There is intense jockeying for position ahead of parliamentary elections, and coalition is one of the buzz words, writes Amani Maged
Although the date for the next parliamentary elections has not been set, political parties and forces are already forming coalitions. The declared aim of these coalitions may be to enhance the prospects of their members in the elections; most observers agree, however, their real aim is to confront the Islamist trend as represented by the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Salafist Nour Party, and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya's Construction and Development Party. So what are these parties, and the Islamists in general, planning?
At one end of the Islamist spectrum, the Jihad Organisation has voiced its desire to ally with the Construction and Development Party. To Sheikh Osama Kassem, a leading figure in the Jihad Organisation, the move makes sense. The two groups are already close, and a merger between the Jihad's Al-Salama wal-Tanmiya (Soundness and Development) Party and the Construction and Development Party would smooth out any remaining differences and could attract other groups and parties with jihadist and Salafist leanings.
Some observers disagree. They argue that similarities between the two could cause their respective leaderships to clash rather than to work together and that any alliance would be shortlived.
In order to avert such difficulties it has been suggested that Islamist parties move beyond alliances and explore ways to integrate so as to complement one another. For example the Soundness and Development Party, with its strong grassroots presence, could inject new life into the currently moribund Salafist Fadila (Virtue) Party if the two were to merge, while the Nour Party, which has a fairly broad base, could benefit from a closer alignment with a party that has more organisational expertise, such as the FJP.
Analysts argue that regardless of how practical such arrangements might be and despite ideological similarities between the various Islamist parties, the fact that each has its own leaders with their own following will make it difficult for them to reach the necessary accommodations.
Interestingly, some commentators disapprove of coalition-forging in principle, whether on the liberal left or the Islamist right. They maintain that these alliances are prompted for the wrong reasons -- the desire to beat back the Islamists, on the one hand, and the Islamists' determination to fight back, on the other.
The FJP, for one, sees the emerging liberal alliances as a potential threat. Accordingly, it has begun to promote figures it knows are popular to head its electoral lists while some previously elected deputies who have come under heavy criticism from their constituents are being replaced. At the same time, the FJP has been trying to forge new alliances. It has been courting the Nour Party, which garnered the second largest bloc of seats in the last parliamentary elections. The Nour Party, for its part, seems an unwilling suitor. According to some of its leaders, the lukewarm reception of Brotherhood overtures is due to differences between the two sides in the past.
Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya has also said that it will not enter into a coalition with the FJP because of past experiences.
Some observers expect that, faced with Nour Party reluctance and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya's rejection, the FJP will turn leftwards and court the Sabahi and Al-Baradei coalitions.
Meanwhile, Muslim Brotherhood and FJP leaders are questioning the coalition drives and their motives. Amr Darrag, a senior FJP official, said that the coalitions that have begun to emerge on the basis of certain platforms or projects should not solely be electoral vehicles that disappear once the polls close.
Muslim Brotherhood official Ali Abdel-Fattah is more explicit. The opposition should not make it their goal to undermine the current system of government, he said, voicing fears that political differences could escalate into a "conflict of agendas at the expense of the welfare of the nation".
Referring to the coalition formed by former NDP parliamentary representatives, he said: "The people who toppled the regime are capable of toppling its remnants." He hinted at the possibility of "blacklists" containing the names of former NDP MPs guilty of corruption. The MB official was optimistic about the Islamists' election prospects, predicting they would win a larger parliamentary majority than in the last election.
Some MB officials dismiss the idea of an alliance between the FJP and these leftist coalitions. They believe the FJP will be able to depend on President Mursi's achievements which they say has enhanced the popularity of their candidates. They are confident that the Muslim Brotherhood's standing in the street and its qualities of organisation and discipline make its political wing the strongest parliamentary contender.
Yet the political map is far from being clearly defined. Parties that refuse to ally today may well change their minds tomorrow.