- Life Style
The recent announcement, much trumpeted by the Muslim Brothers, that they - or more accurately their new party, Freedom and Justice (although who can tell the difference?) — are forming an electoral alliance with the Wafd Party (and a bunch of others) is puzzling to say the least.
Why does the Brotherhood, recently so full of swagger, need to associate itself with a party that, even if it once played an august role in Egyptian history, has long been little more than a loyal opposition to the Mubarak regime?
Why does the Wafd, founded on an ideal of Muslim-Christian unity, want to associate itself with a movement with which it fundamentally disagrees about the relationship between state and religion, particularly when the next parliament will be tasked with writing Egypt's new constitution (the same goes for even more secular proto-parties such as Misr al-Horreya)?
Why are these two trends uniting when they disagree on the timetable for the transition? Many Wafdists and other secularists think a constitution first is preferable, whereas the Brothers want to stick with the current schedule.
Why is anyone forming an alliance of any kind when we still don't even know what kind of electoral system will be used? This is a crucial point, since it's hard to imagine agreement on joint lists if proportional representation is used.
It was with these questions in mind that a few days ago I called an old acquaintance who holds a senior position in the Wafd, although he is a dissident from the party's current president, media mogul al-Sayyed Badawi. My contact immediately began to explain the whole thing was a sham, a PR coup for the Brothers to appear conciliatory towards other political forces, and took a jab at Badawi, suggesting he did not know what he was getting into. What is certain is that no electoral alliance has been discussed, never mind approved, by the party's politburo and it would be unlikely to.
Some no doubt saw in this "electoral alliance" a revival of the 1984 race in which a much weaker Brotherhood, its leaders recent guests of Abdel Nasser's and Sadat's jails, ran on the Wafd's list. That too was an somewhat forced collaboration that was made possible because the General Guide of the Brotherhood at the time, Omar al-Tilmissany — possibly the most important guide the movement had since its founder Hassan al-Banna — had been a jailhouse friend of the Wafd's patriarch, Fouad Serageldin. Al-Tilmissany supposedly asked "Fouad Pasha" if he might allow some younger Brothers get experience in politics; the latter could not refuse the favor. In any case, of the Wafd's 59-member parliamentary bloc (the largest it had in the Mubarak era), only nine were Brothers.
One wonders whether these numbers would be reversed today. In many respects, the Brotherhood deserves the prominent role it currently enjoys: it fought for it. The Wafd's sad current state is the price it paid for its more conciliatory policies towards the regime.
Were things different, the Wafd would have been a natural pole for a certain type of patrician liberalism. It has name recognition from being the oldest Egyptian political party. Along the with former ruling party and the Brotherhood, it is probably the only party to be known by most Egyptians. It has plenty of money — over LE100 million by some estimates, from an endowment left behind by Fouad Pasha — as well as wealthy members. Unlike Naguib Sawiris' Free Egyptians, it is not dominated by a single backer.
Yet, what it lacks is vitality: there are some competent personalities here and there, but the Wafd not only did not foresee the surge of enthusiasm for politics that we saw in Tahrir, but it has no idea of how to harness it. So instead it plays the parlor game of allying with more vital political forces: the Brothers one day, the fledging but effervescent new post-revolution parties the next. The trouble with this (lack of?) strategy is that we are left to wonder what it stands for.
In the meantime, the purported alliance was celebrated or denigrated by much of the media. On the secularists' side, many wondered why the parties they support are getting into bed with the Islamists rather than focusing on their own alliances against them. Such is the current fog of war in Egyptian politics: there's a lot of talk and grand announcements, but little substance.
To be fair, this is hardly surprising when few have confidence that parliamentary elections will even take place in September and the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the interim government seem to be uncertain about how to proceed. The clock is ticking and, three months from the elections that will choose the parliament that will write a new constitution, nothing is known about how and when they will take place.
The timing of the elections and the wider debate about the sequencing of this transition — when various elections, the writing of the constitution and return to civilian rule take place — has grown more bitter and divisive in recent weeks. This may be why some political forces, such as the Brotherhood, are trying to forge a pre-electoral alliance that could run on a single platform.
Personally, I would prefer it if no one tried to engineer pacts that are all too likely to unravel. The next elections, if they are free and fair — and this should be the government's priority — will give Egyptians what the Mubarak regime denied them for three decades and no amount of polling can accurately predict: a map of the political landscape drawn by the ballot box. Only then, when there is an accurate understanding of the real strength of each party, can political coalitions in any real sense of the term can be formed.