With a new law that allows the formation of political parties upon simple notification just around the corner, the upcoming period is expected to see the formation of a host of parties. Indeed, some of these have been already announced, while many others will likely emerge soon. Over the past few weeks, the media has been disclosing information on several nascent parties, their leaders, as well as hints of their platforms. Many others promise to be formed.
Such a benign effort at party formation is a source of comfort. On the one hand, it reflects Egyptians’ enthusiasm to play an active role in running their country; on the other, it refutes the long-standing allegation that they are passive and apathetic. It goes without saying that when a healthy climate prevails, many of those who had been excluded by the former regime will be given an opportunity to have presence on the political arena. It cannot be denied that the former regime persisted in excluding a host of sincere and serious Egyptians because it had zero tolerance for the concept of circulation of power.
The prevalent dynamic climate has bred two types of response among a wide public whose enthusiasm for active political participation has been catapulted by the 25 January revolution. The first is adopted by groups which are now busy scrutinising the various programmes of the new parties on the scene, their founding figures and the channels they exploit to communicate with the public. Accordingly, it may be decided which new party to join. The second is wary that the recent, unprecedented wave of party formation could fragment the public and set a scene for much talk and little action.
Among the advocates of the second argument are friends, colleagues and prominent professionals who are keen to unite efforts into forming a single strong party that would function better than many smaller, weaker ones. Such a party, they argue, would be able to gather the cream of Egypt's activists and intellectuals and offer sophisticated thoughts and programmes for the sake of the progress and welfare of the country. It could attract a large number of people and have a strong presence on the political arena.
At first sight, the call to form one strong party appears reasonable and sound. Yet the mechanism to create such a longed-for entity is rather unclear, to say nothing of the countless obstacles that makes it difficult for such an idealist vision to materialise. Let me put it another way: how could we closely monitor all the efforts aimed to found political parties in Cairo and other governorates? How could we bridge the gap between the divergent ideologies and orientations of the various groups—each with its own aspirations and plans? Even if they manage to agree on the basics, I am sure they will disagree when it comes to detail. Is there any way to prevent egoistic traits and attitudes from exhausting energies and ruining efforts to create a strong party? Practically and realistically, one should not be worried about the appearance of several new parties, because this is the typical outcome of the newly-won political freedom. I am confident that after some time, small parties with convergent outlooks will tend to gather in larger coalitions and alliances so as to have better opportunities in a political environment characterised by fierce competition. To be able to face the mounting challenges ahead, small parties will have to put aside minor squabbles and disagreements. Electoral challenges alone are capable of obliging smaller parties to unite in larger coalitions—even when ideologies are divergent and egoistic tendencies strong. Since the ballot box is the only way to measure the influence of this or that party, small parties are destined to unite into bigger ones if they are to garner a substantial political share.
Last but not least, if we cannot put the idealist proposition of forming an influential party into action at the moment, we should spare no effort in investigating the available alternatives to enhance cooperation among small parties. After all, we have to keep in mind that pluralism enriches our political life as long as different groups are aware of the rules of the game.