Once again it looks like it’s the NDP running against the NDP, and this time around it’s not only renegade members (who rejoin the party once elected) but the party leadership itself is running more than one official candidate for the same parliamentary seat. This is at least unique if not bizarre. How do you explain it?
I prefer the word unique, because it denotes that you are adjusting to a specific environment. The NDP is much stronger than the rest, and the reason is that a great deal of hard work has been put into the party during the last 8 years. During this period the party went into a number of directions:
First, the party worked to clarify and crystallize its consensus: the baseline upon which the great majority of NDP members agree. Keep in mind that the NDP, in effect, is a kind of a national front. In the NDP you will find a Nasserist tendency, an Islamist tendency, a liberal tendency and, indeed, a non-ideological, highly pragmatic tendency, and each of these tendencies draws its influence within the party from particular aspects of our contemporary reality. The Nasserists, for instance, draw upon the legacy of the Arab Socialist Union, the forefather of our party; the liberals draw upon the realities of globalization and the transformations in the character of the world stage as a whole. Islamists, for their part, draw upon the religious sentiments of the people, while the pragmatists appeal to what ordinary citizens want, first and foremost, from politics, and this is expressed in very concrete benefits for themselves and their local community.
All these strands work and interact within the party, but there is a broad consensus that defines the NDP and forms the foundation of its unity, the first of these is that stability is the highest national concern. The second point of consensus is that Egypt should keep up with globalization, in so far as this does not lead to a break-down in what we might call, between quotes, “justice”, which means that you always have to keep spending on the poor. There may be differences within the party over how to do this, but the debate is couched within certain limits. We are currently spending LE66 billion on direct subsidies.
Within these overall parameters the Party was able to reach a kind of political and ideological balance, but the real significant change has been in organization. The party became much more youthful; about 65 percent of party membership is less than 30 years old. This influx of young people into the party helped bring it into the digital age, computerized it, with virtually all units of the party becoming digitally connected.
Also, we got a relatively young man taking charge of the party’s organizational affairs, with Mr. Ahmed Ezz replacing Mr. Kamal El-Shazli. The late El-Shazli was the optimum manifestation of the organizational skills as gained in the context of the Arab Socialist Union. Ahmed Ezz, on the other hand, is a graduate of AUC (the American University in Cairo) and a businessman, with the knowledge and the ability to reorganize the party on modern, cutting-edge lines.
Another manifestation of change was the substantial increase in the level of dynamism in the party, in general. All of these developments resulted in the party having much greater self-confidence, it was no longer a party that would stand in fear of engaging in political combat, say with the Muslim Brotherhood, or any other political rivals.
Unfortunately, what I would call the “civic” political parties did not make as much use of the past five years. The civic political parties, particularly since the constitutional amendments in 2005, fell into internal squabbling, particularly within such important parties such as Wafd, which was entangled in almost continuous internal strife, changing three party leaders during that period.
Moreover some of these parties remained unable to make the hard choice between staying within the legal framework of the political playing field in Egypt, or going outside it, by linking with protest movements, and other ad hoc political groupings which opted to operate from outside legal political space.
As such they wasted a great deal of time, which could have been to consolidate their position within the legally prescribed political arena. I believe that had the Wafd Party made better use of the past few years their electoral position today would have been much better. But the change of party leaders, from Mr. Mahmoud Abaza to Mr. El-Sayed El-Badawi happened very late. El-Badawi to focused his party’s attention on the elections, and he has the money, has owns four TV channels and two daily newspapers. He started to build the Wafd’s capabilities in a real way, but it looks to have been too late.
For their part, Tagammu and the Nasserists, the other two most important civic party organizations, didn’t actually try. They adopted a victim’s posture, and were satisfied to lament and complain the difficulties they face. Actually, it was the Muslim Brotherhood that were faced with difficulties for a variety of reasons, but the civic political parties did not really face any serious problems in organizing, having media outlets and other forms of mobilizing support in readiness for the elections. If you know the distribution figures for the two parties mouthpieces, Al-Ahali and Al-Araby, you’d be shocked. They’re extremely low.
Yet in the coming elections we see both the Wafd and Tagammu running candidates in an unprecedentedly large number of constituencies. Sure, they’re still short of covering all 508 seats up for election, but still, the figures are considerably higher than those in previous elections. Some observers are reading this as an indication of some sort of signal from the ruling party leadership that they would welcome higher representation, definitely for Wafd, and possibly for Tagammu. Is there any truth in this?
The NDP leadership would be very happy to see better parliamentary representation for the Wafd and Tagammu. They would love to see this. In the past few years the NDP started talking of a civic and modern state. As you know, Article 1 of the constitution was amended to enshrine the concept of citizenship, as a supreme value of the political system and the state. So, sure the NDP would have been genuinely happy to see all three civic political parties, especially the Wafd, substantially increasing their share of parliament. Yet, my reading of the situation is that they came into the electoral fray very late, perhaps too late.
They decided to enter into the electoral process only a few months ago, and as such, I don’t believe they have succeeded in putting together a slate of candidates who could compete effectively on the constituency level.
Unlike the NDP, which went into a very complex selection process, which enabled it to pick the best possible candidates.
Still, the increase in the number of candidates being put up by the civic political parties is a very welcome phenomenon, and I do hope that it will be reflected in greater parliamentary representation.
My reading is that they will increase their share, but not as much as civic and liberal minded people would like to see.
But is it not a well-known feature of electoral experiences in may countries that political parties will cede certain constituencies to other parties, because they would like to see them in parliament, or they have some sort of electoral deal whereby they will cede constituencies to one another. Has the NDP made any arrangements of this sort in these coming elections?
No. There’ve been no deals of this sort at all in these elections. We haven’t come to that stage yet, where you are able to strike some kind of deal. This because for a long time, the civic political parties kept away from what the NDP considers the legal framework of the political process in the country. Once they came in, it was too late. There wasn’t enough trust to embark on such a course. I also don’t know what would be the political basis for such deals.
Many of these parties still maintain a threatening posture, practically saying: ‘if you don’t do such and such, basically, if we don’t win, then we’ll declare the whole process fraudulent.’ I don’t think such a posture is useful or conductive to mutual trust.
But what of the scramble by members of the NDP, despite of what you said about the process of selection. Still, we’ve got more than one official candidate competing for some 140 seats, and you several thousands who are running as independents against the official party ticket.
You adjust to the local situation. Ultimately parliamentary elections are local elections, based on constituencies. In this context, the party took a decision this time around, that in some constituencies, where you have representatives of two big families, and they came out close in the internal selection process, that in such an event there is no need for the party to alienate one of them. The NDP is not an ideological party, as I pointed out earlier. It is a large national front.
This has always been the case in Egypt, by the way. The Egyptian political process has always depended on a large center. This was the even before 1952, with the Wafd Party, including within it a whole range of ideological leanings from the right to the left, but it was the center that was the mainstay of the Egyptian political arena.
It is an operational and pragmatic issue. The NDP never claimed to be an ideological party, the kind of party that would expect and demand obedience from its membership. The issue is how politics can be run on the level of the localities, and in certain localities it was left for the voters to decide between more than one party candidate.
I personally would have preferred that the party would have depended solely on primaries for the selection of its candidates, rather than the polling and the caucusing that also took place. That was my position, as a party member: let the primaries settle who will be the party candidate, and be done with it. But for certain reasons, for instance, the fear that the primaries might bring forth candidates who were less educated. So the element of the caucusing was introduced to ensure a certain level of quality, and so on.
But when you say that what you call, the civic political parties are too weak. And there is also this scramble over parliamentary seats within the same party. Furthermore, expectations are that the NDP will win a huge majority of Parliamentary seats. What does this tell us about the level of political maturity of our nation?
First of all, if I claim that we have a developed political system I would be exaggerating very much. Still, there is a level of experimentation; however, I must say that there is a certain level of maturity that has been attained in the past years. The selection process in the NDP is an indication of this. The level of media concern is another. All this indicates a response to a more socially complex system than we had before.
Thus, because our reality is becoming more complex, these kinds of adjustments are required.
Indications are that the NDP is determined to drastically bring down the Muslim Brotherhood’s current share of parliamentary seats. And you seem to feel that the “civic” political parties will not fare very well. What then are your expectations for today’s elections?
It’s too early to say. The scene is still very crowded. We have to wait at least till we learn the results of the first round of the poll before we can predict with any confidence. From my perspective as a member of the NDP I certainly want to see my party win the elections, and win them comfortably.
On the other hand, as a liberal and civic-minded citizen, I would be very much pleased if the civic political parties get a larger share.
I’m, however, fully against the Muslim Brotherhood. I would be very worried if they got more than what they were able to get in 2005. They have misused and manipulated the whole system to their advantage. More important still, they are basically against the Egyptian state as it is, not just according to the current constitution, but as it “is” since 1922.
They have a serious problem of seeing Egypt outside the context of a Caliphate.