Most of Egypt’s newly created secular political parties have complained bitterly about the Parliament Election Law, which former Interim President Adly Mansour rushed to approve in his last day in office, before handing over power to newly-elected President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. The law gives the majority of seats in Parliament to individuals running as independents rather than to party slates; many fear that this law would empower people of money and local influence, as in the pre-revolution days, and disempower political parties. Amid increasing calls by political figures and media supportive of the president to postpone parliamentary elections for one year and to maintain legislative powers in the hands of the president alone, these parties are worried that the entire parliamentary electoral process might be at risk.
The Weakened Role of Political Parties
Following the anti-Brotherhood protests of June 30 and the Army’s removal of President Mohamed Morsi on July 3, 2013, Sissi, then defense minister, announced a Road Map that included drafting a new constitution, to be followed by parliamentary and presidential elections. The amended Constitution was approved by referendum in January 2014. Soon thereafter, Interim President Adly Mansour announced a reversal of that order and that parliamentary elections would be held after presidential elections.
While Sissi, after his election in May, repeatedly said that parliamentary elections would be held “before the end of the year”, unnamed “informed sources” have been quoted in many mainstream media reports saying that there was a possibility the vote could be postponed, citing ongoing terrorist attacks, daily demonstrations by Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi supporters, and the extremely chaotic regional situation in Libya, Syria, and Iraq. One lawyer who strongly backed Sissi during his election campaign, Hamdi al-Fakharani, has even filed a case with the Administrative Court to oblige the government to delay parliamentary elections for one year.
Considering the government’s delay in issuing the law defining electoral districts, the time needed to review voter registration lists, the length of the campaign period, and three rounds of voting which will require at least six weeks, it already might not be possible to hold elections before the end of the year.
In popular talk shows on pro-government private and state-owned television stations, political parties are regularly described as weak and divided and accused of seeking the individual interests of their leaders. These almost daily accusations and criticisms are used to justify delaying elections. Noting the wide powers that the new Constitution gives to Parliament, critics claim that a weak Parliament could also hinder the president from carrying out his agenda of “reforms and mega development projects”.
Struggling to Carve a Place for Themselves
In the immediate aftermath of the popular January 25, 2011 revolution, which led to the removal of President Hosni Mubarak and an end to his 30-year rule, dozens of new political parties were formed, creating hopes that the country was finally heading toward creating a truly democratic, multiparty system. However, that euphoria proved to be short-lived.
Gone were the old opposition parties that had functioned mainly as a fig leaf for elections that were invariably rigged. They were replaced with a few new liberal and leftist parties such as the Free Egyptians Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, Al-Dostour (Constitution) Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, the Arab nationalist Al-Karama Party, and other smaller parties.
In the first parliamentary elections held after Mubarak’s ouster in late 2011, political Islamic groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the fundamentalist Salafist Al-Nour Party benefited from the large network of social services that they built over years, and won over 70 percent of the seats. The new parties, together with the established Al-Wafd Party, barely won 25 percent of the seats. (The new parties had originally demanded delaying the 2011 elections, saying they were only a few months old and could not match the well-organized Islamic groups—especially the Muslim Brotherhood, which had more experience in running in elections.)
The secular parties that were formed after January 25 played an influential role in opposing Morsi and were united under the National Salvation Front for that purpose regardless of their ideological differences. But when the Brotherhood’s rule came to an end, so did their unity. They failed to unite behind one figure as possible candidate for president, and many parties rallied behind Sissi, who was dubbed as a savior after three years of turmoil and insecurity, and the only leader capable of confronting the Muslim Brotherhood.
Parties Charge that Old System Re-emerging
Meanwhile, pre-2011 pro-government parties, such as the Egyptian National Movement Party created by Ahmed Shafiq (the last prime minister to serve under Mubarak), the Congress Party, and Egypt My Country Party, have re-emerged after Morsi’s ouster, seeking retribution not just from the Brotherhood, but also opposing the new political parties that supported Mubarak’s removal and were created after the January 25 Revolution. These re-emergent parties have supported the return to the old election law that existed under Mubarak, in which most parliamentary seats are determined through single member districts, instead of the party-list system. In the pre-revolution parliaments, Deputies were mainly concerned with providing services to their constituencies, instead of playing their role in issuing legislation, monitoring the government, and holding it accountable.
