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Egypt’s liberals and leftists seek alternative to Islamist political dominance

Liberals and socialists seek Third Way in fightback against Islamist, military dominance of Egypt's political scene

Nada Hussein Rashwan, Saturday 18 Aug 2012
Third current
Prominent politicians, liberals and socialists, are building a coalition to face-off with Islamists and army. Upcoming legislative elections are the real test. (Photo: Al-Ahram)
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In a political landscape seemingly dominated by Islamists and the military, Egypt’s secularists and liberals have launched what they hope will be new alternative.

The Third Current was launched in June by a number of prominent political figures and liberal parties with the aim of defending personal and political rights, and upholding the civil-democratic nature of the state.

The former tripartite liberal electoral bloc of the Free Egyptians Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic party and the Tagammu Party are the group’s main coordinators.

Calls for a ‘third way’ were first issued following the first round of Egypt's presidential elections, when several nationalist and revolutionary forces called on Hamdeen Sabbahi – who came in third place – to spearhead the initiative.  

Since the announcement of the Third Current, confusion over its composition has begun to surface, especially since few details were provided about it after its launch in late June.

Adding to the confusion, Nasserist figure Hamdeen Sabbahi, who was involved in the formation of the Third Current, announced in July that he is to form a "Popular Current" with the cooperation of a group of leftist parties.

The Popular Current aims to reach beyond politics into "social and developmental fields," explained Sabbahi's campaign manager Hossam Moeness.

Moeness denied allegation that Sabbahi had defected from the Third Current after disagreements with its members.

"Our vision is to execute projects that were in Hamdeen Sabbahi's presidential programme, as well as establish a nationwide presence, partially as preparation for the next round of elections," Moeness said.

Upcoming elections: The battle for the streets    

The court-ordered dissolution of the Islamist-led People's Assembly (Parliament's lower chamber) in June appeared to offer liberal forces a second chance to form a sizable parliamentary bloc.

However, critics have accused the Third Current of failing to learn from past mistakes, such as concentrating on media appearances and failing to build a presence on the street.

"We have made progress from scratch," Fawzi said. "Over the past year and a half we have established roots and managed to get a number of representatives into parliament.

"The Islamist presence on the streets was achieved through its charity activities, but we aim to establish a presence that the people can relate to politically."

Parliamentary elections are to be held within two months after a constitution is approved by a national referendum, according to President Morsi's new Egypt Constitutional Declaration.

However, it is unknown when that will be as the constituent assembly could be dissolved by a court decision in September.

Cooperation

"The Third Current and the Popular Current still have common battles for which they will cooperate," said Moeness, referring to stances regarding the constitution and a possible electoral alliance.

The Constitution Party, which was launched in April and is led by prominent reform campaigner Mohamed ElBaradei, has already begun negotiations with representatives of parties in the Third Current regarding a parliamentary election coalition.

ElBaradei has stressed that the party aims to unite political groups rather than compete with them.

As ElBaradei's party gears up for the elections, forces in the Third Current and the Popular Current are preparing to get out onto the streets.

"We have different working groups for conducting paperwork and planning organisational activities and we're currently working out our stance on the constitution and the elections," stated Fawzi.

"We cannot go into detail about how we'll contest the elections as it depends on the new elections law, which will define the kind of alliances that can be formed."

"Our launching conference will be after Eid," Moeness added.

Third Current and revolutionary groups

Revolutionary groups have preferred to stay away from party politics and instead focused on organising themselves separately.

"We sat down with the Third Current and Hamdeen Sabbahi's campaign. They believe the revolution will only succeed through elections, but we believe it is through popular struggle," said Ahmed Ezzat, a member of the Revolutionary Socialists group.

"We told them we do not want a parliamentary coalition, but a revolutionary front. This is what the revolutionary forces are now discussing: the formation of a front of all revolutionary groups with the only aim of maintaining the popular struggle and preparing for the next revolutionary wave," he concluded.

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