Saturday,23 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1395, (24 - 30 May 2018)
Saturday,23 February, 2019
Issue 1395, (24 - 30 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Revivifying political life

Steps to help create more vibrant political life in Egypt are continuing, with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi adding his considered support, reports Gamal Essam El-Din


President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s statements on democratic reform and the rotation of power in Egypt always cause a lot of reactions in political circles, and he recently renewed his call for the country’s political parties with similar ideological platforms to merge.

Speaking at the recent Fifth Youth Forum, Al-Sisi said political life in Egypt was in pressing need of stronger parties capable of moving the country forward. “It is a good thing that we now have representatives from eight or nine political parties in parliament,” Al-Sisi said, nonetheless arguing that political parties with similar ideological platforms should unite.

He did not want to push the parties in a particular direction, he said, but they should “join hands and merge into stronger entities that can change the political landscape in Egypt over the next four years,” Al-Sisi said.

The parties themselves see eye-to-eye with Al-Sisi, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Suleiman Wahdan told Al-Ahram Weekly. “Politicians agree that Egypt is in need of two or three major political parties that can strongly compete in elections and field forceful candidates,” he said.

However, things have not been moving fast enough in this direction, said Tayseer Matar, head of the Free Social and Constitutional Party. “This is not the first time that Al-Sisi has issued his call, and it is unacceptable that most political parties have thus far declined to heed it in the way they should,” he told the Weekly.

Al-Sisi has recommended that “cautious gradualism” should be the hallmark of the reform of political life in Egypt. “Rushing in this direction could cause grave consequences of the sort we saw after the 2011 uprising,” Al-Sisi said.

Egypt’s 2011 Revolution had led to an explosion in the number of political parties, said John Talaat, an independent MP. “Right now, we have 108 political parties, but most of them do not play any significant role in public life,” Talaat said, agreeing that “if these 108 parties merged into three or four stronger ones, this would be a giant step towards democratic reform over the next four years.”

President Al-Sisi has approved a request that a coordination committee be created to take charge of opening contacts between the political parties and the state authorities. “The committee will do everything possible to help political parties spread out across Egypt, attract greater numbers of members, and prepare for municipal elections without facing problems or hurdles,” Al-Sisi said.

Speaker of Parliament Ali Abdel-Aal told MPs last week that Egypt’s political life would not be healthy without a majority party in power and a strong party in opposition. “If the country’s political parties fail to move in this direction, we will need to change the law to help achieve this objective,” Abdel-Aal said, indicating that “the laws on the House of Representatives [Egypt’s parliament] and the political parties are being redrafted to allow for the creation of stronger parties.”

The Wafd Party was scheduled to hold a meeting on Tuesday with other political parties to discuss Al-Sisi’s initiative. Yasser Al-Hodeibi, the party’s spokesperson and a professor of constitutional law, told reporters on Monday that “President Al-Sisi’s words about the necessity of the existence of an opposition force in Egypt were very encouraging. At present, we do not have a strong opposition bloc in parliament, and the opposition parties failed to field a candidate in the 2018 presidential elections,” he commented.

President Al-Sisi seized the opportunity of the Fifth Youth Forum, held in Cairo on 16 May with wide participation from public figures, parties and youth representatives, to discuss issues related to Egypt’s political scene.

He spoke particularly of the participation of young people in the country’s political life. According to Wahdan, it was the first time the president had made such extensive remarks on important issues such as the development of democracy, political parties and the rotation of power in such detail and with such openness.

“In his first term in office, President Al-Sisi was more reserved in his comments about political life in Egypt,” Wahdan said, adding that between 2014 and 2018 Al-Sisi’s agenda had focused on stabilising the country and recovering stability after four years of political turbulence and a war against terrorism.

“Now issues like democracy and the future of the country’s political life have become more pressing, particularly after the presidential elections and the beginning of Al-Sisi’s second term,” Wahdan said.

Al-Sisi won a second term as president with 97 per cent of the vote in the 2018 elections. He is expected to take the oath of office in parliament on 2 June.

While Al-Sisi has said that Egypt needs a strong opposition bloc in parliament, he has also pointed to the opposition’s lack of a full understanding of the challenges facing Egypt. “We have seen in other countries how an opposition that has good and noble intentions can end up with very bad outcomes,” Al-Sisi said, stressing the need for the opposition to put the country’s national interests and state institutions above all other considerations.

“We have seen how sometimes when the opposition supports protests, this can lead to disastrous results, especially in the light of the challenges currently faced by the state,” Al-Sisi said.

However, he does not believe that political life in Egypt is deteriorating. “Egypt’s political life has been rapidly developing over the past 10 years,” he said, pointing particularly to changes in the selection procedure for president.

“In the past, the president was selected through a counter-productive referendum system, and then we moved to a competitive multi-candidate system. I feel convinced that this system will lead to the peaceful rotation of power in the future,” Al-Sisi said.

However, he warned that too many people and parties were still not participating fully in political life. “We have seen how most of the political parties declined to field a candidate in the presidential elections and how many citizens did not vote in the polls,” Al-Sisi said.

According to Al-Hodeibi, the country’s political parties need to discuss how they can reach agreement on a new agenda for democratic reform. The meeting on Tuesday was held to discuss particularly Article 5 of the constitution, which states that Egypt’s political system is based on political pluralism and the peaceful rotation of power. It was necessary to see how this could be translated into reality on the ground, he said.

A document on political reform would be drafted during the meeting and submitted to President Al-Sisi and the government for implementation over the next four years, Al-Hodeibi said.

The upcoming municipal elections are expected to be a step forward, with Al-Sisi pressing for these to take place as soon as possible. “I hope the government will set a date for these elections as soon as possible and that young people will then form the majority on local councils,” Al-Sisi said.

The municipal elections have been delayed due to the drafting of legislation to ensure that they are in line with the constitution. The last municipal elections were held in 2008, and local councils were disbanded following the 2011 Revolution.

Abdel-Aal told MPs last week that the law regulating local councils had been drafted to help political parties field as many younger candidates as possible in the municipal elections. “This law will also underline the role of local councils in fighting corruption and improving public services,” he said.

Ahmed Al-Sigini, head of the parliament’s Local Administration Committee, said there were high hopes that the voting system for the municipal elections would be flexible, opening the door for all political parties to compete in the polls.

“The municipal elections should be the first step towards further democratising political life in Egypt,” Al-Hodeibi said. “We hope that these elections, expected at the end of this year, and the parliamentary elections scheduled in 2020, will be an exercise in democracy ahead of the presidential elections scheduled in 2022,” he added.

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