An Egyptian Communist Party was first established in the 1918-1920 period, but was not active again until after 1939. In this period, through the late 1950s, there were several communist organizations, the principal one being the Democratic Union for National Liberation. Following the 1952 revolution, relations with the Nasser regime were often problematic. Two labor leaders including one Communist, were executed at Kafr al-Dawwar in 1952, and in 1954-1955 a number of cadre were jailed. In late 1958 there was a fusion of the various groupings under the name of the Egyptian Communist Party, prompted in large degree by their shared opposition to the formation of the United Arab Republic with Syria. This unity was followed on New Year’s Day 1959 by the mass arrest of CP members who were shipped off to concentration camps. Most were released in 1964. In 1965 the leadership of the Party decided to dissolve itself under pressure from the regime and join as individuals with the sole legal party, the Arab Socialist Union. Not all followed this path or agreed with this decision, however. In 1976 the Party was reconstituted by former cadre inside and outside the country. The Party has close relations with the Soviet Union externally, and within Egypt has fraternal relations with the Progressive Assembly of National Unionists. A splinter group, also calling itself the Communist Party, formed in 1978, but the most important competing organization on the left is the Communist Workers’ Party, an independent, anti-revisionist (but not pro-Chinese) grouping that emerged from the developments of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The principal organ of the ECP is a Paris-based monthly, al-Yasar al-‘Arabi (The Arab Left). Its publications in Egypt itself are clandestine. The Party’s political and organizational effectiveness and potential must be inferred from the vehement and consistent harassment of the Sadat regime. —Eds.
At dawn on Thursday, August 16, Egyptian authorities launched an extensive campaign of arrests of anti-imperialist and progressive militants. The state prosecutor announced 56 such arrests. According to the list of those arrested, however, the number was substantially larger, and the campaign continues. Despite great diversity in their political and ideological tendencies, all the accused are charged with belonging tb the Egyptian Communist Party (ECP) which, according to the charges, “through its actions and policies seeks to overthrow the regime and institute a communist system.”
The state prosecutor accuses the ECP of sowing confusion and doubt about the regime, of weakening national unity, and of opposing the “peace initiative.” The prosecutor enumerates different aspects of the ECP’s activities, as well as its underground publications inside the country — al-Intisar, al-Wa‘y, al-Ard wa al-Fallah — its publishing house, Dar al-Thaqafa, and its organizations abroad in London, Paris and West Berlin which it claims “publish al-Intisar, al-Yasar al-‘Arabi and Awraq Dimuqratiyya, and participate in the editing of publications and magazines hostile to the regime.”
The accused include two working-class deputies of the former People’s Assembly, dissolved in May 1979, Abu al-‘Izz al-Hariri and Ahmad Taha. Three members of the Egyptian bar, Nabil al-Hilali, Zaki Murad and ‘Abdallah Zughbi were also among the accused, lt is important to note that these lawyers were known for defending those accused in political trials and were playing a major defense role ina political trial, stemming from the popular uprising of January 1977, actually in progress at the time of their arrest.
This latest police campaign is just one more stage in the repression of all opposition to the Israeli-Egyptian treaty. The opposition has rallied many diverse political forces. The campaign follows the dissolution of the People’s Assembly and the holding of elections aimed at the elimination of all opposing voices in the new assembly. Presidential Decree 194 of 1979, promulgated before the elections, forbids any criticism of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty during the electoral campaign. The same law stipulates that all political discussion of “social peace.” These measures proved insufficient, for the state had to use all possible means to gerrymander the elections, going so far as stuffing ballot boxes, making physical threats, indicting candidates for espionage and so on, incidents which were widely commented upon by the international press.
After the elections, the new People’s Assembly on July 19 accepted, in principle, amendments to the constitution which contradict fundamental freedoms and rights and which would not have easily passed the previous People’s Assembly.
We can understand the campaign of arrests in the light of these facts and the political battle which is brewing around the proposed amendments. The principal constitutional amendments are the following:
- To name President Sadat president for life, which is contrary to the constitution in its present form.
- To create a new assembly called the “Consultative Assembly,” parallel to the present People’s Assembly, which would usurp most of the prerogatives of the People’s Assembly and would be easier to control because many of its members would be named by the president of the Republic (50 percent according to the latest figures).
- To change the law regulating political parties by increasing the obstacles to party formation. In addition, the special court in charge of hearing cases concerning party formation would include appointed members who are not judges.
- To create a higher judicial council which, by virtue of the method of its membership selection, would be subordinated to the executive power. The creation of such a council is opposed by the great majority of judges, who have recently elected a man opposed to the government as president of their club.
- To promulgate a law permitting the socialist prosecutor general* to deprive political and union leaders of their political rights and to expel them from political, professional and governmental organizations.
- To promulgate a new press law instituting a Higher Press Council which would replace the Journalists’ Union. The union would become a journalists’ club which would have no say in the professional problems of its members. Such a change seeks to extend government control over journalists and fulfill the wishes of the President of the Republic. Sadat had asked the present journalists’ organization for a number of years, in vain, to expel all opponents of the regime (600 according to the calculations of the president of the Republic, who cited this figure during his meeting with the Journalists’ Union). In order to pass the new law, the authorities went so far as to prohibit the union’s general assembly last month and have created, against the advice of a growing number of journalists, a so-called “Committee of Press Organizations” designed to be more malleable.
- To have the People’s Assembly approve Presidential Decree 265 of 1979, which dissolves local student unions and the General Union of Egyptian Students, halts all their activities, and closes their offices. In fact, despite disciplinary councils which expel professors and students in the opposition, the reinstitution of the university police system, student arrests and the total interdiction of all political activity, government attempts to control the student movement have failed.
It is important to note that the campaign of arrests has involved a significant number of labor leaders. Actually, the resurgence of strikes in Helwan, Alexandria and Mahalla al-Kubra, as well as the coming elections in professional organizations, disturb the authorities. The arrests are, then, the culmination of a series of measures taken to weaken the union movement. The elections were postponed for six months in order to allow the socialist prosecutor general to control the candidates. In addition, a significant number of union leaders were called in and questioned on the basis of reports submitted by the political police.
All these measures contradict outright current laws which the state seeks to change in order to better control the union movement.
Those arrested also include a significant number of leaders from the Progressive Assembly of National Unionists, a legal party. The arrests were designed to prevent the party from holding its congress on the date chosen. The party includes different forces in opposition to the regime.
We should also point out that the popular revolt in Sudan against President Numayri’s regime, the strongest ally of the present Egyptian regime, evoked in Sadat bad memories of the popular revolt of 1977 and prompted him to take these draconian measures against the growing opposition.
As soon as this wave of arrests became known, Sadat announced [on August 18] that “the maintenance of a state of emergency and martial law is necessary because there are individuals in the country who want to use freedom to destroy and betray.” The state of war against Israel had been similarly used to maintain a state of emergency — now the regime is unmasked and shows its true colors.
The regime’s fascist tendencies also are more clearly revealed. Several times, President Sadat has invited the people to “kill the opposition.” “Kill them wherever they are,” he exclaimed in a speech in Ismailiyya last July, where he also announced that he had given orders to fire on sight on any assembly. The National Democratic Party (the President’s party) has also formed private militias and a military wing in order to use violence against the opposition.
The Egyptian regime, increasingly isolated, cannot maintain itself in power without using terror and police repression. Its practices and the laws it is proposing transgress the most elementary human rights and democratic liberties. According to the latest news, prisoners went on a hunger strike August 17. The strike is in response to cruelty and ill treatment suffered in a prison controlled by the political police. They are demanding the most elementary rights of prisoners, denied to them since their arrest.
* This prosecutor is directly responsible to the president of the Republic. The post was created in 1977 in order to bypass the normal civilian judicial authorities in political cases.