Friday,24 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1259, (20 - 26 August 2015)
Friday,24 November, 2017
Issue 1259, (20 - 26 August 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Juggling alliances

We are almost at the end of the roadmap announced by the 30 June civilian-military coalition following Mohamed Morsi’s ouster. But there are few signs the forces that came together to unseat the Muslim Brotherhood will remain capable of working together, writes Dina Ezzat

Parliment
Parliment
Al-Ahram Weekly

There is an unmasked sense of realism — sometimes it seems closer to pessimism — about the influence civil pro-democracy’ forces will have in the first post 30 June parliament.

 There are two main reasons for this, according to the political figures who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly. The first is a result of what many argue is the “devaluation of politics” that has taken place since the ouster of Mohamed Morsi and the announcement of the roadmap, the second a result of what commentators qualify as the resurrection of “the old way of doing things” on the part of the state.   

“It is no secret that the Ministry of Interior is heavily involved in managing the political process, including preparations for parliamentary elections,” says Egyptian Socialist Democratic Party (ESDP) leader Mohamed Abul-Ghar.

 Members of political parties old and new say party leaders regularly receive instructions from state security officers about who should, or should not, be included on party lists of candidates. They also acknowledge that secular pro-democracy parties face enormous challenges on the ground. They are underfunded, and lack the resources to finance political campaigns. Add to this the fact that over the last couple of years a great many people have turned away from politics and the chances of candidates wining a parliamentary seat on the basis of merit and their political credentials is at best slim.

What counts most now, says Abul-Ghar, especially in poorer neighbourhoods and out of the capital, is the perceived ability of a candidate to improve services like water, irrigation facilities and electricity and to provide jobs.

 New parliamentary map: Official sources say the Higher Elections Committee (HEC) will announce a detailed timetable for the holding of parliamentary elections next month, meaning the first stage of the vote could be held as early as October and a new parliament inaugurated in the first weeks of 2016.

The composition of the house, say commentators, is unlikely to differ much from the parliament elected in 2010.

“The political scene has not changed significantly. A close look reveals the traditional political coalitions between clan leaders, business figures and security bodies remains strong, and this time they will be facing a much weaker Islamist camp,” says a leading political figure who spoke on condition of anonymity.

 The same source, who is providing advice to the executive on the formation of a parliamentary coalition that would support the presidency, says the Islamist share in the next parliament “will be no more than five per cent, for the simple reason the state will not allow more”. Pro-democracy forces, he predicts, could occupy up to 10 per cent of seats, with the rest taken up by representatives of the clan-business-security based coalition.

 The next parliament, he acknowledges, will reflect the fact that the consensus of 30 June, which managed to bypass political differences “as deep as positions vis-a-vis 25 January, no longer exists.

 “It was never a coalition in the real sense,” he says. “It was a gathering of a very diverse group who came together to remove the Muslim Brotherhood.”

 The only common denominator between these otherwise mismatched political forces is their continued opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists.

“Some leading figures from the 30 June coalition take exception to the state’s accommodation of the Salafist Al-Nour Party. They are insisting their share in the next parliament be limited.”



Human Rights, civilians and the army: The limited influence of pro-democracy forces in parliament will be reflected in the legislative agenda, with the state keen to press ahead with a raft of bills that will restrict political rights.

 Critics of Egypt’s human rights record often blame what they call the unholy alliance between supposed liberals and the deep state that produced the current regime. They argue that it all started on 3 July when civil forces agreed to the ouster of a “democratically elected president following demonstrations on 30 June when what protestors were actually demanding were early presidential elections and not a military-guided transition that was then followed by the election of the former head of the army as president”.

“Listen, I hear this. People often say to me look, you agreed to the announcement of the roadmap by the chief of the army on 3 July and from there on it human rights have been steadily eroded. My reply is to say that had the army not intervened on 3 July we would have witnessed a disastrous confrontation between those who took part in the 30 June demonstrations and those who supported the Muslim Brotherhood,” says Abul-Ghar.

But though he is critical of Egypt’s human rights record and of the way parliamentary elections have been delayed, allowing the president to exercise both executive and legislative powers, Abul-Ghar has never had second thoughts over support for the 30 June demonstrators of the subsequent roadmap.

He insists that it was “the way the Muslim Brotherhood ruled and the way they wanted to exclude everyone who was not with them that prompted deep fears among Egyptians about the fate of their country”.

He warns that anti-Muslim Brotherhood sentiment is still very strong. “People, and I am thinking of the ordinary people here, are still very concerned about the Muslim Brotherhood,” he says.

Anti-Muslim Brotherhood sentiment was not orchestrated by the deep state as part of a campaign to get rid of an elected president but was a reaction to what the Muslim Brotherhood was doing, says Abul-Ghar. “We can argue about the role of the media then and now but we cannot deny that there were real concerns, deeply felt, about the Muslim Brotherhood’s style of rule.”

“The vast majority of Egyptians remain sensitive about any moves to reintegrate the Muslim Brotherhood. Calls for reconciliation continue to command only a modicum of support”.

 The ongoing conflict in Sinai and the recent assassination of the prosecutor general serve only to reinforce peoples’ fears.

 

Islamophobia: A phobic fear of the Muslim Brotherhood was the reason some, though not all, joined the 30 June protests, says Mohamed Al-Kassas, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He left the group in the early days of the 25 January Revolution when Brotherhood leaders prevaricated over joining the anti-Mubarak protests.

  “We thought of 30 June as a peaceful protest, a way to apply pressure to pursue the democratic path of early presidential elections. Unfortunately Morsi declined to bow and it was very clear from the speech he made on 26 June that he had opted for confrontation.”

 The confrontation, says a former members of the National Salvation Front (NSF), a group formed in late 2012 in the wake of the constitutional declaration that granted Morsi extra-judicial power, played into the hands of anti-25 January powers desperate to turn the tide in their favour.

“It was clear that this would happen. Morsi and the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood should have agreed to early presidential elections,” says Kassas.

 According to Kassass and Abul-Ghar revolutionary forces were well aware that the deep state, especially the security bodies, was only too happy to support the 30 June momentum in the hope of using democratic forces to ouster the Muslim Brotherhood and then push the democratic forces aside and re-establish the pre-25 January dispensation.

Now revolutionary and reformist groups who wanted to pursue a democratic path are increasingly sidelined by the state with many young political leaders behind bars after being found guilty of violating the controversial protest law.

“Two years after the 30 June demonstrations we are very far from democracy and facing the militarisation of the entire political scene in the continued absence of a legislative body,” says Kassass. “The voices of revolutionary forces have been silenced.”

 

Old faces: Political commentator Emad Gad is a firm supporter of the 30 June Revolution. But he laments the way the president has allowed a large space at the centre of the political scene for figures central to the Mubarak regime.

This, Gad argues, has weakened the 30 June alliance when it should have been bound closer together to “keep up the fight against the Muslim Brotherhood”.

 To allow those faces to dominate the new parliament, warns Gad, will further undermine the consensus needed to “continue the fight against the Muslim Brotherhood and other terror groups”.

 “The fight against the Muslim Brotherhood was central to 30 June.” Today, members of the 30 June coalition may disagree on the methods to be used in this “continued fight” but they agree that it cannot be abandoned.

 “When we see the assassination of the public prosecutor we are reminded that no call can be louder than the call to war against the Brotherhood,” says Gad.

Political commentator Hassan Abu Taleb agrees. The war on terror must take precedence because otherwise the safety of the state is at stake. And countering any threats to the safety of the state, he says, must be the priority of parliament.

Like Gad, Abu Taleb argues that it is “unfair” to suggest that the volume of human rights violations and political oppression has increased significantly since the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood.

 “I have no sympathy when it comes to the Muslim Brotherhood. It was the choices that they made that promoted the use of violence. Anyone who was on board the 30 June coalition two years ago is determined the state takes firm action against the Brotherhood.”  Such action, he adds, is absolutely necessary to prevent “their infiltration or that of their associates into the ranks of a parliament that has a crucial mandate to keep the state going”.

Abu Taleb also acknowledges that the state should try harder to accommodate groups that took part in the 30 June protests but are now worried about the political choices of the regime.

 But the decline of civil political forces cannot just be blamed on circumstances beyond their control. Both Gad and Abu Taleb point to the way groups that mobilised against the Brotherhood are now prey to internal disputes.

“I think these parties need to resolve their differences and coordinate because the fight against the Muslim Brotherhood that brought us together is still very much there,” says Gad.

Yet human rights activists say it is sentiments like this that allow for the massive human rights violations they claim are taking place in Egypt’s prisons.

Members of the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) have recently gone public with complaints that they have been repeatedly denied access to Al-Akrab prison where four inmates, all Islamists, have died in the last few weeks.

One who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly said that the state is seeking to keep a lid on criticism from the NCHR regarding Al-Akrab and other prisons. He also admitted that he felt “not all the board members of the NCHR are concerned about the situation of human rights in prisons, especially when it comes to Islamists”.

Independent human rights activists have criticised the NCHR stance on what they claim is effectively the “liquidation of members of the Muslim Brotherhood”.

A source at the Ministry of Interior said that “more of these pre-emptive attacks” could happen as parliamentary elections grow closer.

“We are not going to take any chances ahead of the parliamentary elections,” he said.

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