The National Progressive Unionist (Tagammu)

Egyptian Eelections Watch (Ahram Online and Jadaliyya) , Friday 18 Nov 2011

Together with the Nasserist and Al-Wafd Parties, the National Progressive Unionist Party (NPUP) (commonly known as Al-Tagammu) was considered one of the main three opposition parties in the pre-revolution era. It initially emerged in 1975 as a socialist platform in the Arab Socialist Union (ASU), Egypt’s only party at that time.

Following President Anwar Sadat’s decision to transform Egypt’s one party system into a limited multi-party one, Al-Tagammu withdrew from the ASU to form its own party in April 1976. At the time Sadat had envisioned organizing politics via three platforms that existed inside the ASU: rightwing (the Liberal Socialist Organisation, Al-Ahrrar Al-Eshtarakyeen); center (Egypt Arab Socialist Organisation, Tanzim Masr Al-Araby Al-Eshtraky); and left (the National Progressive Unionist Organisation, which later became Al-TagammuParty). Sadat eventually repackaged the ruling party into the National Democratic Party (NDP).

Al-Tagammu was thus established to occupy the Left Forum (‘minbar’) of Sadat’s new semi-pluralist system. Khaled Mohieddin—a former member of the Free Officers Movement which started the 1952 Revolution—led the initiative to form Al-Tagammu together with a number of prominent socialist figures, including Mahmoud Amin Al-Allam, Lotfy Al-Kholy, Fouad Morsi, Hussein Abdel-Razek, Amina Shafiq, Shahinda Maqlad, Ismail Sabry Abdullah, and many others.

While most of the party’s influential founding members came from Marxist backgrounds, the party was designed from the start as a platform for “the left” at large and hence emerged with significant membership from the non-Marxist left including, Nasserists, trade unionists, and syndicalists. Thus, the platform of the party was designed in broad enough terms to accommodate diverse trends inside the organization. Although this uneasy balance proved difficult to manage at some points, it persisted until the 1990s when the Nasserists finally left Al-Tagammu to form their own party, leaving behind a more homogenous socialist party.

The 1980s is commonly viewed as Al-Tagammu’s golden age, when it was still able to attract many supporters from the left. During the mid-1980s the party was able to boast as many as 150,000 members including an active core of 20,000 members. It also managed an official weekly paper that circulated as many as 130,000 copies (Al-Ahaly). The party’s growth came to a halt in the late 1980s, however. By the late 1990s it was already starting to shrink, losing influence and entering one crisis after another. Now it is largely a stagnating party managing a party paper with a limited number of readers.

The 1990s period was marked by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent loss of faith in socialism. The Nasserist Party was formed in this period, taking away a significant part of the Al-Tagammu’s membership and spheres of influence with it. At the time, the Al-Tagammu also played a leading role in supporting the state’s crackdown on Islamists, effectively siding with the Mubarak regime on this matter. Rifaat Al-Said, the party’s current chair, previously stated that his view of Mubarak’s rule“depends on the changing political conditions and the way the government treats us. We cannot deal with Mubarak in the same way we used to deal with Sadat. Sadat suppressed us fiercely. But as this is no longer the case; we have to change too.”

Before the Revolution

In the past, Al-Tagammu opposed the regime quite forcefully on several fronts. It led, for instance, a fierce battle against Sadat for signing a peace treaty with Israel. This earned it Sadat’s fury and led to the detention of its leadership among other prominent figures during the infamous 1981 arrests of political dissidents. The party also played an important role in hosting and promoting actions in solidarity with the Lebanese resistance in 1982, the two Palestinian intifadas, and opposing the Iraq war during Mubarak’s reign. With respect to economic issues, Al-Tagammu was always firm in opposing the economic liberalization programs of both Mubarak and Sadat and was equally committed to supporting labor and agricultural workers’ rights and struggles.

In acting on these issues the party always adopted and promoted peaceful democratic means of change. As such, it participated in all parliamentary lower house elections that took place since the formation of the assembly in 1979. Between 1976 and 1990, the party held no parliamentary seats but still enjoyed some electoral influence. During the 1976 elections, for example, the party originally won three seats but Sadat dissolved this parliament in response to mounting opposition against him in 1979. Al-Tagammu failed to win any seats in the 1979 round that came to replace the dissolved parliament.

