Can Egypt's Secular Parties Capitalize on Islamists' Woes?

Article Summary
Following parliamentary and presidential victories for Islamist-aligned parties in Egypt, both secular and religious parties are preparing for the next round of parliamentary elections. Khaled al-Sirgani argues that secular forces are more popular than Islamists, but their organizational style dooms them to failure.

Some Egyptian newspapers have reported that the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, has started to select and prepare its candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, key figures of the so-called civil forces are still discussing the formation of a “Third Current” — or “Popular Current,” call it what you want. This step means that the Freedom and Justice Party, which seeks to monopolize the political process in the same way as the totalitarian parties did, will be a step ahead of its rivals. These parties have so far not sought to take advantage of the results of the presidential election, which shows that the civil (secular) forces are more popular than the forces of political Islam.

The problem with the so-called civil current — and its various spectra, ranging from the liberal right wing to the left — is that it always prefers to be in a defensive position, which is one of the reasons for its falling behind in most election battles. But the results of the presidential election in the first round, which confirmed the Egyptian voters’ rejection of the parties and currents of political Islam, have prompted the civil current to start uniting its ranks and coordinating efforts in order to win the next electoral battle. The civil current is preparing its candidates for the different constituencies, especially those that have received a high percentage of votes in favor of Hamdeen Sabahi or Amr Moussa in the first round, or even Ahmed Shafik in the second round.

The presidential election has proven that the remnants of the now-dissolved National Democratic Party (NDP) have been completely excluded, and that the Egyptian voters do not support the Islamists the same way they did during the last elections of the now-dissolved parliament. Thus, some level of organization and coordination, in addition to presenting respectable figures for the voters, can ensure a parliamentary majority for the civil current. However, the movement is preoccupied with debating its future name: whether it should be the “Third Current” or the “Popular Current.” It has not yet started to prepare electoral programs aimed at solving problems in Egypt.

It is known that the performance of the Islamic current — including its Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist wings — may lead to a loss of voter support. But the Islamic current is aware of this fact and seeks to overcome it through coordinated effort. Meanwhile, the civil current is standing idly by, as if a decline in the Islamists’ popularity would eventually work in its favor, without any effort on its part.

Based on this approach, the civil current only communicates with the public during the election period, rather than on a daily basis as other parties around the world do. The delay in handling the forthcoming elections — whose date has not yet been set — will give the Islamic current a chance to regain the lead, which will give it an advantage over the civil parties competing against it. This might, once again, bring us election results that do not reflect the Egyptian political reality, nor the real political base of each political party.

Today, the civil current, with its various political spectra, has a responsibility to think about priorities. It must present to the legislative bodies its vision of the electoral law, so it would not discover schemes being plotted behind its back to the interest of others. It must then push the legislative bodies to decide upon a particular division of the constituencies to avoid a division that works in the interest of certain individuals or currents. The movement must find a way to manage the election itself with respect to coordination, and determine whether there will be a division of constituencies among parties belonging to the current, or a unified list. Most importantly, it is necessary to specify the number of candidates for the various constituencies, which will have the highest concentration of voters and which will not, in accordance with the results of the recent presidential election. Early preparation for the elections is certainly better than beginning when it is too late.

Found in: the third current, muslim brotherhood, muslim, freedom and justice party, civil society

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