CAIRO: Lawyer Ehab El Khouly was elected the new leader of Al Ghad opposition party in a close race against engineer Wael Nawara last week.
A dozen anti-riot police armored vehicles filled the streets around the party’s headquarters in Downtown Cairo. Higher ranking police officers also peppered the area.
Members from all over Egypt flocked in to cast their vote, either alone or in organized groups.
Of the 3,382 registered members of the General Assembly, 498 cast their vote.
Four candidates competed to for the position, but the race was mainly between two El Khouly and Nawara, the former General Secretary of Al Ghad.
Lawyer El Khouly won 218 votes, Nawara was a close second with 202 votes, while Mohammed Abu Al Azm got 56 votes, and Ahmed Saqr received eight.
It was a fierce competition, said Gamila Ismail, the media spokesperson of the party, and Nour s wife, The difference between Nawara and lawyer El Khuly is just 16 votes.
To demonstrate that the process was democratic and transparent, Al Ghad invited Rights Groups and NGOs to monitor the whole process. The committee also used phosphoric ink that can t be washed off to prevent multiple voting.
I dipped my finger in the ink and then tried to wash it off, but it remained, said Adel Abdel Hameed, from the Egyptian Association to Encourage the Social Involvement.
The Elections Supervision Committee started the day by delivering the registration lists and voters cards to the organizing committee (OC) in the presence of outside monitors.
Although there was a general consensus among observers that there was no fraud, they all agreed that there was another problem – lack of organization.
Even the OC had trouble being organized.
But it s a very promising beginning for an Egyptian party, this lack of organization is normal in Egypt, said Samy Diab from the Egyptian Committee for Monitoring Elections.
There was also a lot of tension between the voters and the organizing committee, and between campaigners for the different candidates.
At one point, one OC member passed out. The tension would sometimes reach total chaos, forcing the committee to stop the voting process for some time to regain control of the situation.
The spirit of the day was not dominated by the usual “Free Ayman Nour slogans. One of the most cheerful and emotional moments was when Gamila Ismail, Nour s wife, was reading his speech to the members.
Being silent in dealing with injustice is death, she read. Choose your president objectively, and let your brain be the only judge. Present a model of people who believe in the values of liberalism.Your gift to me is passing this day, is passing this test.
Nour was not only present through his speech. The candidates used him as an icon and an inspiration. Nawara s posters included Nour s name while lawyer El Khouly hung up pictures of himself standing next to Nour.
Praising the party, Ahmed Fawzy from the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights said: The party has been dealt massive blows from the government and for them to be able to remain on their feet and to organize multi-candidate presidential elections is an accomplishment.
He also said Al Ghad is not the only party facing problems and that there are obstacles to political participation in general.
We ve been deprived from the right to practice politics since 1952, he said.
For Al Ghad party members, the significance of this election was twofold: to choose a new leader and to prove to the National Democratic Party-dominated government that Al Ghad has survived the numerous attempts to break it down since it was officially approved in 2004.
Its first leader Ayman Nour is now serving a five-year-sentence in a case most analysts believe was politically-motivated because of Nour’s popularity at the polls during the 2005 Presidential elections.
Since his detention in early 2006, the party was marred by internal splits. The renegade former judge Morsi El Sheikh had led a splinter group of dissidents, which formed another Al Ghad Party with its own newspaper and its own president.