Ahead of the parliamentary elections set to start in October, many pro-25 January Revolution parties find themselves in a tricky position as the pro-state and anti-revolution factions look poised to secure a sweeping majority in the parliament, while other parties that rose to the scene in the aftermath of 25 January Revolution fear being sidelined.
However, many of these parties, such as the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP), are nonetheless convinced of the importance of defending the revolution’s principles.
The pro-revolution camp received a recent blow, as the Sahwet Misr list announced its withdrawal from elections after recent disputes with the majority of the Supreme Electoral Commission (SEC), leaving the ESDP almost solely representing the revolutionary camp.
Daily News Egypt interviewed Ahmed Fawzy, Secretary General of the ESDP, to discuss expectations for the next parliament, the strategy of the party’s campaigns, and the political atmosphere in the country.
The party, which was founded in 2011 and had 16 MPs in the 2012 parliament, is fielding 90 candidates on the individual system seats, aiming at maintaining a presence in order for their political stance to be voiced in the parliament.
What caused the withdrawal of the Sahwet Misr list, and how did that affect your party’s candidates?
We were not a part of Sahwet Misr, and we were not on their lists. The founders of the lists did not want to deal with parties; they said they choose public figures and representatives of Copts, women, youth and workers.
They also said they would back the democratic current parties or their candidates.
They chose some of our candidates to run on their lists, but they didn’t continue, for the reasons they announced, such as the SEC not being decisive, and that they don’t have enough funds.
From the beginning, I was in the camp that believes we shouldn’t run on closed lists because it implies the violation of the equal opportunity concept, and the inability of competition. It is almost an appointment system, and there is a clear bias by administrative and executive authorities in favour of the “In the love of Egypt” list, and so there is no need for us to run in something that will exhaust us financially and make us look like we cannot compete to voters… there is no party or electoral coalition that can compete in a district that ranges between Qasr Al-Nil bridge [downtown Cairo] and Sudan’s borders!
Speaking of funds and party finances, you previously said that if the state wants a healthy political environment, it should help out political parties within the law. Can you illustrate?
If the state is keen on having strong parties, the political parties law has to be changed. I won’t talk about the political environment; let’s just talk about the legislations. A law must be put in place to ease financial burdens on parties, provide tax exemptions, and other related issues.
There are two means for parties to fund their activities: either to be allowed to hold projects that can generate funds, and this requires amendments to the parties law, or to get aid from the state, and here we need to emphasise that there is a difference between a state and a government.
There is a system abroad where parties receive aid that accords with their seat representation. That is, of course, if there is a parliamentary law that allows parties to be represented. I think these amendments should be made, for the financial side.
For the other side, I believe the state needs to create a political environment that allows parties to compete. It doesn’t work to make an elections law that is against parties and then imagine that parties will be strong. It doesn’t work for the media that is close to the state to keep insulting parties and defacing their image. It doesn’t work that statements by some ministers and figures who are close to the president accuse parties of weakness and treason and so on.
When there are parties, there should be legislations that allow parties to act. It doesn’t work to have a protest law that prevents parties from organising demonstrations, strikes and protests, then you wonder about the status of parties. It doesn’t work that we don’t have a parliament for three years and you complain about the weakness of parties.
Were these amendments proposed to the government or the presidency?
When there is a parliament, these amendments should be proposed and since there is not, you can’t propose them. If we have representatives of the party in the parliament we can propose amendments to the parties law, but I don’t think they will go through.
The president is not interested in this. He is not interested in politics, parties, freedoms and such topics. According to him, his interests are in executing projects, national security and his view of defending the rights of poor Egyptians. He doesn’t consider parties or politics important.
He is not interested in politics, but a list such as “In the Love of Egypt” reportedly receives the state’s support? They are running solo in the East Delta district. What do you think of that electoral scene?
This is a natural scene. Since the 25 January Revolution, there are people inside state institutions who insist on taking revenge on the January [revolution] and view it as a big catastrophe and that it was no revolution. They celebrated it at the time as they couldn’t say they are against it. Since day one there were people inside state institutions, mega businessmen and state research and religious institutions that are against the revolution.
The 25 January Revolution is a helpless revolution, because it was made by helpless people and a society that has been deprived of politics for 60 years. Ipso facto, the people who were against the revolution are leading the scene now, and all the rhetoric by the authority that it respects the January revolution is not found in reality.
There was a lot of equivocation, and a number of the foes of the revolution managed to reach power and be a part of the decision and legislation making process, and the “In the Love of Egypt” list consists of these people.
Was there debate in the party over participation in elections?
Not on individual seats. We take part in the elections to win seats. With regards to the participation in elections amid the restrictions on freedoms, I’m of the thought that participation and boycotting shouldn’t be related to the availability of honest conditions for the elections or whether you recognise the legitimacy of the regime or not. There were never fair elections in Egypt.
If you can’t force integrity for the elections, will boycotting have an effect? Those who boycott elections should seek their annulment. For boycotting, aside from telling people you’re boycotting, you have to cut relations with the authority and to do that you should be ready to mobilise people to protest this authority, and I don’t see this happening, and there is no ability for that to begin with.
The legitimacy of the ruling powers doesn’t depend on elections. All the elections held under Hosni Mubarak were forged. However, people deemed him a legitimate ruler. Elections are tools to build close contact with citizens, to increase the number of your party members and to produce young faces who can run in elections and present themselves to the people.
Egypt is not only New Cairo, Nasr City, and Zamalek, it is also Upper Egypt and countryside, and people there they know only elections as representatives of their interests. If I exclude myself from elections, this means I’m excluding myself from political life. At the end of the day, there is a battle between people who want to shut down the public sphere and those who want to open it; I side with the latter.
I supported boycotting lists, as a political stance that the lists system is in fact an appointment system, because a list doesn’t succeed except as a whole, and there is a bias from the authority. We are leaving them the 120 seats of the lists system and we are running for the individual seats so that we have a voice in the parliament to deliver our political perspective.
Did the decision to boycott lists come with consensus?
There were differences in opinions, but with the closest list to us [Sahwet Masr] withdrawing, there weren’t many objections.
What about funding your candidates’ campaigns?
Candidates self-fund their campaigns, and the party, according to the strength of a candidate, offers to partly support some of the campaigns. The party’s original members receive more funds than candidates who run in the name of the party. Women, Christians and youth also receive more funding.
Do you provide more support to candidates with better chances of winning? What is your strategy?
I divide this to three categories: First are candidates who have the ability to succeed… we are in a difficult electoral system and conditions, and the process needs money and requires an MP who is not legislating or supervising, but an MP who can offer services to people. This is a type of candidates whom we try to select as transparently people, with people who are not corrupt and who have good reputation among people, and who at least are not against 25 January.
Another category is candidates whom we use in party battles. For example, in Assiut we used to have four seats, so we are fielding candidates who can remind people that we are there, and it is the same case in Menufiya. There are governorates where we have strong presence and we are trying to maintain the presence of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.
A third category is candidates who are running to tell people what the Egyptian Social Democratic Party is; these are the young candidates between 25 and 30 years, whom we are happy with and strongly support.
What is the future for an open public sphere?
There is no future, but we have to try. The current authority doesn’t want politics and democracy; it doesn’t believe in democracy and freedoms. The Egyptian revolution is defeated.
The cream of the country’s youth are currently in prisons, or depressed, or want to leave the country, and those who are in control of the country, its fate and its rhetoric are people whose level you can see for yourself: media personnel who incite killing, violence and hatred. They defame people and discuss their personal lives and the state as if it is not present, it even blesses this.
The president talks about the constitution using rhetoric that is not proper for a president, as he was elected through this constitution. He always belittles politics, politicians and parties, and the security agencies act as they will, while NGOs are insulted on daily basis.
We have nothing to do but to resist within our capacities, without being harmed.
The president’s comments on the constitution were picked up by some parties and there are now calls for amending the constitutions. How do you view this?
It is clear that there is an amendment to the constitution on the horizon. Media personnel who are close to the presidency and the executive authority say that there are articles that need to be amended.
What are the expectations for the upcoming parliament? How will it shape?
It will be the worst parliament in the history of the country. It will be even worse than 2010 parliament.
Expectations are in favour of “In the Love of Egypt”, but who else will have majority?
Independents will be a majority in the parliament. By the way, those running for the Free Egyptians Party are not from the party, they are independents and most them are former members of the National Democratic Party, and the Free Egyptians will later regret that they included them. For example, the Free Egyptians Party is a liberal party but you will find one of those candidates saying things like: “We are against women”, or “we want customary reconciliation sessions” in cases of sectarian disputes. Many of these candidates will be expelled and the party will denounce them. Everyone will pay for their deeds.
How do you comment on recent resignations at Al-Dostour Party?
I don’t comment on other parties, but I believe that the environment is hostile against parties, and this is the issue. The state is hostile to parties, and politics are dying, and whatever is affiliated to 25 January is being resisted and defamed, and there is no climate that helps people to act.
The youth are in prisons and parties can’t help them out, the elections laws don’t encourage participation. I think that if there was a fair elections law, people at Al-Dostour Party wouldn’t have had those troubles, and if there were no outside interventions, the Al-Dostour, ESDP and the Popular Current members would have done some good work.
How do you think it will be the worst parliament?
It won’t be able to legislate or supervise. It won’t form a cabinet; whatever is sent from the president will be agreed on.
Will there be internal elections soon in the party?
The elections are set to be held on 2 October within the general assembly of the party.
Will this not affect the party’s bid in elections?
It was upon request from [Mohamed] Abul Ghar [the party’s president]. He asked for this date and we agreed on it.