The "Dominant Party System"

Egypt Table of Contents

In Egypt's "dominant party system," a big ruling party straddling the center of the ideological spectrum was flanked by small opposition "parties of pressure" on its left and right.

The Ruling Party

The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) was a direct descendant of Nasser's Arab Socialist Union, albeit shorn of the left-wing intellectuals and politicized officers who dominated it in the 1960s. By the 1980s, it incorporated the ruling alliance of senior bureaucrats, top police and army officers, business people, and large landowners who dominated the governorates. Most of these elites had a foot in both state and society, combining public office and private assets. The party's official ideology expressed this social composition: it stood for a middle way between socialism and individualistic capitalism. This middle way would be compatible with a large public sector, in which the many senior bureaucrats and state managers had a stake, and with the growing private and foreign capitalism, on which both officials and proregime business people were thriving. The party's ideology was generally too vague and ambivalent to determine government policy, but it authentically expressed the stake of its constituents in both a massive state and an open economy. The relative balance between the party's elements shifted over time; under Sadat the infitah bourgeoisie rose to prominence, while Mubarak shifted the balance in favor of the state bourgeoisie and the old pre-1952 aristocracy.

The NDP, lacking developed organization and ideological solidarity, was a weak party, in many ways more an appendage of government than an autonomous political force. But it performed useful functions for both the regime and its membership. Although the bureaucracy and academia remained the principal channels of elite recruitment, party credentials and service became a factor in such cooptation, and the party represented a ladder of recruitment for the private sector bourgeoisie. The party did not make high policy, and many of the policy recommendations of its committees, such as calls for the application of the sharia and abolition of the public sector, were simply ignored by the government. But its parliamentary caucus assumed considerable authority over lesser matters: it was the source of a constant stream of initiatives and responses to government meant to defend or to promote the interest of its largely bourgeois constituency. Thus, the NDP incorporated major segments of the most strategic social forces into the ruling coalition; it conceded no accountability to them but provided enough privileged access to satisfy them.

The party lacked a strong extragovernmental organization, enjoyed little loyalty from its members, and had few activists; indeed, police officials played a prominent role in its leadership, and in the governorates the Ministry of Interior seemed to act for the party in the absence of a real apparatus. But by way of the client networks of progovernment notables, the party brought a portion of the village and urban masses into the regime's camp, denying the opposition access to them. The party also nominally incorporated large numbers of government employees and managed to place its partisans in the top posts of most of the professional and labor syndicates. The party lacked an interest in mass mobilization, and, if anything, its function was to enforce demobilization. The government had to depend on the Ministry of Interior, village headmen, and local notables to bring out the vote. But as an organizational bond between the regime and the local subelites that represented its core support and its linkage to wider social forces, the party helped protect the government's societal base.

More about the Government and Politics of Egypt.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress