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Egypt’s New Party Politics

March 31, 2011

Amid all the new political activity, here's one guy we won't see running for office. (This Mubarak campaign sign is from the 2005 elections)

It is fascinating to watch political parties forming, and political actors seeking to forge strong public  identities, and to define themselves in association with, or in opposition to one another. This kind of ordinary political activity was unimaginable just a year ago, when political parties were extremely difficult to form, and it was hard for most political actors to perceive any value in it since the elections would be rigged anyway.

Rumors spread through the grapevine recently that Mohammad al-Baradei and popular Judge Hisham al-Bastawissi, now deputy general prosecutor, might engage in an alliance through which one will be candidate to the post of president and the other to that of vice president.

But a March 27 report in the Saudi-owned London-based Asharq al-Awsat daily said al-Bastawissi denied the rumor. However he might consider an alliance with Hamdin Sabahi, president of the Karama (“Dignity”)Party (and notable critic of al-Baradei), and said a meeting was scheduled for the two men to discuss this idea in detail.

The Asharq al-Awsat article reported that some al-Baradei supporters are calling on him to seal an alliance with a popular figure such as Abdul Monem Abu al-Foutouh (a leading member in the Muslim Brotherhood who recently announced his candidacy), or Amr Moussa, who has said that he was ready to cooperate with al-Baradei.

Al-Baradei’s media spokesman Ahmad Salah, was quoted by Asharq al-Awsat as saying:

Doctor Al-Baradei has no objection to and no vetoes on any other candidate. He is willing to cooperate with the other candidates as long as it serves the best interests of the country. Al-Baradei has already announced – in many meetings we have held with him – that he welcomed the idea, but assured that he had not yet decided with whom he will be forming an alliance.

Another presidential candidate, former foreign minister Abdullah al-Ashaal who announced he would run as an independent, told Asharq al-Awsat that such alliances are not a good idea.

For my part, I refuse to ally with any of the other candidates, and especially not with Al-Baradei, Nour and Moussa. I am fearful that these alliances would ruin the presidential campaign.

And speaking of Ayman Nour, he assured everybody in a March 30 interview with Issam Fadel in Asharq al-Awsat that the Al-Ghad (“Tomorrow”) Party, which he founded, is healthy and that he is planning to run for president in the forthcoming elections. He said the party is considering a number of names for vice-president including both Christian and women candidates, but was not yet ready to reveal any names.

He also acknowledged that Al-Ghad was one of several progressive parties would be forming a broad alliance that could form a government if elected.

Even the recent outreach by the Muslim Brotherhood toward Coptic Christians can be seen in this light: an effort to demonstrate to a large voting block that they are not bogeymen but moderates creating a serious political campaign. The name of their new political party, the Freedom and Justice Party, doesn’t mention God in the name, an interesting shift for a group that ran in 2005 under the slogan “Islam is the answer.”

Meanwhile, parties are also learning how to use media to undermine each others candidacy. Damning Amr Moussa with faint praise, the Al-Wafd party newspaper Al-Wafd explained that Israel and its ally the US were so terrified at the idea of the Arab League leader as president of Egypt that they tricked him into calling for US involvement in Libya, which turned public sentiment against him:

And it seems that the Arab League’s secretary-general has lost his remaining political credit in the Arab countries and he has also lost the chance at being nominated or at winning the post of the president of the Egyptian Arab Republic in succession to the ousted Mubara. We must suggest that Amr Moussa, through his demand for and approval of the military western campaign against Libya, has fallen in the trap. And when he realized that too late, he said: the military strikes have expanded and have reached the civilians and this was not agreed upon.

But hey, that’s politics.

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