Meet Egypt's Free Egyptians Party

Omar Halawa, Monday 28 Sep 2015

Egypt's liberal Free Egyptians targets forming parliamentary bloc of like-minded figures that endorse free market policies

File Photo of a Free Egyptians Party press conference (Photo: Al-Ahram)

In an interview with Al-Nahar channel conducted two weeks ago, Egyptian business tycoon Naguib Sawiris made it clear that the Free Egyptians Party, founded after the 2011 revolution, aims to score high results in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

It's not about "Naguib"

Although he is the main founder of the Free Egyptians Party (Al-Masryeen Al-Ahrar), members say that the party is not about Sawiris.

"Many people believe in Naguib and in his ideas," party spokesman Shehab Waguih told Ahram Online. "But the main idea of our party is not related to individuals, it's related to what the party believes in. For instance, Al-Dostour Party is often associated with its founder Mohamed ElBaradei, and when he left, the party witnessed many internal rifts."

"We are trying to avoid a similar fate by making the decision-making process  more collective," he said, adding that even though Sawiris is a board member and the party's main benefactor, his proposals do not always get a majority vote.

Party structure/electoral programme

"Our party is composed of several notable figures, including prominent businessman Raouf Ghabbour and economy expert Tarek Salama, as well as people specialised in market policies and public relations," Waguih said. "This makes us different in that our party is not solely comprised of elite politicians, but has members who are experts in various different fields."

"What separates us from other post-revolution parties is that for us, being realistic is not just theoretical."

Amr Hashem Rabie, a political researcher for Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies, believes that the party represents Egyptian capitalism.

"Like many liberal Egyptian parties, the party is founded by a businessmen who believe in free market policies," he said. "If the party is trying to pitch ideas aimed at combating poverty, this should happen without prejudice against capitalism."

The party is running with 227 candidates for the individual candidacy system, which allocates 448 (75 percent) parliamentary seats, and is running with nine candidates for the party-based list, which allocates 120 (20 percent) seats.

"Our main programme depends on something called 'cash conditional transfers', inspired by the Brazilian experience of 'La Borca Familia', which involves the reallocation of money from oil subsides," Waguih explained.

"If you looked into the composition of the subsides, you will find that many entities such as foreign embassies and diplomats are benefiting from the subsides in their transportation. Others who benefit include brokers who deliver fuel to citizens," he continued, saying that if those people were cut out of the equation, the extra funds could be used to support the poorest families in Egypt on condition they send their children to school.

"This will be our main project and the focus of our electoral campaign," Waguih said. "Even though this idea may sound leftist, we believe that through it we are applying free market policies."

"When the targeted poor families receive the monthly financial aid, they will use it to purchase commodities and contribute to the commercial cycle, which is the main idea behind the free market."  

Waguih said that even though it is not expecting a majority, the party aims to gain as many seats as possible in parliament, then it will seek out like-minded parliamentarians to form an internal collation and a bloc through which they can propose projects and laws.

Waguih also said that several of the party's candidates are former parliamentarians for the National Democratic Party (NDP). "Many of them applied to run under our party's name," he said. "Of course we chose the ones not involved in any corruption cases."

He added that the party utilised known people in publicising their ideas as "Egyptians vote for whom they know".

"The majority of our candidates are well-known figures and can afford the expense of the elections," he said. "Our policy is to support the candidates with 5 percent of the campaign budget, and in case more is needed, businessman party members will donate."

"Of course we learned a lot from the previous elections regarding which candidates we choose or fund," he added.

In the 2011 House of Representatives elections, the Free Egyptians Party won 15 out of 508 seats in parliament, which was widely dominated by Islamists.

"The party has no funding problems at all," said Rabie. "But it has few offices in villages and small towns, which makes reaching a wider platform more difficult. This is why it is using well-known faces to run the elections."

Some voices from other political parties have accused the Free Egyptians Party of courting their cadres and high profile members. Most notably, one of the main founders of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, Emad Gad, left the party in April 2014 and joined the Free Egyptians.

However, Rabie believes that the party's main problem lies with Sawiris himself.

"The main dilemma is that its founder and main donor is a businessman who has lots of investments and business interests in Egypt, which will certainly reflect on the party's policies in parliament," he said.

How they see Egypt's politics

Waguih said that his party had more "revolutionary" ideas it could propose as an electoral programme, but it did not do so as to follow "the state's mainstream."

"This doesn't mean that we are trying to flirt with the regime; President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi's regime is popular even though it doesn't have a political party to back it up in parliament".

"I think many compromises [between the president and parliamentarians] will take place in time," he said.

Some experts believe that the 2014 constitution gave wider powers to the parliament, comparable to those of the president, as it must approve the programme of the cabinet appointed by the president, as well as sharing in the naming of the prime minster and the assignment of state officials. Some are questioning whether the constitution will remain as is.

"It's too early to talk about amending the constitution now," Waguih said. "It might take the parliament months to revise and legislate some laws and regulations in order to allow the parliament to operate properly and monitor the government's performance."

"So let's wait and see." 

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