WHY IS THE EGYPTIAN OPPOSTION SO WEAK?….Magdy Samaan highlights one aspect of the answer: they’re broke.
For the most part, Egypt?s opposition parties are chronically broke, both due to restrictions on fundraising and corruption of the system. With membership fees and donations drying up, most of the parties, with the exception of the Wafd and Hizb Al Ghad, rely on an annual government stipend of LE50,000.
Any comparison of the National Democratic Party (NDP) to the opposition highlights the current political situation. Amr Al Shoubky, a political analyst at the Al Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, describes it as an extension of the one-party system. The NDP controls the full range of the state?s resources.
When former President Anwar Al Sadat began the country?s experiment in pluralism, he divided the nation?s sole party, the Arab Socialist Union, into three parties, the leftist Tagammu Party, the rightist Ahrar (Liberal) Party and the ?centrist? NDP?which, as Sadat?s party, took the lion?s share of money, media and party buildings.
Ibrahim Dessouqi Abaza, a member of the executive committe of the Wafd Party, estimates the value of these properties at close to LE1 billion.
The opposition, on the other hand, is desperately poor. The Nasserist Party?one of the senior opposition parties?cannot pay the rent on party buildings or the wages of its tiny staff, not to mention its telephones?which were cut off for at least a month at the end of last year until the bill was paid. The party has since collected LE2,000 in donations, now in its account at the Bank of Alexandria.
During its heyday in the 1980s some LE5 million passed through the hands of the leftist Tagammu Party. The majority of this sits in reserves at Bank Misr, with the operating expenses of the party coming out of interest. ?The issue of funding is a constant problem for the party. It stands in the way of those activities and public works that we?d otherwise be able to do,? explains Hussein Abdel Raziq, secretary general of Tagammu. Currently, the party is trying to gather LE500,000 in donations to compete in the upcoming parliamentary elections, and is confident of attaining this goal.
Nagy Al Shohabi, president of left-of-center, nationalist Al Geel (generation) Party, says that his party is consistently unable to meet its costs and now has a debt of LE750,000.
Much has been said about the LE300,000 Hizb Al Ghad spent on its first conference convened in the Nasr City conference hall, not to mention rumors about lavish foreign funding. Yet party president Ayman Nour points out that he still hasn?t established a headquarters for the party, and is forced to run the party from his office in Talaat Harb Square and his association?s offices in Bab Al Shaeriya. His bank account, he says, is at ?zero.?
The sole exception in the opposition ranks is the Wafd. It has more than LE50 million in the bank, according to Abaza, much of which was collected in the time of the party?s former leader, Fouad Serag Eddin, from donations and profits of the newspaper.
You can imagine how this financial weakness redounds to the benefit of the Muslim Brotherhood (which is officially banned, but has at least a dozen supporters in the Egyptian Parliament that everyone knows about), which has a ready-made mosque and university-based network of supporters, many of whom are upper-middle class doctors and engineers who dominate the professional syndicates. The weakness of the non-MB opposition is one reason, I think, why there’s some pessimism about recent developments even among those Egyptians who are enthusiastic for change but don’t necessarily “support” the MB other than believing that they should be allowed to participate in politics for real.
Another of my favorite Egyptian blogs is Mindbleed, whose author (“Hellme”) is one of the august founding fathers of the Egyptian blogosphere. One thing that the government is really good at doing is encouraging splits between the left and the Islamists, the latest example of which seems to be well underway. The English-language Egyptian blogosphere has gotten pretty interesting in recent months and there are lots of edifying discussions flying around, so I urge you to check it out. Another good resource on the ins and outs of Egyptian politics is The Arabist, which is run by a bunch of smart bilingual expat journo/academic types with connections to all the right people.