The January 25 Revolution has lead many political activists and interested parties in Egypt to believe that greater political participation is required and will be possible. Upon that perspective, an unprecedented desire to form political parties has been growing. Many are in the process of being formed or registered, with a few already declared.
The first to announce the formation of their political party is the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest political opposition. The Brotherhood played a significant role in the January 25 uprising, albeit not from the start. After waiting to officially join the ranks of protesters, the Brotherhood proved to have an influential role in the uprising’s development.
Under the pretext that religious parties were illegal, the Brotherhood had been banned from forming a political party or legally participating in the country’s political life. For years they had been referred to as the “banned group” in official newspapers and media venues. Banners reading “the NDP is now the banned group” referenced this label during the Tahrir Square sit-ins.
Weeks after the toppling of Mubarak, the Brotherhood announced the formation of their first public political party, ‘Freedom and Justice’. Although organization members have participated regularly in parliamentary elections, suffering from vote rigging by the Mubarak regime, they have never operated on an officially recognized platform such as a party.
The party moved to alleviate fears that it would turn Egypt into an Islamic state, should it gain power, during its first public statements. These stressed that the party intends to keep Egypt as a civil state, as opposed to a religious one. The party also stated that it would not be nominating a candidate for the upcoming presidential elections. However, the party’s program has yet to be announced.
Another Islamist group, but one that defines itself as more “moderate”, is the Wasat (The Centre) that has been attempting for the past 15 years to register itself as a party. It is only now, since the revolution, that the Wasat been granted a license by the court, giving hope to other consistently rejected parties such as the pan-Arabist Karama (Dignity) party. The Wasat party was founded by Abu El-Ila Maady who played a significant role in forming its chief ideology. The Wasat stands out from other Islamist groups for its views such as not opposing the idea of a Christian as head of state in a predominantly Muslim society.
Apart from Islamist groups, other major players in Egypt's political life have come from the left. Historically Tagammu has been the left’s uniting front, rallying together leftists of all leanings. However, the party’s change of tone during the early years of Mubarak’s presidency lost it much of its popularity within leftist circles and its position of prominence. Critics accuse the party of securing an agreement with the government in return for its opposition to Islamist groups like the Brotherhood.
Leftists, however, have formed other organizations and fronts through which they represent themselves. Even within Tagammu, a group that calls itself ‘Tayar el Tagheer’, or the ‘change movement’, represents the opposition of the party, criticizing its leaders for compromising the party’s agenda for personal gains.
The ‘change movement’ within Tagammu has long rallied against the party’s leadership, especially its president, Rifaat El-Said. After the January 25 revolt, several of Tagammu’s opposition declared their willingness to form a new leftist front if the party does not undergo change. Political divisions, however, thwarted any attempts by former Tagammu members to form a uniting front. The last major attempt was in 2005, but it failed to materialise into either a party or a united front.
Following the January 25 uprising, several leftist activists and organizations called for a new leftist party to be assembled. The first meeting took place on 26 February and included all operating leftist organizations including the Egyptian Communist Party, The Revolutionary Socialists, the Socialist Renewal Movement, several of Tagammu’s opposition and many independent activists.
Emad Attia, one of the main coordinators of the new party, says “the major difference between this attempt and previous ones is that the situation has completely changed from how it was before the January 25 Revolution, the situation before contained a lot of mistrust and different groups tried excluding one another. In addition, the opposition within Tagammu are now more keen on forming a new party and are strongly participating.”
On the other hand, Jihan Shaaban, member of the Socialist Renewal Movement, says “I am more optimistic this time. Our Facebook group, “The People’s Alliance Party”, already has more than a thousand members most of which are unknown within political circles which means that new people are attracted to join.”
Shabaan repeated Attia’s words confirming that “the January 25 Revolution has created a new situation in which everyone wants to participate to protect the demands of the revolution and push for a leftist vision. It is a party that will attract anyone who wants to continue with the revolution, defend the rights of the poor, the workers, the students and even sectors of the middle class. The liberals and the Islamists are widely heard but the left still needs a voice.”
On the other hand, Kamal Khalil, a member of Hashd (a leftist front formed in 2010), together with the Revolutionary Socialists have started assembling a workers’ party, “The Democratic Workers Party”. The party is a response to the fact that in recent years Egypt has witnessed hundreds of labour strikes, leading to workers playing a significant role in accelerating political change.
“Most leftist attempts to form a party include intellectuals as major players and a number of workers as members," says Khalil. "This party aims at having workers as the main players and leaders of the party joined by a number of intellectuals.”
The party is planned to be announced when at least 1000 membership applications have been gathered from workers in ten different geographical areas in Egypt.
Khalil, however, adds that all sectors of society are welcom to join the party. “When we say a worker, we mean anyone who needs to sell his labour, whether a worker in a factory, an employee or an agricultural worker,” he explains.
Rather than just reviving old or obsolete projects, several new parties have been proposed since the revolution. The most popular of these include those put forward by Amr Hamzawy and Hossam Badrawy. The two aim to establish a liberal party or front with a social component.
Hamzawy is the research director and senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut and is a specialist on political participation in the Arab world. His proposal to form a party has been welcomed by many although it is not yet clear what it will represent. Known potential members include film director Khaled Youssef. The party’s program is planned to be issued by mid March.
Bassem Fathy, a political activist and potential member of the new party, says “The founders of the group were waiting for a free political stage to establish such a party. We are currently undergoing a liberal political phase. The uprising took place due to the efforts of eight million Egyptians that believed in change and I guarantee that they will all join political parties. We haven't decided yet whether our party will be a homogenous one, or a synthesis party, collating with other political parties that share the same belief and target. We haven’t decided yet on the name, however, our ideology is establishing a liberal social political party. Our party would be a civil one asking for a civil state.”
Badrawy is the NDP’s former secretary general who resigned one day before Mubarak stepped down. Following Mubarak’s toppling, Badrawy proposed forming a party that carried the revolution’s name, the 25 January Party. His choice of name has been widely criticized considering that Badrawy was a prominent member of Mubarak’s ruling party, representing all that the revolution stood against.
Ahmed Bermawy, an activist and member of April 6 movement, says “We set the NDP headquarters in Mansoura on fire. Those who are members of the NDP are now the founding members of the new January 25 political party, Hossam Badrawy was an NDP leader. They are using the name January 25 to attract people, they never believed in the uprising then how could they establish a party under its name. Egyptians are politically naive, and the NDP tactic behind the name was smart, but we held a press conference in Mansoura to reveal their lies and inform people and make them aware that it’s the same NDP yet under another name. They changed the name from January 25 to Masr El -Horra (A Free Egypt). I am alerting all Egyptians about the new NDP with all its different forms of fraud."
Groups such as the April 6 movement and the Campaign in Support of ElBaradei have not declared that they will be forming political parties. Mohamed Adel, media coordinator of the April 6 movement, says “We don’t need to establish a political party. We will participate in the political arena as pressure groups."
However, coalitions have been formed to represent the different active groups. Amongst these coalitions are the Revolution Youth Coalition and the Professionals Coalition. The Professionals Coalition includes the Doctors without Rights movement, the Independent Teachers' Syndicate, University Staff for Reform, 9 March movement for Independence of Universities, Teachers without a Syndicate, Engineers without Guard and the Coalition of Independent Culture Institutions, in addition to some independent figures. The Youth Coalition includes the April 6 Youth movement, Justice and Freedom, Muslim Brotherhood Youth, ElBaradei's campaign, The Democratic Front and the Khaled Said Facebook group administrators and, recently, Karama Party’s youth.