lost and was sent to prison on (rather dubious) charges; released in order to placate the US' new Administration; tried to make himself relevant to the April 6 demonstrations this year, but was sandbagged by his wife announcing she was divorcing him on the same day; claimed he'd been attacked by a person on a motorbike who lit a spray aerosol can and set fire to his hair, giving him first degree burns; strongly denied press reports that he'd told the doctors that he'd burned himself with a hairdryer.

That's my attempt at a fair summary of his career since getting out of prison. And I like Ayman Nour.

Now, to add to his stellar performance since his release, Ayman Nour has recently:
  1. Announced that he is running for President in 2011, even though he is barred from doing so by current electoral laws and his conviction; and (since that could at least be seen as a challenge to the status quo), has also
  2. Picked a fight with the Coptic Church. This one makes me wonder about the man's stability. Insofar as his Al-Ghad Party has any political base, it is as a modern offshoot of the historic Wafd, and the historic Wafd, the liberal party of the monarchical period, was often strongly supported by the Coptic elites, such as Makram ‘Ebeid. So Nour has sought to visit a church (Mari Girgis) in Alexandria. The reason is not entirely clear, but is presumably political, but he has been told by the Coptic Pope, Shenouda III, not to do so, and is fighting back (see the link). Now there are many divisions in the Coptic Church today (a subject for a future post), and Shenouda, once back in the Sadat era a critic of the regime, has become a strong supporter of Mubarak and endorsed him in 2005, and there are Coptic elite figures (and some bishops) who are quietly opposing him. Nour may win some Coptic support by attacking the Pope, but he will lose even more. This one doesn't make any sense, not for a Muslim running in a Muslim country. Don't try to play internal minority politics if you aren't part of the minority: you won't get it right, and it will almost certainly backfire.
Nour really is at risk of being made to look ridiculous, which of course the regime will not hesitate to capitalize upon. He's being divorced by his high profile, anchorperson wife; he's been made to look absurd on the "aerosol hair burning" incident (whatever the truth may have been, and he may have been telling the truth); he's tilting at windmills by declaring a candidacy he cannot legally pursue; and now he's fighting the Coptic Pope. Why?

He might do better to fight his conviction in court, try to achieve vindication, and then seek to run as President.

One reason that we are likely to see the real competition for succession to Husni Mubarak as between Gamal Mubarak and some military figure such as Omar Suleiman is simply that there doesn't seem to be a liberal democratic alternative or, for that matter, a civilian alternative within the ruling party leadership. Gamal today controls most of the National Democratic Party levers, except for a few ancient figures retained from earlier eras, but too old to contend for power. The Wafd has been, to all intents and purposes, destroyed, and was once the only opposition party with a real national base, other than the ruling National Democratic Party and the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Ghad has always been Nour's personal party, though perhaps with appeal to the old (but increasingly geriatric) Wafd base, but he is increasingly being made to look ridiculous. Of course the regime is partly responsible for that, but Nour himself is increasingly complicit. Most of the other parties, excepting always the Muslim Brotherhood, are either intellectual debating clubs, personal hobbyhorses of their leader, or remnants of pre-Revolutionary movements that never had the support that the Wafd enjoyed. The ruling party has fragmented the opposition. Nour had a moment in the sun when he could have created a real alternative, but he has become increasingly irrelevant. It's Gamal or the Army or the Brotherhood, as far as I can see, and I expect the Brotherhood will let the other two fight it out and stand in the wings as the alternative.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Blind eyes of major western media like BBC and CNN in Marwa al-Sherbini case raised many question about their role in conducting such event. Many Muslim believe that they are main responsible for extending racism against Islam. Removing images of this anti human case from internet had a clear message for human rights fans. THERE IS NO RESPECT TO HUMAN RIGHT IN WESTERN COUNTRIES!!! The important issue which all Muslim people should concern about it is, why we should consume western countries product?!! Doesn’t consuming German product mean ignorance about denying obvious human rights?
When BBC and CNN want to be honest to people? Why they think that others have low intelligence and can not find the truth hided behind their false broadcasting?