By Barry Rubin
Fifteen “liberal” groups have formed The Egyptian Bloc to contest the parliament elections that might be held in November. If they actually do run a single slate of candidates there is a real chance to block the power of the Muslim Brotherhood. But that’s a big “if.”
And there are some other problems you won’t be seeing in Western media coverage of this development:
- Fifteen parties sounds an impressive grouping but most of them are not very important and have little or no base of support. I estimate that the committed parties collectively can claim about 25 percent support, mostly for the Free Egyptians party (al-Masriyin al-Ahrar).
- Some of the parties are left-wing and anti-democratic parties. One of them is the Communist Party, which gives you a sense of how “moderate” and “liberal” are being defined.”
- The most important of all centrist parties, the Wafd, which has about 20 percent support, seems undecided as to whether to join this bloc or remain in an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood. That last point also tells you something about the nature of contemporary Egyptian politics.
- There are some hints that the bloc might be a bit more attuned to current Western debates than to Egyptian conditions. It will promise the voters equality, social justice, more housing, health insurance, and a better educational system. The problem, of course, is how it could possibly produce these things.
Many Egyptians have voiced concern that Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood — the country’s best organised political force, may try to create an Islamic state if they manage to secure a majority in parliament.
“Our goal is to say very clearly that we believe that new Egypt has to be a civil democratic state,” said Osama El Ghazali Harb, founder of the liberal Democratic Front Party, an opposition group under Mubarak.
The coalition of 15 groups agreed to work together to raise funds for the elections and to field one list of candidates and campaign together.
They have also endorsed a proposal by the government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf calling for a “constitutional decree” that will prevent Islamists monopolising the drafting of a new constitution if they win a majority in elections.
Analyst Nabil Abdel Fattah, of the al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, said the coalition was “a final attempt by the various political forces” to form an opposition group to stand against the Islamists in the elections.
“This alliance could have a chance if it acted quickly and used (to its advantage) the increasing public fears of the Brotherhood and their goals”, he said.
As well as the Democratic Front, the coalition included Al Masreyeen Al Ahrar (Free Egyptians), a liberal party led by Christian telecoms tycoon Naguib Sawiris, the Farmers Syndicate and the Sufi Liberation Party, traditional Islamists.
The liberal Wafd party also joined the coalition on Monday after warning last week it may end its alliance with the Brotherhood amid differences over the new
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and Middle East editor and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is http://www.gloria-center.org. His articles published originally in places other than PajamasMedia can be found at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com