NDP image revamp threatened by squabbling

Dina Ezzat, Saturday 27 Nov 2010

The ruling party has put a great deal of effort and resources into revamping its image, but internal squabbling threatens to make it all an exercise in futility

NDP Posters
NDP Posters

“We planned very hard for how we will handle this election. We worked for weeks and weeks on every little detail. We thought carefully of who would speak when, and what we should be saying. We decided that we should portray a positive and engaging image and this is what we are working on,” said a well-informed member of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).

This account sums up a crucial aspect of the NDP media campaign for Sunday's legislative elections: the NDP image.

NDP campaign managers admit that their party has had an image problem. First, they acknowledge, party members have not been visible to the public. The few well-known names of the party include President Hosni Mubarak, as party leader, Youssef Wali, a former controversial minister of agriculture, and a few others including Safwat El-Sherif, now secretary general, and Kamal El-Shazali, who passed away a few days ago -- a long time MP whose party position was not well-known by the public but who will be remembered to be the tough man who kept the party together.

Then in 2002 entered Gamal Mubarak, the younger son of the president, as chair of a newly established body: the Policies Committee. From that day on, the party started to work on its image, aiming to come across as much more than just the president's party, but as a political party with a wide and youthful popular base. At the time, many new members were admitted -- mostly businessmen, academics and members of other prestigious edge professions.

The promotion of “the new style of thinking” slogan that was adopted by the party along with the entrance of Gamal Mubarak was coupled with the introduction of a new image of the party as one that could attract Egyptians from all walks of life. Certainly the media campaigns that were conducted during the past few years, including the campaign for the presidential elections of 2005, aimed to portray the NDP as a party that could reach out to all Egyptians.

“For this electoral campaign we wanted to do more. We wanted to be seen as the party of smart politicians -- smart and modern. People who could speak up and defend their views in an eloquent style that takes into account that we are living in a world governed by the IT revolution,” said the same NDP member.

To serve this purpose, the NDP hired a British PR company to train leading figures of the NDP and its prominent candidates on how to speak -- both to the public and to the media.

“Those were long sessions of training. It was easier with some of the top party members than with others to accept the instructions of the trainers; some were offended and thought they were above being 'given lessons,' as they called, it but they had to go along because it was the decision of the party,” the same NDP source said.

The NDP's top echelon and potential nominees were then given another task: interview training. “We got them to sit down in studios and to answer tough, very tough questions -- much tougher than anything they would face on (state run) Egyptian TV. We wanted them to think they were being interviewed by the BBC or Aljazeera, and they got to learn how to react comfortably to tough questions,” the source added.

In these sessions NDP members had to defend the party platform with questions like, “Your party promised to end the state of emergency, so why has it not done so?” and “Your party was supposed to increase job opportunities but people still complain about unemployment. Are you lying to the people?”

This particular training session saw some of the older NDP faces walking out in anger, stating that, “nobody would dare ask such questions”.

NDP members were also given advice on what not to say. One obvious thing to avoid was “as President Mubarak said or says”. The idea was for them to speak for the party, not to quote the president.

Ultimately, on 10 November -- during a limited meeting with selected NDP leaders -- President Hosni Mubarak, as NDP chair, said his piece: the party will continue its work aimed to bring about more social justice and firmer social cohesion.

All this said; the image of the NDP has not exactly come across the way party planners had in mind. And despite the eloquent statements made by some NDP media faces, fights amongst NDP members over candidacy spots left the image of a party divided, and where the loyalties of some members could be compromised easily by personal interests.

Speaking off record, NDP leaders say the decision of the party to run more than one candidate for one third of the contested  constituencies was designed to contain the political ambitions of as many would-be-MPs as possible. The trick, however, has not worked, and the media is daily covering “NDP versus NDP” stories.

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