Presidential elections are scheduled for the second half of March inside and outside Egypt. Ahead of this event, Egyptians are divided into two camps over the country’s political reality.
The first includes those who are satisfied with where we are and see political life in Egypt in light of economic challenges and the battle on terrorism after the removal of Muslim Brotherhood rule in June 2013, both of which require Egyptians to close ranks. This camp believes that political participation in terms of political parties, programmes and ideology threaten stability and unity, allowing “foreign agendas” to infiltrate and impose dreadful scenarios after the security, political and economic chaos experienced following the 25 January 2011 Revolution. This camp believes that re-affirming Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi is a necessity, that he is successful and has substantial plans, and should continue what he started with a popular mandate, maybe even without holding elections. There are even coordinated campaigns by this camp against anyone considering running.
The second camp believes politics in Egypt is dead and the current atmosphere does not allow for free and honest elections, and that Al-Sisi is bound to win. Also, that the electoral process is not serious and is void of guarantees, and that the people are living under economic and security pressures, exchanging freedom and decision-making by citizens for fictitious security. Their position so far is to boycott the elections, which also happened in previous elections for similar reasons, or to escape an unequal battle.
Is there political life in Egypt? Is it true that political forces tried to change reality and failed? Is there a crisis in the structure of political and party entities that hinders them from operating, or does the political climate render them fragile?
A report on the condition of political parties in Egypt published by Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in August 2017 gauged the problem within political and party blocs.
The report revealed that after the 25 January Revolution when it was time to revise the ideas, perspectives and ideologies of political currents, researchers found these movements and parties did not budge. Even new parties that were created after the upheaval of revolution did not present a different approach compatible with the needs of the transitional phase. This caused them to stumble and obstruct the entire democratic process. In fact, their modus operandi was to disclaim any political responsibility, to acquit their individual and organisational selves, and blame others – whether individuals, movements, or government and non-government organisations. This led to further polarisation on the political scene and an end to constructive dialogue among these different currents from the far right to far left.
Researchers found fragmentation of more than 100 existing and licensed political parties, along with several others under construction. This is an indicator of their weakness, fragility and inability to present an alternative during elections, similar to what will happen in the upcoming presidential elections, and possibly future ones. Before January 2011, these parties were shackled by the same problems of political money and infighting, or due to limitations on their ability to compete, such as low ceilings for the opposition. They did not have a truce with the regime or oppose it, but operated within the margins allowed by the state. They adopted patriotic rhetoric of defending the entity of the state, which allows for forgiveness of mistakes by the regime.
Modern parties that emerged post-25 January either vanished completely, such as the Justice Party or Egyptian Current, or chose the role of research and training centres focused on their own members – whose numbers are dwindling – without doing outreach to the street or truly competing with the regime, such as the Egypt Freedom Party. Others are on the brink of collapse, such as Free Egyptians Party and Constitution Party, which splintered between two chairmen fighting over leadership and was referred to the Political Parties Committee.
These findings confirm we do not have influential party-political life, or parties that are popular, or political and ideological currents competing, discussing, suggesting ideas or alternatives to lead the way. We are living a reality dictated by conditions and governing institutions that declare they rule out of necessity amid domestic and regional conditions, and they are in a real war and everyone should appreciate that.
This reality will not provide ideological or political alternatives anytime soon. Irrespective of President Al-Sisi’s person, the upcoming elections are a foregone conclusion. This is not an appropriation of laws, the constitution, procedures, the electoral process or the will of voters, but a natural by-product of this reality that will likely continue for a long time. It is not connected to a second Al-Sisi term, but beyond that, since no changes will occur before the launch of a real ideological and political plan rooted in the ground and in a fertile environment.
When and how? This is a question that the elite should answer before the start of any political process.
*This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly