Problems on hold
Last week I tackled the unfortunate on-the-ground situation of the current parliamentary elections scene. Hopes for a bright future had risen when Egypt in July 2013 rid herself of the Islamist regime which had taken control of the country in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring, and drew a Roadmap to a democratic future. Egyptians went on to establish in January 2014 a new constitution which was seen as the best in Egypt’s history, and elected in June 2014 the moderate Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi as President. The remaining step on the Roadmap was the election of a new parliament. Egyptians aspired to see a strong secular coalition that would truly represent the millions who had taken to the streets on 30 June 2013 to overthrow the Islamists and call for a secular Egypt. What transpired, however, was very far from these aspirations. We found ourselves mired in a swamp of huge numbers of candidates running for parliament; seven secular coalitions as well as thousands of individual independents were all running against one coalition of Islamic parties. How the seculars could have achieved a majority was something that no one was able to figure out.
It is obvious that the secular parties failed miserably at grasping the full scope of the critical turn in history at which Egypt stands. Instead of gearing up for it by working to form a unified front, they sank into seemingly endless squabbles and manipulations over which of them would get the biggest part of the cake. The result: absolute fragmentation of the secular forces; no single coalition saw light and the number of coalitions formed instead possessed no political visions, party perspectives, or viable platforms. Despite the names these coalitions adopted to play on voter sentiment—names that extolled the love of Egypt and the nationalist call—they remained no more than that, just names. Voters were left anxious and wary.
I had imagined that the political parties on the scene today—and there are more than 90 of them—would have insisted on imposing their party perspectives on the coalition/s they formed. Predictably, it would not have been possible to reconcile all the party perspectives into a single coalition, so there might have resulted some three coalitions for instance: right, left, and mid-way. Had this been the case, the three coalitions would have been able to address the public in a credible manner, rally support, effectively run against one another and confront the Islamist coalition. Unfortunately, this did not happen, and we found ourselves before coalitions with no visible differences. So how was a voter to decide? The only measure would have been the character of the candidate, a name or names squeezed among a long list of candidates the voter probably knew very little about. These names may have belonged to public, patriotic, media, even sports or celebrity figures that carried hefty weight in their fields but no expertise or awareness of political work or law making.
The parties and coalitions which failed at coming up with distinct political platforms or at least some three well-defined coalitions did not even possess the political acumen to manage the competition between them so that they do not all lose to the political Islam current. They might have decided to divide Egypt’s electoral map among them so that each coalition could run in a separate territory, supported by the other coalitions, where it can secure voter majority. Had this taken place, we might have overcome the fragmentation of the vote through which all the seculars would have emerged losers.
It appears that Egypt has a way to go before she can attain political maturity. Even though last Sunday’s decision by the Supreme Constitutional Court declaring the electoral constituency map non-constitutional effectively postpones the elections, thus delaying the dilemma, it is not clear whether the political players would use the time to reorganise their ranks. Would they consolidate to form bigger aggregates of well-defined blocs? Would they partition among themselves Egypt’s electoral map? If no such action transpires then I believe some action has to be taken to pull together the party scene in Egypt. I draw parallels between the political situation today and the dilemma which a few years ago faced the banking sector in our country. Back then a decree was issued that banks with a capital less than EGP500 million should either raise their capital to that sum or merge together into bigger banking entities. I believe we are today in need of a standard below which parties of the same political perspectives should be forced to merge into bigger blocs of right, left, or middle ground entities. Only then can our political scene enjoy genuine diversity and Egyptian voters head confidently to the polls.
8 March 2015