Egyptian opposition is no longer relegated to the margins of political life, as was the case during the five decades of civilian-military dictatorship. The fall of Hosni Mubarak in early 2011 unleashed a flurry of political activity, and hundreds of new political parties and civil society groups emerged, representing a wide range of ideological currents.
And it’s not all being built from the scratch. Despite successive authoritarian governments, Egypt boasts a long tradition of party politics, with left-wing, liberal, and Islamist groups challenging the power of Egypt’s establishment. Egypt’s strongest opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, came on top of the 2011/12 legislative and presidential elections, but the results were later nullified, sending the Islamists back to the opposition.
The political field remains fiercely competitive. Secular political parties and ultra-conservative religious groups are trying to block the ascendance of the Muslim Brotherhood, while various pro-democracy activist groups keep pressing for radical change promised in the early days of the anti-Mubarak uprising.
Main Political Parties
- Freedom and Justice Party (FJP): A political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Arab world’s oldest and most powerful Islamist movement. For more than eight decades Muslim Brotherhood has inspired and frightened Egyptians: inspired some to defy successive secular dictatorships by returning to religious values, and scared others who feared the Brotherhood would turn Egypt into a strict Islamist state.
- Salafis: Ultra-conservative Islamist groups headed by the Al Nour Party shocked secular Egyptians by coming second in the 2011 parliamentary polls with a quarter of the votes. Al Nur campaigns for a strict implementation of Islamic Sharia law. Salafis are at odds both with the liberal parties and with the more moderate factions of the Muslim Brotherhood, but they have strong appeal among rural groups and conservative sections of the urban middle class.
- Al Wafd Party: Egypt’s oldest liberal party has a proud tradition stretching back more than eight decades. No proponent of radical change, the party has often been accused of cutting deals with the former regime. Falling back on the upper middle class vote, Wafd came distant third with around 7.5% in the 2011/12 parliamentary polls.
- Egyptian Block: The main liberal alliance brought together the Free Egyptians Party, the Social Democratic Party and Al Tagammu, but finished a disappointing fourth in the last polls. The Bloc finds most of its votes among the business community, the secular middle classes and the Christian Coptic minority. The alliance wants a full transition to civilian rule, but is wary that the Islamists might grab all power once the military steps aside.
- April 6 Youth Movement: Named after the 2008 protest in solidarity with striking textile workers, the April 6 played a key role in developing the grassroots network of activists which led to the anti-Mubarak uprising. Together with other activist groups, April 6 was also involved in the protests that in mid-2013 swept away the presidency of Mohammed Morsi. However, they have yet to translate their street power into a credible political organization that could compete in elections.
- Labor Movement: Along with the explosion of political activity, the fall of Mubarak’s dictatorship triggered a wave of strikes for higher wages and better working conditions. Labor activists were at the forefront of anti-Mubarak protests. Now able to shake off the interference from state-appointed union officials, the unions will give a hard time to any government trying to cut social spending.
Militant Islamist Opposition
- Al Qaeda Offshoots: Most of the old generation of militant Islamists from the 1980s and 1990s has renounced political violence, and some have entered mainstream Islamist parties. However, new extremist groups have emerged, some possibly linked to Al Qaeda, betting on the eventual failure of Egypt’s experiment with democracy. The poorly policed and sparsely populated Sinai peninsula is rapidly turning into a major security headache for the Egyptian state.