Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1130, 10 - 16 January 2013
Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Issue 1130, 10 - 16 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

Opposition at risk of division

Can the National Salvation Front hold together, asks Ibrahim Farouk

Al-Ahram Weekly

When Niazi Mustafa, a lawyer and member of the National Salvation Front (NSF) committee that shortlists candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections, was asked what the main factor affecting the NSF’s popularity would be, he immediately answered that the group’s strength was “working as one unit without divisions”.
“The longer we remain united the stronger we will be in confronting what comes and winning more seats in the coming parliament.”
In the same interview Mustafa was asked about the “independent current”, another civil opposition force. He mocked it, insisting it was made up of small parties that lacked any following on the Egyptian street.
Mustafa’s responses about the NSF’s conditions for entering any dialogue on amending the yet unissued parliamentary elections law, and on the NSF’s plans to confront ruling Islamist forces, are as a good a place as any to start understanding what is happening. They provide a window onto the dynamics that sow division among civil opposition forces as they confront political changes and parliamentary elections at a time when developments on the ground are fast moving and the NSF is generating rhetoric without knowing its effect on the street, and certainly not on revolutionary forces that until now have no faith in the state, the opposition or the political game.
There are also a sizeable number of traditional popular forces that do not believe in the risks the NSF is taking and which are comfortable with the idea of stability under a state and president, even in the absence of strong institutions of governance.
How well is the opposition doing?
The question probes not only the popularity of the NSF which, according to Mustafa, would be threatened by divisions, but also the conditions of the entire civil opposition, even though Mustafa mocks the “independent current” that has decided to boycott the elections and called for peaceful sit-ins on 25 January. This current, which agrees with the NSF on the civil principles of an Egyptian state and stands by it in confronting the forces of political Islam, is not composed of minor or ineffective parties as Mustafa claimed. It groups up to 30 parties, including the Tagammu and Nasserists.
Those who talk about the dangers of dividing the opposition often seem the ones who threaten the emergence of any broad-based nascent opposition bloc.
Egypt is not only facing turbulent winter weather but dramatic upheavals in the political arena, and the NSF looks particularly susceptible. Most recently, the NSF appeared divided after news of a possible alliance between Mohamed Al-Baradei, Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh and Islamic preacher Amr Khaled. The three, apparently, had decided to contest the upcoming elections as one bloc.
Al-Baradei explained the alliance came about after a visit to Abul-Fotouh’s home to check on his health. This did not stop the NSF from announcing the next day — and in the presence of Al-Baradei — its rejection of Abul-Fotouh joining the NSF on the grounds that he was once a key Muslim Brotherhood figure, a member of the group’s Guidance Bureau. There was no objection, however, to Khaled joining their ranks.
A meeting was held on Monday to prepare two NSF candidate lists for the upcoming parliamentary elections and decide on the membership of committees that would lead the election campaign. Tensions were evident, not least in the statements of some NSF leaders who appeared to disapprove of any alliance between Al-Baradei and Abul-Fotouh. Al-Sayed Al-Badawi, the leader of Wafd Party, declared: “We are at a stage that requires honesty and disclosure, not going behind everyone’s back. We don’t have time for these manoeuvres, special agreements over the elections and new alliances within the NSF.” Al-Badawi seemed to directly address Al-Baradei.
The Wafd president went further, delivering a condescending message that the NSF could be a burden for his party and noting the Wafd could stand by itself in the elections.
“There is a lot of pressure from within the party to contest the elections alone. The Wafd has a large number of candidates and judging by the seats it won in the last elections and its long history, it is the top civil party.”
Al-Badawi continued: “I am resisting this pressure and have postponed the meeting of the Supreme Party Committee that will decide how we will contest the elections, whether in coalition or independently. I am concerned that the committee would decide to contest the elections by itself, especially in light of what is being published about the NSF and side alliances with some parties in the front. I want a clear and honest position now about this issue.”
There was a lot of tension, threats, fears and escalation in statements by others, including Hamdeen Sabahi, who suggested that if the NSF fails to win enough seats in parliament NSF politicians should retire from politics.
While the NSF took important decisions during the meeting — one of them was to select Ahmed Al-Borai, vice president of the Constitution Party, as sole official NSF spokesman — it also decided to open regional offices independent of the headquarters of parties within the coalition. Six committees were created in preparation for the elections, including an economic committee headed by former minister of finance Samir Radwan and including Hani Sarieddin, former head of the Financial Supervisory Authority, and Ziad Bahaaeddin, the former head of the General Authority for Financial Auditing, as members. The committee is in charge of formulating economic policies that will be presented to the president and cabinet of Hisham Kandil.
A political committee was also established, headed by Abdel-Ghaffar Shukr, president of the Socialist Popular Coalition Party, and including Amr Al-Shobki, Hossam Eissa and Amr Hashem Rabie. A committee for public action was set up and mandated to organise public rallies, prepare posters and flyers and organise protests. It is headed by George Ishak and includes Gaber Nassar, lawyer Mona Zulficar and Sameh Ashour, chairman of the Lawyers Syndicate, among its members. The committee will focus on addressing legislation issued by the Shura Council that the NSF views as restrictive of general freedoms, as well as proposing draft legislation such as a demonstration law, amendments to the election law and changes to the most controversial articles in the constitution.
A fifth committee on religious issues includes Nageh Ibrahim, Saad Al-Helali and Mohamed Tolba; a sixth, which will focus on logistics, is to be headed by political activist Wael Ghoneim.
While these were finalised at the NSF meeting, the Constitution Party continued to dither over whether or not to join either NSF list during the elections. The first list, almost finalised under the Wafd Party, includes the Democratic Egyptian Party and Free Egyptians and possibly the Constitution Party. The second includes the Popular Current, the Popular Nasserist-Karama Coalition, and could include the Egyptian Congress Party.
On the surface it appears that, despite differences, all is well at the NSF and within the independent current. But beneath the surface there are clear signs of impending divisions, and little evidence of a clear plan to confront Islamist forces that also appear to be suffering fractures. The largest Salafist bloc, the Nour Party, is falling apart. Several party leaders have left to form the Watan Party, supported by Hazem Salah Abu Ismail and his followers. Some observers believe this is a serious blow for Islamist groups on the eve of parliamentary elections.
These signs indicate the depth and breadth of the changes impacting political blocs and could be the harbinger of a volatile and unstable political future. In the meantime, revolutionary youth are calling for another revolution on 25 January.

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