New Egyptian political bloc vows to take on Muslim Brotherhood remnants

Although the Brotherhood is politically dead on the Egyptian street, its supportive media have an outsized influence.
Sunday 15/07/2018
Moussa Mostafa Moussa, the head of the centrist al-Ghad (Tomorrow) Party, arrives for a news conference in Cairo, last March. (AFP)
A man with a mission. Moussa Mostafa Moussa, the head of the centrist al-Ghad (Tomorrow) Party, arrives for a news conference in Cairo, last March. (AFP)

CAIRO - A new opposition coalition has been formed in Egypt by political parties that say it will bring life to what they describe as the country’s “stagnant” political waters. The Egyptian National Opposition Coalition, which will be formally unveiled this month, contains dozens of political parties and will include lawmakers and political activists.

The leaders of the coalition say it is not being formed to oppose the government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi but rather to contest what it sees as foreign-supported opposition.

Leading the group is Moussa Mostafa Moussa, the head of the centrist al-Ghad (Tomorrow) Party and Sisi’s only rival in the presidential elections earlier this year.

“We will create this new political group to defend the government against political forces paid by foreign governments to destabilise our country,” Moussa said. “These forces only want to hamper the progress Egypt is making on all fronts.”

Moussa, who received less than 3% of the vote in the March elections, was criticised for his unwillingness to castigate Sisi or offer a rival vision for governance. Until he announced his last-minute candidacy, Moussa had backed Sisi’s re-election. After the election, he was quoted by local media as saying that even his wife, another Sisi backer, chided him because people voted for him instead of Sisi.

Moussa’s coalition might be stirring up a hornet’s nest among political observers following the slow death of the influence of Egypt’s political parties.

Although there are more than 100 of them in Egypt, just nine are represented in parliament and most lack any political presence among the Egyptian electorate. There are more independent MPs in Egypt’s legislature than those affiliated with political parties.

“Most of the parties [in Egypt] are family businesses that have no presence on the streets or broader political vision,” said Tarek Fahmi, a political science professor at Cairo University. “Few of these parties play any role in the life of people on the streets.”

Despite Sisi calling for Egypt’s political parties to form coalitions and alliances, questions are being asked whether coalitions can present an effective opposition.

The Egyptian National Opposition Coalition is the second political coalition formed in recent months. A new version of the Nation’s Future Party, following a merger with the For the Sake of Egypt bloc, resulted in a mega-party in June claiming more than 265 seats of Egypt’s 596-seat parliament. Both coalitions are broadly pro-Sisi.

The issue is less about the formation of new coalitions and more about the emergence of a political culture that has seen opposition to the president dwindle, political activists say.

“There is a package of ready-made accusations for everybody who has a different point of view,” said Hamdeen Sabahi, a leftist politician and a two-time presidential candidate. “Those who dare to challenge the president or the government are given a very hard time.”

Like other opposition figures, Sabahi has been berated in the pro-government media for criticising Sisi’s policies, including economic reforms. He is a potential target for Moussa’s coalition, which will include in its list of targeted group the Muslim Brotherhood.

Although the Brotherhood is for all practical purposes politically dead on the Egyptian street, its supportive media — operating from Qatar and Turkey — have an outsized influence in Egypt by focusing on issues such as austerity and rising commodity prices.

The Egyptian National Opposition Coalition said it intended to challenge these figures and highlight national achievements.

“Brotherhood remnants and some political forces are present every day and night to claim that everything in Egypt is bad,” Moussa said. “We will challenge all these people and show them that there is an opposition in this country that can expose their fake slogans to the public.”