Ten months after the January uprising, Egypt’s political scene is more diverse and competitive than ever before, as dozens of new parties ranging in ideology from Salafi to secular seek a place in the post-Mubarak political order. However, only a handful of the more than fifty-registered parties are organized enough to stand a chance at winning parliamentary representation on their own. Acknowledging that strength lies in numbers, most of the smaller parties have aligned themselves with one of four major electoral coalitions, which differ significantly in their constituencies and ideological orientation. So far, the primary beneficiaries of the coalition-building process appear to be the Islamist movements, which are confidently predicting a strong showing in the parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, liberal and civil parties – weakened by divisions and rivalries – have struggled to build a cohesive alliance with a clear campaign platform.
Taking advantage of these divisions, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has moved swiftly in the weeks leading up to elections to consolidate its power and privileges by issuing a set of constitutional principles that would preserve a strong political role for the military and shield its budget from oversight by the next elected parliament. Whether or not the four major electoral coalitions will be able to overcome their fragmentation and work together in the next elected government to hold the SCAF accountable remains to be seen.
The four main alliances:
- The Democratic Alliance for Egypt includes many small parties and is led by the Freedom and Justice Party, the official political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.
- The Islamic Alliance includes the Salafi al-Nour (Light) and Asala (Authenticity) parties along with official political arm of the formerly militant Islamist group, al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, the Building and Development party.
- The Egyptian Bloc Alliance includes the liberal Social Democratic Party, the Free Egyptians Party (founded by the prominent Coptic businessman Naguib Sawiris), and the leftist Tagammu Party.
- The Revolution Continues Allianceincludes seven primarily leftist parties, the Revolutionary Youth Coalition, and the liberal Egypt Freedom party.
The electoral coalitions reflect the polarization between Islamist and what so called “Civilian powers” as well as between new political powers after the revolution and what so called “Flol” or (the ex regime remnants) and under the unstable security situation, and the political tension, there is a potential that the election will witness violence increase the state of polarization.
The Democratic Alliance for Egypt, initially launched by the Freedom and Justice and Wafd parties, at one pointed included 43 parties. However, the FJP’s dominant position within the Alliance and alleged efforts to manipulate its electoral lists prompted the Wafd and several other liberal parties to defect from the coalition.
In addition to the FJP, other new Islamist forces are emerging as serious contenders on the political scene. The Salafi Movement is fielding candidates in the elections under the banner of the Islamic Alliance. The Salafi al-Nour (Light) Party, which dominates the Islamic Alliance, has significant financial assets enabling it to coordinate extensive voter outreach and campaign activities across the country. 610 of the Alliance’s 693 candidates are affiliated with al-Nour.
Overall, the Islamist parties appear more organized and better funded than their secular and liberal counterparts, while maintaining a clear goal of establishing a Shari’a state. Meanwhile, “civil” parties have failed to form a strong coalition that offers a clear alternative, and still practice politics with the same defensive mentality that they were forced to adopt under Mubarak’s rule, when the opposition had no real chance of winning meaningful representation in parliament. Given the disorganization and timidity displayed by its civil rivals, it is no surprise that the FJP is confidently acting as though it has already won a parliamentary majority.
An FJP victory is far from certain, however. Some think that the large number of Islamist candidates from a variety of parties and movements may contribute to splitting the Islamist vote, reducing their overall representation in parliament and giving an advantage to civil and liberal candidates, independents as well as the so-called remnants of the former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), which have regrouped in at least eight different NDP-affiliated parties that are fiercely campaigning in the hopes of staging a political comeback, despite the government’s promise reactive a Nasser-era Treachery Law that would bar former NDP members from political activity for five-year period.
In an attempt to confront hardline Salafis groups with a strong grassroots following, the civil parties are now beginning to coordinate with another Islamist force, the Sufis, whose 15 million followers adhere to a more moderate interpretation of Islam. Although the Sufi movement has traditionally been largely apolitical,Sufi groups have recently stepped into the formal political arena by licensing official parties, like the Sufi-dominated Egyptian Tahrir Party.
