IN FOCUS: Why Opposition Coalitions fail in Egypt ?

IN FOCUS: Why Opposition Coalitions fail in Egypt ?

Perhaps the only time an opposition coalition succeeded was in the 1919 Revolution, when the entire political movement spectra united in a revolution against the monarchy and British occupation. This coalition succeeded unexpectedly. One of its fruits was the establishment of the liberal and authority-balanced 1923 Constitution, which would remain an important milestone in modern Egyptian history.

Since then no opposition coalition has succeeded in Egypt. Why? I believe that there are two answers. The first is direct: the opposition is plagued with the authority diseases, such as despotism, absence of democracy and poor internal mobility, thus tarnishing their image in the public opinion. The second answer is that the regime often succeeds in dispersing the opposition, whether through fueling internal conflicts or through tempting some of them to enter into coalition with it instead of entering into alliances with other opposition parties, which took place repeatedly during the rule of President Hosni Mubarak.

However, there is a third answer. The Egyptian opposition, in addition to the previous shortcomings, does not want to pay the price of the change it’s demanding, assuming that they can remove the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) from power just because its decaying reputation and eroding legitimacy, without having the ability to communicate with the masses or convince them of possible alternatives.

Although Egypt is now experiencing the throes of a grueling phase, where the regime is out of balance, the opposition has not benefited from this or succeeded in mobilizing the public opinion to demand a genuine democratic transition.

This is the same status the opposition experienced during the 2005 parliamentary election when it formed a “coalition” that included most of the political parties and social forces, but failed to get any parliamentary seats, despite the margin of freedom that characterized that election. Over the past three years, the opposition failed to exploit the labor strikes to mobilize the masses.

Here is an example showing how the opposition failed to form a real coalition regarding the issue of “inheritance of power” and political succession in Egypt. Despite the fact that “inheritance of power” is strongly rejected by all, the opposition has not yet been able to establish a joint program that can deal with this critical issue.

All that is circulated these days about attempts by some to launch an opposition coalition on this issue is just aspirations and hopes that will not achieve any results if they do not succeed in mobilizing the masses. A coalition of Al-Wafd, Tagammou’, Arab Nasserist and Democratic Front parties started strong a year ago and gave hope for the possibility of forming an opposition front, but unfortunately it stopped and we do not know what happened to it or its results.

Now some intellectuals call for a forum-like coalition, which would include a number of political figures, to persuade President Hosni Mubarak not to run for a new presidential term or pass on power to his son — an attempt that is not realistic and I do not expect it to succeed.

A few days ago the Muslim Brotherhood called for the revival of the Coalition of Reform and Change, which was formed in 2005 under late Aziz Sidqi, former prime minister. But the group forgets that it was the one who forestalled that coalition when it ran for elections under its own banner not under the coalition’s.

Any attempt to create an opposition coalition should be based on three priorities: first, rallying around a specific case, i.e. blocking the power inheritance scenario, for instance; second, mobilizing the masses behind this issue; third, choosing a strong candidate who can compete for the 2011 presidency race. Without this, opposition coalitions are mere marionettes that cannot take real action.

Khalil Al-Anani is an Egyptian expert on political Islam and democratization in the Middle East and is a senior fellow at Al-Ahram Foundation. E-mail: [email protected]