Egyptian Social Democratic Party

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

Egyptian Social Democratic Party

The Egyptian Social Democratic Party was founded in the wake of Egypt's January 25 Revolution. Officially launched in March 2011, the party combines several groups sharing a liberal and social democratic outlook that were politically active in the years preceding the revolution.

These groups include individuals who, prior to the revolution, were involved in an unsuccessful attempt to form a center-left party known as the Social Democratic Party. Two prominent members, Farid Zahran and Ziad Al-Elaimy, participated in Mohamed Abul-Ghar's March 9 Movement for the Independence of Universities. The two other groups are members of Mohamed ElBaradei's National Association for Change and the leftist Justice and Freedom youth movement.

The party's founding members include Abul-Ghar and Zahran and Hazem Beblawi, an economist and former UN official who is also Egypt’s current deputy prime minister. Other founding members include political analyst and activist Amr Hamzawy, who later left the party in protest of a statement it issued condemning the military personnel’s use of violence against Tahrir Square demonstrators on 9 April. Hamzawy opposed this statement and complained he was not consulted in its drafting.

The Egyptian Social Democratic Party espouses a social democratic vision, staunchly upholding democratic ideals in politics, the economy, and society.  The party emphasizes the need to support labor within a free market system. Founding member Farid Zahran once said: “I cannot have a social democratic party without having a businessman and a union representative side by side.” 

The party unequivocally calls for a secular state. Abul Ghar asserted at the outset, “Our paramount concern is having a secular country.”

Members insist that the party is neither strictly liberal nor leftist. Instead, many supporters contend that the Egyptian Social Democratic Party represents the combination of reform-minded leftists and market-oriented liberals. Members also say that the party is modeledafter social democratic groups found in Scandinavia and some Latin American countries, such as Brazil.

The diversity of political and economic orientations in the party may limit its cohesion in the future. “We need the strength of a big party that brings together leftist and liberal forces to build a democracy," said democratic leftistparty member Bassam Mortada. "But two years or so from now, we might diverge into different parties."

Before the Revolution

The party's founding members include a number of activists who played a political role before and during the revolution, as well as professionals and artists who had been critical of former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

Founding member Ziad Al-Eleimy, veteran activist and close associate of opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, played a leading role in the Revolution’s Youth Coalition.  This loose grouping of youth-oriented opposition movements emerged during the eighteen-day uprising last winter. Abul-Ghar, one of the party’s founding members, served as a spokespersonfor the National Association for Change. In 2010, the National Association for Change called for democratic reforms such as free and fair presidential elections allowing independent candidates—like Mohamed ElBaradei—to run without being handpicked by the Mubarak regime.

Party Structure

The Egyptian Social Democratic Party’s bylaws provide for the election of all its bodies, including the party’s highest executive authority, the Supreme Council. However, the current council was selected through consensus, rather than elections. Supreme Council elections are scheduled for the party's first general conference. The Supreme Council is responsible for making decisions on behalf of the party in consultation with the party chair. Because there is no elected chair at the moment, the Supreme Council currently makes decisions in consultation with the board of trustees, presumably until a party chair is elected.

Parliamentary Elections

The Egyptian Social Democratic Party will contest the upcoming election through the Egyptian Bloc coalition, which will field parliamentary candidates on a unified list. The Egyptian Bloc  will field 412 candidates for parliamentary lower house elections.The Bloc is 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.

Half of the candidates are affiliated with the Free Egyptians Party, forty percent with the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, and ten percent with the Al-Tagammu Party. Members of the Egyptian Bloc announced in early November that their partnership is not simply a short-term electoral coalition, but rather encompasses a long-term political alliance aimed at turning Egypt into a civil democratic state.

Under the slogan “together, we will achieve what is ours,” the Egyptian Bloc’s campaign underscores goals of building a civil democratic state and promoting economic prosperity through a liberal economy committed to social justice. For many observers, it is unclear how the 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 Egypt’s economy in the future.Since its inception, Al-Tagammu has sought to fight economic liberalization, as well as many other aspects of the economic vision espoused by the Free Egyptians.

