Egypt's Salvation Front determined to maintain unity for parliamentary poll

Salma Shukrallah , Thursday 17 Jan 2013

Members of Egypt's main opposition group, the National Salvation Front, say a united effort is the only way to challenge Islamist dominance in upcoming lower house poll

Members of the National Salvation Front at a press conference mobilising for the January 25 revolution anniversary (Photo: Facebook)

With fresh elections for a new House of Representatives expected to take place in April, opposition parties appear determined to create a strong bloc to combat Islamist “domination” of the legislative body. 

The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and the ultra-conservative Salafist Nour Party garnered almost 70 per cent of the seats in the last parliamentary poll. The long-splinted opposition has vowed to tilt the balance of power this time around.

"The Muslim Brotherhood is not the majority but is an organised current. The majority, on the other hand, are waiting for a united leadership as it remains unrepresented,” Wafd Party member Sherif Taher said.

The National Salvation Front (NSF), created during the opposition's battle against the new constitution late last year, is expected by many to remain united despite criticism that it cannot act as an electoral alliance.

The two-list solution

Emad Attia of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party told Ahram Online that his party would not be splitting with the NSF as it is the only hope of a strong opposition electoral challenge.

"We are working towards creating joint party lists. We know this will be difficult in certain districts, especially those with a high number of strong candidates. Sometimes we may even have question marks over certain candidates from other parties, which may also create difficulties. In such areas there may be two lists, but even then we will coordinate.”

Attia said calculations show two electoral lists may be able to garner the same number of parliamentary seats as one unified list.

"We realise the split during the last election between the Revolution Continues alliance and the Egyptian Bloc alliance [the two non-Islamist electoral alliances] did not lose us too many seats. Although we prefer one list, two lists may be a solution in some districts to avoid disagreements within the NSF.”

Attia's suggestion of a two list solution in some districts comes after youth members of several opposition revolutionary parties rejected the one list format.

Controversial leadership

Ahmed El-Borai of the Constitution Party told Al-Masry Al-Youm last week that the NSF was looking into objections made by the youth of some member parties regarding the presence in the front of former presidential candidate and Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa and Wafd Party Chairman El-Sayed El-Badawi, arguing they had cooperated with the former regime.

El-Borai claimed the NSF would take the necessary measures in response to such objections as “the youth are more important [than the two controversial members].”

His statement no doubt created uproar within both the Conference Party, headed by Moussa, and the Wafd Party. 

"We needed to clarify what was meant by such an attack. We were assured by all NSF members unanimously that nothing would affect the current coalition or affect the position of the Wafd Party,” Taher said.

"Many are trying to break the current alliance, whether out of bad intentions or simply due to political miscalculation,” he added.

Alfred Raouf, a youth member of the Constitution Party and the Free Egyptian revolutionary group, explained to Ahram Online that there had been some objections to the NSF from his party's younger members. However, such objections were discussed and toned down.

"We need a very broad alliance for the election. Revolutionary action can be organised by a small group but elections are political and require wider networks of people.

"We [young members of the Constitution Party] discussed the objections and it became obvious that having two competing electoral blocs would only weaken the opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood.”

United only in opposition to Islamists

Several political opposition parties remain outside of the NSF's potential electoral coalition, the most prominent of which is the Strong Egypt Party.

"We are against the Islamist-Secular divide. We wish to create an alliance based on different criteria,” said Strong Egypt's Mohamed Osman.

Strong Egypt, according to its political bureau member Ahmed Imam, has held several meetings with opposition parties and figures seeking electoral coordination.

"So far we have met with [Constitution Party founder] Mohamed ElBaradei and the Wasat Party. More meetings are planned including with [NSF member and Free Egyptians founder] Amr Hamzawy.”

Although Imam confirms no alliances have yet been agreed upon, Osman told Ahram Online there had been tentative agreements with an Alexandria-based Salafist party named El-Islah we El-Nahda (Reform and Renaissance).

According to Osman, the NSF includes very different parties that are only united by their opposition to the Islamist political current and have no common political agenda. His party seeks a clear political programme, he added.

"We had suggested that the NSF splits into two electoral lists, one containing the Constitution Party and the Socialist Popular Alliance, and the other containing the purely liberal parties. [Strong Egypt] would have joined the former,” Osman explained.

Raouf, on the other hand, said two lists would only benefit the Brotherhood, which could gain an absolute majority in parliament, along with its allies, and hold both legislative and executive authority.

"This would have a negative impact on freedoms and rights and hinder the possibility of achieving the revolution's goals ... [The Brotherhood] will stand against personal and general freedoms, the labour movement and the opposition, all through using the law.”

NSF: The opposition's best bet

The majority of opposition parties seem to agree with Raouf's analysis, with the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Constitution Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, the Wafd Party, the Free Egyptians Party, the Conference Party and others already confirming their participation in an NSF electoral alliance.

Tarek Saeed, media spokesperson at the Egyptian Current, which was founded by former Nasserist presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi, has confirmed his movement will stick with the NSF, which it had a major role in founding.

"The NSF was the only body that managed to unite all Egyptians despite their differences," he said.

However, Saeed also agreed with Attia that one electoral list may not be feasible in certain districts where the NSF may have too many candidates with high potential, in which case the NSF might file two lists.

Egyptian Social Democratic Party founding member and former MP Ziad El-Eleimy says divisions are not all that threatens the front in the coming elections.

"If no guarantees are provided to ensure the coming elections will be free and fair, this will make it difficult for the NSF to participate,” El-Eleimy told Ahram Online.

In a statement released earlier this month, the NSF proposed 11 points to guarantee the fairness of the upcoming parliamentary election. These include, full judicial supervision, civil society monitoring, banning the use of religion in politics, assuring a higher representation for women and setting a limit to the amount of money spent on campaigns, as well as other conditions.

The Shura Council, which now holds legislative authority, is still to discuss amendments to the parliamentary elections law.

Elections for the lower house of parliament were initially expected to be held 60 days after the ratification of the constitution, a timeline set out in Morsi's July presidential decree. The charter was approved on 25 December 2012 following a national referendum.

Although the exact date for the coming elections is yet to be announced, leaks from officials suggest they are likely to take place in April.

Short link: