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5 Challenges Facing the Egyptians Who Sparked the Revolution

Egyptian liberals and moderates are busy dismantling and reassembling a variety of new political parties, coalitions and associations in preparation for a new round of elections.

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Some have been calling for a full nationwide closed-list proportional representation system, others are considering a similar system but with a separate list for each of Egypt’s 27 governorates, while others remain in preference of a mixed system that would grant a chance to individual independent candidates in addition to party lists. The latter is more likely to come out as law in one form or another, I suspect. On one hand, the traditional argument goes that expanded proportional representation helps ensuring individual votes around districts aren’t lost, a concern for liberals. On the other, single-candidate elections could be better with regards to dampening some of the conservative-liberal polarization through the personalization of the race and using the own candidate’s personal appeal.

We also do not know whether or not the stipulation that at least 50% of parliament would be allotted to workers and farmers would succeed in turning the previous tide against it and remain in the new law, in one form or another.

2-Coalition: while almost every non-Muslim Brotherhood/non-Salafist opposition movement and party has expressed its (honest) openness and eagerness toward forming both an electoral and a political alliance, transforming this apparent goodwill into a concrete reality will be somewhat of a more complex undertaking. On one hand, there have been public calls for Al-Dostour to absorb, merge with, or at least form an alliance with parties such as the Social Democrats, Free Egyptians and The Justice Party. While mergers — assuming they do work — could bring greater strength, resources and star power to Al-Dostour, they could also bring significant political baggage associated with each one.

One example is association with one of the Free Egyptians’ leading figures, Naguib Sawiris, a man who could attract capable operatives and bring substantial resources into any political endeavor, while also remaining a controversial and polarizing figure, one who could alienate many voters following a post-revolution foray into public life that featured what were deemed to be several faux-pas from a now-political figure. 

Then, there is the question of setting the organizational formula for such an alliance. The opening section of this article demonstrates how increasingly complex, in flux, rapidly transforming, disparate-yet-connected the map of Egypt’s politically-liberal opposition is. How these forces could be integrated under one umbrella and how each block’s leading figures could be made to work together under one structure, assuming their willingness in both cases, both remain issues of some debate. Among Al-Wafd, Al-Dostour, Sabahi in particular and — to a lesser extent — Moussa, one could expect diverging paths toward spearheading any alliance.

3-The Islamist Alliance And Ground Work: Recent rapprochement between the Brotherhood and the Salafists makes it a bit less unlikely that Egypt could witness the birth of a joint “Islamist Coalition” between the winners of around three-fourths of the previous parliament. Such an overwhelming alliance would owe its power to the powerful on-the-ground networks they both have (Brotherhood is much more organized however) as well as a potential ensuing increased conservative-liberal electoral polarization that is likely to largely play into the Islamists' favor. 

A sufficiently visible and effective ground network is potentially the only way the opposition can reach out to swing voters in non-urban areas, which is a necessity for any decent gains in the elections. In addition, an overall strategy, essentially rooted in new and more evolved rhetoric, must be developed to disarm the potential likely polarization.

4-Messaging And Platform: A failed strategy for the opposition would emerge if the elections remained essentially centered on identity politics (as they have largely been thus far) as well as on the (at times, hyperbolic) critique of the Brotherhood and Islamists. The latter is also likely become even more elusive as President Mohammed Morsi seems to be more comfortably settling into his office and increasingly succeeding at diffusing critique against him, while the Brotherhood is likely to be more mindful of its recent mistakes and plot a media and political effort that could substantially ameliorate its image just before the elections.

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