Brotherhood-led political alliance on verge of collapse

The Democratic Alliance for Egypt, a massive political coalition formed in early June to heal the rift between Islamists and secularists, may be on the verge of falling apart, with ideological differences proving too large to overcome.

The alliance, which groups together 28 political parties across the political spectrum, has recently witnessed internal feuds, causing some parties to pull out and leaving others contemplating the same.

“In fact, this is not an alliance – it is like a car driven by the Muslim Brotherhood and ridden by some other people,” said Mohamed Menza, a co-founder of Egypt Freedom Party, a secular social democratic party under the umbrella of the alliance.

This alliance was created to be a platform on which Islamists and secularists could reach a consensus over the identity of the state in the post-Mubarak era. In late June, the coalition issued a document expressing all parties' commitment to establishing a civil state based on equality, democracy and the rule of law. Allied parties were also expected to coordinate their electoral plans and strategies ahead of the November parliamentary polls.

Yet the honeymoon between Islamists and secularists came to an end after the Tahrir Square protest on 29 July when tens of thousands of Islamists flooded the square in an unprecedented show of force, demanding the implementation of Sharia law and opposing calls from secular groups for a document laying out basic principles for the forthcoming constitution.

The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the Salafi Nour Party had backed the rally, and their engagement in the protest had aroused fears among secular activists about their commitment to the tenets of a truly civil state.

The left-wing Tagammu Party announced its withdrawal from the alliance last week over frustration from the 29 July protest. Earlier, the Democratic Front Party and Egypt Freedom Party withdrew from the alliance; the Egyptian Social Democratic Party refused to even join, in objection to what they called the domineering role of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Now, the future of this alliance hinges on a coexistence between the Brotherhood and the liberal Wafd Party, as these are the only two  key players that remain on board.

“This alliance is doomed to fail,” Essam Shiha, a member of the Wafd Party's governing board told Al-Masry Al-Youm. “I recommend that the Wafd Party withdraw from the alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Shiha said that he has repeatedly advised the governing board to withdraw from the coalition, in objection to the Brotherhood’s behavior while part of the alliance.

Shiha is not the only Wafd leader who detests the alliance.

Alaa Eddin Abdel Moneim, another prominent member of the Wafd governing board, told reporters on Monday that if an internal vote were conducted, the majority of party leaders would decide to ally with another coalition.

On Monday, leaders of 14 political parties and groups convened at the Journalists Syndicate headquarters to announce the formation of the Egyptian Bloc, an alliance created to provide a counterweight to Islamist groups and serve as a platform for electoral coordination.

The bloc includes at least three parties that had split from the Democratic Alliance for Egypt, and more may be on their way.

“[The Egyptian Bloc] is the closest to the authentic fundamentals and the ideology of the Wafd party,” Abdel Moneim, who attended the launch, told Al-Masry Al-Youm.

Speakers at the announcement detailed their political outlook, which envisages a civil democratic state based on equality, in contrast to Islamist groups, who are believed to still be flirting with a religious order that would limit individual liberties and discriminate against women and religious minorities.

The Egyptian Bloc is expected to ask the military to issue a new constitutional declaration stipulating that the architects of the new constitution should not deviate from their proposed democratic principles. Some secularists fear that Islamists will garner a sweeping majority in the new parliament and hence monopolize the drafting of the new constitution. The parliament, which is set to be elected in November, will be entrusted with electing a 100-member constituent assembly that will write the constitution.

For their part, Islamists refuse to be bound by any principles that are not laid out by elected parliamentarians.

Such disagreements were exacerbated after Deputy Prime Minister Ali al-Selmy announced that the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) plans to heed the demand of secular groups and issue a declaration dictating that the new constitution should pave the way for “a democratic, modern and civil state.”

Essam al-Erian, the vice chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party, confirmed to Al-Masry Al-Youm that his party is committed to the values mentioned by Selmy, but opposes the idea that the military can compel the elected constituent assembly to observe such principles.

“Such a constitutional declaration would be mumbo jumbo,” said Erian. “There are people who want to impose guardianship on elected bodies.”

On Sunday, the Democratic Alliance for Egypt convened in a meeting at a Brotherhood office in the Manial neighborhood of Cairo and publicly expressed the same exact position. The allies also decided to form committees that would further their coordination in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Although the Nour Party appears to be on the same ideological wavelength as the Brotherhood, it remains largely dissatisfied with the Democratic Alliance for Egypt.

“Of course, the performance has been very bad,” said Mohamed Yosry, the party's spokesperson. “[The alliance] only seeks media attention. … It should have participated in the decision-making process. Hence it is just formal and fails to be serious.”

The coalition recently failed in pressuring the military to heed its recommendations on the parliamentary elections law. For several weeks, allied parties demanded the military base the polls solely on a list-based candidacy system, in which voters cast their ballots for party lists rather than individuals. They argued that the single-winner system, which was in effect under former President Hosni Mubarak’s rule, was responsible for electoral irregularities and held that list-based candidacies would empower political parties, reduce electoral violence, eliminate electoral bribes, and encourage voters to choose their representatives according to their political platforms, rather than personal ties.

In late July, the SCAF dealt a blow to this demand, announcing that 50 percent of the parliamentary seats would be up for grabs by single-winners and the other half would be allocated to party lists.

Erian defended the Democratic Alliance for Egypt's efficacy on this issue, saying that political groups are still holding negotiations with the military in order to further amend the law.

“The alliance has been productive,” he contended. “It is enough that [the coalition] gave the message that it can pressure the SCAF, and in the meantime, it gave hope to the people that political forces can hold talks respectfully.”

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