Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1137, 28 February - 6 March 2013
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1137, 28 February - 6 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

NSF at a crossroads

Participating in or boycotting elections is what political parties for the past 30 years in Egypt faced as an impossible choice, now repeated, writes Sameh Fawzy

Al-Ahram Weekly

The unavoidable choice in Egyptian politics since the 1990s has been: participation in or boycotting parliamentary elections. Each time political parties face this unpalatable decision, fragmentation hits them. Participation, for some parties, is indispensable to diminish or limit political authoritarianism, an argument that only helps legitimise, in the eyes of hardline opponents, oppressive and undemocratic ruling factions. In fact, there is no right or wrong in politics, only personal calculations.

For the most part under the Mubarak regime (1981-2011), opposition parties failed to remain united and it became very common in parliamentary elections to see one or more opposition party participating in elections contrary to the decision made by other parties to boycott. It was understood that the autocratic regime would remain in power and the maximum benefit other political actors could secure was some seats in parliament in return for the legitimacy they leant the process through their participation in it.

Now the situation is different. Egypt is currently in the process of building a new regime under the rule of one political party — the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. Walking away from the upcoming elections will contribute to the complete domination of the Muslim Brotherhood over the state apparatus. Nevertheless, participation in elections that lack in fairness and guarantees of freedom is “political suicide” for secularists and might lead to a full-blown religious autocracy.

There is no “black and white” in politics. The National Salvation Front (NSF), formed after the president issued a disputed constitutional declaration last November, is facing a very tough choice: either to continue in its refusal of the constitution, seeking first guarantees for free and fair elections, or to decide to stay away from the whole political process in the hope of changing the regime.

In other words, the NSF is torn apart between two paradigms: working within the regime or embarking on activities that lead to regime change. Both trends coexist within the so-far united opposition. Some of the NSF’s parties see that their role is to oppose the current regime and work within the system to gradually achieve political change in favour of a non-Islamist outcome. Others, more radical and influenced by angry young voices in the street, want to replicate the model of the revolution, considering their participation in parliamentary elections a real blow, similar to what opposition parties experienced in the parliamentary elections in 2010. They ask: Why do we have to participate in elections expected to be rigged and face popular outrage when the second wave of the revolution is sweeping the Egyptian street?

The situation is complicated. If the opposition wants to reap fruits from boycotting the elections, some pre-requisites should be met. First, the popularity of opposition parties must be much higher than that of the regime. Second, international powers must see that change is necessary. Third, there must be popular support for boycotting elections.

The current situation doesn’t include any of these conditions. The popularity of the regime decreases, and public sympathy of opposition increases, but there is no scientific evidence to tell us that the regime has lost its popular base, and that the opposition has gained overwhelming support.

In addition, international powers, mainly the United States, see that the current regime should be given time before making any radical judgment. This means that the NSF, if wants to gain in its constituency, has to take part in the elections while exercising pressure on the regime to better the competitiveness level of the political scene.

There are some factions that harbour dreams of a possible coup d’état sweeping away Islamists from the scene. But this can only happens if state itself is in danger. Perhaps some factions see in sporadic political unrest, economic hardship and national depression a reason for the army to intervene and take over, but this is not accurate. The only way to recall the armed forces to Egypt’s streets is unceasing public support and an apology for the slogans once raised against the army during the so-called transitional period. If it happens, armed forces will appear as rulers rather than order-keepers.

 

The writer is a political analyst.

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