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Mubarak's Party Haunts Egyptian Elections


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Protesters across Egypt are demanding an end to military rule and they say they no longer want anyone connected to former President Hosni Mubarak's regime in power. But an Egyptian high court recently gave a green light to hundreds of former members of Mr. Mubarak's outlawed ruling party to run for parliament. With elections scheduled to begin next week, critics worry that people connected to that era might have the money and connections to win. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson...


SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: A campaign event like this backgammon tournament run by an anti-regime blogger in the Mubarak stronghold of Heliopolis would have been unthinkable even a year ago.


NELSON: Mahmoud Salem exudes the confidence of a candidate who believes he can win. Still, Salem faces tough competition from members of the former ruling National Democratic Party, better known as the NDP who are also running for his seat.

MAHMOUD SALEM: I think right from the beginning of the revolution they should not have been allowed to run.

NELSON: Gamal Eid heads the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, a liberal advocacy group.

GAMAL EID: (foreign language spoken)

NELSON: He says officials in Tunisia made the right decision in banning members of the former ruling party from standing in elections there last month. He criticizes the ruling generals for not doing the same here.

EID: (foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Eid adds it's not about revenge, but to protect Egypt's fledgling democracy from the felool, or remnants, as they are called. Eid argues there's no room in an elected government for former members of a party who for decades engaged in fraud and graft. Many activists here have launched websites to help identify them. Others filed lawsuits to try and block them from running. Exactly how many former NDP members are running is unknown. Some of the former members have started their own political parties but most are running for nearly a third of the seats that have been designated for independent candidates. Amr Darrag, heads the Giza branch of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, which is expected to be the big winner in the upcoming parliamentary elections. He predicts former NDP members will win enough seats to cause trouble.

AMR DARRAG: We believe what they are targeting is to secure something like one-third or more than on-third of the seats to make sure they can stop anything positive in the parliament by preventing the two-third majority to take place. OK? I believe that is their strategy because I am also sure they are sure they can never achieve majority.

NELSON: That obstructionist strategy is one the Brotherhood employed several years back when its supporters held one out of every five seats in parliament. Nevertheless, Darrag and many others here say that not every former ruling party member should be banned from serving in government.

DARRAG: You know, many people just joined the party because it was the ruling party, but they did not actively participate in ruining the political life.

NELSON: Historian Mahmoud Sabit say officials here may have a more practical motive for allow former NDP members to run.

MAHMOUD SABIT: Well, I think they are facing what the Eisenhower administration had to face in occupied Germany. Do you use the former Nazis who were running the show in the interim because they are the only ones who could administer anything?

NELSON: Former NDP member Youmn el Hamaky agrees. She is an economics professor Ein Shams University in Cairo who was an appointed member of the upper house of parliament for more than ten years. Hamaky, who says she is forming a political party that will focus on creating more jobs for young Egyptians, wants to see corrupt former party members who broke the law prosecuted.

YOUMN EL HAMAKY: Why? Because, you know, not every person in the NDP is corrupted or, you know, has been used, you know, to boost the system.

NELSON: The ruling generals this week tried reassuring protesters that a law is in place to make sure wrongdoers are prosecuted even if they end up elected to parliament.

MAMDOUA SHAHEEM: (foreign language spoken)

NELSON: At a news conference Thursday, General Mamdouh Shahin says they've assigned that task to the public prosecutor and that anyone charged will be tried in criminal court. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.