A Breakdown of Egyptian Opposition Groups

26 MINS READFeb 4, 2011 | 21:00 GMT
The growing pressure on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak could well lead to his downfall, an event that would likely mark the end of a 33-year monopoly on power by the National Democratic Party (NDP). Though the collapse of the NDP would not end the military-backed power structure in Egypt that has controlled the country since 1952, it would represent a sea change in Egyptian politics. Just over a week after anti-government protests began across Egypt on Jan. 25, it is still too soon to tell who would come out on top of a new political order. But opposition groups are queuing in the wings, maneuvering to be part of a coalition that will negotiate with the military on forming a transitional government. Following is STRATFOR's take on the key opposition groups.
The Egyptian opposition rising against the regime of President Hosni Mubarak is far from a united body. Without an overarching leader, it is composed of various political parties, protest movements, a prominent banned Islamist group, and a politician who belongs to no political party and is better known for his former role as an international diplomat. There are a handful of insignificant political parties that have reportedly begun negotiating a power-sharing deal in a transitional government with newly named Vice President Omar Suleiman, but all of the key players in the opposition are united in demanding that Mubarak step down before any talks take place with the military or the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). All of the opposition knows what it wants as its immediate first demand: Mubarak out of power. But as protests continue for a 10th straight day, these groups are trying to figure out what they want after he does leave and how they can work together to achieve other common goals, which include the following:
  • The revolution must be nonviolent, since none of opposition groups appear to be prepared for an armed confrontation with the military or other forces loyal to the NDP regime. Some of the opposition groups may quietly differ on this point, but if they do none has acted as if it were ready for a confrontation or intimated that it is planning one.
  • Once Mubarak is gone, the NDP-dominated parliament must be dissolved, and a coalition of opposition forces must form a transitional government at some point.
  • New elections must eventually be held.
  • The constitution must be revised, notably to add term limits for the presidency and end the excessive restrictions on who can run for the office.
Those are four of their common goals. Following are three points on which the opposition groups definitely differ (we are not including the scattering of small parties that reportedly entered into negotiations with Mubarak's new Cabinet on Feb. 3):
  • Who will represent the coalition in negotiations that occur after Mubarak's exit and who will be part of this coalition going forward. If any prominent opposition group is left out of the coalition, the prospect of violence will increase.
  • Whom the coalition will negotiate with. This could be members of the military without ties to the regime or members of the military with ties to the regime. At the moment, it appears most likely that the former will be the negotiators, though this could change.
  • Whether the first course of action after Mubarak's exit should be the formation of a transitional government or the establishment of a technocratic "council of elders" model, to serve as a temporary bridge before a transitional government is formed.
Dividing the opposition groups into neat categories is difficult. Alliances seem to shift not by the day but by the hour. Some groups have different members who contradict each other, a sign that there is little unanimity within the groups or that the situation on the ground is incredibly fluid. In an effort to understand the Egyptian opposition better, STRATFOR has broken them down into the following rough categories:
  • The pro-democracy protest movements, consisting of groups like the April 6 Movement and the Egyptian Movement for Change (Kifaya).
  • The Muslim Brotherhood (MB), which is believed to be the single-largest opposition group in Egypt.
  • Former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director Mohamed ElBaradei and his umbrella group known as the National Association for Change (NAC).
