Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1262, (10 - 16 September 2015)
Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Issue 1262, (10 - 16 September 2015)

Ahram Weekly

All the president’s men

Ahead of the parliamentary poll candidates are scrambling to position themselves as close as possible to President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. Khaled Dawoud reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

In a luxurious villa in Heliopolis the Nation’s Future Party is busy preparing lists of candidates for the upcoming parliamentary election. The party is hardly a household name. Its president, Mohamed Badran, is just 24. The first time most Egyptians saw him was when he stood next to President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi during the opening of the Suez Canal’s expansion on 6 August and TV cameras captured them conducting what appeared to be a warm conversation on the deck of the former royal yacht Al-Mahrousa.

The party — Mustaqbal Watan in Arabic — is fielding 200 candidates in the 448 seats reserved for independent candidates.

While many of the parties that emerged following the 25 January, 2011 Revolution struggle to fund the running of a single office in the capital, Nation’s Future secretary-general Ashraf Rashad boasts that his party has opened 120 offices across the country.

In late August the private daily newspaper Al-Sabah attempted to run an opinion column that described Badran as the “president’s spoiled child”. Editors at the newspaper were surprised when security agencies halted the printing of the edition and ordered the article to be removed.

In a recent interview with BBC Arabic television Badran said he had not approved the confiscation of Al-Sabah and denied that the Nation’s Future was the president’s party.

“We support the country rather than the president,” said Badran. “Currently we support President Al-Sisi because he cares for the country. If he did not we would not support him.”

Asked how the party managed to finance its candidates and many offices Badran said it was thanks to the support of a number of wealthy businessmen. He even provided a few names — Ahmed Abu Hashima, Mansour Amer Kamel Abu Ali and Kamel Abu Reida — businessmen who were known to support candidates standing for the Mubarak–era National Democratic Party.

Besides the 200 candidates running for individual seats the Nation’s Future Party has nominated 13 candidates to stand on the For the Love of Egypt coalition ticket in the 20 per cent of seats reserved for party lists.

Many political parties, especially those that emerged following the 25 January Revolution, have criticised the election law issued by Al-Sisi in August after lengthy delays. By reserving 80 per cent of parliamentary seats for independents, they said, the law ensured that the next parliament would be dominated by the same business cliques that controlled the legislature under Mubarak. Only candidates with sufficient resources to finance their campaigns and indirectly buy votes by offering goods or services, or those with extensive family and tribal ties in rural areas, would be able to win.

To compound the problem party lists are limited to four enormous constituencies. Two will return 45 MPs, the remaining two 15 each. The constituencies are so big that few, if any, political parties will be able to finance an effective campaign. Nor will these constituencies return representatives proportionally. Under the law ratified by Al-Sisi the coalition or party that gains 50 plus 1 of the votes in any given constituency will take all of the seats.

Earlier this year the For the Love of Egypt coalition paid for billboards plastered with images of Al-Sisi on all of Cairo’s key bridges. The coalition’s political coordinator retired General Intelligence officer Sameh Seif Al-Yazal. Many of its candidates are former members of the NDP who openly opposed the 25 January Revolution that ended with Mubarak’s removal.

For the Love of Egypt denies it enjoys the backing of either the president or the security agencies. Yet the manner in which many political parties have scrambled to join its lists suggests otherwise.

In both the meetings Al-Sisi held with political party leaders since becoming president 15 months ago he stressed the importance of secular parties presenting a united front and forming a unified coalition to back up the state in its fight against terrorism. One result has been repeated attempts by various coalitions to position themselves as embodying what the president wants. And though Al-Sisi has been scrupulous in stressing he has no party affiliations the most likely result of elections held under the law he ratified will be a huge pro Al-Sisi parliamentary bloc.

The Free Egyptians Party, backed by business tycoon Naguib Sawiris, said this week it had presented 11 names for inclusion on the For the Love of Egypt’s lists. Sawiris had earlier announced that he was not interested in competing in party-list constituencies but would instead field over 200 independent candidates. In a television interview on the private channel Al-Nahar on Saturday he admitted that “at least 100” of those candidates originally belonged to the NDP.

Wafd Party Chairman Al-Sayed Al-Badawi also said it would be fielding candidates on its own coalition ticket, only to backtrack. Now nine Wafd members will be standing on the For the Love of Egypt lists. Al-Badawi says the party reversed its original position “in order to maintain national unity and because we are all in the same boat”. He has also complained that before the reversal For the Love of Egypt had been putting pressure on Wafd candidates to defect from the Wafd-led coalition. The “security agencies”, he says, tricked the party into dissolving its own coalition in favour of For the Love of Egypt by offering it “a reasonable share” of candidate places only to renege on the promise, leaving the party with just nine names on the For the Love of Egypt’s lists.

The National Movement Party, headed by Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s last prime minister and a former presidential candidate, has also announced it will join the For the Love of Egypt coalition, shifting away from earlier plans to contest the election alongside three other parties as part of the Egyptian Front coalition. The National Movement has now agreed that seven of its candidates should join the For the Love of Egypt lists, leaving its smaller coalition partners feeling angry betrayed.

Nagi Al-Shehabi, who heads the small Al-Geel Party that was part of the Egyptian Front coalition, claims that those in control of the For the Love of Egypt lists — Al-Yazal, former Information Minister Osama Heikal and former MP Mustafa Bakri — are only interested in candidates with the financial clout to finance their campaign.

“The For the Love of Egypt coalition is becoming a fiefdom of certain wealthy businessmen who want to replicate the marriage between money and politics against which the Egyptian people rebelled in 2011,” says Al-Shehabi.

“The criterion for selecting candidates is their ability to pay and donate to the coalition. Efficiency, experience, good reputation and the ability to defend the nation and its interests aren’t even considered.”

Yosri Azabawi, an expert on elections at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, says trying to combat the influence of money will be the biggest challenge in the upcoming elections.

“Political parties in Egypt are weak, and this will become ever clearer as the campaigns progress. The majority of high profile candidates do not belong to political parties which are currently plagued by splits and infighting.”

Azabawi questions the ability of the Higher Election Committee to impose the campaign spending limits it has set.

“Already we are seeing an influx of money from Arab Gulf countries, and from leading Mubarak-era businessmen, trying to put political influence.” Under Mubarak, says Azabawi, “we only knew about Ahmed Ezz and the influence he exerted because of his donations to the NDP. Now we have a posse of Ezz’s competing to be the president’s men.”

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