By Hussein Abd Rabo
The results of the first round of parliamentary elections have shown that there is a complete blockage in all political paths in Egypt. This was clearly visible in the reluctance to vote, where over 90 parties were unsuccessful in effectively mobilising voters. Moreover, the state has become unconcerned with the parliamentary elections, and media outlets have been propagating the idea that the parliament could disrupt the president’s role, limit his powers, and delay his accomplishments.
This comes alongside frustrations among citizens, after sensing no tangible change, whether with regards to standard of living or services, despite the number of elections and referendums that have been over the past three years. All of those elections called on citizens to participate to support stability and change – but this never materialised.
Adding to those frustrations is the atmosphere of political silence from the state and parties, which some believe was intended by the regime through its imposition of restrictions on parties and demonstrations via the protest law and other actions and legislations that restrict the freedom of parties on the ground.
The question now is: Who benefits from such political silence: the state, the president, or parties? Certainly, it does not benefit anybody, even if it was deliberate on the part of the state or the president. This silence only feeds citizens’ frustrations.
This can be sensed by looking at frustrated citizens who have lost faith in the current regime, and its ability to meet their ambitions. Some claim that the current regime has been losing its tools of communication with the masses.
In a recent interview with CBC, Mohamed Hassanein Heikal said: “President Al-Sisi has no party. The tools for communicating with masses are not limited to the microphones of the radio and television; but to really reach the people, there must be a direct means of communications that links him with people on the ground.”
He said this does not exist, and called on the president to group a few people around him in what could be a party, a national front, or a coalition that he leads.
Here, Heikal highlighted that Al-Sisi’s problem is that his voice and ideas cannot reach all citizens, or that he lacks the right people to promote his ideas among the masses throughout Egypt. He repeated that the president must have a party. He began to speak clearly with the announcement of the parliamentary elections and the importance of a backbone that supports the president in the parliament. Forming this backbone was the reason behind delaying the elections more than once, where several fronts and coalitions rallied to support the president in the parliament, including the Egyptian Front, Sahwet Misr, and Tayyar Al-Istiqlal (The Independence Current), until “For the Love of Egypt” emerged. The latter list included many pro-Al-Sisi figures that are running for the elections. They were able to obtain 60 seats in the first phase, which constitutes 50% of list seats in the next parliament. The list includes politicians, journalists and former officials of the army, police and state institutions.
Most members of this front would not object to the prospect of becoming a political party headed by Al-Sisi. The same goes for the Future of a Nation Party, headed by Mohamed Badran, Head of the Egyptian Universities Student Union. Badran accompanied the president on the Mahrousa Ship during the inauguration of the new Suez Canal on 6 August. This party had 84 candidates running for the elections, of which 48 are in the runoffs. This exceeds what older parties managed to achieve.
Al-Wafd is going for the runoffs with 25 candidates. Some believe that Al-Wafd could also become the president’s party. But will other parties accept to repeat Mubarak’s alliance with the National Democratic Party, where he headed the party and gave its members numerous advantages and benefits at the expense of the rest of the parties, which were unable to compete with the president’s party, that in turn also became the government’s party?
Would Al-Sisi be able to separate between his powers as president and his powers as head of a political party? What criteria would he adopt when choosing members of his party, or the party he will lead? Will the political scene following the 25 January Revolution accept the president leading a political party? Does the current political system or the constitution prevent the president from forming a political party?
Perhaps the president is entitled to form a political party and to lead it. However, he must play by the rules, and ensure equality with other parties in all political practices, and that his government has no biases towards the president’s party. Al-Sisi first has to set the political scene free, and remove any restrictions blocking organised political work. In contrast, during both Mubarak’s and Sadat’s eras, who led parties, and even before them, in Nasser’s era with the Arab Socialist Union Party, all results were the same. The executive branch of the government was biased to the president’s party; further, this party eliminated all others, which could not maintain a presence on the ground because of the president’s party’s domination.
President Al-Sisi can become a president for all parties, if he is able to provide a healthy atmosphere and positive climate for political work, and respect for the constitution.
We need a national president, but we also need a wise opposition that criticises and directs the regime through democratic practices, not with bombs and Molotov cocktails.