  • The newest addition to the fray, Arab League Chairman Amr Moussa.
  • The old guard and other more marginal opposition parties.
While nothing involving the Egyptian opposition should be viewed as permanent, there does appear to be a coalition slowly forming. This one would pit together the first three categories in our list — the pro-democracy youth movements, mainly April 6; the Muslim Brotherhood, which, despite a range of opinions held by different leading members, would likely get its house in order and speak with a common voice on an issue of such magnitude; and the NAC, led by ElBaradei. As things currently stand, all signs point to ElBaradei being the figurehead leader of this coalition, but recent history has proved that ElBaradei does not have the ability to influence the MB's decision-making process if the Islamist group feels his suggestions go against its interests. When ElBaradei returned to Egypt in 2010 aiming to lead the opposition, he held a meeting with the MB after which the two declared they would work together in an attempt to unseat Mubarak. But when ElBaradei called for a general boycott of national parliamentary elections in November of that year, the MB ignored him, only to boycott subsequent rounds due to signs that the NDP was rigging the polls. This is just one anecdote that describes how difficult it is for leading opposition forces to remain united for long. Indeed, at the rate things have been shifting in the past week, this balance of forces could change at any moment. These three groups have good reasons to come together:
  • ElBaradei lacks the grassroots political support that a successful opposition leader needs, and he can find that in the MB and April 6. An alliance with both groups would give him the street credibility he lacks as simply the head of the NAC — the MB with the religiously conservative sector of society and April 6 with the secular, pro-democracy youth.
  • The MB, meanwhile, is perceived by many foreign governments — Israel, the United States and many Arab states — as a radical Islamist movement that would, if it took power, turn Egypt into a Sunni version of Iran and tear up the peace treaty with Israel. The group has gone out of its way to reassure people that this would not be the case, and it knows that it would be beneficial to align itself with the secular April 6 and let ElBaradei do the talking.
  • April 6 needs ElBaradei because he is the kind of well-known figure that April 6 lacks. But the group has waded into its alliance with the MB cautiously. Since the group's inception, its leaders have always made a point of avoiding any overt links with the Islamist group. April 6's main problem is that it is a protest movement and not a well-oiled political party. Joining with the MB would thus be beneficial because it would tap into the millions of Egyptians who do not seek the sort of liberal democracy that April 6 advocates.
If ElBaradei is to be the symbolic head of such a coalition, he will not be the true source of power. This is not just because he lacks the sort of grassroots support that the MB and, to a lesser extent, April 6, have in abundance. Alternate scenarios put forth by some of the possible coalition partners have even proposed that some sort of 10-man "council of elders" be formed to negotiate the transition to an interim government. Thus, assuming that the protests continue and Mubarak is forced out of office before September, we are currently faced with two main questions: Will the budding MB-April 6-ElBaradei coalition hold? And will they agree to negotiate with Suleiman, something that they appear dead set against for the time being? If the answer to the first question is no, then the opposition will be weakened and its effectiveness dulled. If the answer to the second question is no, then even though the opposition will be stronger, its challenge will be much greater, since Suleiman will not be any easier to force out than Mubarak. The most likely way to minimize the duration of what is likely to be a protracted crisis, no matter what happens, is for the answer to both questions to be yes. The following is a breakdown of the main groups and individuals vying for regime change and political influence in Egypt's current unrest: (click here to enlarge image)

