As 2019 comes to an end, we look forward with hope and determination to a New Year 2020 that would bring stability, growth, prosperity, and peace to our dear Egypt; together with full citizenship rights, equality and non-discrimination.
Last week, I checked my 2019 “Problems on hold” file, and reviewed the most outstanding Coptic issues that had not been resolved that year, but remained for us to carry into 2020 with hopes that they may then be adequately addressed. Today, I review another serious problem that has been placed on hold and awaits action, hopefully in 2020. This problem concerns all Egyptians, since it pertains to political party reform in Egypt.
I am gravely concerned about the issue of party reform, and have taken a vow not to give up on it. I wrote about it in 2017 once it became obvious that, under the current law that places no controls over the formation of political parties, the party map in Egypt has distended to the point of splintering. We now have more than 100 parties, but only a few of them have any history to boast of, reasonable membership, or appreciable contribution to Egyptian politics. The majority are cartoon parties with minimal membership and almost no presence on the street. During the last parliamentary elections in December 2015, parties won only 246 out of a total 596 seats; 350 seats went to candidates who ran as independents. So much for party relevance as far as the Egyptian public is concerned. The 246 seats were won by 10 parties; the remaining 90 parties apparently serving no purpose other than proof of the unregulated freedom to form political parties.
There have been calls to reform the party scene to yield robust, effective political blocs with well-defined platforms and substantial membership. Such parties would be capable of positively interacting with the public, and would be capable of producing high-calibre candidates who could ably fill parliament’s majority and opposition seats. The last three years, however, saw no move whatsoever in this direction.
We at Watani tried to do our bit by holding a number of sessions in our Watani Forum on the topic of party reform. We invited representatives of the effective political parties in Egypt to discuss the idea of forming five political blocs that lean to the right, centre right, centre, centre left, and left. Parties with similar leanings may form these blocs through mergers or coalitions. Even though the idea was widely accepted, nothing was done on the ground for it to materialise.
Under the current splintered party scene in Egypt, I do not see much hope for political or democratic progress. The last time I wrote about party reform—that was on 3 February 2019—I concluded by asking: “Would the required reform come voluntarily from the political parties, or through legislation enacted by parliament? Or would it need intervention by the President?
Since voluntary action by political parties to achieve the hoped-for reform has already been discussed and yielded no outcome, I shall tackle the idea of achieving that reform through legislation. Currently, the unconditional freedom under which parties may be formed allows the formation of new parties once their founding members notify the Committee of Party Affairs of their objectives and political platforms, the qualifications of the founders, and the headquarters of the party. But no regulations exist regarding the political stream the party belongs to, or the number of its members and whether or not this membership would allow effective interaction with the masses. Neither is there in place any system through which the political performance of the party is monitored. I see that we need legislation to govern all that, in order to weed out the ‘dead parties’ and make place for the ‘living’ ones. Parliament, in view of its legislative, supervisory, and democracy-enhancing role, is the institution that can most grasp the need for party reform, and is well-positioned to meet it.
The last alternative for achieving the aspired reform is through presidential intervention. In May 2017, during a meeting with the chief editors of Egyptian papers, President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said: “I have repeatedly called for mergers or coalitions between parties of similar political outlooks and programmes, in order to create bigger, robust parties able to produce leaders that would fill the need for power rotation. I hope to see like-minded parties do so.”
These were the President’s words. If Egypt’s myriad parties fail to coalesce of their own accord into a smaller number of effective political blocs, and if parliament is too overburdened to enact the legislation needed to achieve the coalescence, there is still the presidential prerogative of assigning the government with presenting the necessary bill to parliament.
29 December 2019