For the Love of Egypt: High profile, low on politics in parliament race

Omar Halawa, Monday 12 Oct 2015

'People will definitely choose those with experience' says one of the bloc's candidates

For the love of Egypt
An electoral rally for the "For the love of Egypt" list in Alexandria (Photo: Al-Ahram)

At an election rally last week in a Nazlt El-Batran, a working-class Giza neighbourhood, Mohsen El-Batran, general coordinator of the National Council of Egyptian Tribes, stood in front of hundreds of residents and spoke about his family's history of providing MPs.

"Today I would like to introduce my niece, Mai Al-Batran, who is running on the Fi Hob Misr (For the Love of Egypt) list," Al-Batran said. "Mai is daughter to one of Egypt's established parliamentarians, Mohamed Al-Batran, who held office in the 70s, 80s and 90s, and today Mai is replicating her father's political career by joining a reputable list like Fi Hob Misr," he told the thousand-strong crowd of mainly farmers and labourers.

As Egypt awaits its first parliamentary elections since the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi, the build-up seems subdued to many with little media attention compared to the 2012 parliamentary race. For the Love of Egypt is the electoral bloc attracting the lion's share of attention from media and public alike.

"That is because of the list's composition," Yousri Al-Azabawi, a researcher for Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Ahram Online.

"It's made up of members of families popular in Delta governorates and southern Egypt, and ex-National Democratic Party (NDP) parliamentarians – well-known public figures. It also includes former state officials and former military officers, bringing it repute in the eyes of many who support the state and have conservative politics," he added.

For the Love of Egypt is contesting all of the 120 seats available to blocs, using four lists. Two are made up of 45 candidates, one in north, middle and Upper Egypt and one in Cairo, South and Middle Delta. The other two hold 15 candidates, contesting West Delta and East Delta.

In East Delta their list is unopposed and will deliver 15 seats as long as they get five percent of the votes there.

For the Love of Egypt is not coordinating with other parties or candidates contesting the individual seats, which will make up over 70 percent of parliament.

The public figures on For the Love of Egypt lists include Sameh Saif Al-Yazel, a former intelligence officer and a security expert, Mustafa Bakry, a pro-Sisi journalist and former parliamentarian, Mohamed Farag Amer and Mohamed Zaki El-Sewidi, former NDP parliamentarians and businessmen, Taher Abu Zeid, a popular 1980s footballer and former Sports minister, Ossama Heikal, former information minister and Amna Nosseir, an Al Azhar scholar.

Candidates from ten political parties are running on the For the Love of Egypt lists, including the Wafd Party, the Free Egyptians Party and the Conference Party.

Last week Akmal Qortam, the Conservatives Party's founder and leader announced his withdrawal citing "personal reasons". But on Saturday Qortam issued a statement saying that he "retracts his withdrawal, and he and five other party members will run on For the Love of Egypt lists". He went on to say that "a misunderstanding over party representation on the list" had prompted the withdrawal.

At the Nazlt Al Batran event none of the candidates who addressed the crowd mentioned anything related to their politics.

"We decided to contest the elections to support President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi in facing the threats at hand," Mustafa Bakry says. "Look at what is happening in Syria, Iraq, Libya. We don’t have time to waste and people will definitely choose those with experience," he added.

Mohamed Al-Orabi, a former foreign minister who is running on the list, confirmed that For the Love of Egypt has no electoral program.

"It's an electoral list not a political party, so we don't have a certain ideology. We are promoting the idea that our four lists allocate experienced men and well-known former parliamentarians, and Egypt needs figures which can handle and sustain parliamentarian issues and laws," Al-Orabi told Ahram Online.

"After parliament convenes the bloc will certainly cease to exist as candidates have different backgrounds and different political parties, and yet we are sure that many of those on the lists are fit for parliament. Why? You know any parliament is composed of sub-committees in different fields and I believe that many of us are qualified to run such committees," he added.

But Emad Gad, a researcher for Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Center and a prominent Coptic figure running on the list, told Sky News Arabia on Saturday that despite not having a shared political view the candidates agree on certain principles.

"We defend the Egyptian identity and citizen's rights, we defend the lawful state and stable institutions, we believe in the private sector as a base for economic development, and maintaining development through the public sector. We also believe in maintaining social justice as represented by the minimum wage, full and universal medical care and education for low-income citizens," said the ex-MP. 

Despite this, the researcher Al-Azabawi questions the bloc's political authenticity.

"OK, the composition shows that they were smart enough to attract voters, but what's the political idea behind the list? Former officials, businessmen and public figures aiming to enter parliament by attaching themselves to members of prominent families and former MPs, I think that is what's happening," he said.

"At the end of the day it remains the front-runner because of its competitors' weakness," Al-Azabawi said.

Many observers wonder if For the Love of Egypt is being supported by El-Sisi. The president has denied that. There are indications that candidates in the bloc would take action in parliament that would benefit President El-Sisi.

For the Love of Egypt's general coordinator, Sameh Saif El-Yazel, who is running in Cairo, told privately owned Al-Watan in an interview published on Friday that "we will call for the constitution to be amended after two years, especially laws relating to presidential powers and the dismissal and replacement of ministers."

Some experts believe the 2014 constitution gave wider powers to parliament than the president, because parliament must approve the cabinet's policies appointed and take equal part in selecting state officials.

"The president has not demanded anything at all, and he won't request theconstitution's amendment, it will be parliament's duty," Al-Yazel added. 

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