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The art of not saying much
"Where is Gamal Mubarak?" a columnist asked last week. As it turned out, he didn’t have to wait long for an answer. The younger Mubarak’s disappearance from the spotlight -- following the recent parliamentary elections -- had inspired much speculation about how frustrated the head of the ruling National Democratic Party’s (NDP) policies committee must have been by the party’s dismal performance
Friday, January 27,2006 00:00
by Omayma Abdel-Latif , Al-ahram weekly

"Where is Gamal Mubarak?" a columnist asked last week. As it turned out, he didn’t have to wait long for an answer. The younger Mubarak’s disappearance from the spotlight -- following the recent parliamentary elections -- had inspired much speculation about how frustrated the head of the ruling National Democratic Party’s (NDP) policies committee must have been by the party’s dismal performance. A lengthy interview with Gamal in the pro-government daily newspaper Rose El-Youssef this week may not have provided pundits and the public with all the answers they were seeking, but it did mark the first time he had spoken at length with a local news outlet in three years.

Mubarak told the paper he was "pleased" to be given a chance to comment on the political events of 2005, including the controversial parliamentary elections. He spoke at length about the reform process within the NDP, as well as the role played by the policies committee that he heads. He also offered some insight into the party’s internal decision-making processes.

Throughout the interview, Mubarak was keen to emphasise that he was not acting on his own, that he was "part of a system", and that neither he, nor those who work with him, would accept the label, "Gamal Mubarak’s men".

He appeared well aware of the intense criticism that had been levelled over the years at the policies committee’s role in the party’s decision- making process, as well as the criticism that has been directed at him personally. Mubarak denied that his disappearance from the spotlight after the first round of parliamentary elections was deliberate. It was a matter of priorities, he said.

The interview was clearly timed to respond to increasing speculation over the seriousness of the reform process within the NDP itself. The party’s future -- like many others -- seemed to hinge on an on-going power struggle between its old and new guards. The independent press had even been suggesting that a major shake-up was in the cards; it was reported, in some papers, that an emergency conference was being planned for the spring.

Mubarak said the party’s cadres were aware that the NDP’s message needed improvement. He suggested that during the presidential and parliamentary elections, the party had tried to improve its PR skills as it reached out for voters’ support. He did not, however, offer straightforward answers to questions about his view of the election results themselves. "Any political party should draw lessons from what happened," he said. "What any party aspires for is to achieve the majority, and form a government, and that is what we did."

The "results target" was not met, he conceded, because "our message did not reach voters in time." He seemed adamant, though, about the party’s plan to move along with the reform process it launched some three years ago. Mubarak blamed some of the government’s economic policies -- particularly in relation to unemployment -- for voters’ apathy. "Slow economic growth over the past three years affected the ways in which people were receptive to NDP policies. After all, people want to see tangible results of this reform. It’s not enough to say we’ve released a new tax law, or that the export rate is growing. Voters want to see this translated into more job opportunities, better incomes, and better services. If this is not clear, then no matter how convincing your message is, it will not reach them. I therefore believe it was normal for people to... give their vote to the opposition. It was a kind of protest vote, because their expectations were not met by the NDP."

Some commentators interpreted remarks like these as yet another attempt to repackage the younger Mubarak as a man of the people, someone who was part of a larger system. In fact, Mubarak himself made a point of indicating, at several points during the interview, that he was "not far from the people".

Mubarak also dismissed accusations that the committee was a sort of policy- making ivory tower. "I heard a lot of people [make comments about] the NDP formulating its policies in an ivory tower, [as well as] about my participation in electoral rallies. It is not true that this was my first involvement in street politics. I have toured most governorates and occasionally met party cadres."

He spoke of his dismay regarding the committee’s portrayal in the press as a mere vehicle for his own entry onto the political scene, and accused his detractors of personalising the issues. "They criticise the committee as a way of attacking the president himself. They go on repeating their ranting about succession, [even though] neither the president nor I believe that such an issue exists."

Not surprisingly, perhaps, many of the important questions on the public’s mind were either left out of the interview altogether, or responded to in a rather vague manner. Mubarak denied, for instance, that he or the committee had exercised influence over the selection of some of the new cabinet’s ministers, or had anything to do with the removal of state-affiliated newspaper editors last summer.

In fact, his answers to the most controversial questions about succession and running for presidency belied the interview’s title: " Al-Musaraha ", or telling it like it is. His response to the question about running for president: "I have said so many times before over the years that I don’t have any intention of running for the presidency, and I repeat that I don’t have this intention today, and this is clear for anyone who wants to understand."

A crucial question about the NDP’s relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood revealed that Mubarak was making a point of not even mentioning the legally banned group. While denying any sort of deal between the party and the Brotherhood, he admitted that the party knew how tough the electoral battle was going to be. "Our challenge came from those NDP members who decided to run independently, and I don’t want people to take this to mean that we took the other political forces lightly. On the contrary, we respect them and take them seriously." It was very obvious that he did not plan to even mention the Brotherhood by name. All he would say was that, "the NDP expected fierce competition" from what he described as "different political forces within society".

Of the few reactions to the interview thus far, the most pertinent came from columnist Khairi Ramadan in Tuesday’s Al-Masry Al-Youm : "Gamal Mubarak spoke so much, taking up amounts of space that are not even given to his father; but alas, it was all without substance... We still need to understand: why Gamal Mubarak? For how long? And where is this all leading to?"


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