In the run-up to Egypt’s first-ever multiparty presidential election in 2005, the Ghad (Tomorrow) party emerged as the west’s great hope for promoting liberal reform. Led by its charismatic leader, Ayman Nour, el-Ghad attacked the Mubarak regime’s incompetence with unprecedented fervor, promoting a platform that demanded a democratic constitution, embraced free-market capitalism, and supported a strong relationship with the United States unabashedly. The optimism that el-Ghad’s rise engendered, however, was short-lived: the regime rigged the presidential election and imprisoned Nour – who officially received a paltry 7.3% of the vote to Hosni Mubarak’s 88.6% – dubiously claiming that he forged signatures on party registration documents.
In the aftermath of Nour’s imprisonment, el-Ghad split into two entities: the legally recognized Ghad party, which is chaired by businessman Moussa Mustafa Moussa; and another iteration of the Ghad party comprised of Nour’s allies, which is chaired by lawyer Ihab el-Kholy. The differences between these two Ghad factions suggest a high level of regime intervention in fomenting this split. Some analysts allege that Moussa’s Ghad faction is a puppet party that, in effect, blocks for the regime.
My visits to both Ghad offices – which are located within a short walking distance of one another in Cairo’s Taalat Harb Square area – lend support to this theory. For starters, while a small group of police officers sit outside the el-Kholy faction’s unmarked headquarters, the building that houses Moussa’s faction has a large, orange “el-Ghad” sign outside its door, and no visible police presence. Also, while posters demanding Ayman Nour’s release are ubiquitous in el-Kholy’s offices, Moussa sides with the regime in calling Nour a criminal. In addition, while el-Kholy’s faction remains involved in various demonstrations against the regime – a typical undertaking of Egyptian opposition parties – Moussa opposes involvement in demonstrations that are not authorized by the regime. Furthermore, while el-Kholy’s faction supports strong relations with the west, Moussa emphasizes Nour’s meeting with the U.S. Ambassador as a key catalyst of his rift with the jailed Ghad leader. In this vein, Moussa rails against any American role in pressuring the regime to promote democratic reforms.
But just in case Moussa hasn’t done enough to discredit the Ghad brand name in the international community in accordance with the Mubarak regime’s best wishes, his latest undertaking should represent the final nail in the coffin. In the aftermath of the International Criminal Court’s call for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s arrest, Moussa announced his intention to lead a solidarity mission of Egyptian opposition leaders to Khartoum. “I don’t like the idea that any Arab president can be taken to jail,” he said. “Why don’t you take President Bush into prison also?” (In sharp contrast, Ihab el-Kholy’s Ghad faction has often spoken out on Darfur.)
Indeed, the outlook for el-Ghad – Egypt’s most prominent liberal opposition party only three years ago – is bleak. Although Egyptians overwhelmingly associate el-Ghad with Ayman Nour, his faction is largely distracted from its political work as it fights for his release. Meanwhile, Moussa has announced that he will take el-Kholy and his associates to court, charging them with fraud for using the Ghad name without official status.
“They will face jail very soon,” Moussa said with unnerving confidence.