Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1121, 8-14 November
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1121, 8-14 November

Ahram Weekly

Building a strong Egypt

Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh makes his Strong Egypt Party official, but what role will the party play, asks Mohamed Abdel-Baky

Al-Ahram Weekly

“Until Egypt finds a way out of Islamist-secular polarisation, our party will not join any electoral alliances; we want to build, not to divide this country.”
With these words the former presidential candidate Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh — now the head of the newly formed Strong Egypt Party — expressed his policy during the troubled transitional period Egypt is passing through.  
The party’s decision not to be part of any alliances in the upcoming parliamentary elections might sum up the idea behind establishing Strong Egypt, which hopes “to win the hearts and minds of millions of Egyptians who are not supporters of Islamist parties or of secular political groups, namely, the silent majority”.
For leftist leader Abdel-Ghaffar Shukr, establishing a silent majority party is no easy task. It requires substantial human and economic resources, which Strong Egypt Party does not have at the current stage.
Strong Egypt initially emerged last June, out of the presidential campaign of Abul-Fotouh which included thousands of volunteers with a range of political backgrounds. Although the campaign had offices in all of Egypt’s 26 governorates, however, it failed to give Abul-Fotouh a solid grassroots support base outside the big cities. The results of the first run of the elections showed that Abul-Fotouh received over four million votes, most of which came from Cairo, Giza and Alexandria. By contrast, President Mohamed Morsi and former presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik were able to build support for their campaigns in hundreds of impoverished villages. Shukr voiced his concern that Strong Egypt might end up as an intellectual entity, as has been the case with most political parties.
Abul-Fotouh officially inaugurated his party amid hundreds of his supporters on 31 October. All the necessary registration documents were submitted to the Political Parties Affairs Committee at the downtown headquarters of the Higher Judiciary House to officially license the new political party. Hundreds of his supporters and members of the party, mostly young people from different governorates, gathered outside the Higher Judiciary House to greet Abul-Fotouh while he was presenting the 8,500 signatures of the party’s founders.
Party law requires that any new political party should have at least 5,000 founders’ signatures before it can be officially registered. Strong Egypt founders included former Muslim Brotherhood member and Islamist lawyer Mokhtar Noah and leftist activist Rabab Al-Mahdi.
“If it were not for the martyrs of the 25 January Revolution, we would not be here,” Abul-Fotouh told the crowd. He added that the principles and goals of Strong Egypt are the same goals as those of the Egyptian revolution: bread, freedom and social justice. “The revolution continues till we achieve all its goals and the demands of the Egyptian people,” Abul-Fotouh added, rejecting the polarisation of society and welcoming all political powers and trends to the party from left to right and from Islamists to Christians.
Mohamed Al-Mohandess, a member of the Preparatory Committee of the party, says the top priority now is to establish local offices in all the governorates and hold internal elections as soon as possible. “We envision a party that can avoid turning into an isolated group of intellectuals like many other political parties created after the revolution.”
Abul-Fotouh’s history as a former member in the Muslim Brotherhood who served in its Guidance Bureau is the basis for another theory that has spread over social networks: that the Strong Egypt Party will act as “a shadow partner” to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). Supporters of this theory believe that, while Islamists might disagree on details, in the end they are clear on principles and, at the time of election, they form one front. This theory has also compared Strong Egypt to the Islamist Wasat Party, founded by dissenting members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which started out opposing the organisation but now seems to have been fully co-opted by it.
Al-Mohandess describes these theories as unfair prejudgement, arguing that his party is not even calling itself “Islamist”. It is a party that believes in the unity of all Egyptians: “We believe that if a party describes itself as Islamic, it will divide the community of Muslims and non-Muslims, which creates tension among Egyptians,” he said.
And many of the young people who joined the party are indeed not Islamists, others — like Ali Al-Said, a member of the party in Sharqiya governorate — are not affiliated to any political group. Al-Said and those like him tend to disapprove of Islamist parties like the FJP and the Salafist Nour Party: “I joined Strong Egypt because its goal is to serve the Egyptian people, not to serve an idea,” he said. “The people need a party that will fight for their basic rights like minimum wages and clean streets, they do not need another party that only cares about how many seats it can get in parliament.”
Following the internal elections, the party will start the process of choosing candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections. But before choosing candidates, the party must decide whether it will join any coalition or not. The only two coalitions that seem available for Strong Egypt Party are the Centrist Forces Coalition, which consists of Islamist parties including the Wasat, Salam and Nahda — all founded by former members of the Muslim Brotherhood — and the alliance of a group of non-Islamist parties led by the Constitution Party founded by Mohamed Al-Baradei.

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