In 1984, elections were carried out via proportional representation for the first time in Egyptian history. Al-Tagammu won 4.8 percent of the national vote, falling 3.2 percent short of the minimum needed to enter parliament. The same scenario was repeated in 1987 when the NPUP won only 2.8 percent of the total votes, again failing to translate the votes it received into seats.

Al-Tagammu participated in the 1990 elections, thereby breaking an opposition wide boycott that came in response to the regime’s elimination of judicial monitoring of the poll. As a result, Al-Tagammu’s reputation was tarnished, with the party depicted as having sabotaged the opposition’s boycott plans. The party won five seats (roughly one percent of the parliament’s lower house) making it the largest opposition bloc in parliament. Al-Tagammu held these five seats, more or less, in each of the elections that followed (Khaled Mohieedin in Kafr Shokr, Qalubiya; Loufty Waken in Kafr Sakr, Sharqiya; Mohamed Abd Al-Aziz Shaaban in the Cairo district of Haddayek Al-Koba; Al-Badry Farghali in Port Said; and Moktar Gomaa in Kom Ombo, Aswan). In the 2005 elections, however, the party won only two seats.

Al-Tagammucontested elections for the upper house (Shura Council) as well, usually without managing to win any seats. The one seat it maintained in the upper house was the one it gained via presidential appointment from Mubarak. Like most opposition parties, it never turned down this appointment.

A few days before the beginning of the January 25 Revolution, Al-Tagammu leader Rifaat Al-Said said he opposed the protests scheduled for 25 of January on grounds that they were poised to ruin “National Police Day” which happened to coincide with the day of the protests. After demonstrations began gaining momentum, Al-Said later announced that Al-Tagammu Party activists could not participate in the demonstrations because they were in detention. He also added that the party would have agreed to participate in the protests if it were not for the fact that they were organized on a day that was meant to celebrate and honor police officers. The protests, which were in part a backlash against police brutality, ultimately turned into a mass uprising, which led to the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak.

Party Structure

The party is organized along several central and regional divisions. The central divisions are the main decision making sectors of the party. They include, the General Conference, the Central Committee, the General Secretariat, the Political Bureau, and the Central Secretariat.

Al-Tagammuhas one of the most extensive organisational structures and developed internal procedures among Egyptian parties. Many of those who have defected from the party, however, claimed that in practice all powers remain in the hands of the chairperson.

Technically speaking, the General Conference is the party’s highest authority, responsible for setting and amending its charter. It is composed of delegates from the Governorates’ Committees, members of the Central Committee, and representatives of the Progressive Youth Union and the Progressive Women Union.

The Central Committee is responsible, in turn, for translating the directives of the General Conference into concrete management tasks, policies and plans, in addition to electing one or more deputy chairperson, the general secretary, and the assistants of the general secretary. The committee consists of the presidency of the General Conference (about five to ten members), about one hundred members elected by the General Conference, the secretaries of the governorates, and representatives of the party’s youth and women unions. The size of the Central Committee can vary and expand up to twenty percent of the General Conference.

The Political Bureau is the entity that oversees the development of political positions on various matters and the formation of policies and strategies. It is composed of the chairperson of the party, who is elected by the General Conference, and a number of members elected by the Central Committee. On the other hand, the general secretary is a member of both the Political Bureau and the Central Committee. He/she heads the General Secretariat, which is composed of the deputy chairpersons, the general secretary, and his or her deputies, in addition to the secretaries of the governorates and the party’s MPs. The General Secretariat is responsible for managing the party’s political and administrative staff and coordinating work between the different organizational levels of the party. Friction has often existed between the general secretary, the Political Bureau, and the chairperson, who is the most powerful figure in the party.

Rifaat Al-Said is currently the chairperson of the party, while Hussein Abdel-Razek heads its Political Bureau. Both are now fighting over the chairperson’s position. Current nominees for deputy chairpersons include Amina Al-Naqash, Sanaa Shafae, Waguih Shokry and Gouda Abdel Khaliq, the current minister of social solidarity.

Parliamentary Elections

Al-Tagammu is participating in the upcoming elections as part of the Egyptian Bloc. The Egyptian Bloc will field 412 candidates for parliamentary lower house elections.The Bloc is reportedly contesting all 332 party list seats available in the 508-member lower house, in addition to fielding eighty (out of a possible 166) candidates for single-winner seat races.The legal framework governing the elections gives the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces the right to appoint ten of the 508 members of the lower house.

Click here to learn more about the elections rules and dates

Al-Tagammu will occupy only ten percent of the Bloc’s joint lists, while the Free Egyptians Party and Social Democratic Party will get fifty percent and forty percent respectively.

According to Hussein Abdel-Razek, the chief of Al-Tagammu’s Political Bureau, the party does not have a real chance of winning a large number of seats because its candidates are placed at the tails the Egyptian Bloc’s lists. Only two of Al-Tagammu’s candidates are featured in high positions on the Bloc’s lists, in Aswan and Sharqiya. In addition to party list candidates, Al-Tagammu is nominating fifteen candidates for single winner seats, but they face difficulties because of their limited campaign budgets, Abdel-Razek said. The party is therefore unlikely to secure a significant presence in the new parliament.

The party used to enjoy a number of electoral strongholds: in Cairo’s Hadaiyek Al-Koba, one consistent seat in Alexandria, and another in Aswan and North Sinai. The party, however, lost popularity in many of these areas due to resignations and defections. It is therefore difficult to assess its current strengths and strongholds.

Relationship with Other Political Parties

In response to SCAF’s insistence on designating one-third of parliamentary seats to single-winner election races, Al-Tagammu recently accused the military council on its Facebook page of favoring the Muslim Brotherhood over other political parties. The party alleges that the current system enhances the Brotherhood’s electoral prospects and has demanded that elections be conducted exclusively using closed-list proportional representation. It is striking, however, that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) opposes the individual candidacy system as well, on grounds that it favors candidates of the defunct former ruling party.

Al-Tagammu also insisted that a new constitution should be drafted before, and not after, parliamentary elections. The party widely engaged in the “Constitution Comes First” campaign, which again brought it into direct conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Historically, the party used to vehemently refuse cooperating with the Muslim Brotherhood, or for that matter Islamists at large. Al-Tagammu allegedly did so on principle and this led it to tacitly condone measures that the Mubarak regime employed to reduce the Muslim Brotherhood’s electoral gains. Some believe, for example, that the regime rigged certain races in the 2010 elections in favor of Al-Tagammu candidates in order to undermine Muslim Brotherhood candidates. Al-Tagammu’s relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood is therefore rife with tensions, and the same goes for its relationship with the Brotherhood’s FJP.

Despite the Al-Tagammu’s opposition to the electoral system and its historical tensions with the Muslim Brotherhood, the party showed significantpragmatism in its decision to contest the upcoming elections via the Democratic Alliance, an electoral coalition dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood’s FJP. Al-Tagammu announced it would exit the coalition in the wake of a controversy that activists affiliated with Islamist members of the Alliance instigated strife at the demonstrations held on 29 July 2011 under the banner “The Friday of Unity and Popular Will.” The Friday demonstrations were initially aimed at emphasizing national unity and, among other things, the need to cease military trials of civilians. Al-Tagammu alleged that Islamist activists failed to adhere to the demonstrations’ formal demands—which were agreed to in advance—and instead decided to promote divisive slogans calling for the establishment of an “Islamic state” and the implementation of Sharia law. The Islamist organizations responsible for propagating these slogans on 29 July denied having agreed to any set of collective demands prior to the demonstration.

Now Al-Tagammu is participating in the upcoming elections as part of the Egyptian Bloc, an electoral alliance founded by a group of liberal and leftist forces that is often portrayed as a secular coalition trying to counterbalance the Muslim Brotherhood in the upcoming elections. The fact that the alliance brings together a group of secular leaning parties with contradictory economic agendas, such as the socialist Al-Tagammu and the pro-business Free Egyptians Party reinforces this perception.

