Osama El-Ghazali Harb
Egyptian Eelections Watch (Ahram Online and Jadaliyya) , Saturday 19 Nov 2011

A veteran politician, Osama Al-Ghazali Harb, born in 1947, is one of the founders of Egypt’s liberal-leaning Democratic Front Party.

After graduating from Cairo University’s faculty of economics and political science in 1969, he began his journalistic career working for the state-owned Al-Gomhorriya newspaper and Al-Kateb magazine. In 1977, he moved to the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies to work as a researcher and in 1990 replaced Boutros-Boutros Ghali as editor-in-chief of International Politics magazine (Al-Siyasa Al-Dawliyya), one of the center’s most prestigious publications. His work with the center officially ended in 2010 after its administration refused to renew his contract.

Before the Revolution

As a student, Harb was a member of the Socialist Youth Organizationsince its establishment in 1965. The organization was affiliated with the Arab Socialist Union, officially the ruling party in Egypt between 1962 and 1978. In 1972, he was arrested on charges of belonging to an organization (the Arab Pioneers) “that seeks to overthrow the regime.” As a result, his mandatory military service was terminated.

He was again arrested in 1975 as a member of the Communist Party, during a wave of arrests that targeted leftist and socialist forces. His third arrest came during Cairo’s 1977 Bread Uprising. He was released in the late 1970s after which he focused on his academic career until 1995, when then president Hosni Mubarak first appointed him as a member of Egypt’s Shura Council, the upper house of parliament.

In 2002, he was appointed to the notorious Policies Committee of the now dissolved National Democratic Party (NDP) of ousted president Hosni Mubarak, which stood behind Egypt’s drive towards economic liberalization and privatization during the last decade. However, he resigned from the Policies Committee in 2006, allegedly because he objected to the NDP-sponsored amendment of Article 76 of the constitution. The amendment reinforced the NDP’s monopoly over political power by making it difficult for competitive opposition candidates to get their name on the presidential election ballot.

In 2007, Harb joined forces with Yehia Al-Gamal to establish the Democratic Front Party, initially called the Justice and Freedom Party. The party adopts a liberal orientation, calling for a civil state and a free – if regulated – market. Later the same year, he was elected party chair.

In 2010, the Democratic Front Party became one of the major supporters of Mohamed ElBaradei’s call for far reaching democratic reforms, including an open presidential election in which candidates that were not handpicked by the Mubarak regime could run.

The Revolution and Beyond

Harb’s Democratic Front Party supported Egypt’s January 25 Revolution from the outset, issuing a statement on 2 February demandingMubarak’s departure and the temporary transfer of executive authority to Egypt’s acting vice president.

His party was among the political forces that rejected a raft of amendments to the 1971 constitution that was put up for approval in a national referendum in March. At the time, Harb arguedthat the amendments would only serve to lend legitimacy to the now-defunct constitution.

Harb is a staunch supporter of drafting a new constitution in advance of holding elections, even going so far as to endorse the idea that the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) remainin power for at least two more years to accomplish this end. Harb argued, “the security presence is very weak and we still need extra time to reshuffle the police force, which was completely destroyed during the revolution.” Many activists, like Al-Wasat’s Essam Sultan, criticized Harb’s comments, viewing them as an implicit endorsement of extended military rule. Interestingly, a month later Harb blamed the delay in ending military rule on the Muslim Brotherhood, specifically for the group’s insistence on holding elections before drafting a new national charter.

Harb has also defendedthe SCAF’s “delay” in issuing a law banning former NDP members from contesting elections, arguing that “the NDP had a lot of respectable figures” and noting that it would take considerable time to determine which members of the former ruling party were corrupt and which ones were not.

Harb was scheduled to head a SCAF-appointed committee tasked with drafting a set of principles that would guide constitution-writing efforts after parliamentary elections. However,he later announced on 15 July that the SCAF had cancelledhis mandate and aborted the idea all together.

After his term as party chair ended in September, he announcedthat he would not be running again for the post. Al-Saeed Kamel was subsequently elected party chief in Harb’s stead.

When electoral alliances began to crystallize in the run-up to polling, Harb joined forces with the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and Al-Wafd Party, among others, to create the Democratic Alliance for Egypt. His party eventually withdrew from the electoral coalition on grounds that a partnership with Islamist groups is inconsistent with the party’s liberal principles. Party officials, however, did not explain why they joined an alliance that clashed with their party’s principles in the first place. The Democratic Front later helped form the Egypt Bloc, a secular leaning electoral alliance that is widely viewed as a counterbalance to the Muslim Brotherhood. The party eventually withdrew from the Bloc and chose to contest elections independently from any coalitions.

Harb has never before contested parliamentary elections, with his seat in the Shura Council having come via presidential appointment. Harb has announced that he would not contestEgypt’s 2011 legislative elections.

Fact Box

Born: 1947

Political Orientation: Liberal

Occupation: Scholar of political science