In his resignation letter to the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP), president and founder Mohamed Aboul Ghar wrote that his vision of developing a party has become impossible due to internal conflicts.
“I tried my best to mend the cracks, explained my point of view to everyone several times and mapped the challenges ahead,” he wrote, adding that he was “not willing to continue as party president under these circumstances. I apologize to anyone I promised to help and support in the upcoming elections.”
A wave of conflicts between internal factions and subsequent resignations have emerged across the party in recent months, which is seen as one of the few surviving and functional political parties born after the 2011 revolution. These conflicts have exposed the cost of having such wide-ranging political positions within the party.
Since its inception in March 2011, just two months after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, the party has taken pride in having public figures as co-founders, including Aboul Ghar, former Minister of International Cooperation Ziad Bahaa Eddin, constitutional law professor Mohamed Nour Farahat, leftist activist Farid Zahran, film director Dawoud Abdel Sayed, former minister Mervat al-Talawy and former Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawy.
The party took part in a host of formal political processes, including joining the Egyptian Bloc electoral alliance with the center-right Free Egyptian Party in the 2011 parliamentary elections in an attempt to counter the Muslim Brotherhood. After the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, a move supported by the party, Beblawy was chosen as prime minister and Bahaa Eddin served as his minister of international cooperation.
The party continued to play a political role even after the end of Beblawy’s time in office in 2014, participating in the committee that drafted the 2014 Constitution and taking part in the latest parliamentary elections in late 2015, in which it won four out of the 77 seats it contested.
But every step was accompanied by internal conflicts, which party members have different explanations for.
A young leader in the party, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, says the conflict revolved around the party’s stance on the current government, explaining that a new group of more conservative members joined the party recently, with views that deviate from the party’s original social democratic values.
“New voices emerged that adopt a more realistic discourse against the country’s political leadership. They believe that the party should oppose the government in support of the public,” the source, who belongs to a left-leaning bloc within the party, explained. This camp believes such opposition should call for preserving freedoms and demand the release of political detainees.
“They believe this is the only way in which the party can gain greater popularity,” the young leader adds.
Another party member, who also requested anonymity, doesn’t consider the party’s conflicts to be political. Since it was first founded, the source explains, there has been a clear distinction between a center-right current, to which most of the party’s financiers belong, and a leftist current, which has controlled the party organizationally.
“The leftist wing won sweeping support in the 2011 first general assembly. However, the first cracks appeared in 2013, when a number of right-wing members resigned over which presidential candidate the party should endorse,” the source says. Leading politician Emad Gad and a number of the party’s chief financiers resigned because they wanted the party to declare support for Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, while the opposing current either favored leftist candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi or opted for boycotting. Gad, now a leading parliamentarian belonging to the pro-state alliance in parliament, moved to the Free Egyptians Party and has remained a staunch supporter of Sisi’s government.
The source explains that a third assembly took place in October 2015 to elect a new political bureau. “Here, for the first time, the right wing had the money and the organization,” he says, adding that this faction managed to gain the support of different constituencies within the party, while being endorsed by Aboul Ghar.
But the fourth general assembly, which was held this April to elect the president and vice president, saw gains for the leftist current within the party. Founders Farid Zahran and Bassem Kamel were elected as president and vice president, competing against Farahat and Bahaa al-Din. Many more right wing members have now submitted their resignations, according to the source, as they believe Zahran and Kamel don’t reflect the party’s general base.
“I feel there is an obvious class element,” the party member asserts. “We have those who belong to a higher social class who are more leftist,” he adds.
Tamer al-Mihy, a former member of the party’s political bureau who resigned in 2014, thinks not having a common ideology among party members is the reason for the conflicts.
“There were other elements considered while choosing [party members], like their families and tribal connections, who could potentially finance the party’s activities,” he says. Mihy believes a conflict between the party’s declared ideology and its internal structure is the reason for the crisis.
A number of post-revolution political parties have witnessed similar divisions over the last five years, the most known of which is the liberal Dostour Party, founded by reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei. Last year, the party’s president Hala Shukrallah resigned following severe internal conflicts, mostly related to deep ideological divisions between members and accusations of security interventions within the party.
In 2013, a number of those who founded the Popular Alliance Socialist Party defected and declared a new party called “Bread and Freedom,” citing the former’s failure to form an umbrella for the Egyptian Left to democratically manage political disagreements.
Aboul Fadl al-Esnawy, an analyst on Egypt issues at the Regional Center for Strategic Studies, notes that most of the post-revolution political parties were less centered around ideology and more around the personalities of their founders.
“What we call ‘revolutionary political parties’ favored founding members’ long history of anti-Mubarak struggle over ideology. Most of these parties have bylaws and programs that conflict with the ideologies of their founders,” he explains.
Esnawy believes these structural issues were evident when parties had to take political stances towards certain issues and couldn’t because of lack of political ideology.