The 3rd of April 2011 is a historical day for political life: the day the establishment of the Free Egyptians Party was announced—a party based on the principles of freedom and citizenship.
Everyone working in politics considered the party as a new liberal alternative after the 25 January Revolution.
During six years, life inside the party witnessed many turbulences that divided the party into two fronts with each claiming to be the official representation of it. The first one, headed by Essam Khalil, has taken the party’s office in Zamalek as its headquarters.
The second entity is represented by the party’s board of trustees and led by businessperson Naguib Sawiris, the founder of the party in 2011, which established its headquarters at the old downtown office of the party on Sheikh Rihan Street.
Both entities claim that they are the ones legally representing the party.
What happened to the Free Egyptians Party is not new to Egyptian political life: we have seen many splits before the revolution of 25 January 2011 in several parties, such as the El-Ghad Party, the Al-Amal Party, and the Liberal Socialists Party. Accusations have always pointed to the ruling regime and its security services—part of its secret task of weakening the political life.
This raised my doubts and I thought that the security services are the reason behind the current situation of the Free Egyptians Party, so I confronted Mahmoud Al-Alaily—a member of the board of trustees of the party, loyal to the “Sawiris Front,” and the candidate for the party’s presidency—an election scheduled to take place on 5 May—with all my doubts during the following interview.
At the beginning, I would like to share my doubts regarding the division of the party: that it was not by chance or due to conflicts but a deliberate act of arson.
All your doubts and assumptions are correct, but what we are currently seeing does not explain all the circumstances. Besides, I am against the ideas or phrases of a great conspiracy.
So what happened?
The fact is we are facing an undisciplined political situation and with this situation come those who practise politics in an undisciplined manner—unrelated to political practice, leading to controversial situations. The beneficiaries of these conditions vary on a daily basis—what is important, however, is that we are talking about a new political situation for everyone. But, in the end, the will of the citizens is what counts.
You cannot convince me that the will of the citizen counts for representatives of the political life.
Regardless of the practice pursued by the executive and legislative powers, the will of the citizens is in the background all the time. It counts and was put into consideration in the parliamentary and presidential elections. Everyone is trying to satisfy the Egyptian citizens.
Who is trying to satisfy the Egyptians?
The executive and legislative powers, as the representatives of the latter are depending on the people’s satisfaction to keep their seats in the coming elections of the parliament, and they are working on it all the time. Let us admit that this did not exist before and that this change occurred only after 2011.
Parties failed to fulfil the aspirations after the revolutions of January and June.
The practices themselves on the level of political parties don’t match the aspirations of the Egyptian people very much unfortunately, including the Free Egyptians Party. Citizens consider the Free Egyptians Party not only as the biggest party, but also as the party that represents Egyptians with respect to the issues of citizenship and freedoms, which are of utmost importance. But this expectation has not been met by the party, so those who believed in us were disappointed.
The Free Egyptians Party practice is still largely confined to its headquarters and new parties entered political life in Egypt without achieving any real movement.
The Free Egyptians Party and any other party—in the absence of a parliament—practised politics through statements and the media. But with a parliament, the parties practice politics in the House of Representatives in order to fulfil the programmes and visions of the party. Unfortunately, this did not happen. Much rather the opposite happened, especially with everything related to citizenship and matters of freedom.
Why did you not talk with your party’s members in the House of Representatives regarding the differences?
Citizens, especially young people, were putting high hopes in the party, but a party that stands against everything related to freedoms in the parliament is very sad and shameful.
There was a discussion about the practices of members of parliament (MPs), but the dealings within the party are different from companies or executive management.
Don’t you think that the real crisis was caused by the party’s choice of its members?
Indeed, the matter started with a controversy over who represents the party in the parliament. In the beginning, the debate was about whether to enter or not to participate in the in Love of Egypt list.
We ended up joining the list and decided that the party’s representatives should have previous experience in the electoral process under the umbrella of the Free Egyptians Party and should also be free of any tendencies towards Islamist policies. They also furthermore believe in the party’s principles.
There were, of course, former members of the National Democratic Party [editor’s note: NDP—the now-dissolved party of long-time president Hosni Mubarak]. A wide discussion regarding this matter took place and there was some tolerance for these candidates. Despite the controversy surrounding this matter, we approved their participation in the election in a very short time.
What is the price you’re paying for the stability of the party now?
We are definitely paying much for that and we admit it. This is a lesson to be learned for all parties in the world: we should only choose people to represent us with regards to political, social, and economic stances. It has been proven that you cannot rely on anyone who is politically corrupt.
Which group did you support?
