With the Muslim Brotherhood banned and secular opposition parties divided, key members of the former regime of Hosni Mubarak are expecting to perform well in Egypt's coming parliamentary elections.
Beginning on Monday, the Egyptian Front, an electoral coalition led by a number of the former Mubarak-era officials and members of Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP), will hold the first of a series of public rallies in preparation for the upcoming parliamentary elections.
According to Mostafa Bakri, editor of the independent weekly Al-Osboa and the coalition's media spokesperson, the Egyptian Front's first public rally will be held in Qena in Upper Egypt on Monday.
"It will be followed by weekly public rallies in the cities of Cairo, Alexandria, Tanta and Assuit and so on," said Bakri, adding that "these are not part of the election campaigns, but rather public conferences aimed at mobilising citizens to the polls and alerting their attention to the dangers of the return of the Muslim Brotherhood to parliament and political life."
Mahmoud Nafadi, a parliamentary reporter and the spokesperson for coalition member Modern Egypt Party said that "the Qena public rally will be held under the slogan ‘the people, the army and the police are one hand against terrorism.’”
"Under this slogan, which was adopted after the terrorist attack in Sinai on Friday, we will do our best to raise the awareness of the dangers of bringing Muslim Brotherhood or any its allies back to parliament."
The front's leaders indicate that even though registration for the polls has not been officially opened yet and the date for the elections has not been set, the coalition has decided to prepare early for the elections.
"It is no secret that the list of the front's candidates in most of Egypt’s 27 governorates has already been finalised so that they can lead a competitive campaign from the beginning," said Bakri.
The last two months witnessed Egypt's secular political parties scrambling to form electoral alliances in a bid to win a majority of seats in the upcoming parliament.
According to Article 146 of the new constitution, the political party or coalition that wins a majority of seats in parliament will be asked by the president to form a new government.
Emboldened by court rulings that ruled out imposing political disenfranchisement on them, the remnants of the former Mubarak regime and the defunct NDP rushed to form the Egyptian Front electoral coalition.
It is mainly composed of the National Movement, founded by Mubarak's last prime minister and 2012 presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq, the Misr Baladi Party, founded by former interior minister Ahmed Gamaleddin, and the Congress Party, founded by Mubarak's former foreign minister Amr Moussa.
The coalition also includes the Modern Egypt Party, the Geel Party, the Democratic Al-Ghad Party, the leftist Tagammu party. Three major labour organisations are also members: the General Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions, the Federation of Professional Syndicates, and the General Syndicate of Farmers.
Bakri disclosed that two leftist parties – the Arab Nasserist Party and the Qawmi Party – have also joined the coalition.
The front selected Amin Radi, deputy chairman of the Congress Party, as its secretary-general. Radi is a former airforce pilot who was close to Mubarak, and was also a leading NDP official who was selected to head the 2005-2010 parliament's committee of transport.
The front has also appointed Ali El-Moselhi, a former minister of social solidarity and a former member of NDP's secretariat-general, as its general coordinator.
El-Moselhi told Al-Ahram newspaper that he expects that the front will gain a large number of seats in the coming parliament "and we hope we will gain the majority."
"When Mubarak was in power, opposition parties were always asserting that if he left office, the NDP would evaporate in a second," said El-Moselhi, "but the NDP never evaporated after Mubarak had left office simply because its deputies still have deep-rooted business, familial and tribal links everywhere in Egypt."
"We counted for success in parliament during the Mubarak years not so much on Mubarak's ruling party as on our deep links with the Egyptian people," asserted El-Moselhi, recalling that in 2005's polls most of the NDP candidates won as independents but joined the party in parliament to swell its ranks.
El-Moselhi said the front will introduce itself to the Egyptian people not as former NDP figures or ex-Mubarak officials but rather as a national coalition that includes a mixture of liberal and leftist forces.
El-Moselhi believes that a lot of former NDP deputies will choose to run as independents. "The major reason for this is that the new election law reserves two thirds of seats for independents and one third only for party-based candidates," he said.
Agreeing with El-Moselhi, Nabil Zaki, spokesman for the Tagammu Party, also insists that the Egyptian Front is not a political cover for the NDP remnants. "Tagammu joined this coalition because we share the belief that the Muslim Brotherhood and other political Islam forces are the biggest threat to Egypt and that all should be united against helping them return to parliamentary and political life again," said Zaki.
