x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

New Egyptian political party to take on Morsi

Egypt's liberal and secular groups are preparing to create a new political party to mount an aggressive campaign in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Egyptian women, some holding up signs that read in Arabic, ‘Void’ and ‘No to the Constitution’, demonstrate in front of the Cairo Zoo in Giza.
Egyptian women, some holding up signs that read in Arabic, ‘Void’ and ‘No to the Constitution’, demonstrate in front of the Cairo Zoo in Giza.

CAIRO // Newly united by their opposition to President Mohammed Morsi and a controversial new constitution, Egypt's liberal and secular groups are preparing to create a new political party to mount an aggressive campaign in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

The high committee of the National Salvation Front (NSF), the umbrella opposition group that led huge street protests last month to protest against what they called Mr Morsi's move toward autocracy, is preparing to register a new party with the same name, an official said.

Efforts by Egyptian liberals and secularists to organise themselves more effectively received fresh impetus after the leader of Egypt's largest ultraconservative Islamist party announced on Tuesday he was forming a new political party, splitting from the Salafist Al Nour party.

Representatives from the NSF's member groups would run as a bloc to counter the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and the popular Salafist parties.

The political moves from opposite poles in Egyptians' political spectrum come as informal campaigning for Egyptian parliamentary elections gathers pace.

"One of the merits of the president's terrible decisions is that he finally united the opposition," said Ahmed Said, a member of the NSF and head of the liberal Free Egyptians party. "I can assure you now that everyone realises very clearly that we will not be able to continue separately. Only united will we be able to face the Islamic political factions."

Leaders of the Front have agreed to lay aside differences, especially on economic policy where they range from socialists to free-market advocates, in what they see as a life-and-death battle over the nature of daily life in Egypt, Mr Said said.

"We are very scared about the emergence of a new dictatorship that could lead the country into another 30 years of dictatorship," he said. "This time it's in the name of religion, not a political party. So, it's no time to differ on economic ideology."

For decades, Egypt only had a veneer of democracy, with results of elections always giving the all-powerful National Democratic Party (NDP) a clear majority. Rigging and intimidation were commonplace.

But with the dissolution of the NDP, the country's political scene was thrown into a state of turbulence that gave Islamist groups with a strong organisational background an advantage in parliamentary elections held a year ago.

The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and the Salaf Al Nour Party together won nearly 70 per cent of the seats in the People's Assembly - the lower house of parliament - while the newly formed liberal parties only grabbed a sliver of seats.

The People's Assembly was dissolved in June after the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that part of the elections were unconstitutional. The new constitution calls for parliamentary elections within 60 days of its ratification, which means elections could come as soon as March. Already, the scene is rapidly shifting from the contours of last year, said Mazen Hassan, a professor of political science at Cairo University.

"The main change is that dissatisfaction is starting to rise and will likely rise even further, especially as the economic situation worsens," he said. "This means the Islamists, who are in power, are losing some popularity."

The question, he said, was whether the NSF could translate the momentum it gathered during the protests into votes.

"I do not see that they are very capable of this at the moment," Mr Hassan said. "The problem is they are only united by their anti-Islamist agenda and not on a programme for Egypt. They need to do a lot of work on the ground."

Another important question is how will the Salafis perform in the coming election. The Al Nour party shocked observers last year when they emerged as the second most-powerful political group in the People's Assembly.

But in recent weeks, the Al Nour party has suffered a major fracturing. Emad Abdel Ghaffour, the head of the party, resigned along with 150 others to form the Al Watan Party over differences with Al Nour's parent organisation, the Salafist Dawa. Officials from Al Watan have said they will run alongside supporters of Hazem Abu Ismail, a popular Salafist preacher and former presidential candidate who is known for his throngs of dedicated supporters known as Hazemoun.

Mr Said, of the NSF, said that even if the bloc did not gain a stronger foot hold for liberals in the new parliament, the president would have to ask for their help sooner or later.

"The president has ignored more than half the country, the side that does not want an Islamist dictatorship," he said. "You cannot run the country if this many people oppose you. The Muslim Brotherhood has a problem with including others in decision making and they will suffer because of it."

The Brotherhood's leaders were not ready to take on the country's economic situation alone, Mr Said said. Unemployment has risen above 12 per cent and the Egyptian pound has begun depreciating against the dollar, a harbinger of an increase in inflation and difficulties for the more than 40 per cent of the 83 million people who live on less than US$2 (Dh7.30) a day.

"At best, they have some people with a merchant background, but they have no idea how to manage the economy," he said. "Unless they cooperate, they will have a real crisis on their hands and it will convince Egyptians that they are not the right people to lead the country."

bhope@thenational.ae

twitterFollow The National on @TheNationalUAE & Bradley Hope on @bradleyhope