As we move towards the National Dialogue called for last April by President Sisi, we count on the ability of Egyptians to seriously and faithfully partake in that dialogue in a way that reflects their national aspirations for our New Republic. Basing on my close follow up on what has been written or published on the issue, I feel a positive optimism that this dialogue would pursue a national path that aims for the wellbeing of Egypt, its people, future and national security, and from there to root the fundamentals of a national modern civic State.
On 26 April, President Sisi called for a national dialogue to draw up a new political roadmap for Egypt in the coming years. The dialogue’s 19-member board of trustees has already held meetings to prepare the agenda and schedule of the dialogue, and to endorse the Dialogue’s code of conduct and bylaws.
Today I begin my contribution to the National Dialogue with my view of political party life in Egypt, the issue the least bright and most bitter. An unbiased observer of party activity in Egypt would undoubtedly admit frustration at the failure to detect any effective party contribution to the political map or any impact or added value to political endeavour and democratic practice. To say nothing of the failure of these parties to produce competent calibres or leaders, or to bring about peaceful power rotation.
By embarking on National Dialogue, we put ourselves before the challenge of dissecting and diagnosing the ailments of our political party body, to expose its ailments and failures. That is if we are serious about a bold, candid dialogue that would lead to sound answers. It is impossible to overlook the fact that the current Egyptian party scene was created out of the loose principle of the total freedom to establish political parties. On the ground, the Party Affairs Committee accepted all applications that met the pre-set requirements for the organisational form of parties, as long as their political agendas excluded religious, racial or extremist loyalties. Accordingly, a multitude of nascent parties was allowed to join the political scene; their numbers exceeded 100. At first sight, this might give the impression of diversity and amplitude, but the bitter truth is that these parties have been rightly dubbed “cartoon parties”; they only existed in their constituent groups, they never made it to the Egyptian street, nor have they offered clear visions and programmes to win over members or to empower active participation in political life and elections.
The Party Affairs Committee believed it had done a perfect job that fulfilled the Constitutional requirement of freedom of party work. The committee was happy it approved an unprecedented number of parties, yet it failed to see that it was its responsibility to put in place some mechanism to periodically assess the performance of the parties approved, regarding their political views, activity, participation and the rate of growth of their membership base. The committee seemed oblivious of the persistent fragmentation and ineffectiveness on the party scene, whereas it could have imposed periodic revisions to hinge the continuation of the parties on growing party membership, and on a specific number of clear political dispositions that reflect the thoughts, visions, plans and platforms under which the parties operate in elections and in the street. Through such revisions, the committee could have spurred parties of comparable political views to join forces, consolidating thus their membership base and guaranteeing their perseverance on the political scene, otherwise they would be annulled and have to leave. The healthy output would have been a party map that boasts only strong parties or robust blocs that offer no space to politicians hungry for fragile leadership but allow national effort to flourish and steer the Egyptian street towards sound democracy.
My prescription for party reform is my contribution to the National Dialogue. I am not proud of any party that might exist alone on the political arena, no matter what its history, members, or credit may be. I aspire for a political map restricted to possibly five blocs: right, centre-right, centre, centre-left, and left. These blocs would compete according to different political agendas that would produce different programmes which each bloc could use to credibly address the public during elections. Their chances to grow and reach power would be function of how well they convince the public.
True, I write this in concurrence with the National Dialogue, yet this is not the first time I write about the party predicament, an issue that has long troubled me. I have evoked this issue nine times before, on 29 October 2017; 28 January 2018; 25 February 2018; 22 April 2018; 27 May 2018; 14 October 2018; 3 February 2019; 29 December 2019; and 29 July 2020. This is the 10th time for me to write about party reform. Every time I broached the issue I was keen to refer to a declaration made by President Sisi in May 2017 during a talk with the chief editors of State-owned newspapers. He said: “More than once have I called for mergers among parties of similar programmes and political perspectives, with the aim of creating a number of robust parties that would produce figures qualified to be part of the power rotation process. I wish to see parties with similar ideologies work towards merging together.”
Sadly, the truth on the ground is that the parties still have not taken the initiative to achieve that. So will the National Dialogue do that?
12 August 2022