Egyptian political parties exchange war of words over links with Mubarak regime

Gamal Essam El-Din , Saturday 4 Oct 2014

Secular political forces have so far been unable to unite into a single electoral alliance for the upcoming parliamentary elections

NDP headquarter
NDP headquarter (Photo: Al-Ahram)

Egypt's secular political forces have so far failed to unite under a single electoral umbrella capable of winning a majority in the country coming parliament.

Instead of preparing for parliamentary elections, the procedures for which are expected to begin next week after the Eid Al-Adha holiday, Egypt's secular political forces have opted to indulge in a war of words, with each accusing the other of  maintaining secret contacts with figures from Hosni Mubarak’s former ruling party, the National Democratic Party.

Two major electoral alliances have recently been formed in the hope of gaining a majority in the new parliament: the Egyptian Wafd alliance, led by the Wafd Party and the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, both liberal groups; and the Egyptian Front alliance, led by a number of senior officials who served under the regime of former president Hosni Mubarak.

Wafd and Egyptian Front exchange blows

In a public statement in early September, Wafd announced that it would not be able to join with the Egyptian Front in an electoral alliance, on the grounds that the latter represents a gathering of remnants of the NDP who oppose the 2011 revolution that led to Mubarak’s ouster.

Wafd chairman El-Sayed El-Badawi commented: "The platform of the Egyptian Wafd alliance stands firm in espousing the principles of the 25 January revolution which led to the removal of Mubarak from office, and the June 30 Revolution which led to the expulsion of the regime of Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliated president Mohamed Morsi." 

"As a result," El-Badawi argued, "the Wafd coalition can never accept into its ranks any figures who were affiliated in any way with the former regimes."

The Egyptian Front alliance reacted by launching a scathing counter-attack against the Wafd, denying that any of its leaders are NDP men.

Mostafa Bakri, a founder and spokesperson of the Front, told Ahram Online that "the Egyptian Front alliance is by no means a gathering for Mubarak's NDP diehards or a cover for them to infiltrate the coming parliament."

Bakri argued that "the front just includes some officials who served under the Mubarak regime, and when these were in power they were serving a nation rather than a political regime and as long as they were not convicted of any corruption practices, they could not be banned from contesting elections." 

Bakri added that "the Front is mainly composed of other different liberal and leftist forces such as the Tagammu Party, the Arab Nasserist Party and the two leading forces which represent workers and farmers in Egypt, namely the General Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions and the General Association of Farmers."

"This places the front as the strongest competitor in the coming parliamentary elections," said Bakri.

Bakri, however, insists that contacts between the Wafd and the Front for contesting the coming polls as one electoral bloc have not been completely severed.

"In spite of the Wafd's complaints over NDP remnants, we are still in serious negotiations over creaing one electoral alliance," said Bakri.

"Unlike many people think, there are no radical ideological differences between the Wafd and the Front as we are united by firm support for the current government of Egypt's new president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi."

"The differences are just over electoral issues such as quota of each alliance's candidates on party lists and the distribution of candidates in districts governed by the individual candidacy system," said Bakri.

Agreeing with Bakri, Mohamed Anwar El-Sadat, chairman of the liberal Reform and Development Party which is a member of the Egyptian Wafd alliance, told Ahram newspaper this week that "the Wafd is not against the Front as a whole, but it has objections that some of its candidates are clearly supporters of the Mubarak regime."

"As a matter of fact, the Front and the Wafd speak one political and ideological language, but we just have some minor differences over party lists and independent seats," said El-Sadat.

Other Front members, such as Salah Hassaballah, deputy chairman of the Conference Party, opted to lash out at the Wafd, accusing its leaders of "hypocrisy and double standards."

"While they use hostile language against Mubarak's NDP, they hold contacts in secret with some of its symbols in a bid to convince them to run on the Wafd ticket," said Hassaballah, recalling that "in 2010's polls, the last held under the Mubarak regime, the Wafd fielded some former NDP members on its official list of candidates."

"As far as I know, they are now in negotiations with some other former NDP members with strong tribal and business links in some districts to be fielded as official Wafd coalition candidates," said Hassaballah.

Hassaballah said that the Wafd stipulates that for an alliance to be completed with the Front, it should be held under the title of "the Egyptian Wafd alliance." "This stipulation which is rejected by the Front now stands as a major obstacle for the alliance between the two to be finalised," said Hassaballah.

Democratic Current 'divided' over alliance prospects 

Activists from a different part of the political spectrum are also mulling a possible alliance with the Wafd.

Leaders of the Civilian Democratic Current, which includes a loose mix of new parties which came into being after the 2011 uprising and is led by Nasserist Hamdeen Sabahi, charge that the Wafd's contacts with the Front prevent the two forces uniting into one electoral bloc.

Abdel-Ghaffar Shukr, a political analyst and a leading official with the Democratic Current, argues that "the Current is divided over coordination with the Wafd."

“A leading Current figure, former social solidarity minister Ahmed El-Boraie, insists that the Current should be in one electoral "trench" with the Wafd in order to gain a foothold in the coming parliament," said Shukr, adding that others, especially those affiliated with the Constitution Party, stipulate that "in order for an electoral alliance to be completed with the Wafd, its leaders must not join hands with NDP remnants in any way."

Wafd leaders themselves have said that although they and the Democratic Current stand on one ideological ground, they still have fears that some members of the Current espouse an extremist, Western-oriented agenda.

"It is no secret that political parties like the Constitution Party, founded by ex-UN diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei, and the Social Popular Current led by Sabahi, are in favor of an agenda that is hostile to the Egyptian army and only leads to chaos and sweeping troubles," said Hossam El-Khouly, a leading Wafd official.

But at the same time, El-Khouly said, Wafd is against coordinating with the Egyptian Front because it is against the NDP and symbols of the Mubarak regime.

The Egyptian Front alliance is mainly composed of two political parties: Misr Baladi (Egypt My Homeland) led by former interior minister during Mohamed Morsi’s presidency Ahmed Gamaleddin, and the Egyptian Movement led by Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister under Hosni Mubarak.

News reports suggest hat Shafiq, who left Egypt for the United Arab Emirates after he lost the presidential elections in 2012, will be back in Egypt in a few days to take charge of the Egyptian Front's parliamentary election campaign.

Preparations for Egypt's parliamentary polls are expected to kick off in October, or only after a law aimed at redrawing electoral districts is finalised. The post-2011 revolutionary political forces have complained that the election laws only serve to ensure the return of former NDP members to parliament in large numbers.

The current election law specifies that 75 percent of seats (420 seats) be reserved for independents, with just 20 percent (120 seats) allocated to party lists. The remaining 5 percent (27 seats) will be appointed by the president. Revolutionary forces ask that the amount allocated to party list be raised to at least 30 percent.

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