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The impossible parliamentary alliance
 
 

The newly-elected parliament, which is due to convene soon, is still in a state of flux, with various parties and groups forming political alliances in a process characterized more by complexity than clear alignment.

Such complexity has been most witnessed with the “Alliance to Support the State”, which later had to change its name to the “Alliance to Support Egypt”, following much criticism for its blunt claim of being the regime’s voice in parliament. The alliance is primarily composed of the largely pro-state “For the Love of Egypt” electoral list that swept the 120 seats allocated for political party lists in the elections.

The list was led by former intelligence officer Sameh Seif al-Yazal, who managed to attract leading pro-regime figures. Among the list’s winning candidates were also leading figures in other political parties like the liberal Free Egyptians Party, Wafd Party and Future of a Nation Party.

The new coalition, viewed as an attempt to create a new National Democratic Party tasked with supporting all regime-friendly legislation, established various political offices across the country and vowed to contest elections in local municipalities.

Yet the aspiring coalition continues to miss the support of two major players in parliament, namely the Free Egyptians and Wafd, while it had to work hard to draw in the Future of a Nation.

The three center-right parties managed to win a considerable number of seats allocated to individual candidates. After a fierce competition, the Free Egyptians managed to become the party with the highest number of seats in parliament, with 65 members. Second was Future of a Nation with 53 seats, followed by Wafd with 33 seats.

With its future threatened, the alliance released a statement late on Monday urging the parties that took part in the electoral list to reconsider their position and join the Alliance to Support Egypt.

In what seemed to be a harsh warning, the alliance said that the political parties have to understand the “dangers” surrounding the parliament given the “constitutional challenges” that could possibly lead to its dissolution.

The statement assured political parties that their membership in the alliance won’t conflict with their independence or their legislative agendas.

“The historical moment Egypt was going through and continues to do requires everyone to [sideline personal interests] and unite for the general interest of the country and the success of the parliament,” the statement said. The statement specifically referred to “certain laws” that should be passed with a two-thirds majority in the parliament or it will be dissolved.

According to article 156 of the constitution, parliament must review all the laws that were passed during the period that Egypt was without a legislature, which means that the parliament will have to review hundreds of laws passed by former President Adly Mansour and President Adel Fattah al-Sisi.

Among these laws is the presidential elections law. The constitution gives the parliament the power to cancel presidential elections if the law is not approved. If the parliament fails to reach a conclusive decision regarding the law, the president then has the power to dissolve parliament.

One way of avoiding such uncertainty is to establish a coalition of at least 390 parliamentarians that guarantees the acceptance of the presidential elections law.

Estimates of the candidates who have so far joined the Alliance to Support Egypt indicate that the bloc still needs to draw in the three main parties. If they all joined, the alliance would have more than 400 members.

Both the Wafd and the Free Egyptians have previously expressed discontent with the design and management of the “For the Love of Egypt” list, which is the original basis of the Alliance to Support Egypt.

In September, Naguib Sawiris, founder of the Free Egyptians Party, said that the list had failed to include enough young party candidates, adding that the role of political parties in the list is “diminishing”.

Sayed Badawy, head of the Wafd Party, expressed a similar sentiment. In an interview with Al-Araby satellite channel after the second stage of the elections, he expressed discontent with the results.

“I expect that a large part of the upcoming parliament will be represented by pre-January 25 powers, mostly former officials of the National Democratic Party,” he said. “I’m not optimistic.”

The biggest blow to the alliance was the withdrawal of the Future of a Nation Party, given its leading role in the formation of the For the Love of Egypt list. The party is largely viewed as having strong connections to the state, with the party’s founder and president, Mohamed Badran, enjoying a close relationship with Sisi.

In a statement, Badran said that the party will continue to support President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, but without being part of the Alliance to Support Egypt. In confident words, Badran added that the party will be represented only through its own parliamentary bloc. “As youth, we are with you Mr. President, but we are not with the Alliance to Support Egypt, and we won’t allow the division of parliament. We will remain the best to represent the Egyptian people,” he added.

Badran’s comments revealed the competition that lies behind the quest to form a dominant parliamentary alliance. Ahmed Samy, the spokesperson for The Future of a Nation Party told Mada Masr that the party’s withdrawal from the coalition was a result of the concentration of power in the hands of the alliance’s leadership and the marginalization of the parties.

