What is behind Egyptian Constitution Party’s leadership vacuum?

Hadeer El-Mahdawy, Sunday 6 Nov 2016

Egypt's Constitution party logo

The high committee of Egypt’s Constitution Party failed to reach a quorum for a meeting last Friday after several failed attempts over the past year to set a date for the party’s presidential elections.

As the committee prepared for Friday's meeting, it faced pressure from young members who have been holding a sit-in since 23 September to demand a serious move towards elections.

The participants in the sit-in have demanded that a committee member propose a move to hold online voting among members of the committee, otherwise the strikers will apply for it themselves.

The party has faced many resignations, including that of co-founder and former party president Hala Shukrallah, who was celebrated as the first elected Coptic woman to head a political party in Egypt.

Shukrallah resigned in June 2015, followed by acting president Tamer Gomaa's resignation in July this year, which left the post vacant.

“The elections were supposed to be conducted after the resignation of Shukrallah,” Haitham Khaled, a party member and a participant in the sit-in, told Ahram Online.

“For more than 600 days the organisational hierarchy of the party has been paralysed. This was one of the reasons the party did not participate in the last parliamentary elections, and the party is losing as a result,” added Khaled.

The party was founded in May 2012 by Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace prize laureate and former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

ElBaradei returned to Egypt prior to the 2011 revolution to form the National Front for Change in opposition to then-president Hosni Mubarak, and played a prominent role in the revolution itself.

Assuming Egypt's vice presidency under interim president Adly Mansour in July 2013, ElBaradei resigned hours after the forced dispersal of the anti-Morsi sit-ins in August that year, and has been living abroad ever since.

Internal conflicts 

Khaled, like many other young members who joined the party in 2012, had high expectations about its role in the turbulent political scene of the time.

Those expectations have been frustrated, however, by ongoing internal conflicts since the resignation of the party’s founder in 2013. Big issues like who to support in the 2014 presidential elections and whether to participate or boycott the 2015 parliamentary elections have left members divided.

According to Khaled, three electoral committees have been formed and disbanded during the past two years due to “administrative and procedural obstacles,” while a fourth collapsed a few days ago.

One of the reasons behind the years-long delay, according to Khaled, is the firing of a number of members by then acting president Gomaa, which Khaled believes was done in order to give Gomaa an electoral advantage.

Khaled accuses the high committee and the board of trustees of being responsible for the delay through practices that favour their own electoral interests.

“We drafted a set of decrees that were voted on and accepted by the high committee, and the high committee should form a new electoral committee to start elections this month,” Khaled said, adding that “we will continue our sit-in until the day of voting.”

One of the names often floated for the position of president is that of politician Gameela Ismail on the list called Together We Can.

However, the only name declared as the head of that list – in May 2015 – has been Mohamed Elgamal.

Moataz Mohamed Ali, a member of the high committee and the Together We Can campaign, says “we cannot declare any names on the Together We Can list until we update the final database of party members and voters and set a date for the elections.”

“Ismail’s nomination would be an honour for us and for the party, but she has not been nominated so far.”

Adminstrative obstacles 

Ali says that although he respects the sit-in, he believes the delays in the holding of elections are entirely due to administrative reasons, pointing to other political parties that have seen similar delays.

Ali also said that the party has preserved its role in political life, continuing to issue statements and taking action in the case of the Tiran and Sanafir islands. He added that the party not participating in the last parliamentary elections was not due to internal problems, but was rather a principled boycott of those elections.

Ali said he expects that the delay will end in two weeks, adding that he believes the Together We Can campaign is an example of a good internal political party election process, as it has candidates for all major governorate positions and has sound visions for improving the party and addressing political and economic issues.

However, former party spokesman Khaled Dawoud does not expect elections to take place soon.

“There are many reasons for such [internal] conflicts, which have become common among Egyptian political parties identified with 25 January Revolution,” Dawoud explains.

“Emerging political life has been getting suppressed since August 2013, and the division between supporters and opponents of [President Abdel-Fattah] El-Sisi within political parties is one reason behind these conflicts.”

Dawoud says that the Constitution Party’s troubles are in part due to external reasons such as the state’s “one voice” policy, which he believes represses opposition voices by accusing them of serving foreign interests and subjecting them to arrest, thereby pushing people away from the political scene.

“When we first established the party we had 30,000 members, but last year only 1,600 members paid the party fees,” Dawoud says.

“The political situation in 2013 also affected financial support for civil parties, as businessmen who had been supporting the opposition during the political flourishing that accompanied the revolution withdrew their support in favour of pro-regime parties and coalitions,” said Dawoud.

Dawoud also believes that the party saw problems caused by the circumstances surrounding its founding, as it was centred around the personality of ElBaradei, who Dawoud says would mediate between the various opposing viewpoints within the party.

According to Dawoud, these internal divisions came to a head with the departure of ElBaradei, and the controversy surrounding his resignation as Egypt's vice president also negatively affected the party.

"Personal conflicts and ambitions, competition for prestige, as well as corruption, also played a role in steering the party to its current situation," Dawoud added. 

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