Ahead of the parliamentary race, what's left of Egypt’s political parties?

Omar Halawa, Monday 7 Sep 2015

Experts doubt that all of Egypt's political parties are ready for the elections race, some even asserting that the parties are following the lead of Mubarak's NDP

Candidates submitting their papers for running the parliamentary elections (Photo: Al Ahram)

As Egypt prepares to witness the delayed parliamentary elections in October and November, questions loom around whether the political parties are ready to join the race.

Some of them are facing uncertainty in terms of leadership and political identity, while others say it is clear that they are reverting to Mubarak-era election rules.

According to official records, Egypt has more than 100 parties, including more than 70 parties that were established following the 25 January revolution in 2011.

With nearly 4,300 people submitted candidacy requests to run on the individual system, which allocates 448 parliament seats, party-based lists allocate 120 parliamentary seats.

Post-revolution rifts and resignations

For Amr Adly, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center, Egypt currently has neither a real political spectrum nor well-based parties.

"It is normal to see many parties being established following a revolution, as public opinion becomes more open and exposed, but in reality the majority, if not all, of the new parties had similar agendas with no real programs on the ground to communicate with citizens," Adly told Ahram Online.

"We should also bear in mind two things: First, the 2014 constitution which passed following the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood didn't designate or pave the road for the correct political process. This is obvious from the parliamentary elections law issued by President Abdel-Fatah El-Sisi's regime, which stipulated that the majority of the seats will be allocated to the individual system, making the parties’ chances hard compared to individuals," he explained.

"Secondly, you need to realize that, globally, parties are now not the only public platform. Citizens can interact through social media and other media devices, making the capability of transmitting information and interacting with it higher and more durable than joining a political party," Adly added.

Recently, two post-revolutionary center leftist parties witnessed internal rifts following the submission of resignation by their heads. Mohamed Abu El-Ghar, who established the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 2011, announced his resignation last week citing in his resignation letter that "my desire for the party to have a clear social democratic ideology, to be popular and to self-finance is impossible with these disagreements raging."

El-Ghar’s resignation was later rejected by party leadership and members of the Social Democratic Party are now holding talks to resolve internal disputes.

Additionally, Hala Shukrallah, Chairman of the Dostour (Constitution) Party, resigned last month over conflicts with some senior party members over the date and criteria of the party's internal elections.

Dostour was established in 2012 by Former Director General of the of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei and Shukrallah, who was elected last year, is the first Coptic woman to be elected as head of an Egyptian party.

Ayman Moawad, head of an internal committee within the party named "The Wise Ones," which aims at resolving the party's issues, spoke to Ahram Online about the hurdles facing his party.

"I think the main reason behind our party's rift, and also that of the newly-former parties, is the absence of political awareness among members as well as lack of experience in practicing politics. I also believe that many of the new parties were either infiltrated by pro-regime figures or the internal composition of members was not unified. For example, we are supposedly a leftist party but we have lots of right wing members," he said.

"We tried to do our best in terms of reaching out to people, but internally we had different backgrounds and we did not stick to a certain ideology. We are also facing a huge funding problem as our party mainly depends on annual member subscriptions but in the end it can't afford the entire expense of the party or the cost of running the parliamentary elections," he added.

Adly agrees with Moawad, saying that funding is the main challenge for all political parties in Egypt.

"I believe the upcoming electoral scene will show which parties can persist and which cannot as it seems that many of them do not have the financial capacity to run the elections," Adly said.

"The Free Egyptian Party, which was founded in 2011 by Egyptian tycoon Naguib Sawiris, and the Reform and Development Party, which was also founded in 2011 by businessman Ramy Lakah, will most likely be the two parties to win seats in the parliamentarian race as they are putting forward the most money and are also fielding old faces of the National Democratic Party (NDP)."

Old faces in new parliament

In the 2011 house of representatives elections, the Free Egyptians Party won only 15 seats out of 508 parliament which was widely dominated by Islamists, while the Reform and Development Party won nine seats.

"But this means that the coming parliament will bring out the old NDP type of parliamentarians, who are well known businessmen within their constituency, but this will happen with no political formula. 

“Under Mubarak you had the NDP as a ruling party, the Muslim Brotherhood, and some parties such as Wafd and Tagammu. They all formed a political scene, but now you don't have the first two, which means that there is a political vacuum," Adly added.

Moreover, some post-revolutionary parties formed by NDP and Mubarak era parties were also witnessing internal rifts, most notably Al-Moatamr (The Conference) Party, which was founded in 2012 by former presidential candidate and long term foreign minister Amr Moussa, and Al-Harka Al-Watnya (The National Movement) Party founded in 2012 by former presidential candidate and last Egyptian prime minster under Mubarak, Ahmed Shafiq.

Salah Hassaballah, founder of the Horreya (freedom) Party and former vice president of Al-Moatamar Party, told Ahram Online that he resigned from the party because some board members were trying to monopolize the decision-making process within it.

"It got to the point where the party’s vice president was informed of the general assembly meeting only 24 hours beforehand, so I resigned along with some senior members," he said.

“Now we are getting ready for the parliamentary race with experienced candidates. We believe that the individual system is the best for Egypt's electoral scene as people vote for the person they know and the majority of Egypt's political party figures are theoreticians more so than politicians," Hassabalah, who was also a former NDP parliamentarian, said.

"I don't think that the next parliament will be composed of a concrete political bloc but I do think we need a national bloc to assist president El-Sisi in his ruling," he added.

Some experts believe that the 2014 constitution gave wider powers to the parliament comparable to that of the president as the two will share the duty of naming the prime minster and assigning top state officials, a point that makes many wonder whether the current constitution will remain as is.

But Bahgat El-Hossuimey, official spokesperson for the Wafd Party, told Ahram Online that if the coming parliament made the government’s mission difficult and if its performance was weak, they might call for a constitutional amendment.

"We need to monitor the parliament's performance," he said.

El-Houssimey said that many of the party's candidates in the parliamentarian race are from the NDP as well. 

"The electoral law forced us to play with the old rules in which money and tribal connections are taken into account when voting for a candidate," he added.

The Wafd Party, which is considered Egypt's oldest political party still in existence, won 39 seats in the last elections. Now the party is facing internal rifts as seven board members, including former parliamentarians, most notably veteran politician Fouad Badrawi, called for a zero confidence vote from its Chairman El-Sayed El-Badawi in May. They accused him of squandering the budget and not being inclusive enough in terms of managing the party.

However, El-Houssimey ruled out the possibility that the recent internal rifts could affect the party in the elections. 

"The majority of our base, about 85 percent of it, is based in Upper Egypt and the Delta governorate, not in Cairo. All respect to the seven members, but they resigned from the party and they were not that influential," he added.

Said Sadeq, a political sociology professor, believes that it's not surprising to see the old faces again.

"We are still in the early years of practicing democracy and it's not strange to see the Mubarak-era faces running for parliament but with new brands. However I do think that Sisi's regime needs a parliament that supports rather than causes a disturbance," he said.

Adly concluded, however, that "there will be no parliamentary bloc in the coming parliament, so one of two things might happen; either the parliament proves that it’s unsuccessful and it will be dissolved, or a new political bloc might be formed and will be the backup of Sisi's regime."

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