Despite the Egyptian Social Democratic Party’s recent emergence on the political scene, its leaders are fully aware of the challenges it will face in the upcoming polls. From the outset, the party has said thatit would be unable to field candidates in most electoral districts, but would work to nominate candidates that already enjoyed popularity in their respective constituencies. Otherwise, Egyptian Social Democratic Party said it would support candidates offering programs similar to its own.

Relationship with Other Political Parties

The Egyptian Social Democratic Party joined forces with fourteen other groups last August to create the Egyptian Bloc, an electoral coalition of liberal and leftist forces. The coalition once consisted of twenty-one groups, including the leftist Popular Socialist Alliance Party, the liberal Free Egypt Party, the Free Egyptians Party, the Popular Worker’s Union, and the National Association for Change. After successive defections, the Egyptian Bloc now consists of three parties: the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Free Egyptians Party, and the leftist Al-Tagammu Party. Some defecting groups accused fellow Egyptian Bloc members of fielding candidates who were once affiliated with the former National Democratic Party, an allegation that the Egyptian Bloc’s spokespeople deny. Others complained that candidate selection processes lacked transparency.

While some contend that the Egyptian Bloc was primarily formed to counterbalance the threat posed by the Democratic Alliance, a rival coalition spearheaded by the influential and well-organized Muslim Brotherhood (MB), the Egyptian Bloc’s party founder Abul-Ghar insists otherwise. Abul-Ghar contends that the Egyptian Bloc was not created to oppose any particular political force, stressing that Islamists were welcome to join the coalition if they shared the specific values espoused by the Egyptian Bloc. The fact that the alliance brings together a group of secular leaning parties with opposing economic agendas, such as the socialist Al-Tagammu Party and the pro-business Free Egyptians Party, strongly reinforces this perception.

Stances on Salient Issues

Form of Government

The Egyptian Social Democratic Party favors a mixed presidential/parliamentary form of government. According to its political platform, the party views the persistence of Mubarak-style presidentialism as “dangerous,” because too much power would rest in the office of the president. However, the party believes that a pure parliamentary system could undermine national stability, due to long periods of political inactivity that commonly results from political gridlocks in such systems. Therefore, the party calls for a mixed system that would provide a stable executive leadership whose powers are limited and checked by an elected parliament.

Social Justice

The party believes that defending the social rights of all citizens is a priority and prime condition for national development. The party's stated aims include the elimination of abject poverty and narrowing the considerable income gap between Egypt's rich and poor.

The party’s social program includes extending health insurance to all sectors of the population and developing unemployment benefit programs that offer training, retraining, and job placement opportunities. The party pledges to restructure subsidy programs in order to prevent wasteful spending.

Economic Policy

The Egyptian Social Democratic Party lies on the center-left of Egypt's political spectrum. It advocates social and economic justice, viewing the private sector and free market policies as the most productive and efficient way to organize the economy, albeit with a measure of state regulation.

The party further believes that the private sector should play a “leading role” in the national economy.  It supports the inflow of foreign direct investment within a regulatory framework that can prevent monopolistic practices. The party’s perception of the private sector highlights the importance of medium and small-sized businesses, not solely large corporations. The platform underscores the importance of promoting investments in key industrial sectors.

The party asserts that during Mubarak’s era of economic management, there was a prevalent marriage between money and political power. This marriage depleted the country’s resources and is part of the reason that economic benefits failed to trickle down to the vast bulk of the country's population. The party also faults policies from the Mubarak era for the economic marginalization of the Egyptian countryside.

Religion and State

The Egyptian Social Democratic Party advocates a strictly secular state. The party’s core principles state that citizenship should be based on the concept of a modern civil state, in which all citizens are treated equally with no regard to race, religion, or gender.

Military Trials and Strike Law

Since the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) took power last February, the party has been a vocal opponent of trying civilian suspects in military courts. The Egyptian Social Democratic Party has also criticized laws banning strikes and sit-ins. The party has officially endorsed numerous protestsagainst repression from authorities and in support of the right to stage labor strikes.

Foreign Relations

The Egyptian Social Democratic Party rejects the Mubarak-era approach to managing foreign relations and national security. It advocates stronger Egyptian engagement with the outside world at the societal level through civil society organizations and parties.

