Egyptian Social Democratic Party: From opposition to cabinet leaders

Reem Gehad , Tuesday 23 Jul 2013

Ahram Online profiles the Egyptian Social Democratic Party which has provided the country with its interim PM Hazem El-Beblawi and Deputy PM Ziad Bahaaeddin

Once opposition, now cabinet leaders
PM Hazem El-Beblawi (L) and deputy PM and Minister for Planning and International Cooperation Ziad Bahaa El-Din (R) (Photo: Ahram)

Founded after the January 25 Revolution, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP) sits at the top of the government in the post-Morsi transitional period.

Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi and Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Bahaaeddin are founding members of the centre-left liberal party. As heads of the government, they are now looked upon to solve pressing issues, including economic problems, severe political divisions and the security vacuum.

El-Beblawi, a liberal economist, leads a largely secular government following president Mohamed Morsi's ouster by the army on 3 July amid mass protests against his rule.

The new government marks a change from former prime minister Hisham Qandil's cabinet which was mostly comprised of Muslim Brothers or their Islamist sympathisers.

Ahram Online profiles the ESDP and examines its views and stances on current political affairs.

ESDP’s relationship with the new cabinet

The party released a statement saying that it would play no role in the formation of the cabinet and would not interfere in its work once it is sworn in.

The PM and deputy PM were chosen by [interim President Adly Mansour] because they are competent, Ahmed Fawzi, ESDP general-secretary said. “We are proud, as a party, to have qualified people to fill such positions.”

However, Fawzi stressed the cabinet is not the “party’s cabinet.”

Mohamed Abul-Ghar, head of the ESDP and one of its founders, described El-Beblawi and Bahaaeddin as “independent technocrats” in an interview with Ahram Online on Sunday.

Indeed, the cabinet does not contain any other ESDP members. However, the party has expressed satisfaction with the new government.

“There are many ministers whose ideas are similar to ours, including Manpower Minister Kamal Abu-Eita [labour activist and head of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions] and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Higher Education Hossam Eissa [former leading member of the Constitution Party],” Fawzi said.

Abul-Ghar described the cabinet as “reasonable,” adding that “people are happy with some appointments as they belong to the revolution.”

“In fact, the party has made a sacrifice by agreeing to the appointments,” Fawzi added. “If their performance is unsatisfactory for the people at this critical time, it will directly affect us.”

Economic Views For many, and the ESDP is no different, the interim cabinet’s first priority should be overcoming the economic crisis.

However, Fawzi said El-Beblawi would not implement an ESDP economic programme during his premiership.

“The current cabinet should help stop the crisis from worsening,” he said. “We should not expect it to revive the economy with a comprehensive programme - it is a temporary government.”

The ESDP advocates social and economic justice, viewing the private sector and free market policies as the most productive and efficient way to organise the economy, albeit with a measure of state regulation.

The party also supports the inflow of foreign direct investment within a regulatory framework that prevents monopolistic practices.

Indeed, PM El-Beblawi, who previously served as finance minister and deputy prime minister for economic affairs in 2011, said in an interview with state TV on Sunday that he supports a “free market system, but with government regulation.”

He spoke of foreign investment, from the US and the Arab World, saying that Egypt’s choice should be “openness and cooperation with the world.”

In the past two weeks, Egypt has received $12 billion in aid from the oil-rich Gulf states of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

However, according to Samer Atallah, an assistant professor of economics at the American University in Cairo, the interim cabinet’s economic challenge lies elsewhere.

“The government has members from the left and the right. I am sceptical that this will create a common agenda,” he told Al-Ahram Weekly on 17 July.

“For example, you have someone like Abu-Eita who strongly opposes the IMF loan and you have El-Beblawi and [Finance Minister] Ahmed Galal who are advocates of the loan,” Atallah added.

Meanwhile, El-Beblawi stressed in his televised interview that he is looking to implementing a law setting minimum and maximum wages, a long-awaited demand since the January 2011 uprising.

ESDP’s relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood

The ESDP is a liberal party that advocates a strictly secular state. In this regard, it opposes Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).

The ESDP is a member of the National Salvation Front (NSF), Egypt's main coalition of liberal and leftist parties, which is a major opponent of the Brotherhood and participated in the anti-Morsi protests on 30 June.

In the current situation, where Morsi supporters are calling for his reinstatement, actions are being made for reconciliation.

Egypt’s presidential aide for political affairs Mustafa Hegazy announced last Wednesday that communications regarding national reconciliation would start this week.

Abul-Ghar said his party had tried to reach out to the Brotherhood as it “does not want revenge.”

“[However], the Brotherhood doesn't reach out to us, they don't answer anything. We would like them to join the political arena.”

El-Beblawi’s cabinet does not include any Islamist figures. But according to Abul-Ghar the Brotherhood and the Salafist Nour Party were invited to join but refused.

On Sunday, the Brotherhood said it rejected the current situation and would not back down on its demand for Morsi’s reinstatement. It also called for dialogue, after Morsi's return to the presidency, with "all political forces."

For Abul-Ghar, a potential reconciliation would include releasing prisoners “unless somebody did something that deserves legal consideration.”

Fawzy said reconciliation is welcome with Egypt’s Islamist forces, but only with figures who had not “commited crimes.”

Several leading Brotherhood members were detained after Morsi’s ouster on charges including incitement of violence. Morsi himself has been held incommunicado at an unknown location since 3 July.

Relationship with the military

The ESDP was among the groups that opposed the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) when it held power from president Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in February 2011 until Morsi’s election in June 2012.

It was critical of SCAF’s “mismanagement” of the post-revolution scene. After army chief and defence minister Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi announced Morsi's removal, the Brotherhood called it a “military coup.”

Debates were triggered in the media over the extent of the army’s role in politics. El-Sisi was then appointed first deputy prime minister and has maintained his position as defence minister in the interim cabinet.

“The military should stay the same. The defence minister has always been the head of army,” Abul-Ghar said. He added that the army “is not in charge” and “the cabinet was formed independently.”

El-Beblawi said in a televised interview that the first time he spoke to El-Sisi was when they took the oath together.

ESDP in parliament

In the 2011/2012 parliamentary elections, the ESDP participated as part of the Egyptian Bloc, a coalition of leftist and liberal forces. Originally comprised of 21 groups, after several defections the Bloc finally included the ESDP, the Free Egyptians Party, and the Tagammu Party.

The ESDP won 16 seats (out of 498) in the People's Assembly, parliament’s lower house, ranking highest in the bloc. In the Shura Council elections, the upper house of parliament, it won eight seats.

However, shortly before Morsi’s ouster, all party members submitted their resignations from the Islamist-dominated 270-seat Shura Council in solidarity with the 30 June protests. About 34 Shura Council members, from secular forces, also submitted their resignations.

On 14 July, Abul-Ghar told Sada El-Balad TV channel that the parties in the NSF would run under one unified list in upcoming parliamentary elections.

However, the NSF is currently facing internal troubles after its head Mohamed ElBaradei and general-secretary Mounir Fakhry Abdel-Nour left their positions to become vice-president and industry minister respectively.

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