2021 Yearender: A new consensus and old divisions

Gamal Essam El-Din , Thursday 30 Dec 2021

Al Ahram Weekly reviews a year of change for Egypt’s political parties

A new consensus and old divisions
A new consensus and old divisions

When the House of Representatives met for the first time in January 2021, its make-up was greatly different from previous parliaments.

The two-stage parliamentary elections, held between October and December 2020, saw a new generation of political parties sweep the polls with the result that, when the new House of Representatives met for the first time in January 2021, its make-up was markedly different to that of earlier parliaments.

Under the Sadat and Mubarak regimes, opposition parties tended to occupy a quarter of parliamentary seats. Now parliament is completely dominated by pro-regime forces.

The pro-regime Mostaqbal Watan Party gained 314 (53 per cent) out of a total 568 contested seats in the 2020 elections. They were followed by the Republican People’s party with 50 seats; the Wafd Party with 26; the Guardians of the Nation Party with 23 seats; Modern Egypt Party with 11 seats; and the Reform and Development Party with nine seats. Four parties — the Egyptian Socialist Democratic, the Egyptian Freedom, the Nour and the Congress — won seven seats each. The TagammuParty won six seats, the liberal Adl (Justice) two, and the Will of a Generation one seat.

Political analyst Shawki Al-Sayed, a former independent MP, says the current make-up of the House of Representatives and the Senate makes it impossible to speak of an opposition, despite the fact “the constitution states that Egypt’s political system is a multi-party one, of which the opposition is an integral part.”

Just two MPs only can be considered opposition voices is any meaningful way. The first, Mohamed Abdel-Alim, is a Wafdist politician and a journalist who was highly critical of the Mubarak regime in the 2000 and 2010 parliaments, and narrowly escaped losing his seat in January after criticising the system used for the 2020 parliamentary election.The second, Diaaeddin Dawoud, is a Nasserist who was very critical of the government’s economic policies between 2015 and 2020.

The same scenario applies in the Senate, Egypt’s consultative upper house, where Mostaqbal Watan holds 149 seats. Independents occupy 85, the People’s Republican Party 17, the Wafd 11, the Guardians of the Nation 11, the Tagammu four, Modern Egypt four, and the Congress four. Three political parties — the Egyptian Socialist Democratic, the Reform and Development and the National Movement — got three seats, Nour won two, while six parties — the Egyptian Freedom, Justice, the Republican, the Will of the Nation, the Sadat Democratic Party, and Reform and Renaissance — occupy one seat each.

Al-Sayed believes the election system — which divided seats between individual candidates and party lists — is largely responsible for the lack ofany opposition bloc.

Ashraf Rashad, parliamentary leader of the majority of Mostaqbal Watan, does not accept the characterisation of a parliament lacking opposition.

“Being a pro-regime party does not mean you have to defend the regime or the government all the time,” he says. “During the first parliamentary session, between January and August 2021, Mostaqbal Watan led opposition against government-drafted amendments to the Real Estate Registration Law, forcing the government to back down.”

Senator Essam Hilal, Mostaqbal Watan’s assistant secretary-general, points out that the party also spearheaded opposition to the Thanawaya Amma (high school) law, and worked with other parties to toughen penalties for sexual harassment and female genital mutilation.

Suleiman Wahdan, parliamentary spokesman of the Wafd Party, argues that the new generation political parties have staked out new ground.

“They do not oppose or try to embarrass the government for no reason.They believe that parliament should not be a battleground for exchanging accusations and insults, as was the case under Sadat and Mubarak, The political upheavals that swept Egypt during the last decade tempered their approach to opposition. The dominant belief now is that parliament and government are in the same boat and the House should not serve as a venue to stigmatisethe government or challenge the political and economic stability of the country.”

Wafdist politician and member of the National Council for Human Rights Essam Shiha disagrees. Pro-regime political parties in both the House and Senate have, he says, undermined MPs’supervisory role.

“Supervisory powers are now symbolic, with the main job of the Houseto rubber-stamp legislation referred by the government. As for the Senate, it’s merely a consultative body and has no constitutional authorisation to exercise any kind of supervision over the government.”

Senate Deputy Speaker Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka argues that there is now a consensus between old and new political parties that“parliament should not be a place for the exchange of accusations or mud-slinging, but a venue for objective and constructive opposition that prioritises stability after 10 years of turmoil.”

In the last 12 months a number of political parties have been rent by internal splits. In the summer of 2021 Wafd Party Chairman Abu Shoka dismissed10 of the party’s leaders after accusing them of attempting “to hijack the party and turn it into a haven for anti-regime forces”.

The Arab Nasserist Party fell into disarray when its chairman, Sayed Abdel-Ghani, died from Covid-19 at the beginning of the year. The party split into rival camps, one led by acting chairman Mustafa Al-Kadi, the other by former secretary-general Ahmed Hassan, each of whom claims to be Abdel-Ghani’s successor.

The National Movement, led by former prime minister and presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik, faced serious internal rifts in July when the party’s chairman, Raouf Al-Sayed, dismissed two senior members, Mohamed Azmi and Shafiq Salah, from the party’s ranks. Azmi and Salah responded by calling for Al-Sayed’s expulsion and accusing him of using the party to further his personal interests.

“The problems facing the National Movement Party are the same problems that face all other political parties,” said Azmi. “They boil down to the fact that the parties are manipulated by elderly and short-sighted politicians who see their leadership as a way to line their own pockets rather than further democracy.”

Shiha concurs. With so many political parties mired in internal disputes and personal conflicts, it is hardly surprising, he says, that they lack popularity on the street.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 23 December, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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