Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1391, (26 April - 2 May 2018)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1391, (26 April - 2 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Fine distinctions

Preparations are underway to turn the majority Support Egypt parliamentary coalition into a licensed political party, reports Gamal Essam El-Din 

Support Egypt meeting
Support Egypt meeting

On Sunday MP and businessman Mohamed Al-Sewidi, head of the Support Egypt coalition, emerged from a meeting to announce that the group is assessing the possibilities of turning itself into a political party.

“We are discussing the steps we need to take to achieve this objective and have agreed that a comprehensive legislative and constitutional study should be conducted to explore the path ahead,” Al-Sewidi told reporters.

He added that “intensive contacts with political parties are planned to discuss the issue and see whether they might merge into Support Egypt and help form a strong majority party.”

The Support Egypt coalition was formed following parliamentary elections in January 2016, its avowed aim to defend the policies of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. The coalition comprises 10 political parties, including the Free Egyptians Party which has 65 MPs, and the Future of a Nation Party with 53.

Saad Al-Gammal, head of parliament’s Arab Affairs Committee and a leading Support Egypt official, told Al-Ahram Weekly that “in Sunday’s meeting we agreed there is a pressing need to amend Article 6 of the House of Representatives’ election which prevents MPs from changing their political designation once elected.” 

Tharwat Bekheit, another Support Egypt official, believes “Article 6 can be modified to allow MPs to change political or electoral allegiance in a flexible way.” 

“This will open the door for many independent MPs to join Support Egypt when it becomes a licensed political party. There are no constitutional obstacles to the changes we want. The constitution states only that the president of the republic cannot hold any position within a political party during his term in office.” 

On Monday 30 independent MPs opted to join the Support Egypt coalition. 

Sunday’s meeting, held in the former Shura Council hall, was attended by Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal, parliament’s secretary-general, Ahmed Saadeddin, and most of the coalition’s 370 members. 

According to Al-Sewidi the coalition intends to hold fortnightly meetings to debate national issues and review the measures necessary for the coalition to become a political party.

“We aim to invite cabinet ministers to attend these meetings to discuss pressing issues and create a healthier relationship between the government and parliament,” he said.

Al-Gammal told the Weekly Sunday’s meeting also discussed the future relationship between the government of Prime Minister Sherif Ismail and parliament. 

“We urged would-be members of our new party to attend all plenary sessions in the coming months so the budget and new laws can be discussed in depth,” said Al-Gammal. 

Abdel-Aal told the meeting the Support Egypt coalition has all the qualifications to become a strong political party. 

“My view is that political life in Egypt will never be healthy in the absence of a parliamentary majority party and Support Egypt is well placed to become such a party,” said Abdel-Aal. “The coalition did a very good job defending economic reforms and national security interests during the first four years of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s presidency.”

“Members of the coalition also played an important role mobilising the public to vote in last month’s presidential election. Coalition members have a lot of support on the street, an important factor in making an effective majority party.”

Bekheit argues that “a majority party is not the same as a ruling party.”

“Our party will aim for a majority in parliament to defend the president’s policies and be able to field a consensus candidate in the 2022 presidential election. But a ruling party is different. It means the party’s head is the president of the republic.”

Amr Ghallab, Support Egypt’s deputy head and chair of parliament’s Economic Affairs Committee, told reporters on Tuesday that “Egypt’s 2018 presidential election had shown no existing political party is strong enough to field a presidential candidate.”

“Support Egypt wants to fill this political void, becoming a party that defends national interests and competes strongly in general elections.” 

“There is an open debate among Support Egypt members on how the platform of the new party should be drafted, and how different political parties with different ideological backgrounds can merge to form a majority party,” says Magdi Morshed, Support Egypt’s secretary-general.

Essam Khalil, head of the Free Egyptians Party, said on Monday a decision will soon be taken on whether to merge with the new party.

“We want a healthy political life in Egypt and agree that there should be a strong majority party to help Egypt pursue its national interests,” said Khalil.

In his first term in office President Al-Sisi rejected calls that he form a political party. Instead, Al-Sisi urged parties with similar ideological platforms to merge.

Al-Ahram political analyst Amr Hashim Rabie believes it is inevitable parties with similar outlooks will eventually merge. 

“We have three basic forces, economic liberals, leftists and Islamists, which can become the three main currents in Egypt’s political life,” says Rabie. He warns, however, that Support Egypt might turn into a ruling party.

“I know the majority party being proposed will not be led by the president, but it will depend heavily on the president’s support.” 

“The fact is all of Egypt’s ruling parties since 1952 were created in the same way. They began as a majority party, then became the ruling party despite not having any real popular support. Then they collapse if they lose the president’s backing.” 

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