Middle East

Could Sisi unite Egypt's opposition?

Opposition groups look to build unified movement, as Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is sworn in as Egypt's new president.

Last updated: 08 Jun 2014 12:25
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Opposition leaders say they may be forced to work together to counter Sisi's government [EPA]

Egypt’s new president, former army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, inherits a divided nation at a time when his popularity is in decline. Sworn in on Sunday in a ceremony watched by millions of Egyptians, Sisi will likely go unchallenged as the country's opposition forces remain divided but defiant.

While ongoing street protests, led primarily by Muslim Brotherhood supporters, since the military takeover in July 2013 failed to attract other segments of the opposition, including liberal and youth groups like the April 6th movement, opposition leaders say it is now time to close ranks.

"What is needed is not a full unity, or integration of all pro-revolution groups. We want to build a network and to coordinate among the various political groups despite their differences and mistakes," Ayman Nour, a liberal politician who ran against former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2005, told Al Jazeera.

We want to build a network and to coordinate among the various political groups despite their differences and mistakes.

- Ayman Nour, politician

Nour explained that the opposition should focus on forming "a united front made of all pro-revolution forces, that participated in the January 25 revolution, a front that will seek, among other goals, to challenge the coup".

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Major youth and pro-revolution groups - such as the April 6th movement, the Revolutionary Socialists, and the Misr al-Qawia (Strong Egypt) party - supported the June 30, 2013 protests against former President Mohamed Morsi. They called on Morsi to hold early elections, before he was removed from power in a military coup a few days later, in July 2013.

Despite their growing criticism of the new government under Sisi, the opposition has not been able to overcome its differences with the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters, who are now gathered under the so-called "pro-legitimacy coalition".

Amr Ali, general coordinator of the April 6th movement, one of Egypt’s leading pro-revolution youth groups, told Al Jazeera: "We need time, and we need every group to rethink its stands and show evidence of goodwill. Our relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood over the last three years show that the Brotherhood is always flexible in times of hardship."

While the April 6th movement initially supported the June 30 protests, its relationship with the regime that suceeded Morsi gradually deteriorated. Under Egypt's interim government, two of the group's founders, Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel, were sentenced to three years in jail for violating an anti-protest law. In April, the group was declared an illegal organisation, and its members boycotted the presidential elections last month.

"We don’t accept an alternative to [the] fulfillment of the principles of the January 25 revolution. But, we are against Morsi’s return to power in clear terms," Ali said.

Haitham Mohamedain, a member of the political bureau of the Revolutionary Socialists, told Al Jazeera that his group is working with others, such as April 6th and Misr al-Qawia, to "bring down the regime and to help achieve the goals of the January 25 revolution based on a shared political agenda".

He criticised the Muslim Brotherhood and its pro-legitimacy coalition as being too occupied with their attempt to "restore Morsi’s legitimacy". "The pro-legitimacy coalition did not issue a single statement about the country’s social and economic problems since the military coup. All slogans raised by the coalition are political and related to Morsi’s return to power," Mohamedain said.

The Revolutionary Socialists participated in the presidential elections and backed Hamdeen Sabahi, Sisi's only competitor. Official statements issued by the group labelled Sisi as "the leader of the counter revolution".

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Sisi was elected president with almost 97 percent of the vote at the end of May. His victory was marred by low voter turnout, however, and an abrupt decision by the electoral committee to extend the vote for an extra day beyond the scheduled two election days.

The pro-legitimacy coalition did not issue a single statement about the country’s social and economic problems since the military coup. All slogans raised by the coalition are political and related to Morsi’s return to power.

- Haitham Mohamedain, Revolutionary Socialists

"The elections helped unite the revolutionaries," Gamal Abd al-Sattar, a professor at Al Azhar university and senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, told Al Jazeera. "The pro revolution groups united in their rejection of the elections."

Abd al-Sattar added that Sisi’s presidential victory will make him officially "responsible" for any mistakes committed by the government. "Sisi used to work from behind the scenes. He used to hide behind the military and state institutions. Now, he will be held responsible for everything," he said.

Other Muslim Brotherhood leaders were more defiant in the face of Sisi's victory. "If we are to sit down and negotiate, we cannot sit down with the killers," said Gamal Heshmat, a senior Muslim Brotherhood member and former member of parliament, referring to the death of pro-Morsi protesters during sit-in camps in Cairo and Giza last August.

"We cannot give up some demands, such as justice for those killed, releasing all the detainees, canceling all unjust court rulings, and no military intervention into politics," Heshmat told Al Jazeera.

Still, Egypt's opposition forces lack a clear action plan to challenge the new government.

"The general public... is not interested in joining the protests and prefer instead to focus on the status of the economy. [The] time is not suitable for protests," Ali, from the April 6th movement, said.

Mohamed al-Mohandes, a member of the political bureau of the Misr al-Qawia party, feared that an economic crisis may push Sisi to crack down on the opposition. In response, he said that his party is trying to reach out to other pro-revolution groups.

"The regime will bring [together] the various [opposition] political forces. If they don’t come closer voluntarily, they might be forced [by government oppression] to do so."


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