CAIRO – 22 April 2018: Egypt has known political parties for more than a century, specifically when the Umma and the Watani parties were founded by Ahmed Lutfy el-Sayed and Mustafa Kamel respectively in 1907. The peaceful transfer of power has also been an old practice in our country, especially in the period between the promulgation of the 1923 constitution and the July 23 Revolution in 1952. Political parties are meant to fulfill one purpose, and that is the peaceful ascension to power, the goal which is pursued with all legal and constitutional means possible. Meanwhile, until a party reaches power, it has only one role to play, that of opposition.
But isn’t it almost absurd to be talking about such axiomatic matters? Yes, in fact it is. However, no matter how absurd you think what I just said was, it can never match the absurdity that Egypt’s political parties are drowning themselves in right now. Today, there are about 104 parties in Egypt, yet none of these parties have come anywhere near the primary purpose for which parties are created. They are neither in power nor practicing opposition in the true sense of both pursuits.
It is not a matter to be frowned upon if one party, or even ten, support the ruling party, the regime, the authority. It’s their right. Yet, practically, they need to be part of the system so they could achieve their supposed purpose of reaching power. This, however, is not what happens. For instance, are these pro-government parties practicing authority or are in any way part of it? Are their opinions on major political issues, such as the state’s foreign policy, economic reform, or the Renaissance Dam crisis, heard by the government? The answer is an emphatic no. They are, then, not in authority, and not even part of it; they are merely coaxing it and trying to keep themselves as near to it as possible.
It is not a shame, either, if one party, ten parties, or even all 104 parties, are in the seats of opposition. It’s their right. But are they really and truly performing the role of opposition? The answer, again, is no, and this can be easily discerned. The only sort of opposition that political parties in Egypt are practicing is the opposition of banners. Opposition parties have neither a real vision nor a tangible work plan that could lead them somewhere, if not to the seat authority, then at least to that of a true opposing power.
Generally speaking, Egypt is living in an unprecedented partisan state that can be described as ‘partisan elasticity’, which is in no way befitting a country that has recently been into two popular revolutions, the January 25 Revolution in 2011, and the June 30 Revolution in 2013. There can be no hope for a better political future if this state remains and if parties are not willing to go back to their original role and purpose.
Political Analyst Khalil Al-Awamy
This state is not proper for a country that has known partisanship for 11 decades. Despite everything that can be held against this century-long partisan experience, it was still expected to produce more mature parties than the ones we see today.
The formation of parties at the beginning of the 20th century led to a major political movement that peaked with the birth of the Wafd Party in 1918, then with the 1919 Revolution which produced the 1923 constitution, a monumentally civilized constitution with which the country witnessed significant political mobility in addition to a considerable transfer of power.
With the onset of the 1952 Revolution, the Egyptian Revolutionary Council completely nipped partisanship when it abolished political parties in January 1953, shortly before it abolished monarchy in June of the same year. With the abolition of parties, Egypt stepped into a period of political retardation that pushed it decades backwards. It experienced the monolithic system and all the totalitarianism and absolutism it entails, this began with the National Union and continued up to the Socialist Union stage. This resulted in the complete disappearance of competitive partisan work.
In 1974, President Anwar el-Sadat issued a working paper to develop the Socialist Union so it could include different platforms. In 1976, as the idea was starting to cook, three main platforms started to take shape: the right, represented by the Liberal Socialists Party; the center, represented by the Egyptian Arab Socialist Party; and the left, represented by the National Progressive Unionist Party. In 1977, Sadat issued the law on political parties, whereby all platforms turned into parties, while the Socialist Union was kept intact and was given considerable authority, most prominently the authority of approving the formation of new parties.
The following step of development came when President Sadat founded and presided over the National Democratic Party, which remained in power until the January 25 Revolution broke out. He called upon members of the Egyptian Arab Socialist Party to join his new party, thus beginning the false pluralism phase in Egypt’s political history. For 34 years, the National Democratic Party practiced the worst known methods of electoral fraud, and all its governments sought to marginalize the opposition which had a strong kickoff at the time, especially the Unionist Party, and the Wafd party which returned to political activity in 1978 but suspended its activity for a while before resuming it in 1984.
A lot happened in the period between the return of political parties to the breakout of the January Revolution in 2011, and all of it led to the weakening of opposition parties up to the point of clinical death. But even then, anyone could tell where each party stood, authority or opposition; this, however, is not the case nowadays. With the outbreak of the January 25 Revolution in 2011, life started to run again in the veins of Egyptian people; I thought, like many others, that we would see the birth of strong parties, especially since all you needed to do in order to create a party is send a notification to the authorities. This, is not what has taken place though, and the result of it is the tragic situation we now find ourselves in.
Finally, I would just like to confess that I, too, come from within the ranks of these elastic parties!
Khalil Al-Awamy is a political analyst.