By Marwa Al-A’asar
This year witnessed the advent of new players on the Egyptian political scene, though some opposition forces were disappointed at the slight impact they have made so far.
When Mohamed ElBaradei as a new opposition leader and Al-Wafd opposition party under new leadership emerged, they were perceived by many as possible alternatives to the current regime.
At the time when the 68-year old Nobel Laureate ElBaradei returned to Egypt in February, he was met by enthusiastic supporters who hoped he might run for president in 2011.
The former Director of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) frequently said in media statements that he would only run for president if the constitution is amended to allow him to run as an independent, rejecting all calls to join a political party.
“Choosing not to join a political party to be able to run for president was not a point against ElBaradei,” says Amr Hashim, senior researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
“Every option has its pros and cons. If he agrees to join the race with the … current rules, he will never win,” Hashim told Daily News Egypt.
ElBaradei also said in other occasions that he would run only if the government guaranteed free and fair elections that would be supervised by the judiciary and the international community.
Yet the constitution, believed to be tailored for the 82-year-old President Hosni Mubarak to remain in power, makes it almost impossible for ElBaradei to run as president.
ElBaradei was an outsider to regime politics, a fact that state-owned newspapers were quick to use against him after he was put forward by opposition groups as a potential presidential candidate.
His supporters were quick to form the National Association for Change (NAC) which involved public figures, activists and members of other opposition groups.
“ElBaradei contributed to [pushing forward] the political movements in Egypt [at the time when] their activities were at a standstill,” Hashim says.
Nevertheless, some analysts believe that ElBaradei failed to unite the opposition in his calls to boycott the parliamentary elections. Neither did he manage to solve internal differences in the NAC or present new opposition techniques never used before.
“ElBaradei is still perceived by many as a reformer. But the fact that he does not appear much among the ordinary people on the street is not in his favor,” Hashim says.
“For example, he did not show up during the protest that involved all political groups and parties to object to the legitimacy of the People’s Assembly (PA),” he added.
On Aug. 30, ElBaradei called on all Egyptian citizens and opposition groups and parties to boycott the PA elections, especially that the Shoura Council elections held earlier in June were marred by reports of violations.
Opposition groups and parties remained divided while only a few of them responded to ElBaradei’s call. Most of them later withdrew from the elections after violations were allegedly committed against their candidates in the first round, granting the ruling party a sweeping majority in the country’s Lower-House of the Parliament.
“Opposition groups and parties [did not follow ElBaradei’s call] because they are jealous that someone who appeared on the scene less than two years ago and attracted all this attention,” Hashim argued.
Following the PA elections, ElBaradei called on citizens and opposition groups and parties to boycott the presidential polls due in 2011.
In a recent public meeting in Minya, ElBaradei said he is pushing to unify the country’s opposition groups to build enough numbers for pro-reform protests after parliamentary elections marred by widespread allegations of fraud.
He further said that disparate opposition groups did not pose a serious enough challenge to Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) in the elections because they failed to present a united front.
“I think we are now at a time of re-evaluation … soul searching,” ElBaradei told the Associated Press after meeting with supporters, including Muslim Brotherhood leaders.
ElBaradei said that calls for civil disobedience in Egypt are far from materializing because of the divided opposition and a population fearful after years of repression under Mubarak’s nearly three decades of autocratic rule.
To his supporters, he said: “I will succeed in as much as I can unify these disparate groups. If I can’t, there will be no fast change.”
The rise and fall of Al-Wafd
Al-Wafd has enjoyed a long history as a liberal party in Egyptian politics, having promoted the notion of national unity since the 1920s.
Frequently described as a rare occurrence in Egyptian partisan life, the recent Al-Wafd party internal elections held in May were characterized by integrity and transparency.
To many observers, Al-Wafd emerged as a much stronger party after the polls.
Following the elections, the new party president Al-Sayed Al-Badawy met with many prominent figures and celebrities, ranging from politicians, MPs, Muslim and Coptic religious figures and even actors, actresses and football players; some of them joined the party. Veteran actress Samira Ahmed, TV host Nagwa Ibrahim and former footballer Taher Abou Zeid were among the famous names that joined the party.
Among the controversial figures who joined Al-Wafd after the internal elections was Islamic scholar Suad Saleh. She said that the “civilized” elections of Al-Wafd encouraged her to join. She later gave a few media statements about her opposing the idea of a Christian running for presidency, which stirred angry reactions against her, especially the Coptic party members and other senior members who were worried about the party’s proclaimed secular identity. Saleh later apologized for her comments.
Nevertheless, the democratic image and reputation the party gained after the elections were quick to fade away after a number of senior party members and leaders disagreed with Al-Badawy’s policies and resigned from their posts. Sameh Makram Ebeid, assistant secretary general, resigned from his senior post in October, but kept his membership in the party.
On Dec. 2, Al-Wafd’s executive bureau announced its withdrawal from the PA runoff elections in response to allegations of vote rigging and a number of violations that were believed to have taken place during the first round of the polls on Nov. 28.
The party froze the memberships of the seven members who won seats in the PA in the first round and the runoffs and were registered as Al-Wafd-affiliated MPs against the party’s will till they are interrogated by a special committee.
The party officially informed the PA that it has no parliamentary representation there.
“Al-Wafd still maneuvers around its parliamentary representation, especially that the [destiny of the dissident members have not been determined yet,” Hashim said.
The party’s decision to compete over the PA elections then its withdrawal from the contest has further weakened its position on the political scene, Hashim argued.
“[Ironically] Al-Badawy contradicted himself when he, as a party president, he attended the opening session of the new parliamentary round.”
Al-Wafd leaders including Ramy Lakah (L) and Al-Sayed Al-Badawy (Rs) announced the party withdrawal from the election runoff on Dec. 2. (Daily News Egypt photo/Sarah Carr)