Pro-Democracy Protest Movements

The April 6 Movement and Kifaya are the groups that have led the charge in actually getting protesters organized and onto the streets. They are protest movements, however, and not political parties, and both seem to take pride in that. They want a liberal, democratic society in Egypt and have sought alliances with people like ElBaradei for the purpose of putting a "face" on the movement, a credible and symbolic player who can take the reins of political power when Mubarak leaves. This need has also driven the youth movement to seek the support of groups like the MB, which helps them secure popular support by appealing to the large religious sector of Egyptian society that also wants to see Mubarak's downfall.

April 6 Movement

The April 6 Movement, also known as the April 6 Youth Movement, got its name from the first general strike it ever organized in Egypt, on April 6, 2008, in Mahalla, an industrial town in the Nile Delta where workers had been striking for more than a year without any organization. Ahmed Maher and Esraa Abdel Fattah Ahmed Rashid established the first "April 6 Strike" Facebook group on March 23, 2008, which could be considered the birth of the movement. As the group's membership grew, so did the level of support it received from already established organizations like labor groups, political parties, student organizations, the MB and Kifaya. While April 6's tech-savvy young members took full advantage of blogs, social media and text messaging to spread the word about their planned activities, they also distributed leaflets and tagged graffiti messages on public buildings to let people who didn't have Internet access know about the movement. April 6 is the most well-known of the pro-democracy youth movements in Egypt. It acts according to the precedent laid down by the Serbian nonviolent revolutionary group Otpor, which helped trigger the popular uprising that eventually led to the overthrow of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. April 6 has adopted many of Otpor's tactics — as seen by April 6's 26-page "how to" booklet that was being passed around in Egypt in advance of the massive Jan. 28 protests. April 6 also has a similar vision, stressing nonviolence and a secular ideology, and is proud to emphasize that it maintains a purely apolitical stance. It even uses a logo almost identical to Otpor's, a clenched black fist, which can be seen on banners held high during the demonstrations. The group emphasizes one key point in its official statements about its nature: It is not a political party but a "movement." Nevertheless, it certainly has political goals. The size of April 6 is impossible to determine since a person cannot officially be a member of the group unless he or she is part of the small cadre of full-time organizers. There were estimates in 2009 that April 6 had 70,000 people identified as "followers of the movement," and its size has grown considerably since then. This has especially been the case in recent weeks, as April 6 has gained a higher profile for organizing the bulk of the street protests and received more attention from the international press — and, significantly, state media, which heretofore has tried to downplay the group's significance. Since roughly 90 percent of Egypt's citizens are Muslim, it goes without saying that the membership of April 6 is also composed predominately of Muslims, but the group does not advocate the inclusion of religion in the affairs of the state. In this sense, April 6 differs sharply from the MB. Scenes broadcast on television Jan. 28 showing thousands of demonstrators pausing to pray in the middle of the protests were more likely intended to convey a message of unity among the protesters and were the product of April 6's organizational ability rather than any religious motivation. One of April 6's known leaders is Mohamed Adel, who was detained by Egyptian security forces on Jan. 27, according to a STRATFOR source, one day before the protests began on Jan. 28. Adel's status is currently unknown. He had been arrested for his political activism in 2008. It is believed that a recent WikiLeaks revelation that a leader of April 6 attended a conference in the United States in December 2008 called the Alliance of Youth Movements Summit — during which time he met with members of the U.S. government — was either a reference to Adel or Ahmed Maher (see below). This proves that Washington has been aware of the group's existence for some time, though the tone in which the cable was written indicates that Washington was skeptical of April 6's ability — and the ability of the entire opposition in Egypt, really — to succeed in replacing the Mubarak regime with a parliamentary democracy before the 2011 presidential election. Maher, another April 6 leader, is a 29-year-old engineer known as one of the two founders of the group. Like Esraa Abdel Fattah Ahmed Rashid, he is a former member of the youth wing of another opposition party known as El Ghad. Maher broke away from the El Ghad party over his frustration that it was not active enough, and he was linked for a time with the Kifaya movement's youth wing. He played a large role in orchestrating the Mahalla strike. Past writings by Maher have emphasized that April 6 must be careful to differentiate itself from other opposition groups such as the MB. An excellent example of how April 6 differs from the MB can be seen in Maher's views on how the group could exploit popular anger over the Egyptian government's alliance with Israel during the 2009 Gaza War. Maher advocated that April 6 exploit public anger against the government for its ties to Israel not by focusing exclusively on that one issue but by linking the anger to the larger problems of corruption and the repressive nature of the NDP regime. Still another April 6 leader is Esraa Abdel Fattah Ahmed Rashid, the 31-year-old co-founder of the group. She wears a hijab, signifying that even though the group seeks a secular, liberal society it is still very much in touch with Egypt's predominately Islamic culture. Rashid was well-known in Egypt long before the recent unrest, referred to as "the Facebook Girl" after her well-publicized arrest in connection with the 2008 Mahalla strike, which she organized largely via Facebook. Rashid also does not speak English well, another sign that the group is not simply an organization of Western-oriented elites.

Egyptian Movement for Change (Kifaya)

