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Egypt mixing sports, politics with new party-affiliated club

Egypt’s largest political party, the Nation’s Future Party, announced recently the establishment of its own sports club, sparking major controversy in the country.

CAIRO — Egypt's largest political party, the Nation’s Future Party, announced June 13 the establishment of its own sports club, the Nation’s Future Sports Club.

This decision sparked confusion on the Egyptian political scene, with the existence of more than 90 political parties established following the January 25 Revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak’s regime. 

What's more controversial is the fact that the Egyptian law and constitution strictly prohibit sports clubs from exercising political action or establishing political parties. Article 87 of the constitution stipulates, “The use of public funds, government agencies, public facilities, places of worship, business sector establishments and nongovernmental organizations and institutions for political purposes and electioneering is forbidden.”

In June 2017, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ratified the Youth Institutions Law, which bans youth institutions, including sports clubs, from practicing political, partisan or religious activities.

The Nation’s Future Party is the largest party in Egypt holding a majority in parliament with close to 300 members out of a total of 596. The party, established before the 2015 parliamentary elections, is one of the main forces in the Egyptian Support Coalition, which represents the majority within parliament.

Head of the party Ashraf Rashad announced June 13 that the Egyptian Olympic Committee approved the party’s request to change the name of the Sports Development Club to the Nation’s Future Sports Club to become the first club affiliated with a political party. 

Rashad pledged to develop the club to offer special services for its members and to form a committee to follow through the club’s requirements for developments and for opening branches.

The Sports Development Club, located in central Cairo, was affiliated with the Ministry of Youth and Sports before the Egyptian Olympic Committee approved the request of the Nation’s Future Party’s to change its name. 

Abdel Fattah Yahya, a leader of the Nation’s Future Party, told Al-Monitor via phone that the move paves the way for the club to open other branches across the country, to reach out to the youth and encourage them to join the party. The club, he said, will offer sports activities to members of the party as well as those not affiliated with the party.

Yahya believes the party is seeking to communicate with the youth through sports and social activities in order to identify the problems they face and find solutions to them. He called on Egyptian political parties to follow in the footsteps of the Nation’s Future Party to communicate with the people and try finding solutions to their problems.

“There is nothing in the Egyptian Constitution and law that prevents a political party from establishing a sports club to serve its members,” Yahya said.

Article 74 of the constitution prohibits political parties from engaging in religious or sectarian activities or any anti-democratic, clandestine, military or paramilitary activity. It does not, however, explicitly forbid them from establishing sports clubs. 

It seems the party found a loophole in the constitution to work around and establish the club. 

“The party bears responsibility for Egyptians alone, and other political forces need to join hands with us. We extend our support to everyone and we are ready for dialogue. Our goal is the nation’s best interest and secure a democratically sound political life,” Yahya added.

Constitutional jurist and professor of law Nabil Helmy has a different view. “As per the constitution, political parties are neither allowed nor prohibited from establishing sports clubs. I believe the Nation’s Future Party took advantage of this loophole to found its club, which has never happened before in the history of political life in Egypt,” he told Al-Monitor.

He explained that while the constitution does not explicitly ban political parties from establishing sports clubs, it does, however, state that clubs and public facilities are not allowed to engage in politics, which is a dilemma that needs to be addressed.

Professor of political science at Cairo University Ikram Badr al-Din said that the Nation’s Future Party made an unusual step in the political arena, which caused confusion on the political scene. “The party has devised a new way to connect and get closer to the youth in order to gain their support and confidence. This has never happened before,” he told Al-Monitor.

Badr al-Din noted that other political parties are not likely to follow suit given their poor financial resources, which could hinder them from taking a similar step.

“The goal behind the establishment of the sports club is to communicate with the youth and provide recreational services to its members and attract more people to join the party, which could serve as strong political support in the upcoming local and parliamentary elections scheduled for next year,” he concluded.