The Opposition Parties

Egypt Table of Contents

The once monolithic Egyptian political arena gave birth in the 1970s to a rich array of new political parties competing with the ruling party. While some were a "loyal" opposition and others closer to counterregime movements, all gave expression to interests and values different from those of the ruling party.

The tiny Liberal Party was formed in 1976 from a right-wing sliver of the ASU by an ex-army officer. Grouping landowners and professionals, it was to the right of the ruling party. Its ideology combined calls for the selling of the public sector, an end to subsidies, and unrestricted foreign investment with demands for further political liberalization and an attempt to mobilize God and Islam in defense of capitalism. Having little popular appeal, it operated as an elite pressure group speaking for private enterprise and generally in support of Sadat's liberalization policies.

Although also beginning as a faction of the ASU headed by a left-wing Free Officer, Khalid Muhi ad Din, the National Progressive Unionist Party (NPUP or Tagamu) evolved into an authentic opposition party of the left. It brought together, behind an ideology of nationalist populism, a coalition of Marxist and Nasserite intellectuals and trade union leaders. It defended the Nasserite heritage, rejected the alignment with the United States and the separate peace with Israel, and called for a return to Egypt's anti-imperialist role. It rejected the infitah as damaging to national industry and leading to foreign domination, debt, corruption, and inequality; it called for a return to development led by the public sector. It had a small but well organized base of activists.

The Socialist Labor Party (SLP or Amal) was formed in 1979 under Sadat's encouragement to displace the NPUP (which was proving too critical) as the loyal opposition party of the left. While its social composition--landlords and professionals--resembled the Liberal Party, many of its leaders were quite different in political background, having belonged to the radical nationalist Young Egypt Party (Misr al Fatat) before 1952. Despite its origin, the party, alienated by Sadat's separate peace, by the corruption in his regime, and by the excesses of infitah, soon moved into opposition, becoming a public sector defender critical of untrammeled capitalism and Western alignment. The SLP lacked a large organized base and relied on the personal followings of its leaders. It and the Liberal Party, in an effort to overcome their limited popular appeal, joined in 1987 with the Muslim Brotherhood in the Islamic Alliance under the slogan "Islam is the solution."

The New Wafd Party was a coalition of landowners, professionals, and merchants, led by a number of prominent leaders of the original Wafd, notably Fuad Siraj ad Din. It was the voice of the old aristocracy excluded from power by Nasser and of the wing of the private bourgeoisie still antagonistic to the state bourgeoisie that emerged in the shadow of the regime. It also enjoyed a significant following among the educated middle class. The party's main plank called for genuine political liberalization, including competitive election of the president. It demanded thorough economic liberalization to match political liberalization, including a radical reduction in the public sector, in state intervention in the economy, and in barriers to a full opening to international capitalism. Although it clashed with Sadat over the legitimacy of the 1952 Revolution, as the economic role of the state was strengthened under Mubarak, the New Wafd Party came to speak with a Sadatist slant to the "right" of the ruling NDP.

The Islamic movement was fragmented into a multitude of autonomous factions that shared the common goal of an Islamic state but differed in social origin and in tactics. Those that were willing to work through the system were allowed to organize and nominate candidates in parliamentary elections. But no Islamic party, as such, was permitted, and major sections of the movement remained in intense, often violent conflict with the regime. Thus, the movement was only partially integrated into the party system.

The mainstream of the movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, was a coalition led by ulama, merchants, and lower-middle-class student activists commanding a following in the traditional urban quarters. It was founded as a radical movement in the 1930s by Hasan al Banna, was repressed under Nasser, and reemerged in more moderate form under Sadat. Umar Tilmasani, its main leader in the Sadat era, was associated with the infitah and its leader thereafter, Muhammad Hamid Abu an Nasr, was from a wealthy provincial family. The Brotherhood was split along generational lines among factions loyal to its various previous leaders. These factions included the more radical elements loyal to the founder, the conservative Tilmasani faction, and the parliamentary caucus in the late 1980s led by Mahmud al Hudaibi, son of the second Supreme Guide, or party leader. On the Brotherhood's right were wealthy conservatives who justified capitalism in the language of religion. The more activist Jamaat al Islamiyah (Islamic Associations), an amorphous movement of many small groups, were drawn from a cross-section of the student population, while the most radical Islamic groups, such as At Takfir wal Hijra (Atonement and Alienation) and Al Jihad (Holy War), were made up of educated, lower-middle-class elements and recent urban emigrants from the village. Various populist preachers in the traditional urban neighborhoods enjoyed broad personal followings. Whereas the movement was weak among industrial workers and peasants, it was strongly attractive to more "marginal" elements such as educated, unemployed, rural migrants and the traditional mass of small merchants and artisans. All the Islamic groups shared a rejection of both Marxism and Westernization in the name of an Islamic third way that accepted private property and profit but sought to contain their inegalitarian consequences by a moral code and a welfare state. The main ideological difference between the Islamic groups centered on the means for reaching an Islamic order; whereas moderate groups advocated peaceful proselytization, detente with the regime, and work through established institutions, radical groups pursued a more activist challenge to the secular order, and some advocated its violent overthrow.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress