Problems on hold
The “Problems on hold” column is witness that I do not despair of repeatedly broaching specific, significant unresolved issues. I insist on tackling them whether on the occurrence of some incident or another that pertains to them, or even if nothing about them changes. I hope that placing them again and again under the spotlight would keep them in the public eye. Prominent among these issues has been the freedom of worship and practising religious rites, the family law for Christians in as far as it should include provisions for equal inheritance for men and women, and the issue of political party reform in Egypt.
Today I go back to tackling party reform in Egypt, given that it is a seminal issue of political reform, democratic maturity, and the constitutional prerogative of peaceful power rotation. I have to admit that the current party scene does not bode well on these fronts. This is disheartening, especially when one looks at Egypt’s astounding success on economic reform and compares it to the political party reform that has not even begun, as though waiting for someone to pick up the courage to tackle it. Yet we do not have the luxury of dragging our feet on party reform. President Sisi’s second term (2018 – 2022) ends in three years’ time, yet our political scene boasts no strong parties capable of producing promising figures that could succeed him. If nothing is done on that score, I worry and fear for this nation.
Egypt’s party scene is featureless and has no comprehensible political anatomy. Too many parties vie for the public’s attention, but their number—more than 100—renders them just too many to grasp or to understand the conceptual differences among them, if any. Very few have succeeded in winning seats in parliament, but play no clear roles as majority or opposition. Every now and then a statement is issued about the formation of a ‘front’ or ‘coalition’ in parliament, but these are short-lived. As long as the law governing the formation of political parties endows small, feeble parties with legitimacy and allows them to subsist on the political scene, the scene is bound to blunder and fragment, rendering reform almost beyond reach.
I went back to what I had written earlier on the topic of political and party reform, only to find it abundant and substantial, worthy of retrieval in hope of awakening national awareness and reviving political responsibility. I will print here excerpts from this file:
- We must all be aware that the purpose of the constitutional definition of a specific number and duration of presidential terms for a single president is to root measures that secure peaceful, smooth, regular handover of power. It is not the role of constitutions to honour patriotic, good, honourable rulers; rather, they are written to protect the people from the unbridled tyranny of despots should any reach the topmost position of authority. I sense a worrisome surrender by Egyptians to their love and confidence in President Sisi, so much so that they appear to not imagine that his term would come to an end and he would exit the scene. It is not right for Egypt, with its historical and civilizational stature, to give in to such sentiment. The President himself is uncomfortable with that, and has expressed his disapproval with the weak political scene in a talk with the chief editors of State-owned newspapers in May 2017. He said: “More than once have I called for mergers among parties of similar programmes and political perspectives, with the aim of creating several 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.”
- Let us admit that the unrestricted, unregulated right to form political parties has taken us to the fragmentation we witness today; instead of achieving pluralism, it has led to disarray. We now have more than 100 officially registered parties, but their effectiveness and interaction with the public is questionable, impotent, and leaves much to be desired. I believe the law should stipulate a minimum number of members in a party as a precondition for its formation, in order for it to capably represent the people and effectively join in political action. But high party membership alone will not solve the problem. We need strong blocs that would effectively rearrange the party scene according to political leaning: right, centre-right, centre, centre left, and left. Such rearrangement would have the capacity to include all political perspectives and would thus be able to unify ranks and gather the masses in joint political action.
- The issue of political party reform weighs on me; I wrote about it on 27 August 2017, 22 and 29 October 2017; then in 2018 on 28 January, 25 February, 22 April, and 14 October. And here I am again writing about it. I am confident every Egyptian who cares about the future of Egypt agrees with me.
- Will party reform come through deliberate action by the political parties or through legislation by parliament? Or will it have to wait for intervention by the President
3 February 2019