Egypt: A new political landscape to replace authoritarian rule
For decades, the Egyptian political landscape has been very hostile to newcomers and challengers of Mubarak’s NDP. The big question for the upcoming election is: can other political parties replace Mubarak’s’ power structures with a more democratic and competitive political system? As Egypt has experienced elections under authoritarianism, the existing electoral practice includes many safeguards to help preserve the power of the pre-revolutionary elite. However, if new political parties are successful in replacing the ancien régime, they are likely to be dominant for a some time. Scientific research has shown that founding elections determine the shape of the political landscape for several years to come. So, who are the main challengers to the Mubarak inheritance?
Egyptian voters have something to choose
In democracies, political parties propose different programs to the people. In that respect, Egyptians do not need to worry. In the upcoming election, Egyptian citizens really have something to choose as the political parties that are now presenting themselves to Egyptian voters are numerous and of vast ideological diversity. Overall, we find that political parties differ substantially on their social and economic plans for the future of Egypt.
For Vote Compass Egypt, we have selected 30 important issues that can differentiate the political parties from one another. We used official party documentation (party programs, websites and policy statements) to position all the relevant parties on each of the issues. By adding all these party positions along a economic left-right dimension and a social conservative-liberal dimension we can visualize the new political landscape of Egypt.
The ‘three political Egypts’
What emerges from this thorough analysis of party positions is a political landscape with three clusters of political parties that are close to one another. First we see a large cluster of 6 parties close to the liberal pole. A second cluster includes three radical left-wing parties that adopt more moderate stances on the conservative-liberal divide. The third group of three parties strongly lean toward the conservative pole.
Clearly, there are deep divisions in Egypt, most importantly the rift between civil and Islamist parties, which are worlds apart in terms of their views on the extent to which what they consider Islamist values should play a vital role in state affairs. This deep divide between the secular and the devout is the most significant cleavage in Egyptian politics. This does not necessarily mean that the liberal parties align; they are far from coherent. Among the socially liberal parties we see a clear split between the radical left and more centrist and centre right parties.
Islamist parties far from uniform
Three Islamist parties are close to the conservative pole in the political landscape: Freedom and Justice Party, Construction and Development Party and the Salafist al-Nour Party. While these parties are often labelled ‘right-wing’, we see that if you distinguish between economic issues and cultural-moral issues, these parties adopt similar conservative positions on moral issues, but quite different positions on the economy. Of the three, the Construction and Development Party is the most right-wing party and al-Nour the most left-wing. Despite the fact that Islamists are often portrayed as right wing, we see that Islamism is a more complex and multi-faceted phenomenon. There is a moderate centrist Islamism (Freedom and Justice), right-wing Islamism (Construction and Development) and – in the case of al-Nour – left-leaning Islamism. Note that the Salafists end up at the left side of the political landscape not because they are in favour of redistribution (the party program of El Nour is totally vague and unclear about fiscal and redistributive policies), but because they are in favour of an expanded welfare state. The Construction and Development Party, on the other hand, are in favour of free market economics and private investment.
Socially liberal parties in many ‘economic political colours’
The cluster of six parties close to the socially liberal pole may be coherent on the moral-religious dimension, yet they differ starkly in their socio-economic outlook. The most right-wing party in the Egyptian landscape is the Free Egyptians Party, founded by telecom tycoon Naguib Sawiris. Free Egyptians is most in favour of free market politics, private investment and generally has a strong pro-business program. It is also very much in favour of free press and other fundamental freedoms, resulting in its position in the liberal-rightwing quadrant. Two other right-wing parties are close to Free Egyptians, namely Al Adl (Justice) and the Democratic Front (Ghaba). Both parties also support more democratic fundamental freedoms and are in favour of a market-led development, rather than statist economic intervention. These three parties show that free market politics is alive and kicking in Egypt.
In addition to three Islamist and three right-wing parties, Egyptians can also choose to vote for centrist economic politics. One of the centrist options is the secular-nationalist Wafd. This party is a continuation of the Wafd Party that ruled Egypt between 1919 and 1952, when it was ousted by the 1952 revolution. The second centrist option is Wasat (Centre), a breakaway from the Muslim Brotherhood political movement. The very liberal position makes it clear why Wasat broke away from the Islamists: the party has a number of liberal views that are diametrically opposed to the social outlook of Freedom & Justice and the other Islamist parties.
While extreme positions on the right side of the political spectrum are absent, Egyptians do have a rich menu of moderate and radical leftwing parties to choose from. Three radical left wing parties that can be found in the political landscape are the Socialist Popular Alliance, the Al Karama Party, the Nasserists and Al Nour. These parties Even though they are extremely close to each other on both economical and social-religious. All three parties promote ideological radical left wing ideas in favour of state intervention in the economy, subsidizing of primary goods and redistribution. For the left wing voter, the choice seems extremely difficult, as there is ample choice in this left wing cluster, including a moderate variant. The Social-Democrat Party shows moderate left wing positions on many socio-economic issues. Therefore, they do not align closely with the radical left or centre-right party clusters.
Voters are offered a clear, yet complex choice in this founding election. Vote Compass can help voters decide which party is closest to their own issue positions.