Negotiations aimed at forming a parliamentary majority aimed at backing the policies of Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi in parliament have reached a deadlock.
Three political parties – the Free Egyptians, the Future of Homeland and Al-Wafd – took all by surprise when they announced this week that they decided not to join the pro-Sisi bloc. They have even threatened their affiliated MPs that they would face expulsion if they broke ranks and opted to join the bloc.
Leaders of the pro-Sisi parliamentary bloc – entitled the Pro-Egyptian State bloc – announced two weeks ago that they aimed to form a parliamentary majority bloc of 400 MPs (or a two-thirds majority).
Sameh Seif El-Yazal, a former intelligence officer and the current chairman of Al-Gomhouria newspaper's Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, told reporters that negotiations had gone a long way with independent MPs and with the three leading liberal political parties which formed the backbone of the ‘For the Love of Egypt’ electoral coalition which won 120 seats in the parliamentary elections held between October and December.
On Monday, Egypt's oldest liberal party, Wafd, announced in a press conference that its higher council has voted in favour of rejecting to join any parliamentary bloc.
Wafd has won 43 seats in Egypt's new parliament.
Bahaaeddin Abu Shuka, Wafd's secretary-general, told Al-Ahram newspaper Monday that the party has ideological differences with "the political factions which form the backbone of the Pro-Egyptian State bloc."
"Instead," said Abu Shuka, "the Wafd itself is currently leading negotiations with liberal independents and political parties which won seats to form a different parliamentary bloc under the title the ‘Pro-Egypt Coalition’."
Abu Shuka explained that in its capacity as the oldest party in Egypt, Wafd should be the party to lead parliamentary coalitions and not become a member of any other coalitions. "This also means that we are not against the pro-Egyptian State bloc and we tell them we deeply respect your coalition but we prefer to act independently in parliament," said Abu Shuka.
The Free Egyptians Party, a liberal force which won the largest number of seats in the elections (65), also announced it would not join any parliamentary bloc, but for different reasons.
In a press conference on Monday, the party's spokesman Shehab Wagih said the party is in favour of political diversity and this means that decision-making in Egypt's coming parliament should not be dominated by one political force.
However, Shehab has admitted that the question of whether or not to join the Pro-Egyptian State bloc has left the party with internal divisions. Shehab said some of the party's MPs have dissented, opting to join the Pro-Egyptian State bloc.
"One of these is female MP Mai Mahmoud, and we will see if she will be expelled from the party's ranks or not," said Shehab.
The Free Egyptians Party's choice of Alaa Abed as its parliamentary spokesman has also caused internal rifts. Emad Gad, an Ahram political analyst and a leading Free Egyptians official, said Abed does not have enough experience to be the party's parliamentary spokesman.
"Abed has even decided not to allow me to run for the post of deputy speaker of the new parliament,” Gad said, stressing that "as personal interests have now become the rule in the Free Egyptians Party, I would resign from the party's ranks."
The Future of Homeland Party, which is highly supportive of El-Sisi and has 51 seats in parliament, also announced Sunday that it decided to withdraw from the Pro-Egyptian State Bloc, some officials affiliated with the party said the party still has second thoughts about the pro-Sisi bloc.
Osama Abul Magd, the parliamentary spokesman of the Guardians of Homeland Party, told reporters Tuesday that "the Pro-Egyptian State bloc has not received official rejection from the Future of Homeland Party and we hope that they will have second thoughts on this matter."
The Future of Homeland said that while some of its MPs objected to join the Pro-Egyptian State bloc for procedural matters, others supported the view that parliament should not be dominated by one political bloc because this could turn parliament into a rubber stamp forum.
Other sources said most political parties reject Seif El-Yazal becoming the head of the dominant parliamentary bloc.
Abul-Magd said Seif El-Yazal held a meeting Monday night with a number of independent and party-based MPs who decided to join the bloc. "He also asked us to make new contacts with political parties – especially the Future of Homeland – to explore the real reasons why they decided to withdraw and what should be done to bring them back into the bloc," said El-Yazal.
Osama Heikal, a former information minister and a leading Pro-Egyptian State official, told reporters Tuesday that "more than 400 MPs, mostly independents, have already approved to join our bloc."
"We were surprised by these political parties announcing their rejection to join our coalition in press conferences without informing us in an official way," said Heikal, adding that "in any case we will go ahead forming our bloc, as we have already gained the approval of not only a large number of independents, but also the approval of MPs who are affiliated with many political parties in parliament."
Heikal said the Pro-Egyptian State bloc primarily seeks to create coordination among MPs on crucial issues in parliament, such as whether to withdraw confidence from the government or whether to endorse the state budget.
"This is the rule in all parliaments, but by no means do we aim to impose our say or dominate the coming parliament," Heikal argued, warning that "without this coordination and with each faction acting independently, parliament could suffer from paralysis and political vacuum."