The parliamentary law issued by former Interim President Mansour clearly favored the old system, reserving 80 percent of the seats, or 420, for individual candidates. The remaining 120 seats would be determined in a number of broad districts, through a list system. A list consists of candidates representing either political parties or independents, and the list that wins a plurality of votes in each district wins all the seats for that district. Several political parties continue to demand that the number of seats determined through lists be increased and that the lists should gain seats according to the proportional system and not the majoritarian. In an interview with Dream TV (a private television channel), liberal Al-Wafd Party leader Sayed Badawi argued, “Why should the votes that my party wins go to the party or list that won 50+1 only? This system is unfair and outdated.” Badawi expressed willingness to postpone elections if the government agreed to amend the Election Law.
What further worries Badawi and other leaders of political parties is that they don’t feel sufficiently consulted by the president. Sissi repeats in his speeches and remarks that he is not beholden to any particular political party or group and that he receives his support directly from the Egyptian people.
Alliances Forged for Political Survival
Secular parties are trying to establish themselves in a very difficult climate: they feel ignored by a popular president, attacked relentlessly by the media, and have no tradition of multiparty activity to draw from. They are now trying to build alliances in preparation for the next elections, regardless of when they might be held.
So far, there are four major party blocs, and the door remains open for new ones, including one that might receive indirect backing from the president, according to recent press reports.
The Democratic Alliance includes six leftist and liberal parties that opposed Sissi and backed his only rival in recent elections, Hamdeen Sabahi. The Democratic Alliance claims loyalty to the January 25 Revolution and its goals such as freedom and social justice. Most of its center-left parties are financially poor and compete for a small number of individual seats.
The remaining three secular party blocs are supportive of the president. Al-Wafd Party has allied with the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and three smaller parties to form the Egyptian Wafd Alliance; its stated goal is to promote a liberal economy with social justice, and it claims to support the January 25 revolution. It refuses to work with groups that oppose the president.
Business tycoon Naguib Sawiris heads the liberal Free Egyptians Party, which claims a liberal platform and whose candidates include several wealthy Coptic Christian figures.
The Egyptian Front includes eight parties, led by Shafiq’s Egyptian National Movement Party; most of these parties were associated with the pre-revolution Mubarak regime.
Whether parliamentary elections are held before the end of the year or postponed to 2015, it seems unlikely that Egypt’s secular political parties, in their current condition and in the current climate, will emerge as very influential players. The approach of President Sissi still resonates with many voters, and the majority of candidates even from these parties are predisposed to support him rather than oppose him. As a result, the next Parliament may not play a weighty political role, and in that sense might not differ markedly from those of the pre-revolution years.
 Asma Alsharif, “Egypt Political Parties Concerned Over New Parliamentary Election Law,” Reuters, 6 June 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/06/06/us-egypt-election-idUSKBN0EH1…
 “Egypt Constitution Approved by 98.1 Percent,” Aljazeera, 24 January 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/01/egypt-constitution-app…. “Sisi Declared Egypt’s Next President,” Aljazeera, 3 June 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/06/sisi-declared-as-egypt…
 “Egypt Daily Update: Congressional Delegation Visits Sisi, Assured of Elections by Year’s End; School Year Postponed Amid Student Activism,” Project on Middle East Democracy, 29 August 2014, http://pomed.org/regional-news-digests/aug-29/
 Mohammad Bassal and Mustafa Eid, “Government Sources: 3 Factors Behind the Postponement of the Parliamentary Elections … and Setting a Date Awaits an Executive Decision,” Shorouk News, 28 August 2014, http://www.shorouknews.com/news/view.aspx?cdate=28082014&id=2a659685-1a…
 Gamal Essam El-Din, “Calls to Delay Egypt’s Parliamentary Polls Divide Political Figures,” AhramOnline, 1 September 2014, http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/109758/Egypt/Politics-/Cal…
 Samar Salama, “National Salvation Front Divided Between the Support of al-Sisi or Sabbahi,” Cairo Post, 18 February 2014, http://thecairopost.com/news/91481/news/national-salvation-front-divide…
 Khaled Dawoud, “Egypt’s Parliamentary Elections Law: A Setback for Democracy,” Atlantic Council, 26 June 2014, http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/egyptsource/egypt-s-parliamentary-…
 Damar Nabih, “Badawi Reveals: Security Forces and Police Placed the Election Law in a Closed Room,” El-Watan News, 28 August 2014, http://www.elwatannews.com/news/details/547624