Problems on hold
Last week I tackled the urgent issue of the imperativeness of restructuring the map of political parties in Egypt as I broached the topic of the nomination of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi for a second presidential term. As it currently stands, the party map includes more than 90 parties; 17 among them have seats in parliament.
Predictably, most of these parties are small and feeble, with redundant political views and objectives; none strong enough or including calibres sufficiently savvy to lead a nation. I believe that instead of this bloated, fragmented, feeble scene, we need—through party mergers and coalitions—a few robust parties that possess the capacity of effectively communicating and interacting with the public, and that can produce patriotic political figures worthy of shouldering the responsibility of power, and smoothly handing over that power when the time comes. Only then can Egypt ensure proper power rotation.
Article 74 of the Constitution gave Egyptians the right to form parties by notification alone; hence the 93 parties currently jamming Egypt’s party map. A few of these parties have deep roots and long histories of political work, large memberships, and well-defined political programmes. The majority of the others are marginal, ineffective and fragile, with meagre memberships and no specific political programmes, so much so that they have been called “cartoon” or “paper” parties.
The diversity in form does not represent an added value to the political scene; rather, it is a liability. I believe that the bloated scene stems from a feeling among Egyptians of having long been deprived of the full freedom to form political parties. This right is now secured; parties are formed by notification without any regulation pre- or post-formation. The Parties Committee does not even periodically review the memberships of the parties or their effectiveness on the political scene.
Watani has taken it upon itself to promote the call for re-forming the party scene, a call adopted by President Sisi himself and which, if achieved, would go down as his most significant accomplishment during his second term. Admittedly, however, President Sisi cannot be the sole moderator for this mammoth task; all those concerned with the future of this nation must put in an effort.
It thus gave me great comfort to be able to print in Watani’s last issue: “Al-Tagammu [a leftist party that has been active since the 1970s] strives to form a coalition that would include all leftist parties”. I hope the al-Tagammu move would be emulated by other parties.
I am reminded here of the road trodden by Egypt some two decades ago in reforming its banking system. At the time, experts noticed that too many Egyptian banks and branches of foreign banks had appeared on the scene. Most of them were small entities that competed in direct banking operations without really contributing to economic development or to funding projects. Legislation was enacted requiring, within a certain time frame, smaller banks to increase their capital to a specific minimal sum or to merge with other banks. The result was the creation of fewer banks, but they were robust and capable of competing with the old, well-established ones that had been there since the early 1900s.
Today, Egypt is in dire need of emulating the reform of its banking sector in its political party sector. It is normal to start with a voluntarily call for parties to converge and unite into groups with common political views. Here comes the importance of the primary categorisation of coalitions into right, centre and left, all the while keeping the door open for the formation of other coalitions under other names. In all cases, there must be agreement that for a party to exist it should have a distinctive political vision and a minimum number of members for it to gain legitimacy.
Re-forming the party map is imperative, and can no longer be put off. It would achieve a serious qualitative leap in party work, moving it from the stage of adolescence to maturity. It would reassure Egyptians that their will for effective, smooth power rotation, instead of the interminable power they suffered from for long decades, could translate into a reality on the ground.
29 October 2017