Fragmented politics

As political forces brace for parliamentary elections in Egypt, which were once scheduled to take place before the end of the year, a web of political coalitions reveals fragmentation within the non-Islamist bloc.

The latest round of negotiations among liberal and left-leaning political forces has produced to date some four major coalitions, but their fate remains uncertain. Negotiations are ongoing, the law governing elections has not passed and the date of the elections has not yet been determined.

The law was passed in June by former President Adly Mansour, but due to wide criticism by political forces, the law is again on the desk of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for another amendment. Leaders of political parties had lambasted it for its mixed-seat system — 80 percent of which is reserved for single candidates, with only 20 percent allocated for party lists. Traditionally, a larger weight on individual candidates is associated with a more personal process, in which candidates often rely on money and tribalism to earn votes, as opposed to parties competing over political ideas and projects. Sisi has not yet amended the law and the future shape of the upcoming parliament is mired in ambiguity. Another draft law on the geographical distribution of electoral constituencies is awaiting amendment as well.

Although it was initially planned that the parliamentary elections would take place this year, to follow the roadmap designed by the military since the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood last year, there is no indication that they will actually take place in 2014. The presidency has been silent vis-a-vis dates and there have been calls for postponing the vote due to possible Muslim Brotherhood sabotage. The liberal Wafd Party’s Sayed al-Badawy is among those who have called for postponing the elections.

Some four main coalitions are forming ahead of the parliamentary elections: the Egyptian Front Coalition, the Egyptian Wafd Coalition, the Democratic Coalition, and the Social Justice Coalition. The liberal Free Egyptians Party, founded by business tycoon Naguib Sawiris, declared that they would be competing in the elections independently.

The Egyptian Front Coalition is led by the head of the committee that drafted the post-Brotherhood constitution, Amr Moussa’s Congress Party, and is the closest politically to Sisi’s regime. “The coalition aims to take a stand against plots to destroy the country and to support state institutions,” Mostafa Bakry, a pro-military media figure and spokesperson for the front, said in the press conference to announce its establishment in July.

The front includes most of the Mubarak-era politicians, such as the left-leaning Tagammu Party, which staunchly aligned itself with the military against the Brotherhood, and the Egyptian Nationalist Movement Party, founded by Mubarak’s last prime minister and former presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq, who has been residing in the Emirates since Morsi’s take-over in 2012.

The coalition’s general secretary is former police General Amin Rady, while Mubarak’s Minister of Social Solidarity Ali Meselhy is general coordinator, and former parliamentarian and military supporter Mostafa Bakry is the coalition’s spokesperson. Former Minister of Interior and former Vice President of Security Affairs Ahmed Gamal Eddin is part of the coalition’s advisory board. The front has been reportedly working on attracting figures like pro-military strategic expert Sameh Seif al-Yazal and head of the Judges’ Club Ahmad al-Zend.

Moussa has been attempting to form the Egyptian Nation Coalition as an umbrella group for all parties who see themselves aligned with the current regime. These parties include all those who supported Sisi’s move to oust the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi from the presidency last year, whether from the Mubarak era or formed in the aftermath of the January 25 revolution. Talks have included players such as former spy chief Morad Mowafy and the post-revolutionary Egyptian Social Democratic Party. Speculation has arisen regarding Moussa’s ambition to become the parliamentary speaker after forming a majority bloc.

But the coalition fell apart after Moussa’s office released a statement in August declaring his withdrawal from all ongoing negotiations, citing fragmentation and personal interests.

“Moussa’s attempts aimed to challenge the current political fragmentation and personal interests that stand in the face of any potential political alliance,” spokesperson of Moussa’s office, Ahmed Kamel, said in a statement.

Moussa called for the formation of an independent committee of all political forces to work on unifying their efforts, declaring that he would not be part of any coalition unless a national front is created.

Meanwhile, slightly further away from the regime is the Egyptian Wafd Coalition, which includes the liberal Wafd Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Reform and Development Party, the Conservatives Party, the Awareness Party, and other smaller political groups.

While the coalition statements cited coordination with Moussa, Egyptian Social Democratic Party Vice President Farid Zahran told Mada Masr that his party and the Wafd Party are the heavyweights of the coalition.

A group deemed closer to revolutionary voices is the Democratic Coalition, which includes the Popular Current, founded by former presidential hopeful Hamdeen Sabbahi, the centrist Dostour Party, the Popular Socialist Alliance Party, the Nasserist Karama Party, the liberal Masr al-Horeya Party and the Adl Party.

Vice President of the Dostour Party Yakout al-Sinousy told Mada Masr that the coalition is steering away from any political alliances with ties to the Mubarak regime or the Muslim Brotherhood. “We are keen on implementing the January 25 agenda, which is facing a systematic smear campaign. We won’t go back to Mubarak’s era,” he said.

The various levels of commitment to the January 25 revolution have been a major stumbling block in Moussa’s efforts to bring the Egyptian Wafd Coalition and the Democratic Current Coalition into an alliance with the Egyptian Front.

Meanwhile, in a move seemingly aimed at garnering more power, Sinousy said that the Democratic Current is currently in talks with the Wafd Coalition over a possible merger, adding that negotiations also aim to include the Free Egyptians Party.

But Free Egyptians Party Spokesperson Shehab Wageeh told Mada Masr that the party insists on contesting the elections alone without joining any other political alliances. “We would have thought of joining other alliances if we did not have our own program and ideas, but we have our own platform that we want to implement, so why join others?” he said. Some speculate that Sawiris’ backing gives the party financial leverage that many in the Democratic Coalition don’t have, empowering it to compete on its own.

Financial power is essential for parties contesting on lists, with four big constituencies allocated to them in the draft law, as opposed to an unspecified number of constituencies allocated to individual candidates.

Finally, the Social Justice Coalition was launched a month ago, with over 22 political parties and movements headed by the National Association for Change, which led the protest movement against the Mubarak regime in the mid 2000s. It includes the Congress Nasserist Party, the National Reconciliation Party, and the Communist Party, in addition to various independent political figures.

When asked about the reason for not joining other existing electoral alliances, the coalition founder and former parliamentarian Gamal Zahran told Mada Masr “And why don’t they join us?”

Political scientist at Cairo University, Mostafa Kamel al-Sayed, is skeptical over how this fragmentation will serve all the interests of the parties. The scope for outreach of these parties and their ability to mobilize in the streets, Sayed believes, is much weaker than their desire to gain more seats in parliament through these alliances.

Even though there were moments when the parties came together on one issue, such as the ouster of the Brotherhood, their ability to work together is inherently skewed. “Every political party or movement in every coalition wants to get the biggest number of seats, which upsets other parties. Major political parties insist on naming their electoral alliances according to their own names,” Sayed says.

He concludes, “The absence of teamwork in Egypt is endemic, and politics is never the exception.” 

Mai Shams El-Din 

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