Despite the weak coordination between “civil” parties and their lack of preparedness, most of these new parties, including the Adl (Justice) Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and al-Masriyin al-Ahrar (Free EgyptiansParty), are working hard to catch up. One the oldest and most organized parties in the civil camp, the Wafd, will benefit from established support networks, although the party has recently suffered from internal disputes over its alliance with Brotherhood prior to its withdrawal from the Democratic Alliance.
Although Islamists had an antagonistic relationship with the former regime, the FJP and other Islamist forces have shown support for the SCAF since Mubarak’s fall, Islamists forces are taking a very different and more cooperative approach to the current military leadership in an effort to carve out a strong role for themselves in the new political system. Early on in the transition, the Muslim Brotherhood showed support for the SCAF by backing the constitutional declaration in March 2011.
But the alliance between Islamists and the SCAF began to deteriorate in July, after large-scale demonstrations by the FJP and other groups fueled fears of an Islamist takeover. As Islamists became increasingly assertive in the post-revolutionary political order, the SCAF made a clear shift, moving closer to liberal and civil political parties and drafting a set of supra-constitutional principles that Islamists fear would limit their influence over Egypt’s next constitution. In another sign of its alignment with liberal forces, the SCAF appointed two well-known liberals as deputy prime ministers, Hazem al-Beblawy and Ali al-Selmi, who was assigned to draft the new constitutional document.
The draft constitutional principles signaled the SCAF’s commitment to preserving a civil state, but political forces soon realized that the document has another important objective: protecting the military’s political and economic privileges and shielding its budget from parliamentary oversight.
While these four major coalitions will play an important role in upcoming elections, the polling process will likely give rise to new political forces and unforeseen alliances that could either work together or against one another in the next parliament. The inability of any one party to secure an absolute majority will encourage the formation of new coalitions or mergers between parties with similar orientations such as the more than fifteen new liberal parties that have formed since the revolution.
The campaign season and electoral process will likely deepen the division between Islamists and "civil” powers, which has been expanding since the March referendum. Election results are impossible to predict, but Egypt’s next parliament will undoubtedly reflect a fundamentally altered political landscape marked by new voices, alliances and rivalries.
Magdy Samaan is a freelance journalist and a 2011 MENA Democracy Fellow at the World Affairs Institute.
Photo Credit: The Egypt Report
Tens of thousands of protesters converged on Tahrir Square for an Islamist-dominated rally to demand an end to military rule and condemn the supra-constitutional principles proposed by Deputy Prime Minister Ali al-Selmi. The vast majority of protesters appeared to be Islamists, many of whom were transported to the square from other governorates in buses sponsored by the Brotherhood and Salafi groups. Meanwhile, state television reported that Prime Minister Essam Sharaf has decided to defer issuing constitutional principles until after parliamentary elections, and will conduct meetings with political groups to reach an agreement on the text of the document.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ (SCAF) performance leading Egypt through the transition to democracy has taken a turn for the worse over the last few months. Gone are the days when the popular chant, “The army and the people are one hand,” was heard by demonstrators everywhere. Tarnished is the image of the army that was initially hailed as the savior of the January 25th Revolution. In what can only be described as a roller coaster nine months, the SCAF has slowly stumbled into mistake after mistake that has eventually seen Field Marshal Tantawi and his council labeled as the hijackers of the revolution. Nowadays, anti-SCAF graffiti can be seen all over Cairo, anti-SCAF chants such as “The people want the fall of the Field Marshal” have become common, and general confidence in the Council has diminished after a series of blunders culminating in the Maspero Massacre last month.
Analyzing the SCAF’s actions over the month of October alone shows just how inept at dealing with the day-to-day politics of a nation – let alone a nation in transition, dealing with economic instability and facing strikes and demonstrations almost daily – the generals are, as they have lacked the swift responses required of a government that possesses the ability to rule, in addition to the innovation and creativity required of leaders trying to rid Egypt of its old ways.
