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Not so long ago in a galaxy not so far away

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A serious analysis of the ins and outs of the political alliances and coalitions that will contest the upcoming parliamentary elections

First published in the Daily News Egypt on 31 December 2012

Wafd Party headquarters in Dokki – 7 pm

Sayed Pasha had been pacing back and forth for the best part of an hour. Known to the world as Dr El-Sayed El-Badawi, chairman of the New Wafd Party, the pasha was actually the reincarnation of a Saadist politician from the 1940s.

The Saadists were a splinter group that broke away from Wafd after its first leader Saad Zaghloul Pasha died. They felt that the policies of his successor Mostafa El-Nahas Pasha betrayed the party’s principles. Wafd defeated them in every single election.

Sayed had come back to exact revenge, vowing to destroy the party. At first, his behaviour aroused no suspicion, most logically assumed he was one of Safwat El-Sherif’s agents tasked with taking down Wafd, which suited him just fine.

After the revolution most thought he would step down or at least keep a low profile, but the pasha saw it as an opportunity to launch a full assault and bring Wafd down once and for all.

The guests started arriving around an hour later. First were the people from the Egyptian Conference Party, formed from the merger of 20 smaller parties. The party is a part of the Egyptian National Movement coalition, in turn part of the National Salvation Front; making it effectively a coalition within a coalition within a coalition. #inception

Then came representatives from the Free Egyptians Party (not to be confused with the Egypt Freedom Party or the Free Egyptian Party), the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and Tagammu’. The three had contested last year’s elections together as part of a leftist-liberal-social democrat alliance that had nothing in common politically or economically because apparently you’re not allowed to be the “we hate the Muslim Brotherhood” coalition. They collectively achieved nine per cent of the vote.

Finally, a big shot arrived. Former Arab League Secretary General (and Mubarak foreign minister but we don’t like to say) Amr Moussa, one of the NSF’s leading troika, was here. Three minor party leaders immediately greeted “Amr beih” and declared him leader of their parties and formed a new coalition. He now led seven. “Damn,” he thought as he lit his cigar and stared thoughtfully into space.

Amr Hamzawy then made his way into the room, dishevelled. He had just finished eight talk show appearances in the last three hours and was tired. He needed to be here though; or else he would have nothing to talk about, having exhausted the notes from three different political science courses already.

Cameramen and photographers started appearing out of nowhere and calling out “ya rayess” (hey president) which could only mean one thing: Hamdeen Sabahy was here. Sabahy waved to the cameras and gave Hamzawy a dirty look, for the two knew that once this current conflict is over they have a score to settle. The hair wars would be upon us.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss candidate allocation on the unified list the NSF is putting forward in the upcoming election.

“I will fight for every Egyptian. Poor Egyptians on the streets, workers in their factories, farmers in their villages, for our battle is a battle of justice and it is the battle for all Egyptians because… justice and… Egypt? In the name of the nation I will be the next president,” said Sabahy.

He added that for him to achieve this glorious revolutionary goal the Popular Current needed the most seat allocations. Abdel Hakim Abdel Nasser, Khaled Youssef and the Adl brothers burst out clapping.

It was at this moment that Dostour Party Chairman/Nobel Peace Prize winner/NSF coordinator Mohamed ElBaradei walked in.

“You’re late,” said Sabahy.

“A wizard is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to,” responded ElBaradei.

He then proceeded to explain that the allocation should purely be based on the qualities of individual candidates regardless of party affiliation, but the other leaders were having none of it.

ElBaradei had enough of these people. He was specifically sent here as an agent of change to guide them, not to lead them, but they could do nothing themselves. Furthermore they kept making ridiculous demands like asking for him to address them directly instead of the obviously more advanced and comfortable Twitter for iPad™ method he developed.

They also took his regular visits to consult with the Powers That Be as “escaping to the comforts of his Vienna lake house” which was preposterous. It wasn’t his fault the powers preferred a more European atmosphere.

“Listen you fools: we are entering the dark tunnel. It is as if no revolution took place, and the only way to escape the dark tunnel is to fend off the evil that lurks in Mount Doom – I mean Moqatam. The Eye of the Supreme Guide is upon us, he knows our weakness is disunity. We mustn’t let anything break this fellowship up, otherwise, all hope is lost.”

