WASHINGTON - Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi will be sworn in for his second term on Saturday during a special parliament session.
The president called on political parties this week to merge and form an opposition bloc in the parliament. He said there was a critical need to prepare future political leaders.
El-Sissi said Egypt needed stronger political parties capable of moving the country forward.
He told a youth conference that parties with similar ideological platforms should unite into stronger entities that can change the political landscape in Egypt over the next four years.
He has approved a request to create a coordinating committee to take charge of opening contacts between political parties and state authorities.
The Wafd Party, a historically liberal party in Egypt, met with other political parties to discuss el-Sissi's idea.
Yasser al-Hodeibi, the party's spokesperson and a professor of constitutional law, said it was "?clear that the president wants to create a correct political life in Egypt, and a modern democratic state. That is why the Wafd Party responded to his call and invited more than 90 political parties to discuss establishing a coordinating committee and to activate Article 5 of the constitution, which states that political life is based on pluralism and peaceful transfer of power.”
Parliament is discussing a constitutional amendment to allow members to switch their party affiliations and to create a majority party supporting the president and a bloc of opposition parties.
The moves to restructure the political scene in Egypt coincided with the announcement that a former military spokesperson, Colonel Mohamed Samir, has joined the Wafd Party as vice president for youth. He promises to use new approaches to encourage young Egyptians to be politically active.
However, many in Egypt have doubts about the president’s initiative. Critics of the government and some regional analysts doubt that he plans to build a real democracy.
El-Sissi took power in a coup in 2013, overthrowing Egypt’s only democratically elected president. He was re-elected in April, but his only opponent was a man whose party had previously called for el-Sissi’s re-election. Critics say the government arrested or frightened off other potential opponents and suppressed opposition activists.
Mohamed al-Sadat, president of the Party for Reform and Development, said that "honestly, you do not see or hear any more opposition. There is no room for any kind of debate or questioning or holding whomever in the government accountable. So if there is any kind of merging, it has to come from the political parties themselves, not by instructions or someone orchestrating this.”
Michele Dunne, director of the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said the situation does not allow for the emergence of real political parties that could move Egypt closer to democracy.
“What is going on in Egypt reminds me of the 1970s, under the late President [Anwar] Sadat, who sort of arranged the political scene and formed a centrist ruling party and a couple of loyal opposition parties to the right and to the left,” Dunne said.
“And I think with the possibility of forming a party that would support President Sissi and then letting the historic Wafd Party head a loyal opposition bloc is the same top-down politics, rather than bottom-up politics.”
Amy Holmes, an associate professor at the American University in Cairo, said she thought the political scene in Egypt might cripple even a gradual transition toward democracy.
“What Sissi is doing during his first four years is sort of crush independent civil society by issuing draconian laws that make it almost impossible to do very simple things like holding workshops, distributing fliers or awareness campaigns or receiving funds,” she said
Holmes said if the Egyptian government were sincere, it would rethink its approach toward independent civil society organizations and not try to engineer political life.