Presidential Elections: Egypt’s Left Behind


Men are reflected in a motorcycle mirror as voters wait outside a polling station in Cairo 23 May 2012. (Photo: Reuters – Mohammed Salem)

By: Bisan Kassab, Muhammad al-Arabi


As Day 1 of voting closes, the strife among the candidates of the Left in the Egyptian presidential elections demonstrates the inability of this political current to unite in order to grasp this revolutionary moment.

After 25 January 2011, the Left in Egypt changed. Gone is the stereotypical image being promoted in the media of leftists in Egypt: countless groups revelling in bars, discussing outdated theories, and accusing each other of treason.

The revolution managed to bring the Left back to life, but this was ultimately not enough to propel the revolution forward. The Egyptian Left, in its various forms and currents, failed to grasp the revolutionary moment.
The issues of “bread” and “dignity” were crystal clear in the Left’s rhetoric. These were indivisible from freedom, democracy, and politics. Actually, they were considered a precondition to such issues being addressed, according to many leftists.

In order to win a wider audience, all they had to do was to put their weight behind social and economic demands.

But the organizations of the Left, whether the parties or social formations, failed to demonstrate their ability to achieve the goals of those segments of society that joined the revolution in the hope of improving their economic and social conditions.

The presidential elections further added to the disunity of leftist currents.

Kamal Khalil is a historical icon of the Marxist Left and a leader of the Workers and Peasants Party (still under formation). He says that the “deep crisis in the Left became evident in the break up of its votes between four presidential candidates. They are Hamdeen Sabahi, Khaled Ali, Abul Ezz al-Hariri, and Hisham al-Bastawisi.”

The Socialist Popular Alliance Party (SPAP) decided a few months ago to nominate Hariri, a party leader and MP, for the presidential race. This came after failed negotiations to support the leftist lawyer, Khaled Ali.

Socialist Renewal, a group that split from the Revolutionary Socialists before the revolution, decided to unilaterally support the Islamist candidate Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh.

This decision was based on an economic program written by leftist activists who saw that the candidacy of Abul-Fotouh, a reformist with a conservative background, could avoid polarization between so-called “civic groups” and the Islamists.

SPAP was formed after the revolution by former leading members of the National Progressive Unionist Party (Tagammu) which also used to be the party of Abul Ezz al-Hariri.

Tagammu had severely deteriorated following years of supporting deposed president Hosni Mubarak. Its former president, Rifaat al-Said, used to justify this alliance by the need to challenge the rise of the Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Tagammu are backing Bastawisi, noted for his role in the battle with the Mubarak regime over the independence of the judiciary in the 1990s.

Khaled Ali, formerly of the Revolutionary Socialists, is 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 Revolutionary Socialists took a completely different position on the elections. They chose to abstain in protest of the failure of candidates close to the revolution to unite, following the collapse of efforts by some public figures to avoid dividing the leftist vote.

They joined a broad campaign spanning all Egypt called Imsik Fuloul (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.

They did not call for a boycott like Kamal Khalil, who was joined by other independent activists. Khalil justifies the boycott because he “[refuses] any elections under military rule.”

“There is no fault in the candidates themselves, but it is the nature of military rule. It transformed the first post-revolution Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, who was close to the revolution at first, into a person without authority,” Khalil explains.

“The same thing happened with the parliament and even Kamal Ganzouri (the current PM) who was supposed to have the authority of the president of the republic.”

But the most dangerous part in the fragmentation of the Left – which unites only in fear of the return of the old regime – is that their candidates can only draw votes from each other.

Many leftist candidates found this out when they could not draw even a minimal presence of support in the street or cohere to the demands of the people after the revolution.

While the Egyptian Left faces a similar fragmentation to that of the Islamist and liberal fronts, the Left’s electorate is far more divided.

Tackling the presidential elections will be of no use if those currents do not achieve a minimum level of unity or at least work on the ground to build popular bases that can ensure their stability and continuity.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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