Wasat Party headquarters – 7 pm

“I can’t believe the Brotherhood screwed us over like that,” bellowed Wasat Chairman Abu El-Ela Mady.

“I know! I had already got my new business cards printed and everything,” said former parliamentary and legal affairs minister Mohamed Mahsoub. The card read “Prime Minister Mohamed Mahsoub.”

“Prime minister? Don’t you mean deputy prime minister?”

“What? No, they were going to make me prime minister if we helped them pass the constitution”

“They told me the same thing!”

Wasat Deputy Chairman Essam Sultan fixed his eyes on the middle distance before uttering just one word. “ElBaradei,” he said.

“It’s all his fault, it’s always his fault. He is out to get us.” He then wrote three Facebook posts about it.

Asad ibn Furat mosque in Dokki – 7 pm

Sheikh Hazem Salah Abu Ismail sits at a table with his followers around him. They are finishing off a sheep, the last of the spoils from the Media Production City Conquest.

“We have attacked the Wafd headquarters, intimidated the police and the media, are there any further orders? What is thy bidding my master?” asks one of Hazemoon, the Sheikh’s elite Republican Guard-style squad.

The sheikh rose, a herculean task that took a few minutes considering his size. The lion of Islam then laughed heartily before explaining that the wheels were set in motion.

Resignations from the Salafi Nour Party were coming left and right, all defections to join Abu Ismail. Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri endorsed Hazem, Salafi youth dissatisfied with the capitulation of the sheikhs to the Muslim Brotherhood’s secular constitution would join him in droves.

He was set to win parliamentary elections, amend the constitution and allow dual nationals to run for president. In less than four years Hazem would be president and start work on the united Islamic caliphate.

Then he would be finally be empowered to carry out his plan: Egypt and the Islamic world will become nutmeg free.

Guidance Bureau in Moqatam – 8 pm

The Supreme Guide is tending to his bolognas when the call comes.

“Khairat, the secular infidels are meeting now. They are discussing their unified electoral list. They will surely disagree,” says Mohamed Badie as he waters the potted  plants.

“And this information comes from?” asks El-Shater.

“Agents Abdel Meguid and Nour, as always,” responds Badie.

“Excellent. We will run alone this time, the opposition will surely crumble, and we will secure the majority. I will finally take over and steer this ship properly. I have to admit the title Prime Minister isn’t as fancy as president, but it will do for the first three years.”

“Get Morsy and Talaat on the phone. We need to discuss those “overthrowing the ruling regime” cases.

Written by Ahmed Aboulenein

January 5, 2013 at 9:51 am

Posted in Egypt, Politics, Satire

Moussa, Sabahy and ElBaradei walk into a bar

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Parliamentary elections analysis part 2

Originally published in the Daily News Egypt on 29 December 2012

The National Salvation Front (NSF), a coalition formed to combat President Mohamed Morsy’s constitutional decree and the referendum on the constitution, was not able to meet its goal. The charter passed with a 64 per cent majority of the 32 per cent who bothered to vote.

The 36 per cent that voted “No,” however, must not be underestimated. This is an achievement for a country that usually says “Yes” to anything put forward by the powers in place. Additionally, the secular opposition is finally united. If it stays this way, the coalition could achieve a parliamentary majority.

That is a big “if,” since the alliance is quite loose and has been marred with controversy from day one. Many younger members of the revolutionary parties and groups inside the NSF are unhappy with the inclusion of former regime loyalists.

One of the NSF’s three main leaders is Amr Moussa, Mubarak’s foreign minister for ten years and Arab League Secretary General for ten more under the former president’s approval.

Moussa, a former presidential candidate, has a support base beyond feloul. In the eyes of other NSF leaders he represents segments of Egyptian society that must not be alienated, namely those who did not necessarily support the old regime but oppose the Islamists and those who were previously politically apathetic.

Still, the youth of the liberal and leftist parties making up the NSF might insist on cutting loose Moussa and others they deem feloul. The NSF announced it would contest parliamentary elections on one unified list, but the youth might refuse to do so.

