The Egyptian Bloc

Friday 18 Nov 2011

The Egyptian Bloc

Coalition members: Free Egyptians Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and Al-Tagammu Party.

Background and History

The Egyptian Bloc consists of the Free Egyptians Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and Al-Tagammu Party. The Bloc is often portrayed as a “secular-leaning” alliance that seeks to counterbalance the influence of the Muslim Brotherhoodin the upcoming elections, specifically the Brotherhood led Democratic Alliance’s electoral coalition. Members of the Bloc announced in early November that their partnership is not simply a short-term electoral coalition, but encompasses a long-term political alliance aimed at turning Egypt into a civil democratic state.

The Egyptian Bloc will field 412 candidates for the parliamentary lower house elections.The Bloc is contesting all 332 party list seats available in the 508-member lower house, in addition to fielding eighty (out of a possible 166) candidates for single-winner seat races. The legal framework governing the elections gives the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces the right to appoint ten of the 508 members of the lower house.  Half of the Bloc’s candidates are affiliated with the Free Egyptians Party, forty percent from the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, and ten percent from Al-Tagammu Party.

The Egyptian Bloc at some point included twenty-one political groups, but following successive defections during the lead up to the election, only three parties remained in the Bloc. Defectors include the Egypt Freedom Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party (SPA), the Egyptian Socialist Party, the Democratic Front Party, the Tahrir Sufi Party and others. These parties withdrew from the Bloc reportedly due to inter-party conflicts over seat shares and the relative positions of various candidates in the coalition’s electoral lists. Disagreements were also associated with allegations that some parties are fielding ex-members of the former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) on the Bloc’s lists to the dismay of member groups that oppose any participation by ex-regime elements in the elections.

The SPA withdrewunder these circumstances. The Egyptian Bloc’s High Commission for Electoral Coordination denied the allegations, insisting that no former NDP members made their way onto the lists. A Free Egyptian Party official once conceded, however, that the Egyptian Bloc’s list includes eight former NDP members, but insisted that none of them were engaged in corrupt practices.Amr Hamzawy’s Egypt Freedom Party withdrew shortly after, accusing the Bloc of a “lack of transparency” in the candidate ‎selection process. The SPA and the Egypt Freedom Party later formed the Revolution Continues Alliance together with the Revolution’s Youth Coalition, the Egyptian Current Party and others. Meanwhile, both the Democratic Front Party and the Tahrir Sufi Party decided to contest the elections alone away from any alliances.

The Tahrir Sufi Party was the earliest to withdraw from the Bloc because they considered it too slowin finalising its candidate lists prior to the official deadline for submitting them.

The Egyptian Bloc aims at bringing together political forces that are committed to a civil democratic state based on the separation between religion and politics. While the Egyptian Bloc was formed to counterbalance the threat posed by the well-organised Islamist camp, Social Democratic Party leader Mohamed Abul-Ghar insists otherwise. He asserts that the Bloc was not created to oppose any particular political force, stressing that Islamists were welcome to join the coalition if they shared the specific values espoused by the Bloc. However, the fact that the alliance brings together a group of secular leaning parties with opposing economic agendas, such as the socialist Al-Tagammu Party and the pro-business Free Egyptians Party strongly reinforces this perception.

The press conference launching the Egyptian Bloc’s electoral campaign featured strong attacks against the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest Islamist group and one of the Bloc’s major rivals in the upcoming parliamentary races. Al-Tagammu Party’s Rifaat Al-Said accused the Brotherhood of trying to “hijack Egypt and Egyptians” and said that the group is driven by its goal to dominate politicseven if it comes at the expense of national interests. Al-Said is known as a long-standing and vehement critic of Islamist groups.

Under the slogan “together, we will achieve what is ours,” the Bloc’s campaign underscores goals of building a civil democratic state, and promoting economic prosperity through a liberal economy committed to social justice. For many observers, however, it is unclear how this unlikely partnership between the Free Egyptians Party, known for its pro-business orientations, and the socialist Al-Tagammu, could possibly yield a meaningful joint vision for the future of Egypt’s economy.Since its inception, Al-Tagammu has sought to fight economic liberalization, as well as many aspects of the economic vision that the Free Egyptians espouses.

The Egyptian Bloc has consistently pushed for adopting supra-constitutional principles. These principles, which the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups oppose, would govern constitution-drafting efforts, allegedly protecting individual liberties and rights in advance of the results of the upcoming elections. According to the constitutional declaration that Egypt’s military rulers issued in spring, the elected parliament will be tasked with selecting the assembly that would write the country’s new constitution. Conflict over supra-constitutional principles stems from fears that Islamists would dominate the next parliament; some fear that Islamists would take advantage of this situation to write a constitution that changes the nature of the Egyptian state and jeopardises democracy and individual rights.

The Bloc’ s electoral prospects seemed promising at its founding, as it was poised to be the leading representative of pro-secular constituents in Egypt. Observers also expected that many Egyptians would vote for the Egyptian Bloc as means of counterbalancing Islamist influence at the polls. This situation changed after the Bloc witnessed multiple defections, which meant that it now has to compete with many other parties and actors for the votes of individuals who are weary of the Islamists’ agenda.

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