Political parties map out post-revolution positions

Salma Shukrallah, Monday 18 Apr 2011

Egypt's main political parties have opened debate over upcoming elections, their preferences regarding political systems, and the country's future regional relations

At a conference organised by Al-Sharq Research Centre, Egypt’s main political parties declared their positions in the present transitional period and explained their perspectives on the country’s future regional relations after the collapse of the Hosni Mubarak regime.

Parties present included the Islamic El-Wasat Party, the Muslim Brotherhood, the leftist Tagammu Party, the Nasserist Party, representatives of independent Islamists (Islamic groups other than the Muslim Brotherhood, including Jihad, Salafists and Gamaa Islamiya) and the Social Democratic Party.

Differences between the political groups mainly revolved around their views on the decisions taken by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Egypt’s current governing body, regarding political participation and election laws. The desired political structure, whether Egypt should be a parliamentary or a presidential democracy, or a mix of both, was also an important point of debate. Whether the next parliament should be chosen through proportional representation or single votes was also discussed.

Mohamed Abd El-Lateef, deputy president of El-Wasat Party, said that his party expects the coming transitional period to witness an increase in political interest, and therefore believed in a need to formulate clear political programmes to engage the public. However, the lack of experienced political figures, after years of political oppression, leaves most parties with the need to create new leaders, according to Abd El-Lateef. Political parties, he said, should formulate a joint code of ethics by which they can interact in Egypt’s new political life. 

El-Wasat Party, Abd El-Lateef said, is for proportional representation, explaining that it would guarantee that small parties would be represented as much as large ones. El-Wasat is also for a mixed presidential and parliamentary system, fearing that a purely presidential one will create another dictator. Ministers should have a greater role, according to Abd El-Lateef.

Abdallah El-Senawy, member of the Nasserist Party, said that he was talking on behalf of the Nasserist movement and not on behalf of the party, as he did not believe that “real” parties existed in Egypt as they were created under a non-democratic system. El-Senawy explained that the “rules of the game” guiding the transitional period are unclear, leaving most people at a loss as to how to participate, criticising the many decisions that should have been made regarding the type of elections Egypt will hold in less than four months. 

El-Senawy underlined that he was strongly against military tribunals for civilians. He added that unrepresented groups should be given representation, and that the quota for workers and farmers — that was meant to give representation to specific groups — was no longer relevant in the current context. El-Senawy defended proportional representation as a means to give small groups and parties a voice. Although El-Senway said that he was generally for a parliamentary system, he said he believed that the country was not ready for one because of a lack of strong political parties at this stage. As a result, El-Senway said that he would opt for a presidential system in Egypt.

Kamal Habib, representative of independent Islamists, said that there is a gap between what happens in Tahrir Square and in the rest of Egypt, especially outside Cairo. He underlined the important role of local councils, arguing that to expand the “spirit of change” that came with the revolution parties need to start working at the grassroots level. Although Salafists were against the revolution, being pro-regime for years, Jihad took part in Egypt’s revolt, according to Habib, and both groups will now head towards a more moderate stand and will engage in political life. 

Habib believed that Islamists will have no problem finding enough numbers to form a new party, although lack of money due to long years of imprisonment may be a problem. The party will be made of Islamists but will approach the Egyptian nation as a whole, said Habib, with Sharia Law being a point of reference.

Hussein Abd El-Raziq, Tagammu Party member, criticised many of the decisions taken since the revolution, including leaving the 1971 Constitution largely intact and creating a referendum to change only a few articles, and then dissolving the constitution after the referendum, making the referendum useless. He also condemned the new law criminalising demonstrations and strikes and criticised the new party formation law that “enables the rich alone to create parties”. The new constitutional declaration, according to Abd El-Raziq, also gives SCAF great ruling authorities that will be passed to the president who follows as Egypt’s next ruler. 

El-Raziq underlined the importance of social equality and justice in any political programme and explained that any party should adopt LE1200 as a minimum wage, unemployment subsidies and progressive taxation. He also added that in the next period all laws compromising freedoms should be canceled. The Tagammu Party is for proportional representation in parliament to decrease the role money and tribalism plays in Egypt’s voting process.

Samer Soliman, member of Social Democratic Party, pointed out to two main goals for the coming months, including monitoring and holding accountable any ruling body governing the transitional period and creating new political parties. Since the time given before upcoming elections is short, the next parliament will not be representative and a presidential system is more suitable for Egypt at this stage. “It is easier for the diverse parties and groups to agree on a president,” said Soliman. 

Soliman criticised the decision to let the next parliament choose the body that would write the constitution, arguing that parliament should not dictate the constitution which prescribes its powers. “That would mean that the parliament is allowed to set for itself the extent of its own authorities,” said Soliman. The Social Democratic Party believes that the country’s identity is mainly Egyptian, and democracy cannot be achieved without social justice. The state should play a role in development and the economy should be led by the state and the private sector together.

Ahmed Abu-Baraka, Muslim Brotherhood member and representative of their new political party, Freedom and Justice, explained the new party as an Islamic one but that it might meet with socialist or liberal ideals as Islam is in agreement with differing ideologies depending on the issue at hand. 

Abu-Baraka underlined that to him the transitional period is not limited to the months prior to the elections but will take years for Egypt’s state to be rebuilt. He pointed to the importance of creating a national coalition that would uphold the state of law. Not agreeing with the critiques directed by other representatives, Abu-Baraka said that the next parliament will be democratically elected by the people and thus will be representative. He added that the constitution will not only be written by a body nominated by the democratically elected parliament, but will also be voted on via a referendum and that the chosen process for writing the constitution is democratic. 

Abu-Baraka, unlike other party representatives argued for a parliamentary system, explaining that a presidential or a mixed system would create another dictator.

As for regional matters, all party representatives argued for stronger relations towards African states, especially countries of the Nile Basin. All representatives argued against Mubarak’s position towards Palestine and his alliance with Israel to the extent of harming Egypt’s interests. Many argued for better regional relations with neighbouring Arab states, as well as with the states of Iran and Turkey, although they differed on the type of relation that should exist and the extent of its strength. Habib, for example, explained that better relations with Iran does not imply that Egypt should accept Iran’s policies, while Soliman argued that alliances will mainly depend on the political system of the country, and that considering Iran’s system, the relation may witness tensions while it would be better with a country like Tunisia. 

Other participants, including Abd El-Raziq and El-Senawy, stressed that Iran was not an enemy state and praised the statements of Egypt’s current foreign minister for attempting to strengthen relations with the country. Abu-Baraka, on the other hand, argued that the country’s economic relations will dictate the extent of Egypt’s cooperation with and position towards other countries in the region. He underlined the importance of gaining a strong economic position to strengthen Egypt’s influence and tighten its relations with neighbouring countries through economic exchange.

Although all other parties were concerned that the next parliament would not be representative, considering the lack of any party presence in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood expressed confidence in the next elections. The Brotherhood was the only party arguing for a purely parliamentary system while all others argued that it would not be suitable for Egypt at this stage. The Brotherhood also stood slightly aside regarding Egypt’s regional relations, arguing that the economy would dictate Egypt’s cooperation with neighbouring countries while most representatives argued that relations needed to be strengthened independently to save Egypt from losing ground within the region. All participants differed as to which countries within the region should be allies, and to what extent.

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