A meeting on Saturday evening at the headquarters of Al-Wafd Party did not deliver its aspired objective of a large coalition to contest around one third of the seats in the upcoming parliamentary elections due in a little over eight weeks.
The meeting, which featured a host of non-Islamist parties, is said to have been inspired by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi's wish for a unified electoral list that is able to gather candidates from across the political spectrum.
El-Sisi said last week in a meeting with political parties' head that he would support any "broad-base national list," in the elections, a leading political figure who met with the president said. El-Sisi also disassociated himself from an electoral list being compiled by former prime minister Kamal El-Ganzouri who is close to the president.
While Saturday's party meeting did not result in any tangible agreements, according to those who attended it, El-Sayed El Badawy, Al-Wafd's head, said that the party will "keep the consultations going in the future." He did not say, however, whether or not another meeting will be held.
The 20 or so parties whose leaders met with the president last week are not like-minded and it is a very long shot to try to blend them together, said Mohamed Aboul-Ghar, leader of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, which was formed after Mubarak's ouster in 2011.
Aboul-Ghar did not attend the meeting at Al-Wafd's headquarters as he was "hesitant about having his party represented in a meeting that was basically over-stretching a presidential remark."
Yet the idea of getting parties to run together in the elections “was worth giving a try, if only to defeat Ganzouri's list," a member of Al-Wafd who spoke on background said.
El-Ganzouri was "essentially bringing together a bunch of former members of the [Hosni Mubarak-led] National Democratic Party and a bunch of former police generals and a few Copts that are put forward by the Egyptian Liberals,” the member said.
Egypt has been without a parliament since 2012, when a court dissolved an Islamist-dominated chamber shortly before toppled president Mohamed Morsi took office. The new House of Representatives, elections for which will begin on March 21, will be comprised of 567 seats: 420 will be elected as individuals and 120 through winner-take-all party lists.
Three lists still on the cards
So far there are effectively three lists that are being worked up on parallel tracks. One that is being put together by Ganzouri with the cooperation of the Ahmed Shafiq-led party, the Egyptian National Movement Party, and the Naguib Sawiris-supported party, the Free Egyptians.
A member of the National Movement, led by Shafiq, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was not sure that the party would inevitably continue in coalition with Ganzouri. “We are not even sure he would be able to pull through with this list because there are so many people who are hestitant about joining the list, or are running on the independent seats,” which constitute the majority of the next parliament, under the new electoral law.
A member of the Sawiris-supported Free Egyptians said, also on condition of anonymity, that the choice of the party to join the list of the former prime minister is designed to secure having Ganzouri as head of parliament and to make sure that the non-Islamist vote would have a considerable bloc to defeat “any attempts of the Muslim Brotherhood or their associates to infiltrate the next parliament, whose main task should be to offer support to the president’s political and socio-eoconomic vision.”
A second list that has been put together in the last few weeks is one that is effectively chaired by Al-Wafd with the considerable support of the Conference Party established by former chair of the 2014 constitution drafting committee Amr Moussa. This is what one member of the Conference Party qualified as “the coalition of traditional forces —the family notables and the oldest political party.”
A third list is being put together by Abdel-Guelil Moustafa, a leading progressive political figure who is closely associated with the 25 January political bloc and who has been trying to bring on board some of the parties that are hesitant to join the elections, especially the Popular Current (led by Hamdeen Sabahi) and the Dostour Party.
“What was proposed by the leader of Al-Wafd is to bring his list and that of Abdel-Guilil together. I am not sure at all how this could be done, and I am not really sure that this is what we need to do; to simply claim a unified coalition that would not be in serious agreement once parliament convenes,” Aboul-Ghar said.
If the unexpected match happened, Moussa would likely lead this joint national list and therefore contest Ganzouri on seats in the party list system, and the speakership of parliament eventually.
Meanwhile, Ashraf Thabet, a leading figure of the Salafist Al-Nour Party, the only Islamist political party that openly supported the ouster of Mohamed Morsi on 3 July 2013, said that large lists that target a controlling share of party list seats is unrealistic.
Younis Makhyoun, the leader of Al-Nour, was present at the meeting of the president with party heads, but was not included in any of the subsequent bargaining processes.
“We are not into trying to force a coalition without having a base of agreement. We are currently formulating our own lists that are basically bringing together members of our own party with some like-minded independents,” Thabet said.
The lists that Al-Nour is finalising range from 15 to 45-member lists. “They are small, but they are well-matched and they are not very susceptible to splits, like the other aspired to lists,” he argued.
The objective of the president’s meeting with party leaders was not to appeal for a solid non-Islamist list, but rather to touch base with top political faces and to share concerns and hopes on state management, agreed some of the politicians who took part in the meeting.
“It was what you could qualify as an exploratory meeting that came with no commitments and no demands,” said one.
According to another, “It was essentially designed to accommodate the dismay of the political community who felt that the president was being condescending when he asked [an independent paper] to hold a meeting for political parties to explore their views on the future of the country.” He added: “I don’t think the president is sure who will finally get into parliament, and he might have wished to start building bridges.”
On the independent seats, there is another political fight that also involves considerable "political money" provided by top members of the business community, including former NDP tycoon Ahmed Ezz.
Concluding the roadmap
Meanwhile, a concerned government official said Saturday afternoon that the “exact date for the registration of candidates is still being considered and is likely to be announced late this week or early next week.”
“We were very close to announcing it before the end of the year (2014), but it was delayed upon the demand of security bodies,” she said.
According to announced dates, the first round of two-round parliamentary elections should take place in March. The second round and re-runs should be complete late spring, to allow for parliament to convene before the first anniversary of the inauguration of El-Sisi as president.
Parliamentary elections are the third and last step of a political roadmap announced by El-Sisi, then minister of defence, on 3 July 2013 upon the ouster of Morsi following nationwide 30 June mass demonstrations against Muslim Brotherhood rule.
Reworking the constitution was the first stop. The second was supposed to be parliamentary elections, but Interim President Adly Mansour, who later resumed his job as chair of the High Constitutional Court, decided to switch the order, running presidential elections first.
Egypt has been without a parliament since a court order annulled the first post-25 January parliament weeks before the ouster of Morsi.
The last parliament had a vast Islamist majority, with almost half of its seats won by members of the Muslim Brotherhood and one quarter taken by Salafist parties.