Coalition collapses before taking off

28-06-2014 01:01 PM

Youssef Sidhom

The optimism was short-lived. Hopes had run high that a strong political coalition would form among the secular political streams in Egypt to contend the upcoming parliamentary elections. Fragmentation of secular and liberal votes threatened to give the Islamists a golden opportunity to land seats in the first parliament since the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) regime of Muhammad Mursi in July 2013.

Buoying the recent hopes was the formation of a group that would reportedly work to unite the ranks of liberal parties and political movements in a strong coalition to run the upcoming parliamentary elections. Under the leadership of Amr Moussa, the veteran diplomat who had headed the Committee of the Fifty which drafted Egypt’s Constitution; Major General Murad Muwafi, the former head of the General Intelligence Authority, and former Interior Minister, Major General Ahmed Gamal Eddin, the work group looked headed for success. 
Egyptians who had taken to the streets on 30 June 2013 to save Egypt from the oppressive clutches of the MB rule, established a new Constitution in January 2014, and voted in a new president in May 2014 understood well that this was not the end of the road. They still had before them the final challenge on the Roadmap to Egypt’s democratic future, that of electing a national assembly. The Roadmap had been jointly drawn by the military, representatives of the various civic sectors in Egypt, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, and Pope Tawadros II, and went into action once Mursi was overthrown. 
The threat that seculars would not win a majority in the new parliament is very real in view of the divisions between them, which threaten to fragment the vote. In this case, the MB would be able to sneak into parliament and work to sabotage efforts to build the legislative basis for a secular, non-religious State. 
Given the divisions on the secular front, Egyptians are seriously suspicious about the ability of any party, no matter its history or magnitude, to win a parliamentary majority all on its own. It was self-evident that a single, strong umbrella political entity was needed to unite the largest possible number of parties which share the same outlook, that of making the secular objective of “30 June Egypt” a reality on the ground. Egyptians would readily rally behind such a coalition and vote it in, especially given that the parliament majority is entitled to form the new government. Since the objectives and plans of Egypt’s new president lie along the secular line, the president and government would in all probability work in harmony to rebuild the country. 
Failure to form a strong secular coalition would fragment the vote and undoubtedly open the door to alliances of weaker streams; there is already talk of a MB/ Salafi alliance. The path to democracy and political reform would be severely threatened.
Small surprise then that Egyptians hopefully hailed the Moussa/Muwafi/Gamal Eddin effort. The optimism was dashed, however, when the group announced it was disbanding after its first few meetings. Major General Muwafi angrily withdrew, decrying the absence of the will to agree among the parties involved. This in itself is surprising, seeing that most of these parties enjoy feeble presence on the Egyptian street. Yet individual party ego and personal interest obviously preceded the national role required at this stage from the parties. 
I expected the withdrawal of Major General Muwafi would raise alarms. I thought it would bring back the parties to their senses, lead them to re-assess the situation, reassemble their ranks, rise above the trivialities that divide them, and uphold national interest over any other consideration. 
What happened was quite the contrary. The parties remained scattered far apart and, instead of striving for a strong coalition, attempted some minor irrelevant coalitions that would lead nowhere come election day, and were bound to bring into parliament small-sized rival groups whose rivalry would not serve the interests of the nation.
Some on the political scene see the political fragmentation as pluralism, a step towards healthy political maturity, and an end to the single strong party system which bred the hegemony of the National Democratic Party and the MB. To those I say that a too-diverse political scene is still a luxury Egypt can ill afford at this point in time; a risk which could incur a setback to the “30 June Egypt”. It is better to move slow and steady before applying academic pluralism. Democratic maturity is a process that requires time and gradual escalation through consecutive electoral rounds lest it fires back.
Until the paper went to press, the political scene carried many variations. Mr Moussa said he was going ahead with an electoral coalition despite the withdrawal of Major General Muwafi who for his part declared he would form a new party. The liberal al-Wafd and al-Masry al-Dimocrati parties announced they would form a coalition, and the al-Sadat al-Dimocraty party announced the Sadat coalition. Several professional syndicates said they would prepare their own lists of candidates for the elections. All this raises the question of which of these coalitions would the remnants of MB terrorists mount?
Do the wise among us realise the scale of the danger that lurks round the parliamentary elections? Can they save the day before it is too late? Or will the collapse of the Moussa/Muwafi/Gamal Eddin coalition before it even started the shattered glass beyond repair?
Watani International
29 June 2014
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