A Blog on Middle East Transformation
Aside from the gaffes of US presidential candidates, much of the world’s attention today is focused on two specific regions: Europe and the Middle East. Both regions are facing significant challenges that beg for concerted action through their regional bodies. The European Union is dealing with a debt and confidence crisis of great magnitude and consequence, while the Arab League is trying to display unity and decisive action in the face of regional upheavals and the unacceptable methods used by some to quell challenges to their regimes. Both regional groupings are playing their future, with vast implications worldwide.
The conduct of peaceful and free elections for a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution in Tunisia presents an impressive model for other Arab countries undergoing transition.
The Democratic Front Party (Al-Gabha al-Dimuqrati) is part of the liberal spectrum. It defines itself as a civil party, which is secular in orientation but not hostile to Islam and recognizes that Islam is part of the fabric of the Egyptian state. It is a member of the Egypt Bloc.
The National Democratic Party (NDP), Egypt’s former ruling party, first established by President Anwar Sadat in 1976, remained the country’s dominant party until the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak. It tried to survive by announcing on April 13 that it would participate in the forthcoming elections under the name New National Party and under new leadership.
Al-Adl is a new party seeking to carve for itself a centrist position and a role as a bridge between the Islamist-dominated Democratic Alliance and the liberal-dominated Egypt Bloc. It is seeking to create a “Third Way” coalition which is yet to be announced. So far, only the Egyptian Current Party and al-Wasat are the only other parties that have shown interest in joining the Third Way Coalition. The party has been critical of the polarization of politics and of the participation in elections of former members of the National Democratic Party.
One of the oldest Egyptian parties still in existence, al-Tagammu is a leftist party in serious decline under an aging leadership, struggling to find its place in a changing environment. Before the 2011 uprising, it had become increasingly reconciled with the Mubarak regime. After the uprising, it first joined the Democratic Alliance but left to become a founding member of the Egypt Bloc.
The Reform and Development Party falls on the liberal side of the spectrum. Starting as a splinter from the Democratic Front in 2009, it was not allowed to register officially until May 2011, but remained active in the interim. The party has so far remained aloof concerning alliances, joining neither the Democratic Alliance nor the Egypt Bloc.
Al-Nour is a Salafi political party founded after the January 2011 uprising. It was originally a member of the Democratic Alliance, but left the alliance in September 2011, calling instead for the creation of an alliance between all the Islamist political groups in Egypt.
The Nasserist Party is more important for what it represents in the past history of Egypt than for its future role. Led by aging politicians, it has been struggling with a generational divide in its ranks and has been losing support. It belongs to the Democratic Alliance.
The Egyptian Liberation Party is a new Islamist party with a strong Sufi influence. The party was founded by Ibrahim Zahran following the January 2011 uprising and gained the support of a number of prominent Sufi leaders, including Mohamed Ala’a al-Din Abu al-Azayem of the Azamiyya Sufi Order. The Egyptian Liberation Party is a member of the Egyptian Bloc alliance and is the only party in the bloc with a religious orientation.
The Egyptian Current Party is a moderate Islamist party founded by prominent members of the Muslim Brotherhood youth wing who had become disgruntled with the group’s old guard and were unwilling to join the Freedom and Justice Party. The Egyptian Current Party is not a member of either the Democratic Alliance or Egypt Bloc but is in talks regarding joining the Third Way alliance with al-Adl and al-Wasat.
The Building and Development Party (Al-Banna’ wa al-Tanmiyya) is the official political party of the Egyptian Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (the Islamic Group). It was founded by the prominent Islamist Tareq al-Zumr following the January 2011 uprising. Al-Banna’ wa al-Tanmiyya is a member of the Democratic Alliance.
The al-Geel Party was established on February 9, 2002. Nagi al-Shihaby is the party leader and was formerly a member of the Shura Council. He has called for the adoption of a party list electoral system. Al-Shihaby has personally expressed his support for Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and he maintains that the United States poses the greatest threat to Arab and Islamic countries. Another prominent party member, Ali al-Badry, is a journalist and vocal advocate of labor unions and their right to organize.
Al-Asala is a Salafi party founded by Adel abd al-Maqsoud Afify following the January 2011 uprising. It is the second Salafi party after al-Nour to gain official recognition in Egypt. Al-Asala is a member of the Democratic Alliance.
It has become commonplace for people to talk about the middle class and its role in economic and societal transformations, and many have credited this group with playing a role in the current changes sweeping the region. But despite the newfound ease with which people talk about it, there are those who argue that the middle class has dwindled and that its values and the role it plays in Arab societies have changed. But what do we actually know about the size of this group and nature of its role, and can we generalize across countries that differ vastly from one another?
Best selling author and Mind/Body pundit Deepak Chopra has deemed him a “Muslim Gandhi” for his calls for a pacifist antidote to the often inaccurate Islamist extremist discourse that emerged post 9/11, and he has been widely sought in the American Media for his American- Muslim perspective. In his new book Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era, Arsalan Iftikhar, an international human rights lawyer by trade and founder of themuslimguy.com charts out a new global movement based on peaceful coexistence that is firmly rooted within the framework of modern Islam. Iftikhar talked to the Cairo Review about how the Arab Spring has affected his mission and how Obama is getting it wrong.
Egyptians today are engaged in a vigorous discussion over the political future of the country. This is a healthy and vitally important debate, and I am confident that it will result in a democratic Egypt that protects human rights and helps address its citizens’ needs. However, we know from experience that successful democratic transitions not only rely on political reform, but also depend on broadening economic opportunity.
The day I met Sergio Vieira de Mello, who died eight years ago, remains imprinted in my memory. I had never been as mesmerized by someone. I had heard and read about him. Who in the United Nations system hadn’t? But when Dennis McNamara, his lifetime friend and colleague, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ Special Envoy for Iraq (with whom I was traveling on mission) introduced me to him in Larnaca, Cyprus on June 1, 2003, I was star-struck.
A curious thing has happened on the Nile since the fall of Hosni Mubarak: after decades of dictating the river’s politics, Egypt is finally acting like a downstream state. Sensing both its vulnerability and opportunity for change in the wake of the January 25 revolution, Egypt’s transitional authorities have shuttled representatives from one Nile Basin state to another, making gestures in the name of cooperation and mutual development.