Restructuring Political Parties in Egypt: Motivations and Scenarios

 

As soon as the result of Egypt’s presidential elections were announced in April 2018, debate resurfaced on the need to restructure political parties in Egypt. Ever since he was nominated for his first term in 2014, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has advocated a distillation of the nation’s political parties. During the World Youth Forum in Sharm El-Sheikh in 2017, he reiterated his call to merge the 100 or so current Egyptian political parties to “strengthen political parties” throughout the state.

This reflects a clear inclination on the part of the Egyptian regime to reengineer the political map by introducing a parliamentary resolution for a draft law to combine many of these parties, while also dismantling those in violation of the laws governing political participation, in order to reduce their overall number.[1]

This push for political parties to merge or form alliances has stirred a variety of reactions. Some political figures have supported the concept; others have criticized it on the basis that the “weakness of the political parties is not due to their large number only but to the intervention of the executive branch in political life, restricting the public domain, and to laws that limit the free movement of these parties,” adding that he situation “requires the provision of a sound atmosphere through which parties interact with citizens.”[2]

This debate raises a number of motivations and factors that will determine the likelihood of such a change:

At the political level, the “For the Love of Egypt” alliance highlighted a significant weakness of the regime; namely the growing gap between the presidency and the people regarding many executive decisions, owing to the lack of a system through which various segments of society may be effectively represented. These alliances were hampered by the parties’ lack of experience, the diversity of their backgrounds, the self-interest of many of their members and the internal crises within their parties. All of this prevented communication between the presidency and the people.

In practice, despite their numbers, political parties were not able to establish and deliver genuine political participation capable of nurturing and reflecting the opinions of their grassroots. The recent presidential elections also highlighted the limited ability of pro-Sisi political parties to sufficiently mobilize – or execute campaigns to secure – public support for the president. Meanwhile, opposition parties failed to offer any viable unified alternative; some boycotted the elections, while others remained unconvinced by the strategy and chose to participate.  

Among Egyptian society there is a genuine disconnect between the political elite and voters, who feel that elites are either illegitimate or do not offer any value, as reflected in the consistently low election turnout.

In any case, during the elections the regime preferred not to rely on the backing of individual parties in view of the huge public support President El-Sisi enjoyed from mid-July 2013 until after the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2014 and 2015, respectively. The regime replaced direct political support with that of political alliances/lists that facilitated the implementation of the President’s preferred style of rule, including the “Support Egypt” list in the parliament, the “Long Live Egypt” alliance in the labor unions and the “For the Love of Egypt” list in local elections.

Likely scenarios

The following comprise three possible scenarios for remapping the structure of political parties in Egypt:

Scenario 1: A vehicle of support for the ruling regime

This scenario foresees the formation of a political party to expressly support the ruling regime in the manner of the National Democratic Party during the pre-2011 Hosni Mubarak era. The fulfillment of this scenario would require genuine political will on the part of the presidency to form such a party. This may be achieved in two ways: either the president joins an existing political party that enjoys a parliamentary majority, thereby making it the ruling party,[3] or an existing coalition is transformed into a political party to serve the same aim. Both require legislative amendments, however: allowing either for the president to take part in the political process or for a merger of political parties to occur without triggering the termination of their representatives’ membership of Parliament in accordance with the constitution and the law. Article (110) of Egypt’s constitution and article (6) of the Law on the House of Representatives stipulate that “The membership of any member may only be revoked if a member has lost trust, status or any of the conditions for membership on the basis of which he was elected.”

 

However, there are several factors that may hinder the implementation of this scenario: first is the president’s reluctance to be subject to a party structure that may restrict his freedom of action; second is his desire to avoid the pitfalls experienced by the erstwhile National Democratic Party. Therefore, the implementation of this scenario in the near future seems unlikely, given the current regime’s security, counter-terrorism and economic priorities. Consequently, the practical implementation of any such amendments would probably only begin near the end of the current parliamentary session as part of arrangements for the parliamentary elections of 2021.

Scenario 2: Party mergers

This scenario presents two possibilities: either specific parties merge based on their main ideological orientations – as was the case in Sadat’s era of pluralist party platforms – or those with weak parliamentary representation integrate with parties not currently represented in the parliament, which would require a legislative amendment.

Again, there are a number of factors that may hinder the implementation of this scenario. Any such legislative amendment may lead to conflict among the sixteen parties represented in the parliament, as a merger would no doubt entail internal competition over the various leadership posts in the new entity.

In the absence of an appropriate amendment a merger would be futile, as it could only involve those small parties with no representation in the parliament. Therefore, while this scenario remains possible in the medium-term, this will largely depend on parliamentary acceptance.

Scenario 3: Continuation of the status quo

Under this third scenario, there will be no change to the structure of political parties in Egypt; either the role of the present political coalitions will be accentuated, or new coalitions will be established to represent specific interests. This is the likely outcome should the president and the House of Representatives abandon their endeavor to alter the structure of the current party system. However, the consequences of this scenario include the continued decline of the ruling regime’s popularity, and a widening gap between the presidency and society in the absence of adequate strategic communication to reflect the regime’s orientations. In light of these considerations, this scenario appears unlikely.

Finally, the regime can be expected to seek amendments to the constitution that extend the president’s term in office to six years – or even remove the limit altogether – allowing him to remain in office after the end of a second term. It is likely that legislation will also be amended to allow a smooth merger between current political parties in a manner that allows the weight of each party to be determined by the merits of their leading figures and platforms.

This would lead to the emergence of two or three major parties that would dominate the political scene and likely bring stability to parliament – given that majority parties will compromise to avoid instable mergers, while those with weak representation will do the same to secure their amalgamation.

 

[1] “Representative Ahmad Rif’at: I have just completed the law to merge political parties and disband ‘the religious and in breach’ ones,” Parlmany website, April 23, 2018, available at: https://goo.gl/qZFqje

[2] Abdel Ghani Diab, “In the Wake of El-Sisi’s Call for their Merger, Who is Responsible for the Weakness of Political Parties?” Masralarabia website, November 9, 2017, available at: https://bit.ly/2HpaM1m

[3] There are 16 well-represented political parties in the parliament, notably the Free Egyptians Party with 65 seats, the Mostaqbal Watan Party with 50 seats, and the Wafd Party with 45 seats.

 

 
 

Sharethis