The Salvation of the National Salvation Front


In June 2012, 13 candidates from across the political spectrum ran for the presidency of Egypt. Revolutionary candidates with similar ideological stances competed against each other, although the prospect of some of them winning the presidential seat was near impossible. A few months after President Morsi secured the seat and came out victorious, leaders of several parties and former competing presidential candidates emerged with a new opposition bloc, The National Salvation Front (NSF). It was initially founded in response to Morsi’s constitutional declaration, in which he gave himself sweeping authorities and immunizing his decisions from  judicial oversight. However, with the accelerating pace of events in Egypt, the NSF was faced with several challenges, where, in most cases, it failed to achieve any tangible results.

In order to analyze the performance of the NSF and predict its future, one should tackle the background and ideology of its leading figures including Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nasserist former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi, former Arab League Secretary General and former presidential candidate Amr Moussa, and the head of the liberal Al-Wafd Party, El-Sayed El-Badawy.

While mentioning this diversified group of names is enough to assume the potential inconsistency in the NSF’s stances, a closer look can allow for a better understanding. 

ElBaradei was one of the main figures calling for change during the last years of Mubarak’s rule. The votes collected for his ‘Together We Will Change’ campaign before the revolution were a sign of his significant popularityat the time. A key opposition figure in 2010, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) announced its intention to back ElBaradei, and support his campaign demanding constitutional amendments. After the revolution, the MB switched gears, attacking ElBaradei, over differences over the constitution. 

ElBaradie was my ideal candidate for presidency, before he decided to withdraw from the presidential race even before it began. He then founded Al-Dostour Party and joined the NSF. His withdrawal from the political scene hurt his popularity amongst the revolutionary youth, while at the same time political Islamists attacked ElBaradei, attempting to distort his image, not only for his political stances, but with some even attacking him on a personal level, launching a smear campaign targeting his daughter.  

Sabbahi is well-known for his socialist/Nasserist stances. Despite  modest funding capabilities, Sabbahi came in third in the presidential elections. He then went on to  founde the Popular Current and joined the NSF.With his success, Sabbahi has also been targeted in an aggressive smear campaign to distort his image. A conversation with a friend, who strongly criticized Sabbahi, after having voted for him in the presidential elections, was enough to convince me of the success of this smear campaign.

Moussa has been one of the most controversial members of the NSF, with an ongoing debate over his role as Mubarak’s Minister of Foreign Affairs until 2001. This debate was enough to put Moussa in the fifth place among the 13 presidential candidates, although many predicted he would be among the first three. Mubarak’s former foreign minister founded The Conference Party and joined the NSF, and this  has become one of the main tools used by Islamists to distort the front’s image. Perceiving Moussa as a corrupt former regime figure has decreased the NSF’s popularity among some Egyptians. 

Lastly, El-Badawy has been known to straddle both sides of the line, previously forming an electoral coalition with the MB’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). El-Badawy is criticized by Islamists,for his role in the NSF, and by revolutionary figures, for his previous cooperation with the FJP. 

As a whole, the NSF had a successful start when Morsi amended his constitutional declaration following the front’s pressure. Admittedly, different opposition forces, not only the NSF,  opposed the declaration, and Morsi did only amend the declaration rather than cancel it as was the NSF’s demand, but it can still be considered an achievement. 

Since then,  it seems that the NSF has not achieved any more successes. They could do nothing but boycott the state-sponsored national dialogue sessions as well as  announce their intention to boycott the parliamentary elections, a move which has earned them significant criticism. They even boycotted the last national dialogue session, which was aired on TV. The NSF passed up an opportunity to take a stance on national TV, in front of millions of Egyptians, but turned it down because ‘the session lacked assurances of integrity.’

The NSF’s poor performance could be explained in a variety of ways: most likely it is the result of the significant differences among its leading figures in their ideologies and backgrounds. Additionally, the younger members of the NSF’s political parties continue to threaten to resign  from their parties if they do not dismiss NSF members who belonged to Mubarak’s regime, namely Amr Moussa.

This clear absence of achievements and pragmatic vision, inconsistent ideologies, internal rifts, and Islamists’ smear campaigns are the main reasons why the gap between NSF and Egyptians continues to grow. Their popularity is declining to the extent that  it opened the door for an Islamist group, among it members of the FJP, to form a self-described opposition bloc: the so-called ‘Conscience Front.’

The NSF is fighting a war with words of wisdom and notions of morality. As this policy yields no tangible results, the NSF is losing popular support and is in danger of collapse. 

Accordingly, a completely new strategy is  a necessity for the ‘salvation’ of the National Salvation Front. This strategy includes three main actions:

  • NSF leaders should address its own youth, driving home the idea that the battle is no longer against a former regime, but rather is against an Islamist regime whose moves all aim toward the restriction of rights and freedoms. 
  • Additionally, those figures should quit TV shows for a while, and focus instead on grassroots efforts across the country,allowing them to approach the majority of Egyptians; those who are unfamiliar with the heightened political discourse that has become a staple of Egyptian talk shows. 
  • Most importantly, the NSF should participate in the next national dialogue session, but insist that the session is aired live on national TV.

Only then will Egyptians understand the difference between those who have nothing to do but much to say, and those who have much to do, but are perceived as having nothing to say. Only then will the salvation of the National Salvation Front be possible.

Fady Salah is an Egyptian writer, journalist, political analyst, and author.

Photos: WEF, Aslan Media, Hossam El Hamalawy, Sarah Carr

Image: NSF.jpg