Egypt's left wing groups downcast ahead of parliamentary elections

Menna Alaa El-Din, Tuesday 6 Oct 2015

A lack of unity has undermined the left's efforts to contest the upcoming elections, with many from their ranks so cynical of the impending parliament's abilitiy to effect change they would rather not run at all

Egypt parliament
Egypt parliament (Reuters)

As Egypt’s first parliamentary elections since Mohamed Morsi's 2013 ouster loom large, the country’s left wing parties remain sceptical and are polarised over their participation in the last chapter of the political roadmap that begun with Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi taking office.

With electoral campaigning starting this week, the left remains broadly unconvinced that parliament's legislative powers will have any significance following worrying comments from El-Sisi about the constitution and presidential powers.

Opposition group National Salvation Front (NSF), which included left wing elements alongside other non-Islamist activists, assisted the army in overthrowing Mohamed Morsi after 2013's widespread protests, but their demands at that time about the controversial parliamentary law passed by interim president Adly Mansour were ignored. 

Lists withdrawals, hope for inviduals system success

Sahwet Misr (Egypt’s Awakening), of the centre-left, was seen as the strongest of the left wing party lists running on the lists system. The individuals system is effectively designed to negate party politics.

The Sahwet Misr list presented itself as a representative of civilian revolutionary power that would push for reform.

It was founded by Abdel-Galil Mostafa, who was influential in mobilising protests in the build up to the 2011 January revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak.

The list included the Democratic Current Alliance, the Constitution Party, El-Karama, the Socialist Popular Alliance (SPA), Misr El-Horreya, El-Adl, and Egypt’s Popular Current.

The electoral list decided to withdraw after what they described as a “negative stance” from the High Electoral Committee (HEC) regarding a recent administrative court ruling.

“Obliging candidates to retake medical tests at their own expense kills the two constitutional principles of equality and equal opportunities," Sahwet Misr said in a statement.

Following the withdrawal, left wing groups decided to try and gain seats in the house of representatives by putting out candidates to run on the individuals system.

Abdel-Ghaffar Shokr, leader of the SPA, one of the parties who had made up Sahwet Misr, told Ahram Online that on top of the recent withdrawal, there was a glaring issue all along in the way the electoral system favours individual candidates.

“The businessmen will be back, the old faces will be back inside the house of representatives. They have tried several times to make an appearance, and with this electoral division, they will take control,” Shokr said.

The House of Representatives will be composed of 596 MPs, the highest number in Egypt's 150-year parliamentary history. Out of the total, 448 will be elected as independents, 120 as party-based deputies, and 28 will be appointed by the president.

Shokr said his SPA party is will have 10 individual candidates standing for election to parliament.

The left wing politician said their chances are worse than they were in 2012's elections when Islamists dominated parliament but the Revolution Continues Alliance, made up of left wing parties including the SPA, won nine seats.

That result in Egypt's first parliamentary elections was seen as something of a left wing success at the time.

“We [the left wing groups] are unlucky this time. We couldn’t reach any agreements to be unified under one list,” Shokr said.

But the SPA aren’t the only party trying their luck on the individuals system.

The Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP), once a member of Sahwet Misr’s electoral list, announced they will be contesting 80 individual seats.

The ESDP was seen as an alternative to voting for Islamist groups in the 2012 elections.

“We introduce ourselves now in 2015 as a substitute for the old faces; whether they are the Mubarak faces or the Islamists faces,” the ESDP co-founder Farid Zahran told Ahram Online.

Zahran explains proudly that his is "the only party that aims to spread democracy and a modern state" in Egypt at the moment.

Zahran shares Shokr’s belief that the parliamentary law is one of the reasons for the lack of a unified left wing campaign.

“It’s not only the parliamentary law that we oppose, it's also the clear attack on Egypt’s political life,” Zahran declared.

A parliament without clout

Egypt's president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said on Sunday that the 2014 constitution gave the parliament wider powers than the president out of "good will" but that this is not good enough to govern a state.

Experts have suggested 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.

According to Article 146 of the 2014 constitution, while the president has the right to appoint a prime minister, parliament must approve any new cabinet through a vote of confidence on its proposed programme.

Article 161 of the 2014 constitution states that the House of Representatives may propose to withdraw confidence from the President of the Republic and hold early presidential elections upon filing a motion to be signed by a majority of the House of Representatives and upon approval of two thirds of its members.

Upon approval of the proposal to withdraw confidence, the matter of withdrawing confidence from the president of the republic and holding early presidential elections would be put to public referendum, to be called by the prime minister.

If the majority approves the decision to withdraw confidence, the president would be removed from office and early presidential elections would be held within 60 days.

There has been a rumbling push by state-supporters in the Arabic language media for a constitutional amendment to strengthen the president's positions, citing the challenges he faces and the need for total parliamentary support.

But while theoretically parliament will have little to no clout, politicians argue that it will not be without impact.

“The next parliament will be weak and won’t wield any political power,” Shokr believes.

Zahran agrees that the impending parliament won’t be actually have a share of "executive power", calling it a parliament of "services".

“It’s doubtful that parliament will be able to review laws made by the president, or even summon officials when they commit wrongdoings."

Zahran says his party is opposed to constitutional amendment and says that any such action would be a step towards reviving the "state of Mubarak".

A "blundering" parliament

Left wing writer and professor of politics Sherif Younis believes Mubarak's old cronies will push their own interests as they did in the 2005 and 2010 parliament, both dominated by Mubarak's National Democratic Party.

“I believe this parliament is a transitional one, a parliament that will be blundering,” Younis says.

But while Younis believes that the next parliament will be "politically weak", he still believes the left wing is showing a "negative attitude" to political representation.

Younis predicts that "revolutionary forces" might acquire some ninen seats.

Zahran says being a minority wouldn’t stop them from fighting.

“Being a minority doesn’t mean I shouldn’t fight against tyranny,” Zahran says.

Several groups have called many times over for the upcoming elections to be boycotted.

“Boycotting doesn’t play a role. It would be a disappointment. By participating in the elections, I’m showing resistance,” Zahran concluded.

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