Absence of opposition: Why established political parties are not joining Egypt's presidential race

Gamal Essam El-Din , Saturday 17 Feb 2018

Much needs to be done to create a credible multi-party system

Poster to support Sisi
People walk near a poster depicting Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi that reads "we've chosen you for a second term", in Cairo, Egypt January 15, 2018 (Photo: Reuters)

Political observers are busy asking themselves why no opposition party opted to field a candidate in next month’s presidential election.

When preparations for the presidential poll began in November commentators were optimistic the more established parties — like the Wafd and Tagammu — would field candidates but their hopes were quickly dashed after the majority of political parties backed the re-election of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. The situation was compounded when Anwar Al-Sadat and Khaled Ali announced they were withdrawing their candidacy bids.

Now President Al-Sisi faces a single challenger, Moussa Mustafa Moussa, head of the Ghad Party though it is clear, political analyst Hala Mustafa told Al-Ahram Weekly, that Moussa has no interest in competing against Al-Sisi but joined the race at the last minute to prevent the election from being portrayed as a referendum.

Mustafa argues the failure of political parties to put forward candidates necessitates changes to the political parties law to allow “the formation of strong parties with distinctive platforms and allow political parties with similar platforms to merge into stronger partisan entities capable of fielding high-profile candidates in the 2022 presidential election”. Her hope is that in the future two strong parties will emerge, capable of fielding credible figures in presidential elections.

The real problem was that no political parties have shown interest in fielding candidates, said Makram Mohamed Ahmed, an Al-Ahram political analyst and head of the Higher Council for Media Regulation (HCMR), says parties may have “preferred not to field a candidate because they believed the result of the polls are a foregone conclusion.

“While political parties prepared well for parliamentary elections in 2015 they were not serious about contesting the upcoming presidential poll and remained silent about their presidential election intentions,”he said.

Ahmed argued that though the 25 January Revolution in 2011opened the door wide for political participation, the vast majority of political parties — there are now 104 of them — exist only on paper.

“Political parties do not have prominent figures who could achieve victory in a presidential election,” Ashraf Rashad, head of the Future of Homeland Party, told the Weekly. “Most parties are new. They lack the experience, financial resources and grass roots presence to contest the presidential poll.”

According to Rashad political parties which successfully contested parliamentary seats decided early on they would not field candidates in the 2018 presidential election “out of respect for President Al-Sisi and his achievements over four years in office”.

“Instead of fielding candidates we agreed that we should pave the way for President Al-Sisi to complete implementing his programme during another four-year term.”

There must be a review of the laws regulating the performance of political parties, says analyst Amr Hashem Rabie. “Legislation should be amended so political parties require a minimum of 5,000 members before they can be registered rather than the 1,000 currently specified. And they need to formulate credible political platforms.”

Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat, leader of the Reform and Development Party, counters that “many opposition figures wanted to run but had little faith state authorities would remain neutral during the poll.”

“The political environment in Egypt is hostile to political parties and the government has made no concrete steps towards strengthening a multi-party system,” says Al-Sadat. He added he withdrew his own candidacy bid after being barred from meeting with MPs in an attempt to solicit recommendations.

Al-Sadat recommends a national dialogue be held between President Al-Sisi and opposition parties to identify the steps necessary to create a flourishing political life. “This is important for the future of the country and for ensuring that there will be a peaceful rotation of power in Egypt,” he says.

Political analyst Abdel-Moneim Said argued in a recent column that the problem with most opposition parties is that they suffer from what he terms “political autism”. “Like children who suffer from autism they live in a world of their own. Instead of actively participating in political life, their attitude is one of boycott.”

According to Said, rather than holding a dialogue with political parties in his first term President Al-Sisi had focused on helping young people enter political life.

“The president knows young people are the country’s future leaders. They are the ones who must be groomed to occupy leading positions in the coming years. In his first four-year term President Al-Sisi also gave priority to addressing economic and security concerns and that this might have negatively affected political life.”

“But in the next four years,” argues Said, “there will have to be some form of dialogue with political parties to pave the way for a competitive presidential election in 2022.”

* This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly

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