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Redrawing the party map

Youssef Sidhom

06 Jun 2015 1:01 am

Problems on hold

Once again, President Sisi sits with a number of the heads of political parties in Egypt. Once again, he stresses the importance and gravity of the critical step awaiting the entire country: the parliamentary elections. Once again, he reminds them that this is the final stage of Egypt’s Roadmap to a democratic future. Once again, he draws attention to the need for parties to rise above partisan conflict and individual benefit, and to uphold national interest. This time, however, he offers them a carrot: the presidency will not hesitate to support a strong ‘national coalition’ if the parties form one to contest the elections.

I had to ask why the President had to do this all over again after he had already done it a few months ago. The sad answer was all-too-obvious: the partisan scene in Egypt is still miserably fragmented and shattered. Parties are as far as can be from joining ranks to form a coalition or coalitions that might secure them any significant number of seats in the upcoming parliament. The role of this parliament will be crucial in that it should shoulder the responsibility of translating Egypt’s new Constitution into laws that materialise the legislative reform much-aspired by Egyptians.
It is no secret that the President had to meet with the leaders of the Wafd party, one of the most prestigious Egyptian parties whose history goes back to the 1920s, in order to work a reconciliation among them after news of their bitter infighting ran all over the inflammatory-happy media. Well, President Sisi did his bit, but news is still circulating of the persistent conflict among the Wafd leaders and the consequent diminishing chances the Wafd has at securing seats in the upcoming elections.

 

Overall, the current electoral scene is pitifully and miserably cloudy. There is no clear-cut elections law, no final agreement on the distribution of parliamentary seats, and no solid political coalitions that reach out to the public with well-defined competitive platforms. The elections should be held before year-end. Those who think we have the luxury of ample time to prepare for them need to revise their opinion. Throughout the entire past year, the numerous political parties have failed to unite into any coalitions or alliances strong enough to contest the elections; there is no reason to believe they might do in the little time left.

 

Because I am not at all optimistic about the parties coming together in a joint effort, I will here revert to what I wrote in an editorial on 1 March 2015 under the title: “Will independents save the day?” I wrote then that if it is not possible for the current 90 parties to form one large, strong coalition capable of confronting the political Islam stream, they could at least form three coalitions that represent the left, right and centrist views. I expected that such three coalitions could each include parties of similar leanings and ideologies, and would thus attract and rally sizeable portions of the public behind them according to the clear-cut concepts each supports. This would have to replace the current feeble scene of numerous small parties with names too similar to make any distinction among them, the only difference being that they include various public, media, sports, or celebrity figures that compete to rally voters. The result is that the parties are merely struggling to crowd one another out.

 

With this miserable party scene before us, I cannot help imagining that a decision has to come from the top to reconstruct the political arena according to the three main divisions of left, centre, and right. Such a separation would put an end to the fragmentation and lack of political identity and perspective which now govern the party scene. There is no plausible reason why such a step may not be taken. Egypt did this a few years ago on another level, when a decision was taken by the Governor of the Central Bank of Egypt that small banks should, within a specified period of time, either raise their capital to EGP500 million or merge into larger banking entities. The result was that Egypt gained fewer but more substantial banks, and this had the effect of curing the long-ailing Egyptian banking sector. Yet the smaller banks would never have taken such a step on their own; they were forced to do so when it was decreed by the top authority. This is exactly what I imagine may be the case with the political parties. Only large, strong parties can be able to rally public support and implement power rotation in Egypt. And only a decision from the top can make the abundance of small, insignificant parties merge into fewer, bigger, significant ones.

The question that begs an answer, however, is who should decree such a decision? Let no one tell me it would be the Committee of Party Affairs, since we feel neither its presence, activity, nor interest in what occurs on the party scene. It does not even appear to care to purge the arena of the Islamic parties which are, according to the new Constitution, non-constitutional. So it looks like the entire matter has to be placed in the hands of the President, especially given his obvious, genuine concern on that score.

Watani International
7 June 2015

 


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