The press conference launching the Egyptian Bloc’s electoral campaign featured strong attacks against the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Tagammu Party’s Rifaat Al-Said accused the Brotherhood of trying to “hijack Egypt and Egyptians” and said that the group is driven by its goal to dominate politics even if it comes at the expense of national interests.

Again, Al-Tagammushowed considerable pragmatism in accepting to enter the Egyptian Bloc, a coalition dominated by what is perceived to be Egypt’s most pro-business party: the Free Egyptians Party. For many, the fact that Al-Tagammuwould accept such a small share (ten percent of the Bloc’s seats) in its partnership with a group espousing principles it opposed throughout its history explains the extent of its decline.

The party has already lost most of its most important members, including many of those who stayed with it during its years of glory and decline, such as Abdel Ghaffar Shukr and Abul Ezz Al-Hariri, both of whom left Al-Tagammuto form the Socialist Popular Alliance Party (SPA). Al-Tagammu’s relationship with the SPA is therefore also troubled.

Stances on Salient Issues

Form of Government

Before the January 25 Revolution, Al-Tagammu used to support a parliamentary form of government that reduces the omnipotent authorities given to the president under the 1971 Constitution. After the revolution, many secular parties began to favor a strong presidential system. They feared that a weak president would lead to the Muslim Brotherhood dominating the executive via a strong presence in parliament. It is unclear if Al-Tagammu has shifted its position, as the issue is not discussed in the party’s media and its leaders tend to give inconsistent answers on this issue.

Social Justice and Economic Policy

The party always stood against the economic prescriptions of the IMF and the World Bank, accusing them of increasing poverty and the gap between the rich and the poor. Al-Tagammu also opposes the privatization of the public sector, and has engaged in popular mobilization to protect whatever is left of it. Al-Tagammu also calls for a fairer distribution of national income and the return of privatized factories to the public sector.

The extent to which these positions will be relevant in Al-Tagammu’s electoral campaigns is questionable, since it is part of the Egyptian Bloc electoral coalition, which advances some positions that seem to contradict Al-Tagammu’s own platform. Under the slogan “together, we will achieve what is ours,” the Bloc’s campaign underscores goal of promoting economic prosperity through a liberal economy committed to social justice. Members of the Bloc announced in early November that their partnership is not simply a short-term electoral coalition, but encompasses a long-term political alliance aimed at turning Egypt into a civil democratic state.For many observers, it is unclear how this unlikely partnership between the Free Egyptians Party, known for its pro-business orientations, and the socialist Al-Tagammu, could possibly yield a meaningful joint vision for the future of Egypt’s economy.Since its inception, Al-Tagammu has sought to fight economic liberalization, as well as many aspects of the economic vision that the Free Egyptians espouses.

Military Trials

The party unequivocally opposes subjecting civilians to military tribunals and Al-Tagammu members participated in many protests and rallies that spoke against this practice. Al-Tagammu also stands firmly against the perpetual renewal of emergency law and did so throughout its history. More recently, the party issued a statement calling for an immediate termination of the state of emergency.

Foreign Relations

The party opposes “US imperialism” and the normalization of Egyptian-Israeli relations. Historically, the party has consistently opposed the Camp David Accords. Al-Tagammu professes support to Palestinians’ right to self-determination, and played a significant role in opposing the Israeli occupation of Lebanon in 1982 and US-led wars on Iraq.

Media Image and Controversies

The party has been suffering internal conflicts ever since its formation. Early conflicts generally centred on competition between Al-Tagammu’s Marxists and Nasserists over the party’s leadership. This episode ended with the defection of the Nasserists who subsequently formed their own party.

More recent conflicts revolved around internal opposition to the party’s current chair, Al-Said, who was often accused of striking deals with the Mubarak regime. Such conflicts escalated in the aftermath of the 2010 elections, when many of the party’s members demanded Al-Tagammu’s withdrawal from what was viewed as one of Egypt’s most farcical elections. Al-Said refused to withdraw, and the regime allegedly ended up rigging some races in favor of Al-Tagammu candidates. In response, some Al-Tagammu activists froze their memberships. Others tried to formally withdraw confidence in the party’s chairbut failed to amass enough power to successfully do so.

