New era spawns more parties
Many new parties have been joining the political scene, but how effective are they likely to be, asks Mohamed Abdel-Baky
Over the last week, two political groups that helped to spark the 25 January Revolution have decided to join the political scene by forming political parties ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Supporters of opposition figure Mohamed El-Baradei are in the process of forming the Constitution Party, after presenting the registration papers last week. At the same time, a dissident camp within the April 6 Youth Movement, the Democratic Front, announced its intention of launching a new political party to represent the country's revolutionary youth.
On 29 August, hundreds of El-Baradei's supporters along with the Constitution Party's founders headed to the Higher Judiciary House to present the Political Parties Commission with the signatures of the party's 10,700 founders and the documents required to register the new party.
The political parties law requires any new political party to have at least 5,000 founders' signatures before it can be officially registered.
Hundreds of party members wore white t-shirts with the word "Constitution" scrawled on them, waving banners proclaiming that "the Constitution Party is for all Egyptians."
Prominent members of the party were also present, including Emad Abu Ghazi, a former minister of culture, Gamila Ismail, a former member of the Ghad Party, George Ishaq, an activist and founder of the Kifaya Movement, and two members of the Revolutionary Youth Coalition, Shadi El-Ghazali Harb and Nasser Abdel-Hamid.
In April, El-Baradei announced the imminent formation of the Constitution Party in order for it to compete in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
"The aim of this party is to save the 25 January Revolution, which has been derailed and almost aborted, and to restore unity," El-Baradei said at the time.
"When the revolution started, we never imagined that things could reach this stage, or that we would be living in this tragic transitional period," he said.
The Constitution Party marks a return to public life for El-Baradei, who declared in January that he would not run for the presidency during a "scrambled transition period".
El-Baradei, a former director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, returned to Egypt to a hero's welcome in 2010, the year before the 25 January Revolution that led to the ousting of former president Hosni Mubarak.
Party leaders said that there were now more than 50,000 members across Egypt, covering different ages, genders and educational levels.
"We have thousands of university and school students who are willing to play a role on campus once the school year begins," said Samir El-Sayed, a journalist and one of the founding members of the party.
He added that party leaders were keen on attracting as many young people as they could, encouraging them to join in the political process.
However, experts raised questions about the ability of the newly formed party to build grassroots support before the parliamentary elections, bearing in mind that it has not yet held internal elections to choose its leadership and those who would run the electoral campaign.
"I think the Constitution Party will face the same problems that the other non-Islamist parties have, namely a lack of organisational structure," said Dina Samak, a political analyst.
Samak cited the Egyptian Social Democratic Party as an example. This was founded in March 2011 with more than 38,000 registered members. However, the party has not been able to make an impact on nationwide events, such as national elections.
Ahmed Darag, a co-founder of the Constitution Party, said that it would focus on establishing a network of supporters across Egypt and finding local leaders to lead the party at the grassroots.
Up until now, according to its official Facebook page, the party has branches in 26 governorates. Most party members are young people from the El-Baradei Presidential Support Campaign, a youth movement formed to support El-Baradei in running for the presidency against Mubarak before the 25 January Revolution.
Darag said that the party had plans to work intensively outside the capital in order to build a network of supporters.
"Our contacts with the people will not be limited to election time. We plan to be in contact all the time in order not to lose public trust," Darag said.
The party has already begun to work in community activities, starting with last week's rallies against sexual harassment and organising charity markets for clothes in poorer areas.
Party members in Upper Egyptian governorates have paid visits to churches to congratulate worshippers on special occasions of the Christian calendar.
The party is viewed by experts as a liberal party, though the party's mission statement avoids mention of any specific ideology.
"We are a centrist party, and we want to build a country with a democratic system that fulfils the goals of the 25 January Revolution, namely bread, freedom and social justice," the mission statement says.
Speaking to the media last week, party spokesperson Emad Abu Ghazi said that the party adopted "reformist ideas in general" and that it did not want to be categorised as liberal or leftist.
"We are a party that wants to see democratic reforms to build the new Egypt. We believe that we have to be in the middle, like most Egyptians," Ghazi said.
One senior member of the party told Al-Ahram Weekly that the party's leaders wanted to avoid talking about ideology at this stage, in order not to alienate any segment of society.
"In the last parliamentary elections, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis spread rumours that the liberal parties were supported by the US and the Coptic Church in order to scare voters. This strategy worked to some degree, and we do not want to risk a re-run of the same scenario," he said.
Together with the Constitution Party, the 6 April Movement's Democratic Front announced that it will transform itself into a political party in order to fight the forthcoming elections.
"After a year of discussion, the majority of movement members have decided to create a political party in order to play a stronger role in politics after the transition period," the movement said in a statement on its Facebook page.
Movement leader Tareq El-Kholi said that transforming the movement into a political party would legitimise its status, allowing it to collect funds from donors, hold public rallies and be accountable to government auditing agencies.
"This party is being created in order to represent the youth of this country, who led the revolution," El-Kholi said, pledging to make Egypt into a democratic country.
Political experts expect that the youth movements that sparked the revolution will lose momentum following the transfer of power to a civilian president.
The 6 April Movement failed to attract the numbers the Kifaya Movement mobilised in 2005 during its campaign against the constitutional amendments proposed by the former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), for example.
Internal divisions over the movement's future began to surface in May 2011, leading to the formation of a splinter group, the 6 April Movement Democratic Front, led by El-Kholi, while the main group, still named 6 April, was led by founder Ahmed Maher.
The movement has failed to regain its position at the forefront of events since the split.
In a related development, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party held its annual elections last Friday, most members re-electing Mohamed Abul-Ghar as chair of the party.
Abul-Ghar told party members on Friday that the Muslim Brotherhood wanted to control the next parliament along with the presidency. He called upon all non-Islamist parties to work together to create balance in the political system.
He said the party would start a process of internal reform and work intensively on the ground to be more engaged with the public.
The party has a liberal and social democratic outlook and was politically active in the years preceding the revolution. However, since then it has been unable to compete with the Islamist parties like the Salafist Nour Party and the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party at a grassroots level.
In the last parliamentary elections, the party fielded 80 candidates in the Egyptian Bloc Coalition, but managed to secure just 16 seats.
Observers say that the diversity of political and economic orientations in the party has limited its cohesion. Following the last internal elections, a group of members that helped found the party announced their resignation, saying that the party had failed to reach out to the public and had turned into an intellectual talking shop.
"Every day, the organisational and political problems of the party have been increasing," the group said, criticising the party leadership for not communicating with local leaders and closing local party offices.