“The coalition was going to take us back to the 2010 parliament, where one side is in control of the whole parliament, but we have been able to carry out a corrective revolution,” Samy says.

Samy adds that the coalition’s coordinators reached out to the party’s parliamentarians without going through the party. With 51 members in the parliament, the party wanted its weight to be reflected within the alliance while it maintains its ability to move independently.

However, ongoing negotiations among the coalition leaders and Badran finally led to the party joining the coalition again on Wednesday, this time on new conditions. Among the conditions imposed by the Future of a Nation Party is that the alliance must not replace those individual parties that join it, but allow them to continue with their own party-based work and identities.

While Samy asserts that his party agrees with the members of the alliance on its “national direction”, he says that the party will also maintain its own legislative agenda with priorities that might not be shared by the alliance.

Badran also insisted that the alliance should not register as a new party after the parliament convenes, nor should it develop a party-like structure, such as acquiring a headquarters and donations. Another condition is that voting within the alliance would take into consideration the electoral weight of each party represented in it. In addition, the alliance will shut down all its political offices across the country and its head will be elected annually.

Tarek Fahmy, professor of political science at Cairo University, tells Mada Masr that the divisions among political forces inside the parliament run deeper than is apparent. He criticized the Alliance to Support Egypt for being run through “unseen powers” that dominate the decision-making process and hide behind the personality of Yazal, whose management is not much favored by the other political forces.

“The alliance aimed at controlling all leadership positions inside the parliament, including the parliament speaker and deputy positions, heads of committees, and also creating the new internal bylaws of the parliament,” he said.

“It is obvious that the Future of a Nation’s withdrawal was tactical, in order to gain more power inside the parliament. This makes sense given its composition, which includes former [Hosni] Mubarak regime parliamentarians and other power-seeking business and interest groups.”

With Future of a Nation joining the alliance again, some speculated that the Free Egyptians and Wafd Parties will join forces in an opposing coalition. However, both parties have so far declared their intention to work independently.

Hossam al-Khlouly, the vice president of Wafd, tells Mada Masr that the party would only be represented through its elected members, and may also collaborate with some independent parliamentarians.

Khouly explains that the party is not looking for numbers, and that any political parties who share the same vision of Wafd regarding necessary legislation will be welcomed, regardless of their affiliations. “Let it be the alliance, Free Egyptians, Future of a Nation or any other party. Ninety percent of parliamentary representatives are mostly center-right, meaning that the focus on the economy and boosting investments is the main agenda for them all, and this what our party will be focusing on primarily,” he added.

The Free Egyptians Party, meanwhile, stands firm in confronting the alliance, with the party’s spokesperson Shehab Wageeh naming it “the new National Democratic Party”. Party founder and chief financier Naguib Sawiris said in a recent interview that the alliance is “sheep with a supreme guide,” comparing it to the ousted Muslim Brotherhood organization.

The party went as far as threatening to terminate the membership of some elected MPs representing the party who agreed to join the Alliance to Support Egypt. One of those members was even referred to internal investigations, Wageeh added.

“We had a big chance to be the biggest bloc of the new National Democratic Party, but in fact, this is not our goal. Our goal is to be in a normal political life that has four of five major blocs inside the parliament, where every bloc has its ideas. They agree and disagree for the sake of the citizens’ interests. Citizens then evaluate [everyone] to elect next time the bloc that best represents their interests,” Wageeh said in a press conference.

The Free Egyptians attitude is deemed “healthy” by Aboul Fadl al-Esnawy, researcher at the Regional Center for Strategic Studies. “The alliance [to Support Egypt] will further kill political parties, because it does not make sense to have a group of independent parliamentarians dominating political parties,” he says.

For Fahmy, the attitude of the Alliance to Support Egypt is pushing both Wafd and the Free Egyptians to work independently. “Wafd may unite with smaller parties and independent parliamentarians, while the Free Egyptians will use its organization and resources to independently oppose the state alliance,” Fahmy speculates.

As for the smaller opposition groups in parliament, they may become less relevant in the legislative space as they fall under the control of the big players. For Esnawy, greater strength on the part of the Alliance to Support Egypt may push “the opposition minority in parliament to take to the streets.”

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Mai Shams El-Din