CAIRO — Egyptian opposition parties seem to have decided to sever any existing or potential relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood. The Civil Democratic Movement, the largest coalition of the Egyptian opposition parties, announced Feb. 6 its intention to present the Egyptian regime with a proposal to amend the parliamentary elections law to guarantee the representation of opposition parties in parliament while also preventing the election of candidates who are linked to the Brotherhood.
Legislative elections are expected to be held in November; the Civil Democratic Movement wants to see parties elected through proportional representation rather than through a winner-take-all closed list system.
The Civil Democratic Movement only declared the general principles of the draft law it intends to propose, without revealing any details. Still, it raised the ire of the Brotherhood and its allies. Gamaa Islamiya leader Tarek al-Zumar said in a press interview Feb. 16, “If I were in the movement's place, I would have chosen to open up to national reconciliation and to issue electoral legislation that would allow all Egyptians to participate in the elections.”
Zumar said the proposal to amend the parliamentary elections law to ensure that no Brotherhood members could be in parliament divides those confronting the regime of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi; Zumar said the Civil Democratic Movement is thus contributing to “deepening intellectual and political polarization by insisting on opposing the Brotherhood.”
In December 2013, the Egyptian government issued a decision classifying the Brotherhood as a terrorist group after many of the group’s members and leaders were involved in planning and inciting terrorist acts across Egypt after the armed forces, led by Sisi (who was the defense minister at the time), overthrew Mohammed Morsi on July 3, 2013; Morsi was the first Brotherhood member to be elected president of Egypt.
Morsi was overthrown following the largest popular demonstrations in the history of Egypt against his rule, beginning June 30, 2013. The Brotherhood and many of its allies, such as Gamaa Islamiya, believed this was a coup against the legitimate authority.
As it is now, the Brotherhood cannot form its own party, but some Brotherhood-affiliated people conceivably could run as independents or as part of a party list if they aren't accused of any crime.
A source in the Civil Democratic Movement told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the proposal to amend the elections law to isolate the Brotherhood is a message to the Brotherhood that the movement's parties were part of the political fabric of the June 30 revolution calling for the ouster of the Brotherhood’s leadership led by Morsi. The source said the amendment also shows that the “movement will not be an ally of the Brotherhood's return to political life after the terrorist acts it committed, even if it were to confront the current political regime that we oppose.”
The Civil Democratic Movement was established in 2017 as an alliance of opposition parties against Sisi’s regime, the first elected president after Morsi's ouster. This alliance consists of seven liberal and leftist parties that boycotted the 2015 parliamentary elections and thus were absent from the current parliament. The Constitution Party, Tayar al-Karama Party, the Socialist People's Alliance Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, Reform and Development Party, the Egypt Freedom Party and the Justice Party had called for the June 30 demonstrations against Morsi and made up this alliance.
The source added that the second message behind the amendment proposal is addressed to the regime. “It refutes any allegation by the Brotherhood or any of its allies claiming that there are understandings between them and the movement. Such allegations only aim to implicate the [Civil Democratic Movement] and accuse its members of being involved with the Brotherhood.”
In June 2019, Egyptian security forces arrested a number of party leaders and liberal and left-wing political activists who had formed the Alliance of Hope. The activists were referred to the attorney general on charges of having joined a terrorist group (a reference to the Brotherhood) and of having planned to spread chaos. Many observers said they believe the arrests had been made because a number of Brotherhood members had joined the alliance.
Among those affiliated with the Brotherhood in that alliance were Mustafa Abdel Sattar, the son of Brotherhood leader Abdel Moez Abdel Sattar, who resides in Qatar, and Omar al-Shaniti, whose funds were seized by the Committee on Confiscating and Managing Muslim Brotherhood Funds and Assets in August 2017.
Sarah Fahmy, political researcher at the Egyptian Foundation for Strategic Studies and Research, told Al-Monitor that the Civil Democratic Movement and its parties often contributed to supporting the Brotherhood’s positions by boycotting elections or calling on citizens to boycott them. She said the parties' participation in the upcoming parliamentary elections would be a true correction in course of the positions they took before, and said she hoped they would not back down from this step.
Fahmy added, “In addition to no longer wanting to boycott elections, the movement's declared desire to exclude the Brotherhood from any elections is a slap to the latter’s face. The movement will submit its amendment proposal either to the president or to parliament. This paves the way for the return of relations between state institutions and opposition parties, which President Sisi was keen on at the beginning of his rule.”
In January 2015, during meetings with the leadership of all Egyptian parties, Sisi had called on the parties that are now in the Civil Democratic Movement to run for seats allocated to the closed-list system through a unified list of all parties to ensure representation of all political forces. But parties that both supported and opposed the government ignored his call. The parties that are now in the Civil Democratic Movement parties were present at all of Sisi's meetings with party leaders until the parties that are now in the movement boycotted the October 2015 parliamentary elections.
Shadia Fathi, a professor of political science at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor that some people are overly optimistic about the Civil Democratic Movement’s willingness to run for the upcoming parliamentary elections.
“The main principles for amending the elections law are based on the fact that elections take place for two-thirds of the seats in parliament according to the proportional list system. This proposal does not take into consideration the conditions stipulated in the 2014 constitution, namely that parliament includes a quota for women, youth and farmers, workers, Christians and people with disabilities,” she said. “Also, it is technically difficult to adhere to the quota system in the case of relying on proportional list system instead of the closed list system.”
Fathi expected the regime to reject the proposal to amend the law because it most likely would be unconstitutional. She also expected that the movement would not show flexibility and decide to participate in the elections if its proposal was disregarded, especially since the Civil Democratic Movement parties already boycotted the 2015 elections in protest against the closed list system.