I once had tolerance for those former members of the NDP who wanted to join our party. I thought that the Free Egyptians Party was their only hope to return to political life, but I now regret this assumption.
Because those who got used to the monopolisation of power cannot establish a system related to the exchange of opinions, power, and influence based on political ideology, as they used to depend on their influence alone. We benefited from this lesson, and we seek now to restore our party.
Some thought that we had lost the party, but we are actually trying to restore the party for the sake of all Egyptians.
If we had not prevented those practices that contradict our party’s principles, the party and the liberal current could have been destroyed. The dramatic changes experienced by Egypt helped this liberal current to restore the party.
Who oversees the party’s performance?
The board of trustees established the party and now oversees applying its principles and orientations.
Who represent the party legally?
The board of trustees has an official Supreme Council.
Can you elaborate?
On 30 December 2016, the executive management of the party, headed by the chairperson of the party, called for a general conference to amend the regulations of the party, despite the fact that the party’s main regulations stipulate that the board of trustees must approve any amendment to these regulations.
However, the amendments were put forward for voting without the approval of the board of trustees. Some members started to collect signatures to dissolve and eliminate the board of trustees. The Political Parties Affairs Committee [editor’s note: the committee is a judicial authority of the state] did not confirm any changes made by the executive management. Therefore, any action based on the voting was illegal.
What did the party do in this regard?
The board of trustees filed complaints to the Political Parties Affairs Committee, and it called for a meeting of the Supreme Council of the party to be held. It was decided in the meeting to hold internal elections on 5 May after the end of the current chairperson’s term in accordance with the party’s regulations. The Supreme Council chose the head of the election commission and the committee that assists him.
What about the recent elections held in the party’s headquarters in Zamalek?
This election was illegal because it was held while the current president’s term had not yet ended. More things will be disclosed when the executive management submits the final results of the election.
How do you view the participation of some members of the General Assembly in the election?
Unfortunately, about 600 members participated in this election. It is sad because the party once had more than 170,000 membership applications. Additionally, some of the voters were not even entitled to vote.
Does it mean that the coming elections in May will witness a high turnout?
Yes, of course.
How did the executive authorities [of the state] deal with this crisis?
The chairperson of the Political Parties Affairs Committee asserted that the committee is not involved in the party’s dispute. He called on the disputing parties to solve their problems gracefully or through a legal dispute. It was clear that the regulations from 2015 are the only regulations adopted by the committee. We took all the necessary legal procedures and wait for the judiciary ruling.
However, the legal procedures in Egypt have many loopholes which can extend any case for many years.
We have no alternative except the restoration of our party through legal measures because we will neither surrender nor allow the Free Egyptians Party to turn into a corrupted entity that harms political life in Egypt.
If you achieve your purpose and recover the party, will you lose the parliamentary bloc?
It is important to keep the real members and those who believe in the party and its concepts. However, the parliamentary bloc, with all due respect to its members, is not more important than the party returning to its natural path.
Does this mean you are fighting this one battle, which is restoring the party?
My battle is known and well defined. I will not get tangled up in skirmishes on the sidelines. My goal is to restore the party and then look into the rest of the issues successively.
What is the role of political leadership in all of this?
We do not communicate with anyone, and we do not know how the regime thinks, but we are definitely sure that the political system will not be improved without a partisan system. I believe that attention for partisan work is up to party members. The executive political management is not concerned with the issue. If it intervened, this will not be in our best interest, because I am the one who is supposed to defend my rights and interests. I am not part of the socialist union system or of a rigged democratic system.
What about the role of Sawiris in this crisis?
He is a member of the board of trustees and he chose this situation voluntarily from the beginning. If he wanted to be head of the party for life, he would have had the opportunity, but he believes that the party is a way to express the attitude of all Egyptians regarding freedoms and citizenship. It is not a way to impose authority or leadership, because the issue is a lot simpler than this. After the fascist coup [in the party], the board of trustees decided to reopen the headquarters again; and, despite that, there are still a few administrative matters under the control of the executive management. However, all matters will be resolved soon.
Why did you allow issues to worsen until it came to this clash?
The board of trustees has offered observations and remarks. Procrastination and false promises were the dominant traits of every discussion. The problem is that the chairperson of the party, who is responsible for the executive authority, does not believe in the party’s principles, including freedom, citizenship, democracy, and human rights. I believe this is the largest lesson to learn from this crisis.
Are there parliament members representing the party who take the side of the board of trustees?
Yes, a number of MPs are supporting the demands of the party’s board of trustees to restore the party, but there are others in electoral districts and committees within the council who view the issue differently. The case is we have 20 MPs who believe in the principles of the party, which is better than having 500 MPs who do not believe in these principles.