One-man parties: Failure-bound and short-lived?

Sherif Tarek , Friday 3 Jun 2011

With a spate of new parties emerging identified by a prominent affiliate or founder, Ahram Online asks how far into Egypt's political night can they tread when their light shines on one man

Sawiris, Sabahi, ElBaradei  and Hamzawy
Naguib Sawiris, Hamdeen Sabahi, Mohamed ElBaradei and Amr Hamzawy (clockwise) are more ‎famous than their respective parties

Some of the newly-founded or yet-to-be-launched political parties have derived stature ‎from eminent individuals by capitalising on their popularity, financial muscle or political ‎credentials; a notion that raises question marks over whether the longevity and potential of these ‎up-and-coming parties are contingent upon certain figures.‎

Unlike time-honoured parties or those backed by powerful groups, such as El-Wafd or the Muslim Brotherhood’s ‎Freedom and Justice party (El-Horreya we El-Adala), The Justice (El-Adl), ‎Freedom Egypt (Misr El-Horreya), the Free Egyptians (El-Masryeen El-Ahraar) and The Dignity parties ‎‎(El-Karama) each seem to be more related to a single leading luminary rather than deep-‎rooted ideologies and beliefs.‎

From the public's point of view, The Justice remains linked with presidential hopeful Mohamed ‎ElBaradei. For Freedom Egypt, it is prominent political analyst Amr ‎Hamzawy, the Free Egyptians is associated with business tycoon Naguib ‎Sawiris while Nasserist Hamdeen Sabahi – another presidential contender – is The Dignity’s icon.‎

All four parties, nonetheless, refuse the one-man show concept and are seeking ‎comprehensive independency.‎

The “self-directed” Justice took the hard path

ElBaradei’s sister Mona and the coordinator of his supporting committee, Mostafa El-Naggar, are among the co-founders of The Justice Party. Other members ‎are also staunch allies of the former director general of the International Atomic Energy ‎Agency.‎

For this reason, The Justice has appeared to be ElBaradei-centred. Its fame stems from ‎the 68-year-old, even though he is not a member of the party and is planning to run for the presidency as an independent.‎

While speaking to Ahram Online, El-Naggar reiterated that The Justice is not driven by support ‎of ElBaradei. “When we first thought about establishing a party we had to choose one ‎of two ways; either we depend on a single figure or on perspectives and principles. As part of ‎the revolutionary youths, we opted for the latter fashion, even though it is not the easier one.‎

‎“People in Egypt tend to surround a figure more than an ideology, but the revolution changed ‎a lot in the nation and we wanted to change that fact too. Our party has never been based on ‎one man. It is true that there are members who support ElBaradei but the party is completely ‎self-directed. We have not even picked our presidential candidate yet.‎

‎“We have so far succeeded as a party led by thoughts; we were among the first parties to fulfil ‎the [compulsory] 5000-member clause. The one-man show model is obsolete, with all due ‎respect of course,” El-Naggar added.‎

Hamzawy’s confession

Shortly after his sudden resignation from the Social Democratic Party, Hamzawy founded Freedom ‎Egypt. His personal traits and political views pretty much gave the party its identity: in favour of the ‎rotation of power on both local and national levels; social, religious and ‎gender equality; and civic freedom within the realm of the law and constitution and, as ‎such, against all kinds of discrimination.‎

Hamzawy admitted that Freedom Egypt is more connected to him than the rest of the party’s ‎figures and values, a situation he hopes will be revolutionised in the near future. “The parties ‎that rely on a single person will never develop. Its success would always be dependent on that ‎person,” he said. “We [Freedom Egypt] are working as an institution.‎

‎“There is no one person representing the party all the time to the media. A group ‎does this job and we apply a rotation policy in order not to come across as a one-man party.” ‎‎“To some extent, yes, the party is more related to my name than anything, and I hope this ‎reality changes soon; it is neither in the party’s best interest nor in mine. Independency is ‎really important for any political group.”‎

Sawiris-owned Free Egyptians?‎

The Free Egyptians, as with the previous two parties, lies in the liberal political spectrum and is another glaring example of how a party can be seen to be attached to one man. Telecommunications ‎mogul Sawiris is widely understood to own and dominate it, thanks to the notion that he is a main benefactor and, more importantly, is splashing cash to get it off the ground.‎

In a conference held to unveil the Free Egyptians, party head Sawiris said: “This is not Naguib ‎Sawiris’ party, this is all Egyptians’ party,” stressing that he would not control its policies and ‎decisions by any means. After nearly a couple of months, though, the Free Egyptians’ one-‎man picture is virtually still the same in the eyes of many people. It is branded as "Sawiris's party" while it keeps on ‎stressing otherwise. ‎

‎“Engineer Sawiris called for the foundation of the party and was one of those who formed its ‎principles, that fact is not going to change but it does not give him an unfettered authority ‎either,” founders’ representative Ragi Soliman told Ahram Online.‎

‎“Speaking of funding, Sawiris is not the only source,” added Soliman. “Other businessmen are also responsible ‎for the financial support, not to mention donations and subscribtion fees from the members ‎who are now around 45.000. Concerning the decision-making process, we function as an ‎institution and through committees that convene almost on a daily basis. ‎

‎“The majority is always stronger than anyone; what happened last Friday [the Second Friday of ‎Rage] was a clear testament to what I am saying. Sawiris was against the protest while the ‎majority of the party’s members were with it, so the party was officially in favour of the protest‎‎… if there is no democracy within our party, then we should not have established it in the first ‎place.”‎

Karama: A party of “many leaders”‎

Sabahi used to be head of the Karama Nasserist Political Party. As a presidential candidate who had ‎announced his intention of running for presidency more than a year ago – before Mubarak’s ouster – he has been the most famous among Karama’s ‎figures for quite some time. However, his status as the party’s hero has actually ‎diminished, according to leading ‎member Abdel Aziz El-Husseini.‎

‎“Hamdeen Sabahi is no longer the head of the party, he is now just a member,” El-Husseini ‎told Ahram Online. “We have many leaders, such as [writer and activist] Amin Eskandar and Kamal Abu-Eitta [a prominent ‎trade unionist]… ‎Karama consists of a large number of intellectuals, writers and artists. No decision is made ‎individually. Moreover, Hamdeen will run as an independent candidate in the elections and ‎not through the Party.‎

‎“In general, one-man parties do not last for long but one cannot make a judgment these days. ‎We must give the new political parties some time; their practices will indicate whether they are ‎led by one person or work as a group,” El-Husseini concluded.‎

A myriad of political parties were promptly established in Egypt following the January 25 ‎Revolution, which instigated the overthrow of ex-sovereign Mubarak on 11 February, and is ‎believed to have paved the way for an unprecedented healthy political environment in the ‎country.

For Amr Hashem Rabie, an analyst at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, the relationship between a party’s leader and its members is vital. “People usually believe the head of the party is always right and the lower ranked members are wrong if they contradict him,” he said.

“When leaders are charismatic they became more influential… charisma might help a leader take full control of the party if he is authoritarian. Sometimes one-man parties succeed and become popular, like in Lebanon for instance.”

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