On October 9th, what has now been named Bloody Sunday or the Sunday Massacre, scores of Egyptians (mainly Coptic Christians) marched toward the state TV building (Maspero) in protest of the tearing down of Mar Girgis church in the village of al-Marinab, Edfu in Aswan on the 30th of September. The response from Aswan Governor Major General Mustafa al-Sayed, to the tearing down of the church was absolutely appalling; he claimed, among other things, that the building was not a church, but in fact a guesthouse that was illegally transformed. Laughably the SCAF seemed paralyzed and showed next to no reaction to the incident, declining to dismiss the governor or punish others involved in the attack on the Church.
This brings us back to the march on the 9th of October. Rightfully enraged, many Egyptians organized a march from the Cairo neighborhood of Shubra and headed down to Maspero. What ensued was a bloodbath, and although the blame cannot be placed entirely on the army, the SCAF clearly mishandled the incident and should accept some responsibility. But instead of acknowledging its mistakes, the SCAF issued yet another communiqué insisting on the military’s innocence and hinting that protesters were to blame along with its favorite scapegoat: the invisible had of foreign agents intervening in Egyptian affairs. Again, this is not an attempt to put the entire blame on the SCAF, but merely to point out that even after the events there was no swift response, there was no proper explanation of what happened, only a man absolving the SCAF of any responsibility and shouldering most of the blame on protesters and outside forces. How can Egypt expect a transition to democracy when its transitional leaders can't take responsibility for anything that goes wrong?
A few weeks later and the second major blunder occurred when the country witnessed the SCAF summoning Alaa Abdel Fattah (one of Egypt’s most prominent activists and bloggers) for questioning, for his involvement in the events of October 9th. Abdel Fattah refused to answer to the SCAF, claiming the involvement of the armed forces in the incident meant they did not have the legitimacy to conduct investigations. The response was a carbon-copy response of the regime of old. Fearing that this act of defiance would hinder their authority, Alaa was accused by the SCAF of inciting violence against the military and would be held in detention for 15 days (a period that can be renewed indefinitely).
Finally, to end the month on a high, in a meeting with most of the nation’s political powers with the exception of the Islamists (who boycotted the meeting), Deputy Prime Minister Ali al-Selmi proposed a troubling document outlining a set of 22 supra-constitutional principles to guide the process of drafting Egypt’s next constitution. The most concerning of those principles was Article 9, which grants the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces the exclusive right to oversee military affairs including the military budget. Additionally, it suggested that military’s total budget would be listed as a single figure in the overall national budget without a detailed breakdown of the proposed expenditures. Moreover, the draft gave the SCAF the right to determine the role the constituent assembly would play in creating the new constitution in addition to the power to interfere in the drafting process itself. The response from the public was overwhelmingly critical, insisting that the military should not enjoy special privileges above the state, nor should it function as a separate state.
Once again the SCAF has proven its inability to depart from the same policies practiced by the former regime, as evidenced by its failure to take any kind of responsibility for the events in Maspero while continuing to arrest bloggers and other critics of the military, and finally by giving themselves the right to draft supra-constitutional principles without public consultation or approval. The same “We Know What's Best” attitude that was adopted under Mubarak has been preserved by the military generals, and what’s worse is that the strategy is failing miserably. One hopes, for the nation's best interests that the SCAF realizes the error of its ways before even more damage to the transition is done.
Some political parties – including al-Ghad al-Thawra and Tagammu’ – have agreed to support the supra-constitutional principles as long as Deputy Prime Minister Ali al-Selmi’s latest revisions are implemented, but most Islamist forces reject the amendments and are still calling for a mass demonstration on November 18. Although the Brotherhood has not yet announced its official stance on the protest, a Brotherhood source told al-Jazeera that the group views al-Selmi’s latest concessions as insufficient and has decided to participate in Friday’s rally.
