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The recurring predicament of the Egyptian opposition

Who leads and for what ends are two perennial questions that block the formation of a unified opposition in Egypt

Hassan Abou Taleb , Sunday 2 Jan 2011
Views: 1694
Views: 1694

Shadow government; a parallel parliament; a National Association for Change and resignations by some of its symbols; a legal seminar sponsored by Al-Wafd Party to discuss how to constitutionally dissolve parliament; the search of a symbol of change to unite the opposition; calls by members of the Muslim Brotherhood who lost for the people to revolt and topple the regime.

These are the banners that political parties and opposition forces are raising after they lost the recent parliamentary elections. While there is an acceptance of reality, there is also a rejection of it. The dilemma of opposition forces is that they propose grand goals and call for extreme political action without possessing the minimum level of consensus amongst themselves. This is the first symptom of the predicament of the Egyptian opposition.
They say there is agreement on the need for reform and political change. Some leaders in the opposition believe the seven-point plan proposed by Mohamed ElBaradie after his return to Egypt as an apostle for change summarises the goals of all the political forces. But the question that has no answer is why did the opposition not stand up united behind these demands, if they truly believe the seven points are a unanimous goal?
I believe the answer is simply because the ranks of the opposition are divided, not only in method but also in the structure of each camp. The two make each political party or non-party believe they are the stronger political power, with the most supporters and hence more deserving of leading others. Naturally, none of the others accept this. Structure does not limit action, but an inherited system defines matters. For example, look at the manner by which business is being conducted after the elections in the Wafd, Nasserist and Tagammu parties. While they are all going through a process of self-examination, the outcome is very different.
The Wafd Party, which is a self-described institutional party where decisions are made within an organised structure and according to party rules, is contemplating three options to handle the election results. First, to question the candidates who took part in the reruns and won seats in parliament, asking them to either resign from the party or resign their parliamentary seat because they went against the party decision to withdraw from the electoral process in protest against vote rigging. But the Wafdists who won seats believe they ran in the elections with the approval of the party and won because they are popular in their consituencies. Although they cherish their Wafdist identity they cannot abandon the people who elected them, so how can they be asked to resign from their beloved party? This is not only a dilemma for the MPs but also for the party, which insists it will have nothing to do with the new parliament.
The second option is forming a shadow government headed by Ali El-Salmi that will comprise of 44 cabinet ministers who will draft comprehensive plans to be presented to the people on how to overcome current and future crises. Third, is to begin a legal process to dissolve the elected parliament by gathering evidence of forgery and abuse, as well as constitutional and legal violations. This option is a favourite for the Wafd leadership because it would result in a clear and indisputable legal verdict that the new parliament is illegitimate. In this manner, it will have achieved a great political and legal victory.
Meanwhile, the Nasserist Party has entered a cycle of internal fractures and a public struggle began Deputy Chairman Sameh Ashour and Secretary General Ahmed Hassan, to test who has a firmer grip on the party as the party's legendary chairman, Diaaeddin Dawoud, becomes frailer. Many methods are being employed in this struggle, including emergency conferences, interrogating members, and asking the Shura Council to liquidate the party's parliamentary bloc represented by the secretary general. It appears that the balance of power is equal, and the Political Party Committee (PPC) may be the only arbitrator, but this solution would suspend the party if the PPC feels this is an unsolvable "organisational" dispute. Such an outcome would not be good for party members, or those who believe in the Nasserist nationalist doctrine that the party is supposed to embody.
Accordingly, efforts to calm tensions are underway and compromises between the battling leaders are being sought. This would be best for everyone, if based on fixed, clear and structural grounds.
The Tagammu Party also appears to have survived the post-election storm because it won a small number of parliamentary seats and now has a parliamentary bloc leading the opposition in the new People's Assembly. Also, the party's leadership was able to transform disputes over the outcome of the elections into a subject for discussion within the party. Despite all criticism, the party's presence in parliament is the best option available to strengthen its role in the political arena and uphold the civil state. Nonetheless, there is still a need to assert the virtues of dialogue over hurling accusations.
These examples of the actions taken by parties after the elections reveal a variety of political positions in general, and regarding the new parliament in particular. This diversity includes non-party forces that are also afflicted by fractures in their ranks, although the losses should be cause to investigate the failures of the mechanisms used in the electoral race. This is most noticable by looking at the reaction of the National Association for Change, and the dialogue among a number of activists about the anticipated role that ElBaradie could play in the coming phase. An unanswered question is whether ElBaradie will settle down inside the country and not travel abroad so much, which many in his inner circle believe is the only reason supporters are abandoning him, because they sense that he is not serious about being the symbol of change they desire.
Whether ElBaradie is serious about staying or not, or whether he will lead the mobilisation of the masses as he claims, or if he will be an outside champion of change, the Muslim Brotherhood wants to mobilise the people without a violent confrontation with the regime and government. This is what some of the group's leaders are saying, especially those who lost their parliamentary seats. Some have found an alternative in a parallel parliament, while others doubt the value of such an illegal and unconstitutional entity, as stated by Saad El-Katatni, member of the group's Guidance Council.
The issue here is both complex and simple: How can the people follow activists whose popularity has waned and were unable to win in the elections, notwithstanding violations in many districts. The complexity comes in the notion of a parallel or people's parliament. How will it function, what are its duties, where is its headquarters, who will choose its members and fund it, what are its goals, how will it coordinate with other parties, the people and other political players? It is said that its goal will be to express opinions about what is taking place in the official parliament, and accordingly will be legal because the constitution protects freedom of expression. But the question remains, does the expression of opinion require an undefined forum that can easily be outlawed?
The entire thing is nothing more than a form of protest of the election results, and objections usually run their course and then become history. This fact is well known to activists, and hence their attempt to leave a permanent impression in history by having the Wafd Party host this parliament. The Wafd has welcomed the notion in principle, but said it will need to study it further before taking a final decision.
Even if this parliament becomes a viable entity under the auspices of the Wafd, would it be able to perform the tasks of a real parliament in terms of drafting legislation, debating with government and overseeing its performance? Absolutely not, and therefore the issue remains — whether it's called a parliament or anything else — nothing more than a forum for political activists to express their opinion on policy here and legislation there.
I don't believe that such an outcome is worth all this activity. Instead, efforts should be focused on a more practical, positive framework that would yield much better results for the independent and political opposition, as well as political life for all Egyptians.
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