Hala Shukrallah’s resignation as leader of the Dostour Party may signal the end of a series of conflicts and schisms inside the party, or it may signal the beginning of a new crisis for a party that three years ago represented hope for revolutionaries and a chance for political reform.
Founded in 2012 by diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei and Shokry Fouad to be a channel for revolutionary youth, today the party faces a suspension of its activities, unless it can agree on a date for party leadership elections in order to end the conflicts of the past year.
A dispute around the elections date could leave a leadership vacuum in the Dostour Party, meaning that the Political Parties Affairs Committee might step in to suspend the party’s activities.
The first woman to head a political party in Egypt, and a Christian as well, Shukrallah started her term in office last year amid high hopes after a series of crises had rocked the party.
The party’s announcement this February that it would refrain from taking part in the parliamentary elections served as a lightning rod for the conflicts leading to Shukrallah’s resignation. Prominent party members claim that Shukrallah made the decision unilaterally, while she says that she acted according to the wishes of the party’s youth.
Among those critical of her decision are Secretary General Tamer Gomaa and Ayman Moawad, head of the Wise Men Committee, a select group elected by members to solve conflicts and supervise internal elections and whose decisions are binding and final.
Several members of the party’s secretariat in Aswan resigned to protest the boycott of the elections.
The final clash between Shukrallah and other high-ranking members came with the elections for secretary general and party leader. Shukrallah insisted on holding the election on August 28 as previously arranged, to the objection of the Wise Men. She submitted this date to the Parties Affairs Committee, making it final. Shukrallah refused to allow the Wise Men to supervise the elections, claiming they were not impartial. In their place she formed a Committee of Ambassadors made up of foreign-service diplomats with no alliances within the party.
Despite support shown for the new committee by young members, the Committee of Wise Men regarded it as an infringement of the party’s elected institutions. They claimed that Shukrallah did not have the mandate to hold elections as her time in office had ended, referring her for investigations. However, critics of the Committee of Wise Men argue that their period in office had also ended, because the committee was elected at the same time as Shukrallah.
One of the main points of contention between Shukrallah and the committee regarding the elections is the question of who is eligible to vote in leadership elections. Shukrallah refused to include members from 2013, who have not paid subscriptions, while her opponents point out that this means a majority of the membership would be unable to vote.
In an interview with Al-Masry al-Youm, Shukrallah described the party’s situation as “gloomy” and said that the conflict around elections is just one of several. “Many see elections as the final destination of any democratic procedure,” she said, “and this way of thinking has to end. Democratic processes within parties are still weak, and so is the ability to discuss, disagree and manage arguments. This is why I am keen on having the elections on time, to encourage the youth, although I’m worried they may be delayed.”
Four campaigns are running in the party’s elections. The two main contenders are: “We will build a replacement,” headed by Gomaa, and “Together we can,” which has a following among many young members, as well as television personality Gameela Ismail. Party spokesperson Khaled Dawoud, has thrown his support behind “Together we can,” although privately owned Al-Shorouk newspaper has suggested he is expected to resign. The campaign supports Mohamed al-Gamal, brother of detained Hany al-Gamal, for party leader.
Ismail, who stood against Shukrallah in the last party elections, caused a buzz with comments she made on social media. “I will not run for the party’s presidency, but I will continue building it as I refuse the death of the party. I support the “Together we can” campaign to rescue the party from a legislative and political maze,” she wrote.
“The party struggles after a year of administrative and organizational failure and attempts to destroy it by state representatives,” she added, referring to possible attempts from the state to infiltrate the party.
Head of the Committee of Wise Men, Moawad, expressed his “sorrow” to Mada Masr that the party leader did not listen to the “voice of reason,” describing her resignation as “the final episode in a series of managerial flops.” Moawad said that if the party’s activities were suspended, this would be a setback for revolutionary thinking on which the party was founded. He added that Shukrallah’s decision to have the elections on August 28 was cancelled, and elections should take place in September.
A war of resignations
Dostour has seen its share of challenges since its inception. In August 2013, party founder ElBaradei left Egypt, following his resignation as Vice President in protest at the forced dispersal of the sit-in at Rabea Square that left several hundred dead. Fifty members who claimed that members of the party were present at the sit-ins resigned in protest at what they described as ElBaradei’s equivocal stance, while a further 470 members left the party following his resignation as vice president claiming he abandoned his country at a time of need.
In October 2013, came another wave of resignations. Those who handed in their membership included former Culture Minister Emad Abu Ghazy, former Social Solidarity Minister Ahmed Hassan al-Borai, and member of National Council for Human Rights Kamal Abbas, youth leader Shady al-Ghazaly Harb and prominent business lawyer Hany Serai Eddin. Television personality Bothaina Kamel also resigned, joining the Free Egyptians Party.
The dangers of suspending activities and the future of the party’s young members
Despite the fact that Shukrallah’s resignation theoretically puts an end to conflict with the Political Parties Affairs Committee, the lack of an official resignation means the suspension of party activities is still a possibility.
A young party member who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity claims there are attempts to convince Shukrallah to revoke her resignation, adding that many of the party’s young members do not trust Gomaa’s Wise Men and believe them to be biased.
“Shukrallah wants a well-organized election for the party,” he said, “and I doubt that transparent and real elections can be conducted under the supervision of the committee.” Concerning the arguments over legitimacy, the young member claims Shukrallah is the sole legitimate representative of the party, which is more reason to urge her to revoke her resignation.
The young member sees the coming elections as a dangerous challenge. “This election will filter out young members who successfully convinced their leader to boycott the parliamentary elections against the wishes of other senior party members,” he explained. “The young members in the ‘Together we can’ campaign, can win the elections only if they are run honestly and transparently.”
Abdallah Bahar, a leading figure in the students’ movement and former party member, says that the problems facing Dostour can be traced back to its founding, when the only condition for admission was allegiance to ElBaradei, not to a particular ideology.
Bahar believes that the party’s main problem is the lack of clear political ideology, which he says was apparent in the party’s decision not to adopt a clear stance regarding the constitutional referendum in 2014, leaving the choice to its members.
“The party did not realize that you need to present clear political stances to people, and not act like a youth or student movement,” he says. “The party stood and watched.”
Explaining his own reasons for leaving the party, Bahar says, “the decision-making mechanisms were centralized and removed from the student movement. This led to my detachment from the party’s student activities, and ultimately my resignation,” he explains.
Bahar sees the party’s crisis as part of the deterioration of the dominating political atmosphere in Egypt, which doesn’t allow parties to play a real role.
“What’s happening in the party is happening everywhere else,” he says. “There are no inspiring ideas or projects, so it becomes normal to see divisions, conflicts and resignations. The crisis of the Dostour Party is the crisis of the revolution and the youth.”