Amidst signs that Egypt’s ruling military council is seeking to preserve and expand its political and economic privileges in the post-Mubarak system, journalists, activists and NGOs are facing a repressive crackdown, sectarianism is escalating, and the civilian police force has failed to fully restore security and public order. As the military council continues to resist calls for a transfer of power to elected civilian leadership, the Working Group on Egypt, co-chaired by Michele Dunne, has issued a statement urging the United States to impose conditions on future aid to the Egyptian military, if it continues to obstruct the democratic transition.
Conditioning Aid to Egyptian Military: A Statement by the Working Group on Egypt
November 17, 2011
Nearly ten months since the start of the Egyptian revolution, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has yet to take basic steps towards establishing a human rights-respecting, democratic, civilian government. On the contrary, in many areas Egypt is witnessing a continuation or return of Mubarak-era tactics of repression, as well as increasingly obvious efforts by SCAF to extend and even increase its own power in the government well beyond the scheduled parliamentary elections. The SCAF is also resisting calls to schedule a presidential election in an effort to hold on to executive power while a new constitution is written. These policies risk placing Egypt’s rulers in conflict with its people once again – an outcome that would be terrible for Egypt and for the United States. The U.S. should make clear its support for a genuine democratic transition that will require an end to military rule in Egypt, and use all the leverage it has to encourage this goal, including the placing of conditions on future aid to the Egyptian military.
Despite repeated promises to do so before elections, the SCAF has yet to lift Egypt’s state of emergency and has instead expanded its scope beyond what it was under Mubarak. It has kept a tight control on the reins of government, limiting the authority of civilian officials. It has violated the due process rights of more than 12,000 Egyptian citizens, including activists, bloggers and protesters, who have been subjected to unfair trials in military courts. It has given orders restricting media freedom.
While recognizing that the existing Law of Associations is deeply flawed and must be reformed, the government has simultaneously initiated criminal investigations into the foreign funding of many of the most prominent and effective civil society organizations in the country. Units of the military have been involved in torture, sexual abuse, and outright killings, as occurred on October 9 when 27 Coptic Christians and one military officer were killed in the Maspero area of Cairo after members of the military ran over protesters using several military vehicles. In each of these situations the military has either failed to investigate its own crimes, or refused to disclose any information about such investigations. The SCAF has failed to carry out police reform during 9 months in power, leading to a dangerous rise in crime and sectarian violence, excessive and illegal use of force by the riot police in policing demonstrations, and ongoing cases of torture and police abuse. And Egypt’s economy is continuing to deteriorate, due to a pervasive sense of insecurity and uncertainty about the political transition and weakness of the rule of law.
The SCAF is also seeking to protect its special privileges and increase its influence over any future civilian government. On November 1, the SCAF-appointed Deputy Prime Minister issued a document of “supra-constitutional principles” that would shield the military from civilian oversight. It would also give the military the power to overrule legislation and control selection of the members of a constituent assembly. While public opposition seems to have led SCAF to state it is willing to discuss these demands, the military’s anti-democratic intentions are clear.
Today, the outcome of the revolution remains mired in doubt, and it is far from clear that the SCAF is willing to truly give up the reins of power.
President Obama has rightly stated that “the United States supports a strong, peaceful, prosperous and democratic Egypt that responds to the aspirations of its people.” In a recent phone call to head of the SCAF, he urged Egypt to “lift the emergency law and end military trials for civilians.” But while this message is important and must be repeated by other senior US officials, it appears to have had little immediate effect on the SCAF’s actions.
In large part, this may be because of the administration’s stated reluctance to touch the $1.3 billion in military aid that it gives to Egypt every year, and which makes up as much as a quarter of the Egyptian military’s yearly budget. The SCAF has a huge stake in ensuring that this money, and the access to U.S. military advice and technology that comes with it, continues to flow. In fact, precisely because of the lack of civilian oversight of the military – and its budget – in Egypt, it becomes all that more important that the United States, including the U.S. Congress, effectively use the leverage they have over the Egyptian military.