The party’s agenda focuses on issues that concern Egypt’s national and regional security and interests. These include water sharing conflicts with other Nile Basin countries, inter-Arab relations, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The party’s documents describe Israel as a primary national security threat and call for bolstering Egypt's military capacity for defense purposes. The party presents Palestinian national rights at one of its major foreign policy priorities.

The party opposes the abrogation of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, preferring instead to avoid “military adventurism” that could potentially jeopardize the security of Egypt’s borders. Therefore, the party calls for exerting diplomatic pressure on Israel to reach a just peace with the Palestinian people, taking steps to pressure Israel into complying with International law, and forging solid relations with Palestinians suffering under Israeli occupation.

Media Image and Controversies

The Egyptian Social Democratic Party condemned the army for violently dispersing protesters in Tahrir Square on 9 April. This statement prompted Amr Hamzawy, a political analyst who is currently head of the Egypt Freedom Party, to leave the Egyptian Social Democratic Party. Hamzawy objected to referencing the military institution and claimed that the statement was adopted without his consent.
Another controversial issue surfaced in early October after party chair Abul-Ghar agreed to a highly contentious statement prepared by the SCAF, along with thirteen other parties. The document implicitly upheld the extension of Egypt’s emergency law, although it offered parties some concessions related to election laws. Abul-Ghar’s support of this statement was widely criticized within the party and prompted multiple resignations from dissenting members. The party later revoked its signature on the document.
During the beginning of the elections season, some party members resigned and others threatened their resignation in objection to the Egyptian Bloc electoral coalition’s candidate selection process, of which the Egyptian Social Democratic Party is a member. Some party members also objected to the “undemocratic manner” through which candidates were being selected. Resignations were also made in response to allegations that some parties are fielding ex-members of the former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) on the Egyptian Bloc’s lists, much to the dismay of those who oppose ex-regime elements’ participation in the elections. The Egyptian Bloc’s High Commission for Electoral Coordination denied these allegations, insisting that no former NDP members made their way onto the Egyptian Bloc’s lists. A Free Egyptian Party official contended that the Egyptian Bloc’s list includes eight former NDP members, but insisted that none of them were engaged in corrupt practices.

Key Figures

Farid Zahran

A founding member of the party, Farid Zahran is a publisher and civil society activist. He has taken part in a number of political initiatives, including the Egyptian People’s Committee for Solidarity with the Palestinian Intifada in 2000. Zahran was also part of the Democratic Left current.

Ziad Al-Eleimi

One of the party's youngest founding members, Al-Eleimi, was part of the Social Democratic Party. This party was founded prior to the revolution but never achieved legal recognition and eventually disappeared. Al-Eleimi, who is a lawyer by training, left the Social Democratic Party in 2009, along with a number of other members who gave up on the project's prospects. A close associate of Mohamed ElBaradei, Al-Eleimi, played a leading rolein the Revolution’s Youth Coalition (RYC). The RYC is a loosely affiliated group of youth-oriented opposition movements that emerged during the eighteen-day uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak.

Samer Soliman

Samer Soliman is a founding member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party. A leftist activist and political science professor, Soliman resigned from the Social Democratic Party with Al-Eleimi and others when the organization failed to obtain a party license in 2009.

Mohamed Abul-Ghar

Abul-Ghar, an activist and gynecology professor, founded the 9 March Movement for the Independence of Universities, which advocated for academic independence before and after the January 25 Revolution. Abul-Ghar is one of the party’s most prominent personalities. He also serves as a spokesman for the National Association for Change.

Hazem Beblawi

Hazem Beblawi is a founding member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party. Currently serving as Egypt’s deputy prime minister and finance minister, Beblawi is a veteraneconomist and former undersecretary of the United Nation’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia. He also served as an advisor to the Abu Dhabi-based ArabMonetaryFund. Beblawi has also led a productive academic career as a professor of economics. He taught at the American University of Cairo, the Cairo University, Ain Shams University, and the Sorbonne in Paris, in addition to educational institutions in Kuwait and California

Fact Box

Founded: March 2011

Membership: 60,000

Political Orientation: Social Democratic (center-left)

Alliance: Egyptian Bloc

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