The leaders of the NSF have only two choices: convince their youth cadres that secular unity in the face of rising Islamism is a must if the revolution is to succeed and that Moussa is “not so bad” (the man is hardly Shafiq), or capitulate and “purify” the NSF before contesting the elections. Whatever the coalition leaders decide to do, they need to decide fast; delaying this issue could lead to disorganisation that could cost them the election.

Another threat to the opposition unity is the deep ideological differences between the groups making up the coalition. “Oh, factional in-fighting? What else is new on the left?” a wise man once asked.

The ideologies inside the coalition range from classic liberals who fully believe in the free market, to Nasserists and socialists that are anti-capitalism, and everything in between. Economic policy is not the only dividing factor as well; some parties in the NSF could be identified as secular social conservatives, although these are in the minority.

Front leaders Moussa, a liberal, Hamdeen Sabahy, a left-wing Nasserist and Mohamed ElBaradei, a social democrat, have created a united agenda since the NSF’s conception. If this oneness carries on then ideological differences could put aside, at least until the elections are over.

The single most divisive issue, however, will be seat allocations. If the NSF plan to run on one list then parties inside inside the Front cannot contest seats against each other. There must be collaboration and coordination between parties to place the different party candidates in the appropriate areas.

The older parties such as Wafd could carry a strong voice on this issue, demanding more seats due to seniority and electoral success. Parties that contested last year’s parliamentary poll such as the Free Egyptians Party and the Egyptian Social Democratic Party may also demand an allocation of at least the amount of seats they won last time.

But this system will not work for newer parties like ElBaradei’s Dostour and Sabahy’s Popular Current (itself a coalition of parties) since they have no previous record of electoral success. It would be unwise to grant these parties a small allocation, however, as they are seen as some of the largest and most effective parties.

If, and only if, the NSF manages to get past these three issues, they will have a decent shot at winning a majority of the parliamentary seats. The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists combined were only able to mobilise 20 per cent of eligible voters in the referendum, and while NSF only got 12, this leaves 68 per cent of voters that remain to be allotted to either side.

If NSF can convince only over half of them (39 per cent) while retaining the 12 per cent it received during the referendum, it will have a parliamentary majority. The Islamists may be divided, but if no one gets a majority they will surely form a coalition government. The two-thirds required to amend the constitution is most probably out of reach for the NSF this time around, but a parliamentary majority? Doable.

Written by Ahmed Aboulenein

January 5, 2013 at 9:44 am

Posted in Analysis, Egypt, Politics

The lion, the sheikhs and the Brotherhood

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Parliamentary elections analysis part 1

Originally published in the Daily News Egypt on 28 December 2012

While the Shura Council is currently entrusted with full legislative powers, the transitional articles in the new constitution state that parliamentary elections for the lower house, renamed the House of Representatives, are to take place within 60 days of the constitution’s adoption. That house will then take over legislation from the Shura Council.

With the elections looming, the electoral alliances of old surely will not stand. Some parties will form new ones, ever redrawing the political map. Others will find themselves strong enough to go it alone.

The Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), contested the elections as leaders of the Democratic Alliance for Egypt that they largely dominated.

With the exception of the alliance coordinator Wahid Abdel Meguid, an independent, and a handful of candidates from Hamdeen Sabahy’s Nasserist Dignity Party and Ayman Nour’s liberal Ghad Al-Thawra Party as well as Abdel Moniem El-Sawy’s Civilisation Party, FJP members dominated the alliance’s lists.

FJP and Brotherhood officials had originally said they would contest up to 35 per cent of seats but ended up running for over 80 per cent. The Brotherhood might opt to run alone this time around, and party Vice Chairman Essam El-Erian already said they plan to contest all seats.

The Brotherhood already has the presidency through Mohamed Morsy and has been able to push through the constitution, which specifies that the majority party in the House of Representatives forms the government.

They will both feel empowered enough to contest all seats alone as well as a sense of urgency in contesting the elections these time around, the last thing they need is Morsy sharing power with a prime minister from the opposition. Securing the Cabinet is the last piece in the puzzle after which they will be in control of all state institutions.

