Democratic Alliance (Freedom and Justice)

Egyptian Eelections Watch (Ahram Online and Jadaliyya) , Friday 18 Nov 2011

The Freedom and Justice Party
Supporters of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood 'The Freedom and Justice Party' participate in a march in support of the party ahead of parliamentary elections, in Cairo (Photo: Reuters)

The Democratic Alliance for Egypt Coalition Members: Freedom and Justice Party, Al-Karama Party, Ghad Al-Thawra Party, Labor Party, Al-Islah wal-Nahda Party, Al-Hadara Party, Al-Islah Party, Al-Geel Party, Misr Al-Arabi Al-Ishtiraki Party, Al-Ahrar Party, Al-Horiyya wal-Tanmiya Party.

Background and History

In early June, a group of twenty-eight Egyptian political parties joined forces to form the “Democratic Alliance for Egypt” for the purpose of coordinating their electoral strategies for Egypt’s first legislative elections following the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak. The Alliance’s founding statement, dated 14 June, says that alliance members will seek to mobilize political forces that are committed to the principles of democracy and a civil state, and to secure a representative parliament that would lead to a government of national unity.

The Democratic Alliance was the first electoral coalition to emerge in post-Mubarak Egypt. Since every party was invited to join the Alliance, it remained unclear for a while which parties or groupings it would compete against in the upcoming elections. Other alliances and coalitions later sprang up, clarifying the counters of the electoral map.

After experiencing multiple defections and entries, as of late October, the alliance comprises eleven parties, most notably the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political party of the Muslim Brotherhood, which dominates the alliances’ electoral lists. Ghad Al-Thawra and Al-Karama parties remain the only significant partners to the FJP left in the Democratic Alliance. The coalition at its high point included over forty parties. Now the Democratic Alliance for Egypt is generally seen as a Muslim Brotherhood’s alliance. The alliance will not run under the Muslim Brotherhood’s controversial slogan “Islam is the Solution,” but rather “We bear good for all of Egypt.”

The Alliance is reportedly presenting candidates for almost all the available seats in the People’s Assembly, the parliament’s 508-member lower house. Currently, eleven parties are scheduled to contest the upcoming parliamentary elections through the Alliance’s joint candidate lists. The FJP tops over sixty percent of the Alliance’s forty-six electoral lists, and is scheduled to contest over seventy percent of single-winner seats. The FJP is fielding over 500 candidates for the two parliamentary chambers, and Al- Karama Party will nominate sixteen candidates, including three for single-winner seats, while Ghad Al-Thawra will nominate fifteen candidates. There are 678 parliamentary seats in total that are up for election (498 in the lower house and 180 in the upper house). The legal framework governing the elections gives SCAF the right to appoint ten of the 508 members of the lower house, and ninety of the 270 members of the upper house.

The Alliance once included long-standing opposition parties, such as the century-old liberal Al-Wafd Party, the socialist Al-Tagammu, and the Nasserist Party. It also comprised newly legalized parties and those formed after the January 25 Revolution, like the nationalist Al-Karama Party, the Islamist Al-Wasat Party, the Egypt Freedom Party, and the Salafist Al-Nour Party. Most of these parties left the coalition.

Initially, Alliance members coalesced around the concern that ex-regime figures and associates could easily secure parliamentary representation at their expense, absent electoral coordination among opposition groups. The Alliance, however, faced internal splits soon after.

The combination of a strong Islamist trend in the coalition alongside a liberal one challenged the ideological and political cohesion of the grouping. Less than a month following the formation of the Alliance, defections began mounting. The Democratic Front Party withdrew on grounds that a partnership with Islamist groups is inconsistent with the party’s liberal principles. The Front, however, did not explain why it joined an alliance that clashed with its principles in the first place.

The leftist Al-Tagammu announced it would exit the coalition in the wake of a controversy that activists affiliated with Islamist members of the Alliance instigated strife at the demonstrations held on 29 July 2011 under the banner “The Friday of Unity and Popular Will.” The Friday demonstrations were initially aimed at emphasizing national unity and, among other things, the need to cease military trials of civilians. Al-Tagammu alleged that Islamist activists failed to adhere to the demonstrations’ formal demands—which were agreed to in advance—and instead decided to promote divisive slogans calling for the establishment of an “Islamic state” and the implementation of Sharia law. The Islamist organizations responsible for propagating these slogans on 29 July denied having agreed to any set of collective demands prior to the demonstration.

Ideological and political rifts once again challenged the cohesion of the Alliance when some Wafdist leaders announced they would leave the group, citing among other things, reservations about Al-Wafd’s alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood.Many Wafdist figures had publicly criticized their leaders’ decision to form an alliance with the Brotherhood on grounds that the move made Al-Wafd subservient to a rival organization and compromised the party’s long-standing commitment to secular principles, which the Brotherhood opposes.The defectors, Alaa Abdel Monem, Mostafa Al-Guindi, and Mona Makram Ebeid joined The Egyptian Bloc, a rival electoral coalition founded by secular-leaning parties.

