The trend of events inside Syria these days is towards a troubling increase in organized military operations by both the government and opposition groups, with breakaway troops from the state armed forces now attacking state institutions. This is both a worrying escalation that can push Syria into destructive domestic strife that could escalate into civil war, and also a more or less routine rite of passage for modern Arab states that ultimately find themselves dealing with the consequences of their own contradictions, incompetence and even some criminality.
Witnessing the popular and democratic revolutions sweeping across the Middle East, it is ironic to see that the United States and the West are focusing only on the perceived threat of Islamists coming to power democratically. While it is no surprise to us that the West is ready to forego its cherished democratic principles when it comes to Islamists being popularly elected (see Algeria and Palestine), it is all the more disturbing that they do not seem preoccupied about more dangerous extremists gaining influence in their own countries.
It has been eleven months since the Arab citizen revolts started in Tunisia last December and rolled through the Arab world in a wave that has manifested itself in different ways across the region. The two most striking things about the past eleven months are also slightly contradictory.
As I write, a moment of reckoning tangibly links three seemingly disparate protest sites: Tahrir Square, Los Angeles City Hall, and plazas across the University of California system. The opening moment of elections in Egypt, the closing of the Occupy movement’s last tent encampment by Los Angeles mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, and a UC-wide meeting of the Regents to discuss the shockingly mishandled response to student protests clearly illustrate, in their coincidental proximity to each other, what actors in each of these three contexts have long been self-consciously referencing: a global crisis.
Heading into their first post-revolution election for parliament, 51 percent of Egyptians had not yet made up their minds on what party to vote for. Yet the race appeared to be dominated by two long-established political groups–the Muslim Brotherhood, represented by its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, and the New Wafd, a liberal party with roots in Egypt’s nationalist movement.
Originally a splinter from the Wafd Party, al-Ghad has maintained its liberal orientation but has joined the Democratic Alliance with the Freedom and Justice Party rather than the Egypt Bloc with most other liberal parties. Troubled by internal dissensions exacerbated by the Mubarak regime’s effort to discredit its leader Ayman Nour, the party has failed to establish an identity separate from that of its leader.
The initial round of Egypt’s first post-Mubarak election for the 498-seat lower house of parliament begins Monday. It will move ahead despite violent protests against the ruling military council that forced the interim government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf to resign and raised doubts about the country’s transition to democracy.
Al-Wafd is one of the old, established political parties seeking to find their place in post-uprising Egypt. Rooted in history—today’s party, technically the New Wafd but always referred to simply as the Wafd, is the successor to the once powerful organization Nasser disbanded in 1952.
The end of Hosni Mubarak’s regime marks a critical juncture in Egypt’s civil-military dynamic. In the breakdown of institutional order following the dictator’s ousting on February 11, 2011 and the subsequent disappearance of the police, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) reluctantly assumed power. The time frame for this arrangement (initially scheduled for six months) is currently unpredictable and may be prolonged. Faced with a possible surrender of its influence held under decades of authoritarian rule, the military is trying to strike a delicate balance.
The Freedom and Justice Party was formed by the Muslim Brotherhood in May 2011 and is the dominant Islamist party in Egypt. It could receive a plurality of votes in the election, although not a majority. Aware of the fears that surround its participation, the party defines itself as a “civil” party rather than an Islamic one, and has formed the Democratic Alliance with a number of liberal and leftist parties.
There are no signs that Ross’s nearly three years of serving the Obama administration contributed an iota to achieving a peace settlement. His diplomatic involvement in the Bush 41 and Clinton administrations yielded similar failure. But rather than give hope for a new beginning, his departure only illustrates what a sad shambles Obama’s Middle East policy has become.
Al-Wasat, as its name indicates, is a moderate Islamist party, originally a spin-off from the Muslim Brotherhood that was finally allowed to register in 2011 after fifteen years of unsuccessful efforts. The party is in talks to join the Third Way alliance when it is announced.
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 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.