However, the Brotherhood could not have passed their constitution without the help of fellow Islamists. On one side there are the salafis, who until recently were led by the salafi calling’s political wing, the Al-Nour Party.

Salafi youth feel betrayed after being mobilised by their Sheikhs to do the Brotherhood’s bidding. Although criticised by liberals and secular opposition groups for not being democratic enough, salafis view the constitution as lacking in Shari’a. This, combined with the now popular saying “the Brotherhood will fight to the last salafi” is causing a split between leaders and the cadres on the ground. It is already manifesting in the recent schism in the Al-Nour Party.

Enter Hazem Salah Abu Ismail. The rebel sheikh is idolised by salafi youth, especially the revolutionaries amongst them. Charismatic, fierce and ultraconservative, Abu Ismail is the Muslim Brotherhood’s worst nightmare. They cannot call him an infidel or an enemy of religion. In fact, the roles are reversed here with the disqualified presidential candidate able to confidently call out the Brotherhood on what he and many salafis view as shameful pragmatism and compromise, sacrificing Islam for power.

Hazem’s stature is growing, and come election time the entire salafi bloc will have to firmly unite behind him or risk utter failure. Parties such as the Authenticity Party, the Jama’a Islamiya’s Building and Development Party and the Salafi Front’s People’s Party will have to follow Abu Ismail. If the Al-Nour Party knows what is good for it, it will also follow suit, for the sheikhs are done and all must now bow to the “Lion of Islam.”

On the left of the Brotherhood, again instrumental to the passing of the constitution, is the Al-Wasat Party. Originally a group of former Brotherhood members who felt a more moderate, perhaps just a tad secular, to politics was needed, the breakaways were fiercely persecuted by the Brotherhood.

Yet come constitution drafting time, the party’s three main men were on the Constituent Assembly, fighting fiercely in favour of it and perhaps were the last glimmer of hope in making the process look somewhat legitimate. The party’s rising star Mohamed Mahsoub was even appointed in the cabinet post of minister of legal and parliamentary affairs.

Following the constitution’s passing, the Al-Wasat party abruptly turned on the Brotherhood, with the rumour being that they were promised the premiership after the constitution was adopted. Morsy’s speech indicated that incumbent Hesham Qandil is staying however, which meant that neither party leader Abu El-Ela Mady nor Mahsoub himself, the two most likely candidates, could assume the post. The party has denied such claims however, saying its opposition to Qandil came without search for positions.

Finding themselves out of the Brotherhood’s cloak will lead Al-Wasat to join with its natural ideological allies, the more moderate Islamist parties. El-Sawy’s Civilisation Party and the Egyptian Current Party, also composed by a group of breakaway former Muslim Brotherhood youth, are the most obvious choices and the three are likely to form a “centrist” coalition.

The crown jewel of such a coalition would be former presidential candidate Abdel Moniem Abul Fotouh’s Strong Egypt Party. Abul Fotouh has come under fire from both the Islamists and the secular opposition recently. He openly opposed the constitution, perhaps not strongly enough but did so anyway, to the chagrin of most Islamists, but also refused to join the National Salvation Front on grounds of it containing members of the former regime (read: Amr Moussa).

Perhaps most damning of all for secularists was despite his rejection of the constitution, he considered the referendum legitimate, calling for a “No” vote but refusing calls to cancel or postpone the referendum. Although popular amongst centrist and slightly Islamist-leaning revolutionary youth, Abul Fotouh finds himself alienated by those outside his base. He will either decide to run alone, or more realistically take his natural position as leader of centrist Islamism, an ideology many Egyptians would identify with.

The deep split within the Islamist ranks does not bode well for either the hard-line salafis or the more moderate Islamists. The latter were never effective electorally and the former will surely lose their dark horse status that saw them garner the second highest number of seats of 35 per cent. This will most certainly be of benefit mainly to the secular opposition.

The Muslim Brotherhood, for the most part, will emerge unscathed from this split. This does not mean they will replicate their previous victory, for there is a completely different camp in the political spectrum, and as frustrating and amateurish as they are, they are still gaining ground, and for the first time ever, albeit loosely, they are finally united.

Written by Ahmed Aboulenein

January 5, 2013 at 9:37 am

Posted in Analysis, Egypt, Politics