The Egyptian version of the GOP convention

Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) is holding a convention, which could loosely be called its version of the RNC (except that this is not a presidential election year, there are no protests, and no major opposition conference to threaten the message disseminated here).

But it is sleek. Its infectious theme song, which is playing on a monitor behind me as I write this, has been stuck in my head for days. Commercials play on large monitors in between convention speakers, extolling the achievements of the party. And signs at the entrances of conference rooms say, "We promised...we delivered," followed by the details of said accomplishment.

Gamal Mubarak, the president's (tall) son, and the head of the NDP's policies committee, has just finished an hour-long press conference, and it's clear from his answers that while this conference ostensibly revolves around the party's various reform efforts, progress toward change is measured by a goverment yardstick. I'll write more about this in an upcoming Voice article, but the complaint here is that while the economic reform agenda seems serious, meaningful political change is still far off. Systemic change—namely, amending the Egyptian constitution and repealing the many so-called emergency laws—is simply not on the agenda. That's the answer every time the question comes up. Not that it might be important, or needed. It's just not on the program.

Still, the NDP has shown off its best asset, the new goverment, which has the youngest cabinet in recent memory. The conference is also hosting a hundred or so foreign guests, who got to drill the NDP leadership on Tuesday night (away, it should be said, from the press). And the dauntless Arab journalists here have been diving right into the toughest questions with seemingly little fear.

President Mubarak is speaking tonight, and a slow lockdown is descending on the place. The intimidating-looking presidential guard is roaming around on a bridge in front of me. What else? The coffee runs out around now, so it's tea and stale fig bars for the rest of the evening.

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