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The Civilian Alternative: Egypt’s latest opposition kid on the block

The controversy around the initiative mainly springs from its association with former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi

Sonia Farid

Published: Updated:

The recent launch of the Civilian Alternative was intriguing, even for those who see it as another useless attempt to form a unified opposition bloc. The controversy around the initiative mainly springs from its association with former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, and from the comparison between it and the National Salvation Front (NSF), which played a major role in toppling Islamist President Mohammad Mursi. These two factors offered a sufficient basis to question the initiative’s agenda.

Political analyst and initiative cofounder Ammar Ali Hassan said a healthy political scene required a number of “political paths” or alternatives. “In addition to representational democracy, which involves presidential and parliamentary elections, there is also participatory democracy, which involves student unions, syndicates and civil-society organizations,” he said.

“This initiative allows all political players that aren’t institutionally represented, including political parties, to play a role in the political process.” Hassan added that this initiative included political parties that withdrew from parliamentary elections but still chose to be politically active.

“Those parties, together with other entities and independent politicians, decided to organize in order to strike a balance between the current regime and political Islam, so that mistakes committed by the first do not add to the credit of the second.”

Sabahi, who confirmed he was not planning to run for president again, said the current regime is using the same policies of the pre-revolution era. “The initiative is based on the principles of the Jan. 25 revolution, which means its agenda is centered around ‘bread, freedom, social justice and human dignity’,” he said.

The June 30 protests, which Sabahi called “the second revolutionary wave,” added to the need for a civilian democratic state. “The initiative aims at devising policies that manage to achieve those goals through alternatives that none of the two revolutionary waves offered on the ground.”

Diversity

Mahmoud Ezzat, a member of the political committee of the Revolutionary Socialists Movement, said the initiative “aims at unifying the political powers that took part in the June 30 protests to topple the Muslim Brotherhood then did not see their demands met after that.”

Tarek al-Saeid, official spokesman of the initiative’s preparatory committee Tarek al-Saeid, said the initiative was the result of a lack of diversity in Egyptian politics. “We are currently only hearing the voice of the regime, and this shouldn’t be the case in any democracy,” he said.

“The initiative doesn’t aim to be only an opposition bloc, but will rather play the role of the supporter and the opposition in the sense that we’ll support what’s right and oppose what’s wrong.” Saeid added that while the initiative invited different political factions, it did not accept those who saw the Jan. 25 revolution as a “relapse” or the June 30 protests as a “coup.”

Failure?

Yousri al-Azabawi, researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, predicted the failure of the initiative, like its predecessors such as the NSF. “Such entities always fail in Egypt because most of them are personal rather than political,” and because they use broad terms such as “democratic path”, “economic development” and “social justice.” Azabawi said the initiative “doesn’t have a clear political platform that explains how the people will benefit from its establishment.”

Ali al-Din Helal, professor of political science, said the Civilian Alternative was “a reproduction of other coalitions that were created before and disbanded.” He added: “The term ‘civilian’ hints at the president’s military background or implies that the current regime is military, which isn’t the case.” Helal said the initiative would not garner public support.

Interpretation

Journalist Hassan Abu Taleb wrote that the word “alternative” can have two meanings. The first “is finding an alternative to the entire regime, which means clashing with the will of the people who elected their president and their representatives. In this case, it will be a coup and not an alternative.”

The second meaning is partisan diversity. “This should be the case with democracies in general, but the question is: what kind of parties would create this diversity? Marginal parties that enjoy no popular support at all, or parties where political figures are only after personal glory?”

Abu Taleb said the only way for the initiative to work was to prioritize the interests of the people and the nation. “Only if leaders of such coalitions brush their personal interests aside will this initiative bear fruit.”