Election fever hits Egypt as parties form coalitions to compete for first post-Mubarak parliament

Salma Shukrallah, Friday 19 Aug 2011

The two coalitions: The Democratic Coalition for Egypt and The Egyptian Bloc already seem to be experiencing internal difficulties

national referendum
Egyptians cast their vote during a national referendum (Photo: Reuters)

Two main coalitions have already been formed in preparation for Egypt’s first elections following the fall of the Mubarak regime. The coalitions are: The Democratic Coalition for Egypt, formed months ago and the recently created Egyptian Bloc. Although the differences between the two are unclear, there seems to be an Islamic vs. civil split. While some say the groups are distinctly different, others argue that they have not been formed in opposition to each other.

Despite expectations that Egypt’s coming elections will have one of the highest turnout rates ever, similar to the 2011 constitutional referendum conducted months earlier, political parties and coalitions are still in the making. According to statements made by the military council and Egypt’s interim government, the elections are expected to take place in November. The candidates are to be announced by September, less than one month from now.

Having previously been subjected to unfair competition in elections, which were rigged to ensure the perpetual sway of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, the coalitions should boost the opposition parties’ chances of gaining seats in parliament and the Shoura Council.

The Democratic Coalition for Egypt was initially formed by more than 30 parties, including Egypt’s oldest legal opposition political parties: the Wafd and Tagammu, in addition to the Muslim Brotherhood’s newly formed Freedom and Justice party. However, not long after the coalition was formed, the Tagammu party quit and the Wafd party suffered divisions, debating whether to remain in the coalition or not.

According to Wafd member Wahid Abd El-Meguid, the purpose of the coalition is to prepare for the elections by: agreeing to a joint stance regarding election law and deciding on an electoral programme, which will include the main principles of the new constitution. If the group wins a majority in parliament, they should form a coalition government.

However, others believe the agreements are not going as well as planned. Essam Shiha, member of the Wafd’s high committee, says “some members within the party already had reservations regarding the formation of the coalition but after what happened on July 29, the coalition needs to be seriously reconsidered.”

Despite previously not raising any controversial demands, on 29 July, several Islamist groups demonstrated in Tahrir Square in tens of thousands, calling for an Islamic State. This breached an agreement made previously, banning the use of religious slogans on banners in demonstrations. The Muslim Brotherhood was one of the organisations that approved the agreement, but claims have been made that they violated it, displaying banners calling for an Islamic State on their stage.

Shiha says, “the coalition agreed on a joint document, drafted first by the Muslim Brotherhood and then amended by the Wafd, but when the military council said it will issue a constitutional declaration setting down the main principles of the constitution, which we had agreed upon, the MB objected. They already violated the agreement on July 29 and when the Wafd called for a meeting to discuss what happened, they did not show up and neither did the Nour Salafist party, which was also part of the coalition. How can they be trusted then? The coalition to them seems to only be a way to gain majority in parliament and Shoura Council”.

Abd El-Meguid, on the other hand, commenting on Tagammu’s withdrawal from the coalition says it is related to a “complete difference in perspective”. He says, “parties such as Tagammu have a problem with getting into a coalition which includes parties that draw on Islam as their main frame of reference. The coalition has agreed on two main things; that freedom should be a main concept of political rule and Islam should be the main source for legal jurisprudence.”

Tagammu later joined the newly formed Egyptian Bloc.

The Egyptian Bloc, the second coalition to be formed in preparation for Egypt’s first elections after the revolution, is made up of 14 liberal, social democratic, leftist and Sufi parties. The recently formed group declared in its first press conference that its main guiding principle revolves around the idea that Egypt should be established as a modern civial state, governed by reason.

Samer Soliman, member of the Social Democratic Party and one of the founders of the coalition, says, “the idea is meant to bring together parties representing the full spectrum of Egypt’s political life including liberals, leftists and parties with an Islamic frame of reference, but that do not mix religion with politics. Although we call for a civil state, we will not make this the main guiding idea in our programme. The Egyptian nation is most concerned with economy and security and this will be our focus.”

Amr Hamzawy, of the Free Egyptian Party, insisted that the bloc was not created in opposition to the already existing Democratic Coalition for Egypt. He said that the purpose of the bloc is to participate in the elections under a unified list of names. While the Democratic Coalition for Egypt has not yet agreed on a unified list, Abd El-Meguid says that the coalition’s elections committee is currently studying the best options, which the member parties will be coordinating during the elections.

The bloc, on the other hand, seems to be experiencing difficulties with arguments already erupting among its main political parties about how a unified programme should be agreed upon by parties that range from the far left to the far right. Others within the bloc are also arguing that the laws regarding the elections will only serve the big, established parties, or those that belonged to the former regime. They argue that parties within the bloc should criticise the ‘rules of the game’ instead of rushing to take part in it.

Sally Toma, member of both the Social Democratic Party and Revolution Youth Coalition, says, “agreeing to participate in the elections under a unified list does not mean we like the laws of the elections and we need to work in parallel campaigning for their modification.”

She added, “as a leftist, I believe that class divisions are of course more important than the religious vs. civil differences, but we have agreed in the bloc that social equality will be the main focus of the programme, maintaining that religion will not be mixed with politics. Negotiations are ongoing amongst the different parties and a middle ground will be reached.”v

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