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Egypt opposition still far from unity to challenge regime

While Egypt's opposition forces face common challenges, they still lack impetus to forge an alliance against the government due to several ideological and personal differences.

CAIRO — A number of Egyptian political parties, movements and figures announced in January their boycott of the presidential election scheduled for mid-March to protest what they said were regime practices “preventing any fair competition” and “resembling the practices of primitive dictatorships.” Such practices include the unconstitutional extension of the state of emergency and the use of media outlets to discredit potential competitors.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and head of Al-Ghad Party Moussa Mustafa Moussa are the only candidates set to compete in the election, as all those who had announced their intention to run withdrew from the race.

The boycotting forces include pro-Islamist parties such as the Strong Egypt Party, the eight secular and left-wing parties of the Civil Democratic Movement, liberal and left-wing political movements such as the April 6 Youth Movement and the Revolutionary Socialists Organization.

The National Alliance in Support of Electoral Legitimacy (NASEL), which includes the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties, has yet to issue a statement regarding the presidential election but is unlikely to do so. Since the overthrow of former President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013, this alliance has refused adamantly to recognize the existing regime.

Although these political forces agreed to oppose the ruling regime, they have yet to forge an alliance to enhance their positions. And the absence of such an alliance was clearly established at the press conference held by the Civil Democratic Movement to declare its boycott of the election. Neither the Strong Egypt Party nor the April 6 Youth Movement or the Revolutionary Socialists Organization were invited to attend the conference, let alone groups and parties currently or formerly affiliated with NASEL.

Besides their ideological differences, these political forces have different positions when it comes to the ruling regime. While the members of NASEL refuse to recognize and deal with the ruling regime, the other parties recognize it but reject its practices.

Akram Ismail, who is in charge of the political dossier in the Bread and Freedom Party, one of the components of the Civil Democratic Movement, told Al-Monitor, “It is out of principle that the movement refuses to coordinate, let alone forge an alliance with groups and parties currently or formerly affiliated with NASEL. The movement refuses to cooperate with any right-wing party even if it was not part of said alliance.”

Asked about their position on the Strong Egypt Party, Ismail said, “The issue is a matter of dispute within the Civil Democratic Movement. There are conservative political members who are suspicious of the Strong Egypt Party because of the background of some of its Islamist members and because of its head — Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh — who was a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood until the January [25] Revolution. However, there are other members in the movement who believe that the positions of the Strong Egypt Party are authentic, democratic and undisputed and do not mind forging an alliance with this party.”

“The Civil Democratic Movement is also divided on how to deal with the April 6 Youth Movement and the Revolutionary Socialists Organization. Some of its members believe that the two movements are sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood and fall within the orbit of Islamists, while others believe such claims are widely baseless and invalid,” Ismail added.

Muhannad Hamed Shadi, a member of Al-Wasat Party’s political bureau, which up until August 2014 was a member of NASEL, told Al-Monitor, “The Egyptian opposition forces missed a golden opportunity to coordinate and forge an alliance against the regime during one of their worst stages. All of the political forces are oppressed, suppressed or have their members arrested amid a deadlock in the political and public fields. But some forces still set specific conditions, standards and limits when it comes to coordinating with other national partners, and we are against such conditions.”

He added, “Part of the crisis is due to the fact that there are acts of racism, discrimination and social division fueled by the regime, and this is affecting the political forces and leading to their division and practice of racism against each other. Another part of the crisis is caused by some influential political forces that stand in the way of rapprochement between parties and movements due to personal issues, and this is a sad reality.”

Mohamed al-Kassas, the deputy head of the Strong Egypt Party, told Al-Monitor, “The current dispute between the opposition forces is ideological. But at such pivotal moments, these forces should overcome their differences and work hand in hand. Part of the dispute between the Egyptian opposition is caused by old differences between some political actors, and this is hindering the process of forging an alliance.”

According to Ismail, the Civil Democratic Movement has a rule concerning alliances or coordination with political entities. According to this rule, such entities “should not be affiliated with or close to the [Hosni] Mubarak regime, the networks of this regime, the Muslim Brotherhood or NASEL.” But this rule has yet to be strictly implemented as per Ismail.

The Islamist political forces and their close associates do not seem to have such rules. The Muslim Brotherhood has repeatedly, most recently on the anniversary of the January 25 Revolution, called for “unity within the revolutionary class in a bid to end the coup,” in reference to the military overthrow of Morsi in July 2013.

Shadi said that “the party is in favor of such an alliance with all the parties without any conditions.”

Meanwhile, Kassas said that the “Strong Egypt Party does not mind cooperating or forging an alliance with any official and legal political party that does not support the current regime, that is not an illegal ideological organization or a cover thereto and that works from Egypt. Therefore, the party does not mind cooperating with Islamist, leftist and liberal parties so long as they comply with these conditions.”

This shows that opposition to the ruling regime cannot serve alone as the basis for an alliance between the Egyptian opposition political forces of different ideologies at a time when most of these forces are failing to overcome their long history of hostility. In other words, a unified front including all opposition factions is unlikely to see the light, at least not in the short term.

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