Talk about forming new political alliances has dominated Egyptian newspapers for the past couple of weeks. Deeply divided liberal parties are attempting to organise coalitions under the banner of ‘national unity’ in order to check their Islamist counterparts in the upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled to take place later this year. Similarly, a Muslim Brotherhood/Salafi coalition also appears to be in the mix. Are the Liberals playing the Islamists’ game or vice versa?
Fear of another Islamist majority win in parliamentary elections has prompted secular forces to come together and unite under the same umbrella, presided by Egypt’s leading Liberal politicians, Amr Moussa and Mohammed ElBaradei, to name a few. Parties such as the Popular Alliance, the Dustur Party and the Egyptian Social Democratic party are among those calling for an alliance, the ‘Third Current’. The ‘Popular Alliance’, headed by former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, is another coalition underway, which has so far received roughly 10,000 membership applications.
Egypt’s liberals feel they are facing an existential threat following Mohammed Morsi’s win in the presidential race back in June. The MB backed President has since carried out a ‘brotherhoodization’ of the government and effectively the Egyptian state. Since Morsi annulled the Supplementary Constitutional declaration back in July, he has assumed both executive and legislative powers reducing seculars’ space for manoeuvre. The ‘Third Current’s main priority is to ignore leftist/rightist ideological differences and create a formula that all secular factions are satisfied with, says Mohammed Abou El Ghar, head of the Egyptian Social Democratic party – the fight is between seculars and Islamists.
Dr. Khaled Fahmy, history professor at the American University in Cairo, explains that this rationale demonstrates the liberal forces acquiescence in playing the Islamist’s game. In order to truly challenge the results of the next elections, “we must engage Islamists on a different platform” (such as the economy), rather than fight an ideological battle of seculars versus Islamists, says the Egyptian academic.
One of the main reasons for the strong MB support is based on religion, says Ahmad Maher, leader of the April 6th movement. Islam is a powerful tool garnering people’s support blindly, and this is the core of the MB success, a tool the secular forces lack.
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Arguably the MB’s reaction to form an alliance with the Salafis displays their strategic character, but also suggests its weakness. Although one could argue that the Salafis are the MB’s natural allies, the Brotherhood only announced its own talks of forming an alliance as a reaction to secular coalitions mushrooming in the past few weeks. This means they acknowledge the potential power secular forces may gain in the next parliamentary elections and therefore perceive them a serious threat to their monopoly over power. Even Dr. Abou El Ghar admits “the best thing that happened is that they won, with a very small majority”, he points out, “I would like them to be in power because they will be exposed. Their popularity definitely decreased,” thus giving liberals an advantage.
A secular alliance might be a short-term solution to the problem, but if the Liberals were to win in the next elections, then what? Wouldn’t disagreements and divisions among them re-emerge once in power? Let us not forget that on the eve of the 2012 parliamentary elections, newly formed liberal coalitions fell apart precisely because of internal party politics.
Finding long lasting solutions to a failed attempt in building a welfare state – confronting Egypt’s economic and social ills – should constitute their main priority. The average Egyptian will have to go to the polls later this year and say ‘I am voting for a secular coalition because they will improve my socio-economic conditions’, not merely because they are secular. Unless these issues are addressed in a constructive manner, their so-called victory over the Islamists will simply be a political triumph, not necessarily a social or popular one – the key element for guaranteeing a longer political life span.
Thus far secular forces have been playing on the Islamists playing field; Egyptians have long been victims of a power struggle between those who dictate and those who wish to. The time is ripe for building a state in the service of its people, and not in its own service. We have yet to bear the fruit of the Revolution, in order to do so these secular coalitions must look beyond their perceived existential threat. They must map out a clear plan of action and win over the masses with what truly hits home: bread, freedom, social justice and certainly security.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Your Middle East.
For more stories by Nevine, read My Egypt: a personal insight into Tahrir.