The problem with ‘believing’ in Egyptian politics

I challenge any Egyptian to know exactly how many political parties there are or identify their leaders

Abdel Latif el-Menawy
Abdel Latif el-Menawy
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Too much noise might give the wrong impression, exactly like when frogs croak in the night and those who hear them think they are huge monsters. But as soon as the light of truth is directed on to these frogs, you can see their reality.

This is similar to what’s happening in Egypt, as the so-called political powers and parties – I challenge any Egyptian to know exactly how many there are or identify their leaders –compete in making as much noise as they can to fool those who don’t know them and induce them to think that they are mega political powers able to mobilize millions behind them while the truth is that none is able to recruit more than the number of passengers on a Public bus. This situation describes the present situation in which parties, called the political powers, aren’t as strong as their name or their description. The problem is that they succeeded in creating misperception on the part of the public who are led to believe that they are the real representatives of the Egyptians. People are led to believe that what these parties say, or what they don’t say, isn’t unfounded but is based on the voice of the people and their will. Based on this, they are holding the reins of Egypt’s fate and future and nobody seems to succeed in stopping them. What’s known for sure is that Egypt lacks what we may describe as coherent political powers enjoying real weight or an interrupted long presence in Egypt’s history. We can look into some of the examples that will prove what I am saying.

The parliamentary elections, before and after January 2012, proved that there are no political parties in Egypt and that the party diversification announced, for the second time, in 1977 was just a big lie or a project that lost its real meaning as the years went by. Before going further in explaining this idea, it might be useful to remind you that partisan life in Egypt started in 1907, the year described by historians as “the year of the parties.” This is when five parties were established: The National Free Party later called the Liberal Party, the Egyptian Republican Party, the Nation’s Party,

The truth is that all the parties and powers on the political scene do not have the weight to claim that they represent the Egyptians

Abdel Latif el-Menawy

The Constitutional Reform party and the National Party. Then, other parties were established in 1908 like the party of the Noblemen and the “blessed” socialist party in 1909.

Between 1919 and 1952, Egypt witnessed some kind of partisan plurality, as liberal parties took the floor. Al-Wafed and other parties bloomed in this period, the socialist parties and the “Court parties” which were supporting the king, women’s parties and religious parties like the Muslim Brotherhood came to light.

One-party rule

One-party rule started in 1953 when the Revolutionary Council decided in September to dissolve political parties and ban the establishment of new parties, which put an end to the multi-party system.

The diversity of parties returned to political life in March 1976 when the then-President Anwar Sadat approved the creation of three wings within the socialist union, representing the Right, the Center and the Left which became independent political parties on Nov. 22, 1976, preceding a new era of a limited multi-party system in 1977. Between 1977 and Jan. 25, 2011, many parties were formed, including the National Democratic Party which replaced the ruling Egyptian party.

In spite of the numerous parties, it is difficult for anyone to remember their names, and the National Democratic Party weakened the liberal and civilian powers so it became weak itself and the other forces weakened as well. This is not a new analysis, but I was alarmed by it, before and after the elections of 2010.

The establishment of the main opposition parties in the post July revolutionary era was one of the main problems to show the lack of sincerity and impact of that opposition, being the child of the regime itself, as the partisan experience started at the summit and cascaded to the public and was looked at as the result of a decision taken by the central authority represented by the ruler. This is a complete contradiction to the concept of political parties that are formed to reflect the power of a certain group in the society, established to call for their rights and defend their interests; this is why the opposition parties didn’t gain the popular support - they were considered an extension of the regime.

As a result of the way these parties were established, they just remained a drop of water in the sea of the political scene, unable to convince or mobilize the crowds or exert real pressure. And now, according to available data, Egypt has a record number of political parties. In spite of this rise in the number of parties, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the partisan system is strong enough and the recent elections proved the nature of the reality we have to face: We don’t have the symptoms of a real partisan system and of course we are not ready for a real multi-party system.

The truth is that all the parties and powers on the political scene do not have the weight to claim that they represent the Egyptians, but the real problem is that they are not convinced of this fact and they are convinced that they represent the Egyptians. The worst part of this reality is that they aren’t content with being representatives of the Egyptians but they see themselves as being in charge of taking decisions on their behalf. The wise men should read the symptoms, decide on the right diagnosis and think up a suitable cure.

This article was first published in al-Jarida on Dec. 5, 2013.


Abdel Latif el-Menawy is an author, columnist and multimedia journalist who has covered conflicts around the world. He is the author of “Tahrir: the last 18 days of Mubarak,” a book he wrote as an eyewitness to events during the 18 days before the stepping down of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Menawy’s most recent public position was head of Egypt’s News Center. He is a member of the National Union of Journalists in the United Kingdom, and the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate. He can be found on Twitter @ALMenawy

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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