Another new party joins the wave
A new political party founded by superstar preacher Amr Khaled is only the latest in a wave of new parties, reports Gihan Shahine
Popular Islamic preacher Amr Khaled recently announced plans to establish a new political party, the Misr Al-Mostaqbal, or Future Egypt Party, which is intended to focus on social development and the empowerment of young people.
Khaled's announcement came hot on the heels of other initiatives by former presidential election candidates Hamdeen Sabahi and Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, who have both said they intend to turn their presidential campaign organisations into political parties.
Only a few weeks ago, political liberal and Nobel peace prize winner Mohamed El-Baradei was back in the political spotlight as the leader of another new party, Al-Dostour, after announcing that he was withdrawing from the presidential race.
El-Baradei's party was launched in cooperation with other prominent Egyptian public figures in an attempt to counter the Islamists' grip on the political scene. It is intended to focus on "science, competence and real democracy", which are "the solutions to launching the renaissance of Egypt", according to El-Baradei.
The emergence of a number of new political parties has opened up questions about the timing and motivation behind these initiatives. There is a near consensus among analysts that the initiatives, coming late in the day, may serve the political scene less than they do their founders.
Questions have been asked, for example, about why Khaled in particular did not set up his party a year ago, when plans were announced for one. Many wonder why El-Baradei did not form his party ahead of the parliamentary elections, like almost all of Egypt's other political trends.
Khaled said that he had decided to launch the new party when experience in the first round of the presidential elections had shown that the two candidates who made it through to the second round did so because they were backed by strong party organisations, and not, in his view, by the best programmes.
In the upcoming presidential election run-offs, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party's (FJP) candidate, Mohamed Mursi, will compete against Ahmed Shafik, who enjoys the support of former members of the now dismantled former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). Many Egyptians have expressed bewilderment and dismay at the prospect of having to choose between these "unwanted" options, the FJP and the NDP.
Khaled said he had decided to step into the fray with "a third party that could provide an outlet for young people's negative feelings about the elections and turn them into energy for change and community development and away from political conflict."
Khaled is already the chair of a social development organisation called Life Makers, and some have queried why the preacher should now choose to launch a political party that serves more or less the same goals. Commentators suspect that he is perhaps shifting gears to a political career and is possibly aiming at the presidency, a claim Khaled vehemently rejects.
Khaled said he was not after position. Had he been hungry for a post or power, he said, he would have established the party a year ago. "I've always been someone who seeks reconciliation by nature. I like to live peacefully with others and keep away from conflicts," he explained.
Khaled said he would be the representative of the party's founders and that the chair would be elected by party members when they reached 100,000. He had gone ahead with plans to form a political party, he said, when he found that "the current political scene dictates that any project that is not backed by a strong partisan entity is destined to die."
Although Khaled insisted that the party would work separately from Life Makers, having a political wing to his activities was aimed at empowering young people and making them more capable of undertaking developmental projects.
"Those who do not belong to a strong institutional entity will not have a say in deciding their futures," Khaled said. "This is the lesson we have learnt from the polls."
Another lesson that many seem to be learning is that no single political force can rid the country of 30 years of corruption and despotism single-handedly, and that all forces have to join hands to do so, regardless of ideology.
Khaled said that the Misr Al-Mostaqbal Party would not have a defined ideology, and that its Islamic identity would remain a personal issue for members. The party would be open to Muslims and Christians alike, he said.
The party "is not about whether the state is religious or civil. It is about social and economic development, such as bringing clean water to villages, recycling and unemployment," Khaled said.
In a similar vein, former presidential elections candidate Sabahi, a leftist, and former candidate Abul-Fotouh, an Islamist, have both sought to rally the support of people having different ideologies who see in these candidates possible charismatic leaders who can bring about revolutionary change.
"Both Sabahi and Abul-Fotouh want to invest in the revolutionary spirit, turning their massive campaigns into political parties in an attempt to save the revolution and rid the country of the remnants of the former regime," political activist Yehia El-Qazzaz told Al-Ahram Weekly.
"What characterises these two initiatives most from my point of view is that neither adheres to a single ideology. Rather, ideology has dissolved into patriotism, joining the people together behind a single programme."
However, the recent spate of political party formation could also reflect confusion on the political scene. "They could be seen as honest attempts to fill a gap in Egypt's political life that has existed for 30 years," El-Qazzaz said. However, they were unlikely to make headway unless the revolution succeeded in attaining its goals and the country settled into a genuinely democratic system.
"If these things do not happen, the parties will be short-lived, being a reflection of a temporary revolutionary spirit and not serving anyone except those at their helm," El-Qazzaz said.
Khaled said that he had earlier consulted El-Baradei on his plans to form a political party and that the two had agreed that there was a gap that needed to be filled to provide hope for desperate young people.
Khaled said that he had not considered joining any of the other existing political parties because he believed that his party would be unique, being the first to focus on development rather than politics, starting with people in the villages and outer governorates.
"The party has come to fill a gap in the country's political life and to answer the need for an institutionalised political entity that has a strong presence in all the governorates and can fulfil the aspirations of their residents," Khaled said.
Meanwhile, El-Baradei's Al-Dostour Party has a different mission, having been established "to offer a new choice to voters seeking alternatives to the Islamist parties that now dominate the political scene," El-Baradei told a press conference upon the party's launch.
"I am confident that this party will be the one that governs Egypt in the future," said El-Baradei, a former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations watchdog. "It could take us months or up to a year, but we could become the majority."
Many, however, remain sceptical. Professor of political science at the American University in Cairo Mustafa Kamel El-Sayed said that the formation of El-Baradei's party "was a belated move", which had come almost a year after most of the other political trends had established their parties.
"It would have been more effective had it come ahead of the legislative elections," El-Sayed said. "As it is, its impact on the political scene remains to be seen."
El-Qazzaz also said that the Al-Dostour Party may not make headway. "El-Baradei has always been hesitant, and he does not take initiatives when they are most needed," he said. El-Baradei had launched the party after encouragement from his supporters, who saw his personal popularity as the basis for a new political party.
El-Baradei has been a prominent figure in the Egyptian reform movement, and he was widely tipped as the most suitable person to replace the leadership of the ousted regime. However, El-Baradei withdrew from the presidential race, probably because he had failed to build up the necessary grassroots support.