Presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh is a good man and the best product of Egypt’s Islamist currents. His importance lies in that he represents the democratic evolution of the Islamist wave. I still believe, however, that he is not the right candidate for the secular and civil parties, whose existence is the raison d’etre of the 25 January revolution.
One chief post-revolution transformation is that Egypt’s civil groups have changed from a group of intellectuals, activists and researchers to political actors. We managed to establish two parties. One of them is the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and the other is the Socialist Popular Alliance Party. Even though both parties combined barely won 6 percent of the seats in Parliament, we have become political actors capable of proposing laws and taking stands, such as the recent decision to withdraw from the Constituent Assembly. More importantly, we are surrounded by a few thousand activists with whom we should form a political wave, even if a weak one.
I believe that mobilizing all of those secular actors to support Abouel Fotouh has been a mistake, since it mobilizes all the efforts of civil or secular groups into fighting a war whose boundaries are defined by the contradictions between Islamist groups.
The parties we established have a certain nature, like any organization. Today’s political choices should take into account the nature of these organizations and what they can do.
The Egyptian Social Democratic Party managed to persuade sectors of the civilian middle class and Copts to vote for us instead of remnants of the former Mubarak regime in the last parliamentary elections. The Socialist Popular Alliance Party attracted those who have left-leaning tendencies and gathered a handful of votes and seats.
Pushing the two parties to support Abouel Fotouh was not possible, since the constituency of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party comprises Copts who will not vote for an Islamist candidate such as Abouel Fotouh. The Socialist Popular Alliance Party has a branch that believes the Islamist wave is part of the police state. Thus, the two parties could not possibly push their constituencies to support Abouel Fotouh’s candidacy.
The Socialist Popular Alliance Party has nominated a candidate, Abul Ezz al-Hariry, which I believe was a mistake despite my appreciation for the left, since it decided to field a candidate only after Mohamed ElBaradei withdrew from the race. Our party could work with presidential hopeful Hamdeen Sabbahi, despite reservations over his candidacy. Sabbahi has a broad nationalist rhetoric, and he already began campaigning over a year ago. If Sabbahi gets 2 million votes, then that would be a victory for democratic powers, away from the Coptic-Islamist divide.
Those who talk about the political sphere being blocked if Abouel Fotouh does not receive the support of civil or secular groups are exaggerating. I do not know how supporting him could help, since he is already a strong candidate, and Copts, the real source of secularists’ power, will not vote for him.
The margin of political action is not dependent on who is on top of the regime. It is related to the presence of organizations and parties capable of having an independent will and presenting an independent discourse. No matter how weak those organizations are, their presence, structure and civil democratic nature are the only means to face the police state. Surrendering to the idea that Egyptians favor the Islamist wave only reinforces the possibility of backroom deals between the junta and even an enlightened Islamist, not just a remnant of the Mubarak regime.
Finally, I cannot fail to hide my appreciation for the battle led by Abouel Fotouh against Khairat al-Shater over the future of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is a battle that will decide the direction of the Brotherhood. Will it evolve democratically as Abouel Fotouh’s vision indicates, or will it continue to be cloaked in Shater’s secrecy and conservatism? It is undoubtedly a patriotic battle that is being led by Abouel Fotouh but we — at least as secular parties — are unable to become part of it.
We need at least 10 years to have a strong popular base, and we will not garner such support unless we deal very cautiously with our gains, even if they are just minor. I'm not enthusiastic about any theoretical or practical effort that does not serve the interests of our organizations and political positions. We can either choose to be the creators of something that requires political struggle, but which will eventually empower us, or continue to be observers who possess nothing but valuable opinions and analyses.
Translated by Dina Zafer.