Secular opposition parties have long complained that the individual candidacy system helps candidates with money, power and tribal links sweep parliament. "This applies very much to NDP remnants who made a lot of wealth under the Mubarak regime and who know how to buy votes with money," said Abdel-Ghaffar Shukr, chairman of the Popular Socialist Alliance Party.
Shukr has submitted a memo to Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, urging him to intervene to amend the election law so as to prevent former NDP figures from winning seats in parliament.
Another three coalitions associated with the Mubarak regime in one way or another have also been formed in recent weeks. The first is led by Kamal El-Ganzouri, a former Mubarak old guard prime minister. El-Ganzouri said he does not want to be the speaker of the coming parliament but he wants to form a broad-based electoral alliance among secular forces to win seats reserved to party lists only (120 seats).
"All should know that the failure of creating this national electoral alliance could open the door for political Islam forces to infiltrate parliament again," a source close to El-Ganzouri said on 21 October.
El-Ganzouri made a lot of contacts with several secular forces, on top of which the Egyptian Front, asking them to join his electoral alliance – or the so-called El-Ganzouri alliance.
Opposition parties see El-Ganzouri as mostly acting as a cover for El-Sisi who, they say, wants a parliament dominated by loyalists to his regime. A presidential spokesman insisted last week that President El-Sisi has not asked anyone to form an electoral alliance and that El-Ganzouri is acting on his own.
The second coalition – named the Independence Current – is composed of a number of low-key political parties which were created under the Mubarak regime. It is headed by Ahmed El-Fadali, chairman of the Democratic Peace Party and an employee of the People's Assembly (now renamed the House of Representatives).
A third coalition under the title Together Long Live Egypt has also come into being. According to its general coordinator Medhat El-Haddad, the coalition mainly includes retired military personnel who want to see Egypt remain a civilian state and not fall again into the hands of political Islam.
"If we were not able to field candidates, we will mobilise the families of our members – estimated at 14 million -- to vote against Islamists or any other anti-El-Sisi force," El-Hadad told Al-Ahram daily.
All of the above coalitions are united by one platform: a deep abhorrence of Muslim Brotherhood and a firm support for President El-Sisi.
Yehia Qadri, deputy chairman of the National Movement Party, told Al-Ahram that it is important for the coming parliament to work in collaboration and harmony with El-Sisi because Egypt's fragile political conditions cannot stand any confrontation between the executive and legislative branches of power.
There have been rumours that Ahmed Ezz, a billionaire steel magnate who had acted as NDP's secretary for organisational affairs and was the right-hand man of Mubarak's young son and heir apparent Gamal, is now doing its best to gather former NDP men into a new political party. Ezz was released from prison this year after paying a hefty fine of LE150 million pending trial on charges of tax evasion, illegal profiteering and monopolistic practices.
Nafadi, however, insists that Ezz has just met with his steel company's employees to review work conditions while he was in jail rather discuss any election matters. "The best Ezz can do is to fund the election campaigns of some former NDP deputies who were close to him and who might contest the polls as independents," said Nafadi.
Political analysts agree that the NDP-affiliated electoral coalitions could perform well in the coming polls, but this is not to the extent that the NDP diehards will return to parliament in large numbers to sweep it. Al-Ahram political analyst Gamal Abdel-Gawad agrees that ideological divisions among secular opposition political forces offer a golden opportunity for NDP diehards to return to parliament again.
"But I still have doubts that most of these diehards can win because they lost popularity after Mubarak's downfall, not to mention that citizens cannot tolerate Egypt having another Mubarak-style parliament in the wake of two revolutions," said Abdel-Gawad.
Shukr also agrees that "to say that NDP diehards will sweep the coming parliament is overestimated." "I know they are coming from all directions as they want to impose a siege on the coming parliament, but in any way I think that they, helped by the electoral system, could at best win a quarter of seats – a distressing fact in itself, " said Shukr.
The results of the 2012 elections which were swept by the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party show that four or five former NDP MPs only were able to find their way into parliament as independents and that most of NDP's high profile candidates like El-Moselhi lost the election to Islamist candidates. Shukr urges opposition parties to merge into one electoral coalition capable of winning majority and defeating the symbols of both the Mubarak and Muslim Brotherhood regimes.
"I hope we will move in this direction and the sooner the better if we want a democratic future for Egypt to flourish," said Shukr.
Egypt's parliamentary polls are expected to be held later this year or early next year after a new electoral district law is finalised.