The party experienced a wave of resignations right after the January 25 Revolution, all in protest of Al-Said’s autocratic-style in managing the party. On 13 March seventy three Central Committee members froze their membership and pledged not to return until Al-Said is replaced. Headed by long-time Al-Said opponents Abul Ezz Al-Hariri and Abdel Ghaffar Shukr, this group eventually left the party to form the Socialist Popular Alliance Party with other leftist activists.

Another attempt to withdraw confidence in Al-Said took place on 12 October 2011, and although the majority of Central Committee members voted against Al-Tagammu’s leader, the number of participants at the meeting did not pass quorum.

Key Figures

Rifaat Al-Said

Born in 1932, Rifaat Al-Saidis a founding member of Al-Tagammu Party and its current chair. He is also one of its most controversial figures. His political history goes back to the mid-twentieth century when he was a member of the Communist Party dismantled by the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Al-Said was detained during the 1958 wave of arrests of communists and served four years in prison.

In addition to his involvement in politics, Al-Said is also an academic. He holds two doctoral degrees in modern history. He is also a part-time lecturer at the American University in Cairo. He has written several books that focus mostly on Islamists and the communist movement, including Pages from the History of the Muslim Brotherhood,History of the Socialist Movement in Egypt,Egyptian Socialist Organisations,andHistory of the Communist Movement in Egypt.

Al-Said is known as a diehard enemyof the Islamists.He was typically accused of striking under-the-table deals with the former regime out of opposition to the Islamists and in return for seats in parliament. He fought vehemently to get his party to participate in the infamous 2010 elections against the will of many party activists. These elections were viewed as the most rigged in Egyptian history, and some analysts attribute the 2011 uprising—at least in part—to this event. Many political parties boycotted those elections, but Al-Tagammu refused to join the opposition boycott under pressure from its chair. Al-Said was appointed to the upper house of parliament by Mubarak in the aftermath of the 2010 elections, an appointment he did not turn down.

Said almost lost a vote of confidence because of the party’s participation in the second round of the 2010 elections, surviving it at considerable symbolic loss. On 13 October, he announced his resignation from the party under mounting pressure for his ouster. The resignation was not finalized since the General Secretariat rejected it .

Hussein Abdel-Razek

Born in 1936, Hussein Abdel-Razek is a founding member of Al-Tagammu, its Secretary-General, and a member of its Political Bureau. Abdel Razek is currently considered the party’s second man and one of the main candidates for leading it after Rifaat Al-Said. Although both figures have been closely allied in many internal battles, Abdel-Razek is now one of Al-Said’s main adversaries.

Abdel-Razek used to write frequently in Al-Tagammu’s weekly Al-Ahaly and has authored several books dealing with various aspects of Egyptian political life.

Nabil Zaki

Nabil Zaki is the spokesman of Al-Tagammu and a potential candidate for chairing the party after Al-Said. He graduated from the Department of Philosophy at Cairo University in 1955. A journalist by profession, Zaki is a respected public speaker. He now leads the “reform and renewal movement” of Al-Tagammu, fighting against Al-Said’s well-entrenched allies

Amina Shafiq

Amina Shafiq is a well-known journalist and political activist. She was among the intellectuals arrested in the notorious wave of arrests in 1981, when Sadat ordered the detention of most of Egypt’s activists, politicians, and intellectuals. She is now competing for the position of Al-Tagammu’s chair against Hussien Abdel-Razek, Nabil Zaki, and Rifaat Al-Said. In the aftermath of the fraud-ridden 2010 elections, then-president Mubarak appointed her a member of parliament—one of ten the president can appoint to the lower house under the constitution. Shafiq did not decline this appointment despite the wave of public anger that followed the 2010 parliamentary elections.

Fact Box

Founding: 1976

Membership: 22,000 members (according to the latest official figures, though this number probably dropped more than half due to recent defections and the formation of new leftist parties)

Political Orientation: The party started as a platform for the wide left, lead by a core of Marxist members, but moved towards the centre left over time.

Alliances: Egyptian Bloc

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