The Senate version of the 2012 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill includes a modest provision requiring the Secretary of State to certify that “the Government of Egypt has held free and fair elections and is implementing policies to protect the rights of journalists, due process, and freedoms of expression and association.”
These are very basic standards that get to the heart of what needs to happen in Egypt if the country is to emerge as a stable, democratic country. They are not difficult to satisfy, and give the Department of State flexibility in analyzing the situation in Egypt. But they also send a strong message to the Egyptian military about the consequences they could face should they decide to sabotage the transition and keep the country in its current undemocratic, repressive state. The Egyptian military needs to understand that the close cooperative relationship it currently enjoys with the U.S. military will inevitably suffer if it continues on a path of obstructing democratic progress in Egypt.
The United States Congress should adopt these conditions, and the Obama administration should welcome them.
The Working Group on Egypt is a nonpartisan initiative bringing substantial expertise on Egyptian politics and political reform, and aimed at shaping an effective U.S. policy response to Egypt’s transition.
Photo credit Zimbio.
As the threat of a large anti-SCAF demonstration scheduled for Friday November 18 looms, reports are trickling out of a new set of concessions that Deputy Prime Minister Ali al-Selmi made after meetings with political parties and prospective presidential candidates over the last few days. It is not entirely clear what al-Selmi conceded, or whether the SCAF has approved the concessions, but here is how it looks so far.
Original provisions of the supraconstitutional principles to which political parties particularly objected were:
- Calling the military the “protector of constitutional legitimacy” (which implies a right to intervene in political processes)
- Giving the SCAF exclusive oversight over its own budget and perhaps military appointments (the language says that “The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces - without any other - is in charge of handling all the affairs of the armed forces and discussing its budget.”)
- Giving it a veto over legislation related to the military
- Laying out in great detail who should compose the 100-member constituent assembly (thereby depriving the parliament to be elected of its main task)
According to press reports, al-Selmi agreed last week to make a couple of revisions:
- Deleting the “without any other” language regarding exclusive SCAF oversight of the budget and other affairs
- Adding language suggesting that a new “National Defense Council” chaired by the president would revise and approve the military budget
But those revisions were insufficient to get the Muslim Brotherhood, other Islamists, and some youth groups to back off from their threat of a million man march on November 18. Now the latest concessions, according to Wahid Abdel Meguid (a former Wafdist currently participating in the Brotherhood-led Democratic Alliance) reported in Ahram Online) include:
- Oversight of the military budget by a secret session of parliament or national security committee in parliament
- Election of the 100 members of the constituent assembly
This is probably not enough to satisfy Salafists, who also objected to other aspects of the principles, and certainly has not appeased the formerly militant group al-Gama’a al-Islamiyaa, which boycotted this week’s meeting with al-Selmi and renewed its call for a mass demonstration on November 18. Although the Brotherhood has not yet announced its official stance on the protest, a Brotherhood source told al-Jazeera that the group views al-Selmi’s latest concessions as insufficient and has decided to participate in Friday’s rally.
Michele Dunne is Director of the Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.
Several political forces and presidential candidates have reportedly reached an agreement with Deputy Prime Minister Ali al-Selmi on amendments to the heavily criticized constitutional principles. The Brotherhood and Islamist groups, however, rejected the agreement and threatened to escalate street protests leading to a “new revolution” on January 25, if the draft document is ratified.
EgyptSource blogger Magdy Samaan spoke at an event co-hosted by the Hariri Center, the Wilson Center and Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) in Washington announcing the blog's launch and previewing Egypt's elections.
Michele Dunne, director of the Hariri Center, participated in the discussion with panelists Magdy Samaan and Ibrahim Houdaiby (who joined the conversation from Cairo by Skype), moderated by POMED director Stephen McInerney.
