Reform and Development

Egyptian Eelections Watch (Ahram Online and Jadaliyya), Wednesday 28 Dec 2011

The Reform and Development Party (RDP) was established in 2009 by Mohamed Anwar Esmat Al-Sadat (commonly known as Esmat Al-Sadat), a nephew of late Egyptian president Anwar Al-Sadat. Egyptian authorities turned down RDP’s initial license application in July 2010, but the party was eventually legalized in May 2011 in the wake of Egypt’s January 25 Revolution.

In June of this year, the RDP merged with Misruna [Our Egypt], a party founded by business tycoon Ramy Lakah who was pushed out of the liberal Al-Wafd Party in April 2011. The nascent party therefore now refers to itself as “the Reform and Development-Misruna Party” (RDP-M). The RDP-M defines itself as a civil party calling for comprehensive economic and political reform and promoting sustainable development.

Al-Sadat currently serves as the RDP-M’s acting chair although Lakah was initially poised to serve as the party’s first chair. The political party’s licensing committee had objected to Lakah’s appointment on legal grounds, namely that he was not one of the RDP’s founding members when it was first licensed.

Before the Revolution

The RDP had a limited experience in political activism prior to the eighteen-day uprising that led to the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak. For example, the party took part in a February 2009 popular campaign opposed to Egyptian gas exports to Israel. In the 2010 parliamentary polls, the RDP fielded some candidates, including Al-Sadat himself. Like many candidates affiliated with parties and groups that lacked legal status at the time, RDP candidates officially ran as “independents.”

Al-Sadat was elected to parliament on an independent ticket in 2005. He was a critic of Mubarak-era practices and policies, including thealleged groomingof presidential scion Gamal Mubarak to succeed his father, the decades-old emergency law, and the country’s unpopular privatization drive. In 2006, Al-Sadat submitted a motion in parliament calling for investigating longtime Mubarak aide and Member of Parliament Zakaria Azmi for corruption allegations. Shortly thereafter, the Mubarak regime retaliated against Al-Sadat. Ruling party allies in the legislature succeeded in suspending Al-Sadat’s parliamentary membership in May 2007 on the legal grounds that he lost the integrity to hold that office in accordance with article ninety-six of the constitution after a court ruling declared him bankrupt. Another court, however, reversed that ruling in September 2007. A year earlier Al-Sadat’s late brother Talaat had also entered into a showdown with the regime. He was accused of defaming the Egyptian army after suggesting that the military was complicit in the assassination of his late uncle President Anwar Al-Sadat. After his parliamentary membership was similarly suspended, a military court sentenced Talaat to a year in prison in October 2006.

RDP-M leader and famous French Egyptian businessman Ramy Lakah also had a brief experience in politics during the Mubarak era. An influential figure among Egypt’s small Roman Catholic community (less than one percent of the population), Lakah is said to have played a role in organizing Pope John Paul II’s visit to Egypt. In 2000, he was elected to parliament as the representative of Cairo’s Azbakeya district, but a 2001 court order suspended his membership on grounds that he held dual citizenship. Lakah fled Egypt in 2003 due to mounting debts, though he claims that the government made it difficult for him to reach a fair settlement with his creditors in order to force him out of parliament after he beat an influential National Democratic Party (NDP) figure in the 2000 elections. Years later Lakah reached a debt settlement deal and returned to Egypt in March 2010. Following his return, he reportedly said he would support a Hosni Mubarak bid for another term as president.

Party Structure

A Supreme Council is in charge of managing the party’s affairs. It is supported by a judicial authority known as the “Council of Elders” and an executive authority tasked with implementing the directives of the Supreme Council. The RDP-M’s interim bylaws provide for the election of party leaders.

The official party line appears to reflect Al-Sadat’s stated positions on various issues. Lakah’s engagement in the party’s affairs remains unclear.

Parliamentary Elections

The RDP-M had announced that it plans to support at least two hundred candidates in the 2011/2012 lower house parliamentary polls. The party is reportedly presenting candidates in all of Egypt’s governorates except the Red Sea. Its candidate rosters include RDP-M leader Esmat Al-Sadat who is contesting a single-winner seat in the governorate of Menoufia.