Al-Wafd ultimately withdrew from the Alliance in October, citing disagreements with the FJP over the relative positions of their respective candidates on the Alliance’s joint lists. While some observers attribute this split to the incompatibility of Al-Wafd’s secular sensibilities and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamist agenda, Al-Wafd’s officials, hold that they left the Democratic Alliance primarily because there was insufficient room on the joint electoral lists for the party to field all the candidates it had recruited. In the upcoming elections, two-thirds of parliamentary seats will be filled through a closed party list system. The fact that each list consists on average of only seven seats makes it difficult for a large number of parties to cooperate in a single coalition. All coalitions experienced similar defections once they started forming their joint electoral lists.

Al-Wafd claims it is still committed to the documents it signed with the parties of the Democratic Alliance.Before Al-Wafd’s withdrawal, members of the Alliance had agreed to the draft of the “Fundamental Principles for the Constitution of the Modern Egyptian State,” the product of eleven documents presented by various political forces, parties, institutions and independent personalities. The document outlines twenty-one non-binding principles that would guide constitution-drafting efforts following the election of the upcoming parliament. The principles uphold the rule of law, freedom of belief and expression, the right to form trade unions, and the right to work and education, and recognize Islam as the religion of the state and its primary source of legislation.

While the Islamist/secular divide has undermined unity inside the Democratic Alliance, non-Islamist parties, like the liberal Ghad Al-Thawra and the nationalist Al-Karama, have remained in the coalition alongside the FJP.

Political differences also loomed large in stirring division inside the Alliance. For instance, the Adl (Justice) Party withdrew from the coalition at any early stage on grounds that it did not wish to cooperate with traditional opposition groups that were loyal to the previous regime and that benefited from its largesse. The alliance contains several parties that were pejoratively dubbed “paper parties” during the Mubarak era, in reference to the insignificance of their role.

The Egypt Freedom Party, a liberal party led by Amr Hamzawy, announced it would leave the Alliance because its participants seemed unserious about developing consensus among its member organizations on the principles that would guide constitution-drafting efforts. The Egypt Freedom Party later co-founded the “Egyptian Bloc”, which it left before ultimately choosing to field candidates through the Revolution Continues Alliance.

Internal differences persisted in the Alliance and it was later on the side of the Islamists that disagreements started to simmer. The Salafist Al-Nour Party left the Democratic Alliance in September, citing its marginalization in the coalition’s decision-making vis-à-vis liberal parties. Observers believe, however, that Al-Nour left the Alliance once itbecame clear that its candidates would not top the coalition’s joint electoral lists.

This particular withdrawal had a major impact on the Alliance. In the week that followed, two other Salafist parties, Al-Asala and Al-Fadila, withdrew, followed later by the Building and Development Party, the party established by the Islamic group (Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya).

The Nasserist Party followed suit days later over disagreements with the FJP, objecting to its dominant position in the alliance’s lists.

A political rift between the Salafist current and the Muslim Brotherhood became evident after Al-Nour Party formed the Islamist Bloc, an electoral coalition that includes two other Islamist parties, Al-Asala and Building and Development parties. Observers believe the Islamist Bloc (also known as the Alliance for Egypt) will compete with the Democratic Alliance for the votes of pro-Islamist constituents. The Bloc is scheduled to run against Brotherhood candidates in critical regions such as Alexandria. Nonetheless, Nader Bakkar of Al-Nour told Ahram Online/Jadaliyya that the Islamist Bloc and the Muslim Brotherhood agreed to avoid competing for the same single-winner seats, though FJP officials have denied that such an agreement has occurred. The final candidate rosters of both parties in Alexandria suggest that they might indeed end up competing over single winner seats.

The Brotherhood and the Salafist Al-Nour Party, moreover, signed a document that commits both sides to clean and fair competition in their electoral face-off, though it is unclear why other parties were not included in the agreement. Nevertheless, the two groups will closely compete in party list races for the votes of the Islamist constituency, who previously had little choice but to vote for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Caught between the new Islamist parties and the secular blocs, the FJP has been trying to recruit prominent independent candidates from outside the MB to run on its lists. For example, party leaders have reportedly asked Hassan Nafaa to run on one of their electoral lists in Cairo. Nafaa is a prominent political scientist, public figure, and former coordinator of Mohamed ElBaradei’s National Association for Change. FJP initially assured him that they he would not have to officially join the party in order to run on its electoral lists. According to Nafaa, however, after accepting the FJP’s offer, the party reneged on its promise and asked that he fill out a membership application in order to process the paperwork for his candidacy. Nafaa took the matter to the press, implicitly accusing the MB of opportunism.

The Democratic Alliance for Egypt thus moved far from the image it had initially sought to convey, namely an all encompassing alliance that seeks to unite all political parties in guiding Egypt through the ongoing “transition.” It now has to compete with both Islamist and secular groups for purely electoral gains. Additionally, the dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Democratic Alliance’s electoral lists suggests that the coalition has turned from a multiparty partnership into a Brotherhood directed initiative.

Short link: