Egypt, the left and the first round of the elections
Our article is interested in the strategies and tactics of the different leftist parties during the first round of the election. A unified candidacy could have been possible and could have challenged the whole dynamics of the elections, especially following the great result of Nasserist candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi, who gathered the highest votes in Cairo and Alexandria.
The various trends of the left have presented themselves completely divided before the Presidential elections and this situation has been very difficult to follow and understand for the Egyptians themselves sympathetic to the left, as well as for leftists abroad.
The left was divided between four presidential candidates. They were Hamdeen Sabahi, Khaled Ali, Abul Ezz al-Hariri, and Hisham al-Bastawisi.
The division among the left was due to different reasons.
Firstly, attitude towards the elections were divergent, some consider it un-legitimate because under military rule, while others although acknowledging this situation still wanted to go on with the elections. The historical figure and the leader of the Workers and Peasants Party (still under formation) Kamal Khalil with other independent activists have decided to boycott the elections because they refuse it to happen under military rule. In their opinion, the president under a military rule would not have any power, just as the parliament and would just legitimate a so called democratic process led by the military authorities. The Revolutionary Socialists held this position regarding the last legislative elections, while now they changed their positions in calling the masses to participate in the presidential elections. This shows a lack of clarity of their position regarding elections.
On the other side, all the other component of the left have declared their will to participate in the elections as the best way to continue the revolution and to put out of power the SCAF and the Fouloul (the remnants of the ex regime), despite acknowledging for some the important shortcuts in the election process.
The revolutionary socialists for example have been very critical of the process of the presidential elections stating that “the obstacles faced by prospective candidates (collecting 30,000 signatures from 15 governorates), the formation of a supervisory committee for the elections by the military council itself (which means it cannot be challenged under Article 28 of the constitution), the presence of powerful counter-revolutionary media machine and a governmental and administrative apparatus geared towards defence of the military, show that the Mubarak regime is seeking to renew itself and move from defence to attack” They nevertheless say that because the people consider as a major democratic experience and as chance to get rid of SCAF, they want “to engage in the battle to expose the candidates representing the alliance between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, while pushing the masses towards completing their revolution by focusing on the demands of the revolution and the revolutionary forces”.
During the campaign, they were actually clear biases in favor of Shafiq by the State and the counter revolutionary camp. They deployed their full resources, including the repressive apparatus of the state, the media and the business interests, to push forward Shafiq. This definitely played a role in the good score of this latter.
Failure to unite
The different leftist parties participating in the elections were unfortunately unable to reach an agreement to present one and unique candidate around a united electoral program after several weeks of negotiations. The initiative included Hamdeen Sabahi, Hisham el-Bastawisi, Abul Ezz al-Hariri, and Ali Khalil, in addition to the liberal islamist candidate Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh and the liberal secular Ayman Nour (whose presidential bid was later disqualified by the Supreme Electoral Commission based on a court conviction issued against him before the revolution).
This led to a division of the left in elections with different strategies, even some leading to actually unite with Abul Fotouh.
The Revolutionary Socialist supported the elections but without calling to support a candidate, as a united leftist candidate was not chosen. They instead joined a broad campaign spanning all Egypt called Imsik Fouloul(Catch the Remnants). It was formed by activists from all persuasions to chase after Ahmed Shafik and Amr Moussa, two of the candidates with connections to the former regime.
The Socialist Popular Alliance Party (SPAP) decided few months before the elections to nominate al- Hariri, a party leader and MP, for the presidential race. This came after failed negotiations to support the leftist lawyer, Khaled Ali who joined the elections.
Khaled Ali n these past few years have fought corrupt privatization contracts of factories and companies and won several key cases in favor of workers though his work at the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, which he founded. Ali’s campaign was probably one of the poorest campaigns in the presidential elections. He could nevertheless count on 30,000 volunteers, which is still far from the over 100 000 of Abul Foutouh. He was also supported by a significant number of independent leftist activists and the Democratic Left, who joined the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, which wavers between right of center and left of center.
The Socialist Renewal Current (SRC), a group that split from the Revolutionary Socialists few years ago, decided to unilaterally support the Islamist candidate Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh, despite the fact they are part of the bloc Revolution continues and SPAP. They consider Abul Foutouh as part of the revolutionary masses.
The reasons behind this move have been the following:
– Firstly Abul Foutouh is the best candidate able to challenge the Fouloul candidates and to fight against the SCAF counter revolutionary force. They nevertheless acknowledged that Khaled Ali was the candidate to represent the most the soul of the revolution, seconded by Hamden Sabahi. (http://www.facebook.com/notes/omar-el-shafei/%D8%B5%D9%88%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AB%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D9%84%D9%85%D9%86-%D9%88%D9%84%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%B0%D8%A7-%D9%88%D9%83%D9%8A%D9%81/309777119102361)
– Secondly they wanted to break the division and separation between Islamist / secular in Egypt by joining Abul Foutouh, who has been characterized as a liberal islamist, similar to the AKP model in Turkey. (http://www.almasryalyoum.com/node/842586; http://www.almasryalyoum.com/node/857471)
Both of these reasons and analysis have proven completely wrong, firstly Hamden Sabahi was the best candidate to challenge the fouloul candidates and SCAF counter revolutionary forces as the results of the elections, regardless that he had a much progressive position than Abul Foutouh in all aspects, and then the divide between islamist and seculars is still playing on the Egyptian political scene. The real divide is actually between the pro continuation of the revolution and the ones that want to limit it as much as possible, and we will see that Abul Foutouh’s program is far from being progressive and socialists. He is definitely not a reactionary but he is far from representing the radical change the Egyptians want.
The SRC actually acknowledged this situation, and know that he is not a radical, but describe him as a liberal conservative. The SRC argued that a radical challenge to both the SCAF and MBs was not possible and therefore entered in a full coalition with Abul Foutouh campaigning for him; they were actually proved wrong with results of Sabahi. In addition to enter in such an alliance with a liberal islamist candidate in the first round of a presidential election is against all revolutionary politics.
Khaled Ali’s position towards the election is actually much closer to it: ““It doesn’t matter whether I win or not. The real struggle is over which economic system that we will follow. Will we follow the same economic system that introduced privatization and that transformed people’s rights into products for sale to the highest bidder? Or will we deal with employment, water, education, healthcare and social security as rights that must be offered for citizens?”. He added as well that the electoral campaign, despite his strong reserves, itself contributes to raising awareness about social demands and economic rights.
Abul Foutouh supported by the SRC had an economic program that rejected the “binary” opposition between public vs private industries, while instead calling for the proliferation of “new forms” of ownership and administration, such as public-private co-ops and privately managed public companies. However, there is little detail on what this means exactly or how it would work, regardless of the fact that is far from any solutions to provide new and massive opportunities for workers and students. He did not even call for the implementation of the minimum wage at LE1,200, saying he believed that the wage must be set after further study, while all the leftist candidates did. His program also aimed to increase healthcare spending to 15% of the state budget, and education spending to 25%, by 2016. These are his other suggestions:
– cut dependence on expatriate remittances and Suez Canal revenue for a more productive, industry-led economy;
– halve public debt through financial reforms including progressive taxation on individual and corporate incomes and property, levy capital gains tax on real estate and stock trades
– Cut government spending, reduce subsidies on petroleum products consumed by energy-intensive industries, and direct such subsidies towards the poor, not big investors.
– Increase organic farming and end bottlenecks in wholesale and retail agricultural trade.
Khaled Ali’s program aimed to “redefine the relationship between the public, private and cooperative sectors.” For Ali, the public sector must remain the main driver for growth. As one of the main crusaders against corrupt privatization deals, he would like to continue annulling such deals as president to help revitalize these companies and use them to solve unemployment. While Ali does not reject the private sector, he holds that it must not include strategic goods such as water, and that all private companies should be subject to strict anti-trust laws.
On the economy, El Hariri, argued in his program that the Stat must take back the public sector companies that were sold—or more precisely—stolen, as he précised in numerous interviews. He adds that the economy of the state must be managed on the logic of integration between the public, cooperative, and private sectors. There is no state that does not interfere in the economy in one way or another, because the state is not indifferent. He ends by declaring that privatization is not predestined, and the private sector cannot promote development on its own.
Hamden Sabahi’s core message in the campaign was social justice and a good life for all Egyptians. The Nasserist candidate also promised to set minimum and maximum wages and establish mechanisms to monitor prices help the jobless, make taxation progressive. He argued to restore the state’s share of investment in mega-projects and the industrial sector to 35 percent. Attract foreign investment, reverse capital flight. In his program, he pledged to end extreme poverty and house all citizens within eight years, cancel farmers’ debts, aim for self-sufficiency in “strategic” agricultural products, while guarantee universal health care subsidized by the government. Here are also other propositions of the Nasserite candidate:
– Lead an industrialization plan focused on “strategic” industries such as steel, cement, fertilizers, textiles, pharmaceuticals, electronics and technology.
– Create a “Silicon Wadi” (Valley) for technology. Solar energy to account for 20 percent of energy consumed in 8 years.
– Expand Egypt’s inhabited area by 50 percent within eight years by building new urban communities and infrastructure.
In the two weeks before the polls, more than 500 public figures, revolutionaries and intellectuals announced their support for Sabbahi. Among those were the Revolution Youth Coalition, Peaceful Change Youth Movement, the mother of a symbol of the Egyptian Revolution – the mother of Khaled Said – Alaa El-Aswani, columnist and novelist, Abdel-Halim Kandil, columnist.
Position towards crimes during the transition period and SCAF
The candidate Khaled Ali declared that he would form a judicial committee under the leadership of the head of the Supreme Judicial Council to investigate all the crimes that were committed during the transitional period. This committee will have the right to interrogate both civilians and members of the military. He added that if he was elected he would have formed a new cabinet and the head of SCAF, Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi, will be one of the ministers removed from office.
El Hariri argued regarding the SCAF that he was for a legal exit no matter whether it is peaceful or not peaceful, saying that those whose positions have been sound may leave and those whose positions are wrong must pay. He finished an interview declaring that the military council’s period of authority is ending, even with regards to the military.
Abul Foutouh declared regarding the Marshal Tantawi that they have served their homeland for so long, they should rest. He added by saying that this would not be purging, but honoring. To the question if he supports a safe exit for the SCAF, he answered that he supports a just exit rather than a safe exit by the military, but he nevertheless added that the judiciary must take its course in holding to account those who erred, and nobody has the right to defy the verdicts of the judiciary.
Hamdeen Sabahi has been a long and vocal opponent of the Mubarak regime before and of the SCAF, as well as Fouloul since last year. He was actually participating in the Friday June 1 protest in Alexandria with April 6 Youth Movement and Kefaya Movement, to protest against Shafiq.
Khaled Ali said several times that that it was no longer acceptable to keep parts of the Sinai demilitarized after all this time have passed since the last war with Israel. He also stressed the need to open up the subject of the Egyptian prisoners of war from the 1967 June War that were killed by Israel.
El Hariri repeated on numerous occasions he would like to see the relations cut off with Israel, by notably the absence of commercial interaction dealings with them or diplomatic or cultural envoys. In his opinion Camp David is an agreement of submission and surrender that violates Egypt’s national sovereignty. He adds that the agreement should be adjusted for a transitional period until the Arab Spring is completed, arguing that its nationalist influences have reflected upon the national situation, and the international position towards human rights has progressed. He would favor the establishment of a Palestine secular and democratic state where Muslims, Christians and Jews can live together and the Palestinian refugees can return. He also declared that Palestine is an Egyptian and Arab issue and that he supports the Palestinian resistance in all its forms.
Sabahi has a history of bringing support to resistance to the Paletsinian cause. He was also the first Egyptian lawmaker to break the Israeli occupation’s blockade on Gaza when he entered the besieged strip and met with Hamas leaders to relay the Egyptian people’s support for the Palestinians. He told them the Egyptian people will stand by them until the liberation of all Palestinian territories and stressed his support for Hamas and the other Palestinian resistance factions. Such positions were not new to the man who publicly supported the Lebanese resistance during the Israeli aggression on Lebanon in 2006.
Abul Foutouh’s position regarding Palestine is linked to the sovereignty of the country. He argues that Egypt’ relationship with any state should be based on Egypt’s interest, nothing else. There can be no abandonment of Egypt’s full sovereignty over its entire territory, including the eastern part of the Sinai Peninsula. If there is any impediment to achieving full Egyptian sovereignty, we will overcome it.
The division of the left severed its influence among the masses. The low turnout of the electorate and the results of Sabahi show nevertheless that the left has a great potential. A clear leftist alternative is needed and above all possible. The left is the only one possible to answer and fulfill the demands of the workers, students, and peasants and of the revolutionary masses. An alternative to the SCAF and the MBs is possible; the left needs to build it n the streets, factories, fields, cities and countryside’s. The slogan of the Egyptians “Bread and Freedom” is still the dominant one.
Viva the permanent revolutions.