International Monetary Fund (IMF) consultations in Cairo have revealed noticeable differences in opinions within the ranks of the opposition National Salvation Front (NSF) concerning the $4.8 billion loan that the government requested from the IMF. This raised questions about the NSF’s ability to endure and the nature of the economic plan that it proposes as a replacement for the regime’s policies.
Observers of the NSF, which includes most opposition forces, have noted a marked decline in the front’s activities as of late. It was even absent from the many demonstrations that activists organized in support of causes that the NSF itself embraces. The current political stalemate seems to have affected the front’s cohesiveness, as reflected by the unusual lack of meetings between its leaders during the past month.
Strategic disparities in positions have begun to surface, as was apparent during the NSF leadership’s meetings with the IMF about the government’s loan request. During these meetings, right-wing parties, particularly the Wafd Party headed by El-Sayyid al-Badawi and the nascent Congress Party led by Amr Moussa, agreed with the government’s stance that the loan “was an urgent necessity at this stage.”
In contrast, the founder of the Popular Movement, Hamdeen Sabahi, expressed reservations concerning the loan, as well as fears about its effects on the poor. He asked that the loaned funds be used to boost productivity without discontinuing subsidies on staple goods and energy.
In a statement that followed his meeting with the IMF delegation, Sabahi said: “I informed the delegation that we welcomed any unconditional support given to the Egyptian economy as long as it did not carry added burdens on the poor, workers, peasants and middle class who comprise the majority of the Egyptian population. We cannot approve of a loan requiring that subsidies be lifted off of the staple goods that the majority of people will have to pay extra for.” He demanded that “the loan not stipulate any conditions for its use.”
Moussa rejected the characterization that the NSF was crumbling and said that “contacts were held and messages exchanged over the past two weeks, the focus of which was the necessity to form a national unity government.” He opined that the front’s decline in activity “merely reflected a quiet diplomatic period.”
Speaking to Al-Hayat, he denied the presence of disagreements that threatened the NSF’s cohesiveness. He said that “there are viewpoints and not disagreements … there are differences in opinion, but we all agree on the necessity to maintain the front’s cohesion, and prevent any differences from affecting the front as an entity.”
He pointed out that during his meeting with the IMF delegation, “our position was clear concerning the importance of the loan to Egypt, while taking into account that half of the Egyptian population was poor and must not bear any added costs.”
Former Member of Parliament and NSF insider Amr Hamzawy rejected the characterization that the NSF had “faded from the scene.”
"It was a mistake to equate the opposition’s view with that of the regime," he said. "Our position regarding the country’s political crises is clear, but we lack the space needed for political action. The opposition must not be limited to organizing demonstrations.”
Still, he implicitly confessed that the opposition was not governed by a single opinion, pointing out that “some members are working on the ground to build a popular base and provide alternatives.” He also admitted that the NSF’s popularity had waned “as a result of systematic smear campaigns against it.” He stated that the NSF was preparing for legislative elections “despite the fact that it had not yet taken a definitive decision as to whether it would boycott, as previously decided, or participate in them. We are preparing ourselves based on the presumption that we are going to participate, but we have not yet taken a decision, pending the result of developments on the ground.”
But Amr al-Shobaki, an expert from Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, disagreed with Hamzawy’s view and said that “the NSF failed to present alternatives to the Brotherhood’s rule.” He explained that “the problem with the NSF’s performance is that it came as a knee-jerk reaction to the Muslim Brotherhood. It played a role in mobilizing people against the constitutional declaration, which made the opposition seem unified for the first time ever. But that occurred in the wake of the grave mistake that was the constitutional declaration. In the eyes of the majority of people, the NSF did not subsequently succeed in presenting itself as a convincing alternative to the regime. Furthermore, all alternative initiatives or policies were proposed by individual movements or factions, and not by a unified front.”
He believed that “if the Muslim Brotherhood were to disappear from the scene, substantive disagreement would appear and gain momentum within a front comprised of three different currents: leftist, social democratic, and conservative right-wing. Part of the NSF’s cohesiveness is engendered by the Brotherhood’s monopoly on power.” He further pointed out that if the NSF changed its stance and decided to participate in the elections “its media focus would be to oppose the Brotherhood’s policies and present itself as capable of restoring balance to the political scene; yet, it would remain incapable of proposing new political and economic plans.”
Meanwhile, Galal Mora, the secretary-general of the Salafist Al-Nour Party, affirmed that “the lines of communication were still open between the presidency and the ruling party on one end, and some leaders of the NSF on the other, in an attempt to bridge the gap, although no concrete results have been reached yet.” He noted that “everyone agrees that Egypt is polarized and in trouble. A solution must be reached to this untenable situation. But problems arise and viewpoints drift apart whenever we delve into the minutiae of the steps needed to overcome the current crisis.”