The Socialist Labour Party was founded in 1978 with a great deal of help from then President Anwar El-Sadat. Currently suspended from political activity, the party was established in an attempt to create a loyal opposition group that would counter the then newly-formed left-wing Tagammu and liberal Wafd Parties.
The party was initially led by Sadat’s brother-in-law, Mahmud Abu Wafia, but was quickly taken over by veteran politician Ibrahim Shukri, who steered the still-nascent party towards a more Islamist track. Under Shukri’s leadership, the party formed an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood, and this increasingly religious slant led President Sadat to suspend the party and include a number of its leaders in Sadat’s wide range clamp down on the opposition in September 1981.
The party resumed its activities shortly after, when it announced its support for President Hosny Mubarak following Sadat’s assassination on 6 October 1981.
However, by 1985, the party’s efforts to combine both socialist and Islamic ideals began to fall apart and a predominantly religious ideology became central to its party platform. This shift away from socialism toward Islam was embodied in the election of Secretary General Adel Hussein, himself a Marxist-turned-Islamist, who was responsible for the removal of the word “socialist” from the party’s name.
The shift was not subtle, as even the party’s official slogan changed from “God and the People” to the affirmation of “God is Great.” This ideological shift led many alienated party members to resign.
In the course of parliamentary elections in 1987, the party formed “The Islamic Coalition” with the Muslim Brotherhood and the marginal, Al-Ahrar (Liberal) Party. The coalition went on to win a total of 65 seats in the 1987 parliamentary election.
The religious character of the Labour Party was tolerated until the year 2000, when its newspaper provoked a violent student demonstration at Al-Azhar University. This led to the party’s second suspension, which remains in effect to this day despite repeated court rulings annulling this decision.
Regardless of its suspended status, the party maintained a measure of activity, joining in 2004 an eight-party alliance aimed at fostering a dialogue between the opposition and the ruling National Democratic Party. In following year, the Labor Party joined the United National Front for Change along with several other major parities and opposition movements.
Currently, the party’s former Secretary General Magdy Hussein is serving a two-year prison sentence for illegally crossing Egypt’s border into Gaza in early 2009 as an expression of solidarity with the besieged Palestinians.
Two specific objectives distinguish the Labour Party from other opposition groups. These goals are divided along the party’s use of Islam as the foundation for governance, and its hard line approach to regulating of market forces. Its wider platform includes:
- Rewriting the constitution with Islam as a central source of legislation and governance.
- Protecting domestic industries from Western competition.
- Protecting freedom of speech.
- Enhancing transparency to help fight corruption.
- Forming an independent institution that administers charitable contributions to the poor.
- Achieving Arab unity and resisting US hegemony.
- Liberating the occupied lands of Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.