Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1231, (29 January - 4 February 2015)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1231, (29 January - 4 February 2015)

Ahram Weekly


Al-Ahram Weekly

Defending pluralism

Egypt’s president is said to have asked for the unification of electoral lists, but this is highly unlikely. The very idea is incompatible with democracy and could rob the elections of all meaning. This would be the worst message Egypt could send as it progresses into the last stage of its political roadmap.

As for party lists, one must distinguish between natural and artificial differences. Parties that are quite close in their ideas would be justified to act in alliance in order to improve their chances at the ballot boxes. But papering over true differences would be unwise.

We cannot allow ourselves to slip back into the past, when people joined the government’s party no matter what. The president made it clear that he is not going to create a pro-government party. But there are those who want to push him down this road.

Some people are only too eager to cast Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi in the role of his predecessors, as if we haven’t had two revolutions in quick succession to banish this spectre.

In his meeting with party leaders, the president made it clear that he favoured national consensus, but his words sparked off a wave of pointless speculation.

Let’s, for the sake of argument, assume that all parties merged into one list. Would this be a good thing? The very idea of elections is that it is up to the nation’s citizens to choose who will represent them, not to endorse ready-made options. Otherwise, why waste everyone’s time?

The country is struggling to get back on its feet. At this juncture, the importance of democratic elections goes beyond our borders. Foreign investors and governments, diplomats and analysts abroad are all waiting to see how we conduct ourselves at this crucial moment in our history.

We may speculate about conspiracies all we want. The truth of the matter is that we, too, are making mistakes, and being judged accordingly by others. We need to look in the mirror and admit our own excesses.

Al-Sisi has nothing to fear from elections. Regardless of the outcome, he knows that a majority in the new parliament will support him. He made it clear that his priority is to revive the economy, not to fix our politics. But there can be no economic revival without stability, no stability without security, and no security without politics.

The president has inherited an out-dated government apparatus, one that is governed by the archaic mind-set of the past and struggles to come up with new solutions. Being a military man, Al-Sisi has the stamina and discipline to follow up on big projects. But policy is bigger than any projects, and astute vision must precede headlong implementation.

The parties we have today are sorely lacking in discipline and electoral appeal. Some are run like companies, and others rarely venture outside the confines of their offices. Their learning curve has just begun.

After the 30 June upheaval, the National Salvation Front (NSF) fell apart and its key figures retreated into the shadows. NSF members Mohamed ElBaradei, Hazem Al-Biblawi, Hosam Eissa and Ziyad Bahaa Al-Din had seemed ready to run the government, but quickly disappeared from the scene.

A majority of Egyptians had pinned their hopes on the NSF, but the party had no staying power. Rarely in history has a political coalition risen to power and then retreated in such disarray, at a time when the nation needed leadership. A golden opportunity to form a power base for a modern state was wasted.

The disintegration of the NSF plunged Egypt into another power vacuum. Having failed to offer sustained leadership, the NSF compromised Egypt’s political process. As a result, NSF parties were not invited to participate in the writing of new election laws, which was another severe blow to the country’s integrity.

The election system, favouring a winner-takes-all list over proportional representation, lets down the voters even more than the candidates. And yet this is the system we have opted for. Consequently, none of the polling alliances are likely to survive the elections.

The claim that the president has demanded a unified list is a terrible one. It reminds one of what happened when Anwar Al-Sadat formed the National Democratic Party: many members of the Arab Socialist Union switched sides overnight to gain admittance to the government-approved party.

One cannot rule out the possibility that two of the lists that speak to NSF principles may merge, but this is not the point. The NSF had some of the best minds of the country, and it mustn’t run under presidential auspices.

We have legitimate differences in this country and it is better to have them play out in parliament, not in the streets. We have a constitution that endorses party pluralism and the rotation of power. Let’s stick to it.

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