Saturday, October 30, 2004
The Egyptian shura council approved the formation of a new party called Al Ghad or Tomorrow party. The party's demand to be legalized was rejected three times before but this time it was accepted to become the third party to be legalized in about 25 years. This shura council is a council of prominent individuals who give advice to the government. The National Democratic Party, the president's party, overwhelmingly dominates this council and the people's parliament and so both houses merely carry out what the government wants.
Two other parties were not as lucky as Al Ghad, they got rejected because the first was composed of extreme Arab nationalists and the other had hardcore Islamist backgrounds. The approval for Al Ghad raised speculations somehow that there was a deal between the government and the party that runs on a liberal platform.
I was impressed when I looked at the members of Al Ghad. Its leader said that his party is liberal and is geared towards the young. Over 30% of the members are women and about 22% are Copts (Christian Egyptians). The remaining members are businessmen, lawyers, and blue collar workers. I might take an unusual step in the life of an average Egyptian and join this party! Over 95% of Egyptians don't even bother to vote in any elections whatsoever. I'll still have to watch this party so closely and see where it is heading.
I just want to seize the opportunity and briefly give you an overview of the different political streams in Egypt:
Nasserites: They are the remnants of the Gamal Abdul Nasser era. They are socialist Arab nationalist who worship Nasser right after God (some place him before the deity). They ruled Egypt from 1952 until Nasser's death in 1970. They turned against Nasser's successor Sadat because he altered many of Nasser's policies. Today they remained opposed to the government. They are ferociously anti-America.
The secular Nasserites are constantly loosing appeal and so they joined forces many times with those who took their place: the Islamists. This is a very awkward marriage because Nasser literally wiped the Muslim Brotherhood from Egyptian history during his tenure. He arrested, tortured, and executed scores of Islamists when he was alive. Today Nasserites and Islamists are united by their opposition to the government and anti-Americanism.
Islamists: They are very well organized and financed. I am not sure however about the amount of support they have from the Egyptian public. They try to convince Egyptians that they are the answer to their problems after the failure of Nasser's socialism and Sadat's capitalism. Their slogan is "Islam is the answer." (Does Iran's Khomeini ring a bell?)
Sometimes I believe that Egypt needs 21 years of Muslim Brotherhood rule! Like their Iranian counterparts, the next Egyptian generation will see how those Islamists are just as corrupt as any politician is and they tend to use religion for their political purposes.
Islamists are the government's main enemy. They are the number one opposition entity. I'd rather have 1000 years of Mubarak rule than 1 day of living under the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Muslim Brotherhood has been saying lately that they accept western style democracy and want to enter the political stream as any political entity. I am personally very skeptical for two reasons. First, never trust an Islamist, never. Second, the Muslims Brotherhood itself is undemocratic. They don't have elections within their party and their "spiritual leader" remains until he dies. Currently there is a power struggle between the "old guard" and the new generation of Muslims Brotherhood members. Ummmm, that doesn't look democratic to me.
Liberals: I'd rather call them progressives. They are the weakest among them all. Egypt had a tremendous community of progressives before the 1952 revolution. However, they picked up some voice after September 11. There are two types of progressives: those who demand 100% secularism and those who might be willing to accept the participation of Islamists in the political system as long as they adhere to democracy.
I dream of the day when progressives gain strength and form a large base in Egypt.