Problems on hold
The issue of political party reform in Egypt has been among the major concerns of Watani. As such, it has been the topic of a number of editorials; the most recent was published on 22 April 2018 under the title: “Time for Party reform”. It will also be the theme of a series of sessions of Watani Forum, the first of which was held some two weeks ago. The forum will be hosting representatives of Egypt’s political parties with the aim of exploring the current party scene and figuring out the measures and moves needed to reform it in order to boast robust, effective parties in the future.
Since it is near impossible to invite all the 100 plus parties around, we decided to begin with those parties that have seats in parliament. Representatives from the secular al-Masriyeen al-Ahrar (The Free Egyptians), the leftist al-Tagammu (The Assembly), the liberal al-Wafd (The Commission) and the youthful Mustaqbal Watan (Future of a Nation) responded to our invitation to Watani Forum. On the table were questions on party activity, the political climate, and obstacles that prevent parties from soaring high. The party representatives talked of their visions for the future in light of the challenges they face today, major among which is poor interaction with the public. They talked of the difficulty of training calibres to run the upcoming local government elections, the following parliamentary elections, and the 2022 presidential election.
The discussion went along two lines. The first, predictably, centred on accusations to the State for supposedly generating the fragmented party scene by allowing the formation of parties merely upon notification regardless of political identity, activity, agenda, or membership size, and with no follow-up on how the newly formed parties fared. The result was a superficial wealth of parties that gave a deceptive impression of diversity and freedom. The truth, however, was that these parties were too feeble to contribute to democracy and political life.
The second line focused on self-criticism. Those present agreed that leaving the fragmented party scene for the State to address was a disgrace to the parties active on the arena, even if they were only a few. It was agreed that these parties must communicate with and connect to the public through addressing the real-life challenges the public faces, and boosting public political awareness. This, it was agreed, should be in coordination with institutions such as professional syndicates and NGOs, and with the involvement of youth. Parties, through their young people, should have strong presence on the street to boost representation and awareness.
There was unanimous agreement that the current overly fragmented party scene was in dire need of remedy. One obvious remedy was coalition of like-minded parties, whether prior to or in the wake of elections. In the first case they would, through uniting ranks, gain a better chance at securing seats in parliament; in the second, they would form a strong majority or opposition. Another suggestion put on the table was for parties with similar agendas, political drives and ideologies to merge and form strong blocs. Participants agreed that this approach would suit new parties which have no strong political history or current leadership that would resist integrating with others.
The party representatives in Watani Forum were before a crossroads: will the desired change be applied voluntarily? Meaning, will the strong parties take matters in hand and call contenders with similar political perspectives to unite? Will they draft a means for integration or alliance? Or will the parties already represented in parliament call for legislation that would force all current or future parties to join one of five political blocs that would constitute right, centre right, centre, centre left and left? The desired legislation should stipulate clear measures for parties, including size of party membership, percentage of seats in elected councils and other measures that should be regularly revisited in order to ensure never to go back to the current fragmentation and incapacity.
At the end of the session, participants were unanimous on the importance of continuing Watani Forum discussions of the current party map, and inviting and involving various parties in it. Yet we had not budged from the crossroads; we wait for the majority to put an end to the dilemma. We must all realise, however, that we do not have the luxury of time to waste; we must move in the right direction in preparation for upcoming nationwide elections.
27 May 2018