Egypt’s left: Searching for status

Three months before the November parliamentary elections, new political parties are ratifying their official status from every end of the Egyptian political spectrum, with the notable exception of leftist parties. 

Financial burdens and mobilization failures are often cited as the reason behind this leftist lag.

Even now the main officially registered leftist party is the pre-revolution era National Progressive Unionist Party (NPUP), despite the fact that four other leftist parties have been in formation since 11 February, besides other leftist groups that have a nationalist platform. 

The NPUP, however, has lost its niche as the leftist representative in politics with a group of its youth breaking away in objection to the decision-making and hierarchical structure of the party. Many of the group’s traditional leaders also defected due to similar objections.

Many of them left to form the Popular Socialist Alliance Party (PSAP). PSAP is one out of four new leftist political parties.

“The party’s priority is to be officially registered and participate in the coming elections,” said prominent PSAP figure Abdelghafar Shokr, formerly a leader in the NPUP. 

But the PSAP and other political parties have been lagging and are unable to meet many of the criteria, partly due to insufficient funding.

“Leftist groups are not as well funded as other groups. This has been a major stumbling block,” said Mostafa Kamel al-Sayyed, a political science professor at Cairo University. 

Historically, leftist groups represent less affluent groups of societies, as many focus on social equality, workers’ rights, and public ownership.

“We don’t have rich donors to help pay the membership fees like some of the other parties. Our membership is not rich at all and we only rely on our fees for funding, so it leaves us in a financial bind sometimes,” said Bahaa Shaaban, a leader in the Egyptian Socialist party, another new leftist party.

In the absence of the relatively capricious Mubarak era political party registration process, which had a habit of boxing-out potential opposition with red tape and security hindrances, groups have been clamoring to register. 

Five new political parties have been able to form and meet the new criteria set by the political parties law, which stipulates that each party posit 5000 official party members from at least 10 governorates at LE30 each, which amounts to a total of LE150,000.

The party has also an obligation to publish all members’ names in two widely-circulated daily newspapers, which costs at least LE1 million; however, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has announced that it will cover publicity costs.

Since Hosni Mubarak’s resignation on 11 February, the Freedom and Justice Party (the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm), the Salafi Nour Party and the moderate Islamist Wasat Party have managed to register themselves. The liberal and social democratic parties registered since 11 February are the Free Egyptians Party, the Justice Party and the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.

Shokr believes that his party is the closest out of all the leftist parties to reaching official status. They are probably the most advanced of the leftist parties in securing party members, at over 3000 so far.

Lack of funding also meant an inability to achieve any media presence in the form of a party paper or establish local headquarters in a majority of governorates – both necessities of modern Egyptian political maneuverability.

“Leftist parties do not have as extensive presence outside of the major cities in other governorates as they should have,” said Sayyed.

Another limitation could be the class dimension, as the political parties law stipulates that no party can be based on class.

The Democratic Labor Party is a case in point.

“At our core we fight for the rights of one strata of society, the poor, but nowhere in the world does that count as a reason to disqualify a political party, except in Egypt,” said Haitham Mohamadein, a founding member.

Members of leftist groups also explain their lag as being the result of the ongoing process to set concrete internal structures and unified values.

“Our current priority is to create a robust and unified vision. Leftist parties are built on specific political ideology, so before gathering members we need to set the basics for the party’s long-term benefit,” said Shaaban.

Similarly Ola Shahba, a member of the PSAP, said that they are working on structuring a decision making process.

“We are creating a democratic system internally that may take time, but it would make members comfortable with the decision making process," Shahba said. "We are also creating many action committees to spread the word and gather thoughts from our main supporters, workers and farmers.”

To some, the process of legitimizing the party is simply not the main priority.  “Our priorities lie mainly in engaging in the struggle for social justice, and working with labor unions who are demanding their rights,” said Mohamadein.

Mohamedein believes that the coming elections have been set up for a showdown between two main entities, Islamists and liberals. Even though he believes his group will have the required number of members before the November elections, they are not pinning hopes on playing a significant or official part in the next parliamentary cycle. 

Many of these parties believe that the time is ripe to engage in Egyptian politics, given that social justice is a main demand of the revolution and a hallmark of leftist politics. Some analysts, however, believe these same parties have become stuck in a position where they are defining grand values without implementing them on a practical basis.

“This focus on grand slogans and long-term visions is coming at a cost to the short-term viability of leftist groups. It is keeping them out of touch with communities,” Sayyed said.

Others think that it is coming at the cost of the left’s ability.

“A group of us believes that all of the prominent leftist groups are isolating themselves and becoming too divisive,” said Omar Saeed, a leftist activist and a member of the Center for Socialist Studies.

Saeed and a group of leftist activists have decided to break off from their respective political affiliations in order to attempt to form another group, away from “the left’s problems.”

“The left can only be the left if it is completely in touch with the everyday struggle of people. We are the only group that believed in the need for revolutionary change before 25 January, and need to think about a better way to move forward,” Saeed said.

The group has yet to be named, but is set to include some prominent young members from leftist groups. It highlights many of the issues plaguing the left and could potentially pose possible solutions. This process, however, remains distant from the elections race.

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