Turning the page on leading the Egyptian Social Democratic Party

Mohamed Abul Ghar
Saturday 9 Apr 2016

As I arrived in New York I had already turned the page on my leadership of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP).

Actually, I must say that despite my long years of active political involvement I was never someone who wished very much to be associated with political parties as such. This perhaps had to do with the little faith I had had in political parties in Egypt after the 1952 Revolution whereby the parties were always subject to shameless state intervention that was often reflected in excessive political pressure or security intervention. And of course there was a time where the state decided to just annul the political parties altogether.

The January Revolution brought about change on this front. And this was when we decided to form the ESDP, which brought together four groups: members of the "revolutionary youth", members of civil society, members of the Egyptian socialist-left who had faith in democracy and a few members of the business community.

Indeed, with ESDP we had managed a considerable breakthrough with the representation of women, youth and Copts in a political party.

It was agreed right from the beginning that the basic ideology for the party would be based on promoting three points: the civil state, social justice based on social democracy, and the promotion of human rights.

Throughout its few years, the ESDP took part in the 2011 parliamentary elections, along with the Egyptian liberal partiies as part of the Egyptian Bloc; it contested and asked for the change of the first post-25 January constitution that was drafted under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2012; and it was at the forefront of the demand for early presidential elections in 2012.

And just as the ESDP members had come from the early ranks of the 25 January Revolution, its members were at the forefront of those who demonstrated on 30 June. And the ESDP was there in the first government that was assembled, at a very crucial moment, after the 30 June Revolution – both prime minister and deputy prime minister were ESDP members.

By that time there were some who thought that the party was leaning a bit too much towards the right and others who thought that the party was leaning a bit too much towards the left. There were some who thought the party was over-accentuating matters related to human rights while others argued that the party was not doing enough to promote human rights. Eventually, some members decided to quit.

But the ESDP did not collapse. It actually acted to regain its balance. It gained new members – political activists and young entrepreneurs who joined an impressive group of intellectuals, artists, white and blue collars. And it fully formulated its identity that is inspired by the socialist-democratic experience that led north Europe (the Scandinavian countries and Germany) to build a welfare state whereby development and human rights are best observed.

Last year, the ESDP managed to contest parliamentary seats across the nation from Alexandria in the north to Aswan in the south.

The ESDP was never particularly liked by the state. This is expected in view of the clear positions that the party takes on matters related to the need to honour the 2014 constitution, embrace democracy and promote human rights, transparency and anti-corruption measures. These might all be matters to which the regime offers lip service but in fact they are exactly what the regime is so opposed to.

Many in the quarters of power, who have been trying with very limited success, to intrude on the ESDP, would like to see it go. They have no taste for its people who only wish to serve the country, with no personal gains aspired to.

Had the country been going through a real process of democratisation and development, the ESDP should have gained more members and larger political assets. Unfortunately, however, under the current circumstances the party is left with many challenges – but it is surviving.

Out of a firm belief that all positions of public service should be under a term limitation, because otherwise there is always a room for power monopoly, I chose not to keep the leadership of the party. I also chose not to take any leading position, despite the kind offer made by the new party leader for me to be the chair of the board of trustee, I am still determined to continue to play an active role within the ESDP.

I am doing this while hoping that sooner or later Egypt will find the path of democratisation and that the ESDP will be ready to play its aspired-for political role.

While wishing my colleagues at the ESDP luck, I am committed to continue for as long as I can to contribute to the public debate and to work for a better tomorrow whereby Egyptians can have better living conditions and better standards of human rights.

The writer is the former head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.


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