Egypt’s centrists seek to overcome Islamist-secular divide

On the heels of the formation of liberal and Islamist blocs in Egyptian politics, the newly-established Adl Party has announced the creation of what it is terming “The Third Path: The Egyptian Centrist Movement," a centrist platform that eschews both Islamist and secular partisanship in the run-up to parliamentary elections slated for late November.

The party has indicated its objection to “the political polarization between the different electoral coalitions … which limit the citizens' choices and force upon them certain ideological colors.”

Two main coalitions have been formed in Egypt ahead of the parliamentary elections: the Egyptian Bloc, which is comprised of secular, leftist and liberal parties, and the Democratic Alliance for Egypt, which combines Islamist parties, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi Nour Party, with the liberal Wafd Party.  The Adl Party is seeking to position itself in the middle of this spectrum.

The Adl (meaning "justice") Party is now in contact with other political parties and movements to to address any questions they may have about the new bloc, and will announce its members after Eid, according to party chairman Mostafa al-Naggar.  

“The majority of Egyptians are neither Islamist nor secular,” he said, “and so they deserve a third choice away from the traditional ideologies that exist here, be it this or that. The third path is a centrist movement that believes in freedom and respect for the traditions of the country.”

Many of the newly formed parties are attempting to find a groundswell of mass appeal ahead of the parliamentary elections, which the Brotherhood, through its Freedom and Justice Party, is expected to take a lion's share of seats.

It is this alignment of political forces that the Adl Party criticized in a statement, saying, “It was our hope that all political parties and movements band together to form a conciliatory parliament … but that was not accomplished because of the polarization and animosity between the different movements.”

The Adl Party was formed in May with the intention of appealing to a wide canvass of Egyptian voters by adopting a centrist position, supporting a civil state but stressing respect for Egyptian norms and conventions. As such, their attempt to distance themselves from both secular and Islamist ideologies has been their raison d'etre from the start.

“We are not a liberal party in the literal sense; we are a centrist party that adopts liberal values and respect for a constitutional democratic state,” Naggar – a former Brotherhood member – said. “We don’t see ourselves as a liberal party as much as we are a centrist party.”

However, it is this refusal to hitch on to specific ideologies that might be the Achilles heel of the centrist movement, said Nabil Abdel Fatah of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

“These types of parties find their appeal in catering to many ideological contradictions, and so could lack ideological harmony somewhat," he said. "However that doesn’t mean their role will be limited. What’s important is they manage to build bridges between these contradictions."

Abdel Fatah also doubted the emphasis on Egyptians being centrist if they are not Islamist or liberal-leaning.

“It is still an ideologically unclear bloc looking for a political movement or direction to align itself with," he said, "and that will only come after the interactions between these different ideologies occur.”

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