Book review: Egypt's Post-Revolution Party Map

Mahmoud El-Wardani, Saturday 13 Jul 2013

Authors El-Azabawi and Hasan look into the history of Egypt's party system and at the explosion of no less than 70 parties post January 25 Revolution

Al-Ahram Center

Al-Khareeta Al-Hazbiyyah fi Misr b'ad Al-Thawra (The Party Map in Egypt after the Revolution) by Youssri El-Azabawi and Mazin Hasan, Cairo: Strategic Studies Series-Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic studies, Issue 234, Cairo, 2013.

Many large parties were established in post-revolution Egypt – and for the first time, even parties with a religious reference. Around this decisive and, indeed, structural change in Egypt's new party map, a study was conducted by Youssri El-Azabawi and Mazin Hasan. They point out in the introduction that although Egypt had already witnessed a multiple party system, the constitutions since that of 1923 did authorise the establishment of parties. The irony lies in that the first mention of parties was in the constitutional declaration issued in 1952, which abolished political parties and designated a transitional period of three years.

The first overt clause stating the right of establishing parties was included in the 1971 constitution, which was suspended and replaced by two constitutional declarations after the January 25 Revolution; one issued on February 13, 2011 and the next on March 30, 2011. Both allowed establishing political parties, but the most crucial part in this context was dropping the phrase "religious reference" from the forbidden list of political and partisan activity as it was stated in the Constitution of 1971, while sustaining the condition of not allowing political activity nor establishing political parties based on religious foundation.

Nevertheless, the post-revolution modifications to the 1971 constitution concerning the establishment of parties were a huge step forward towards eliminating restraints that hindered a real multi-party system. For instance, a committee of legal experts was tasked to examine the paperwork of parties that wanted to form. A number of pre-conditions and loose standards were abolished, which enabled presidents Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak to transform the party system into a distorted caricature for many decades.

On the other hand, the study pointed out that despite the long period of restrained multi-party system -36 years- there were two parties, which did not have much influence on public policy-making. Moreover, the Parties Affairs Committee enjoyed broad "assessment" powers, which were not limited to party establishment but even had the power to terminate any party's activity, including their newspaper or to object to its decisions. In this way, parties were transformed into merely a headquarters or institutions that housed newspapers with a pitifully meagre circulation.

According to the study, the number of parties established post-January 25 exceeds 70 and are based on diverse ideologies, programmes and approaches as well as religious references (i.e.  Islamist and Christian). The Islamist parties are comprised, of course, of political Islamist groups and movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood, in addition to 11 Salafist parties, Jihadist parties and a Sufi party.

As for the parties with Christian reference, until now, there are five. The study sees that these parties do not have a significant reception among Copts, thus, they were weakened and lacked both political popular presence and parliamentary membership, in contrast with the parties with Islamist reference.

Aside from parties with religious references, around 15 liberal parties were established. They generally advocate for Egyptian identity, religious freedoms, social justice, human rights and a "civil" state.

Leftist parties also were established, which include the Popular Socialist Alliance party, the Communist party, the Socialist Egyptian party and the Democratic Workers' party. They generally advocate for the application of minimum and maximum wages, a larger state role in health and societal fields and abolishing the privatisation of companies established during the Hosni Mubarak regime.

Finally, there is another group of parties that combine liberal and leftist references, such as the Social Democratic Party, which comprises a variety of reformist leftists and liberals advocating for market economy.

The study notes that the parliamentary elections in 2011/2012 revealed the predominance of the parties with religious references. However, it did not achieve absolute majority. The five Islamist parties, which have gone through the elections, took 69% of the total number of seats in the first major test for those parties since the birth of the Political Islam Project in modern history. However, the performance of those parties inside Parliament was disastrous and is not up to the standard in any parliament in the whole world.

In final conclusion, the increase in number of political parties is not proof of the strength of the party system. If the transitional phase Egypt witnesses now is considered a positive development from the angle of the Parties Law or the Laws of Publication, there are a number of practical restraints that hinder political parties from doing their work.

For instance, the party's organisational problem, where the internal interactions are closer to a clannish style. There is also a problem party leadership, which is represented in the non-existence of second-line cadres. Even the existing leaders face inequity because of the predominance of the founder of the party or its chief.

All the aforementioned problems are complicated by lack of democratic practices inside parties; a multitude of schisms; the enormity of parties with religious references and the absence of alliance or real merger between parties that are close in their approach, programmes and representation of social groups.

The challenge of the political map is now greater than ever with the recent ouster of Mohamed Morsi and the aim to establish a new diverse cabinet to lead the transition period. The questions about the true differences and the alliances between the various parties are surfacing and will likely to continue to reveal the challenges of the current political space in Egypt.

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