Houdaiby, a freelance journalist and political analyst, identified three major challenges that could complicate Egypt’s three-stage parliamentary elections, slated to begin on November 28: 1) security challenges, 2) media censorship and 3) the need for an independent judiciary. A dysfunctional security apparatus that has failed to fully redeploy civilian police officers since the January uprising appears ill-equipped to maintain order at polling stations, particularly if voters turn out in record numbers as expected (recent polling data indicates that almost 90 percent of Egyptians intend to vote, compared to 41 percent in the March constitutional referendum). Meanwhile, an unhealthy media environment characterized by state censorship and corruption will hinder transparent and accurate coverage of the elections. Nearly 10,000 judges will be responsible for supervising polling stations, but Houdaiby cited concerns that the judiciary may lack sufficient independence to adequate monitor the voting process.
Election results are difficult to predict in light of the diverse political field and lack of identifiable leaders, as well as the fact that millions of Egyptian who have never voted before are likely to participate. Houdaiby said that polling data suggest that some 27 percent of Egyptians support Islamist movements, including about 15 percent for the Muslim Brotherhood. Polling data indicates that Egyptians are primarily concerned with political and economic rather than ideological or religious issues, a trend that will undermine popular support for Islamist parties that fail to address voters’ practical concerns in their platforms, according to Houdaiby. He predicted nonetheless that Islamist parties might capture about 45 percent of the seats in the new parliament.
Magdy Samaan, a freelance journalist and blogger for EgyptSource, agreed with Houdaiby that Egypt’s deteriorating media environment and the ongoing detention and censorship of journalists are impeding the development of an open society and pluralist political system. Samaan also warned that despite the ruling military council’s stated intention of transferring power to an elected civilian government, there are signs that the military is seeking to preserve and even expand its political and economic privileges in the post-Mubarak system, including a constitutional provision to shield its budget from parliamentary scrutiny. Far from playing a constructive role in the democratic transition, participants noted that the military leadership is deploying many of the same tactics used by the Mubarak regime to intimidate and silence its critics.
Michele Dunne echoed Samaan’s concerns about the military’s intentions, noting that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ (SCAF) efforts to wrest control of the process of choosing members of a constituent assembly calls into question what the powers of the new parliament will actually be. There is a widespread expectation that the elections scheduled to begin November 28 will be fairly run, a first for Egypt. At the same time, however, the new electoral system is so extraordinarily complicated that even well-meaning electoral administrators might make errors or differ in their interpretation of important issues such as seat allocation. This raises the real possibility of violence and unrest surrounding the elections, which could disrupt the process and detract from the legitimacy of results.
Stephen McInerney described the features of the electoral system as well as electoral monitoring, noting that there remain many uncertainties about the details of the system and whether domestic monitors and international observers (being called “witnesses”) will be able to watch all phases of the voting and counting process. Some results (for the one-third of “individual” seats) will be announced immediately, whereas the other two-thirds (“proportional” or party list seats) will not be announced until the end of the process—mid-January for the People’s Assembly and mid-March for the Shura Council. With rumors and leaks of results likely, this phased announcement of results might also lead to suspicion about rigging and possible violence.
The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and other major political forces signed a statement threatening to stage mass protests on November 18 if the SCAF refuses to withdraw its controversial draft constitutional principles by November 16. Meanwhile, a major court ruling affirmed the right of former NDP members to compete in upcoming elections. Semi-official statistics indicate that more than 1,500 former NDP members have registered to run as independents or on other party lists.
Jacopo Carbonari has shared via The Arabist a schematic diagram that sheds some much-needed light on the relative ideological orientation of Egypt's political parties. In addition to positioning the parties along two axes -- religious/secular and left/right -- the map shows the distribution of parties among the four major coalitions: 1) the FJP-dominated Democratic Alliance; 2) the liberal-oriented Egyptian Bloc; 3) the Salafi-led Islamist Alliance; and 4) the youth-driven Completing the Revolution Alliance. In addition to the four official coalitions, the map also identifies the informal category of NDP remnants, representing 7 new parties. It is unclear to what extent the NDP-affiliated parties will cooperate in the upcoming elections, but their candidates -- many of whom benefit from pre-revolutionary patronage networks and tribal backing in rural regions -- will be serious contenders in the upcoming elections.