Relationship with Other Political Parties

The party is not participating in any electoral coalition, though there has been some talk of limited coordination efforts with other liberal parties in single-winner races.

Stance on Salient Issues

Form of Government

The RDP-M advocates for a mixed system of government that combines elements of presidential and parliamentary systems. In such a system, the platform explains, the president would appoint the prime minister who would then appoint the cabinet. The president must in turn approve the prime minister’s cabinet appointments.

Economic Policy

According to its official platform,the party supports economic freedom and espouses free-market policies. It stresses the importance of private sector participation in development, direct investment, and trade. In its program, the party attempts to distance itself from “predatory capitalism” by endorsing a supervisory and regulatory role for the state.

Social Justice

The platform contains a detailed national development plan that aims to improve living standards in economically marginalized governorates, especially in rural Upper Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula. It also called for improving Egypt’s national education system and enhancing Egyptian industry, agriculture, and small businesses. The party’s political program stresses the importance of advancing the rights of women and minorities.

Religion and State

RDP-M calls for a civil state in which all citizens enjoy the freedom of belief. It opposes the establishment of political parties based on religion. Al-Sadat has repeatedly called on liberal political forces to offset Egypt’s influential Islamist current.

Strike Law and Labor Movements

While the party supported demands by laborers and professionals to organize independent unions under the Mubarak regime, it has adopted a more cautious approach to the issue of labor strikes after the January 25 Revolution. The RDP-M, moreover, has kept its distance from Egypt’s burgeoning protest scene in order to focus on upcoming elections and, as party officials have said, “not waste time in political debates.”

Military Trials

The RDP-M has not released an official statement on military trials for civilians and there is no record of its official participation in demonstrations organized in protest of that practice. In a statement dated 9 May 2011, Al-Sadat urged the SCAF to refer those responsible for attacking Egyptian churches to military trials.

Al-Sadat has expressed support for the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), stating that Egypt’s military is the only institution capable of guaranteeing the security of the state. He has repeatedly called on Egyptians to support the SCAF until the executive authority can be delegated to an elected civil government.

Foreign Policy

RDP-M’s platform offers only brief discussion of foreign policy. Al-Sadat has called for maintaining a relationship built on equality with the United States and Israel and has defended Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. He has called the continued demilitarization of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula zone a necessity, but has also said that the treaty should be amended in the future if needed.

Media Image and Controversies

Some observers label RDP-M as an offshoot of the former ruling NDP, presumably because of its founder’s association with late president Anwar Al-Sadat’s family. While RDP-M chair Anwar Esmat Al-Sadat has never contested elections on an NDP ticket, some reports claim that that his party’s candidate rosters include individuals who were once affiliated with the NDP. Al-Sadat maintains his party has not fielded any former NDP elements in the 2011/2012 elections.

Key Figures

Mohamed Anwar Esmat Al-Sadat

Party founder Al-Sadat was an outspoken critic of the Mubarak regime. He was especially critical of Mubarak’s influential son, Gamal, and steel magnate and regime stalwart Ahmed Ezz. Many observers believe that his criticism of the former regime cost him his parliamentary membership in 2007, when he was abruptly suspended from parliament on the ground that a court declared him bankrupt—although another court later reversed that ruling.

Al-Sadat, who has served on Parliament’s foreign relations and economic committees, has long been a controversial figure, having been accused of corruption in 1983 following the death of his illustrious uncle.

Ramy Lakah

A French-Egyptian multi-millionaire, Lakah is chairman of the Lakah Group, an industrial and healthcare conglomerate. He was elected to parliament in 2000, but fled the country shortly afterward to escape his mounting debts, thought to have reached as much as two billion EGP. A few months later, his parliamentary membership was annulled as a result of his dual citizenship.

Aftersettling his finances with creditor banks, Lakah’s case was dropped and he returned to Egypt in March 2010, after which he ran for parliament as an Al-Wafd Party candidate (claiming to have relinquished his French citizenship). After his Al-Wafd Party membership was suspended, he formed the Misruna Party, which subsequently joined forces with the RDP to become RDP-Misruna.

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