Kifaya, which means "enough" in Arabic, was created in September 2004 as an alliance of leading opposition figures, some of whom belonged to marginal opposition parties and some of whom had no particular party affiliation. It is perhaps inaccurate to call Kifaya a "youth movement" in the same sense that April 6 is a youth movement, though it does operate a youth wing that acts much as April 6 does. Although the core Kifaya does have elderly members, for the purposes of this analysis, STRATFOR is grouping it with April 6 by virtue of their tactical and ideological similarities. Kifaya's utility from the beginning has been in its ability to bring together disparate opponents of the Mubarak regime, including Islamists, secularists, Marxists, Nasserites and people of other ideological persuasions. Unlike April 6, however, Kifaya has been led by Islamists at times, but that does not mean Kifaya itself ever advocated the creation of an Islamist state in Egypt. Rather, Kifaya's raison d'etre has always been simply to force the ouster of Mubarak from power through nonviolent means. The group gained prominence in December 2004 by holding the first-ever public demonstration in Egypt that expressly advocated the end of Mubarak's reign. Kifaya was thus the trailblazer of the current anti-Mubarak protest movement that has overtaken Egypt in recent weeks. Kifaya predated the April 6 Movement by four years and was the first to capture the power of text messaging and social media to spread word of its activities. Since its early years, Kifaya has been overtaken by April 6 as the leading force in organizing activists and putting them on the streets. This is largely because of the difficulties Kifaya has faced in keeping its disparate elements united. Unlike April 6, which is largely a youth movement that strives for a liberal, democratic society, Kifaya is an umbrella group that seeks to hold together numerous political strands with the common thread of opposition to Mubarak and his son Gamal, whom the group has rallied to prevent from succeeding his father. As April 6 does, Kifaya takes pride in being a "movement" rather than a party and is committed to nonviolent protests. Its youth wing, which operates almost independently at this point, has ties to the April 6 leadership. Kifaya also was one of the first groups to realize the value of sending mass text messages to organize rallies, and it has benefited greatly from anti-government bloggers, who help it get its message out in the absence of state media coverage. George Ishaq, co-founder and the first "general coordinator" of Kifaya, is actually a Coptic Christian and a staunch secularist who has been in and out of the movement since the early years but is currently identified as its spokesman. An article written by Ishaq in 2007 in which he supported a ban on women's wearing the veil in Egypt exposed the internal political differences within the Kifaya coalition, which brought together groups from both sides of Egypt's religious-secular divide. Ishaq's age — he is in his 70s — underscores a difference between Kifaya and April 6, a movement consisting almost entirely of people in their 20s and early 30s. Though he appears to have faded from the scene in terms of day-to-day organizational responsibilities, Ishaq is still identified with the group, making sure to reiterate its platform of being against the continued rule of the Mubarak family.

The Muslim Brotherhood

With Egypt's nearly 60-year-old government collapsing, many are asking whether the world's single-largest Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, will soon benefit from the demand for democracy in Egypt, a state considered to be the pivot of the Arab world. Western fears to the contrary, the MB is probably incapable of dominating Egypt. At best, it can realistically hope to be the largest political force in a future government, one in which the military would have a huge say. For more on this key opposition player, see our special report on the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mohamed ElBaradei and the National Association for Change

Mohamed ElBaradei returned to Egypt with much fanfare in February 2010 and was immediately pegged as the most likely candidate to gain the most support from the various opposition forces in Egypt. Until his homecoming, ElBaradei had lived abroad for the most part since 1980, and even now he maintains a home in Vienna, where he worked for years as the head of the IAEA. He is not a member of a political party but has emerged as the figurehead of a broad coalition of small parties known as the National Association for Change, a body that is united — as all opposition forces in Egypt seem to be — by a desire to oust the ruling NDP regime. Personally, ElBaradei is an advocate for a democratic system of government, but he has been adept at appealing to all sides of the political spectrum in Egypt, from the pro-democracy youth groups to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. Indeed, since the protests began gaining steam, the one person most often cited as the man likely to lead any coalition negotiations with the Egyptian army is Mohamed ElBaradei. Not all of the opposition supports him, however. Most prominent among his opponents is the New Wafd party. And he has had tensions with Ayman Nour of the El Ghad party, most likely because ElBaradei has usurped Nour's role as the most well-known opposition figure in Egypt. As such, ElBaradei does not necessarily command much political support himself, but instead appears to be the most popular of several weak candidates. Following ElBaradei's return to Egypt, dissident Egyptian editor and ElBaradei confidante Ibrahim Issa said ElBaradei is quite content with his role as a symbol of the opposition to Mubarak's rule. He is the most amenable public face of a diverse movement that shares little in common aside from an urgent desire to get rid of Mubarak. Being out of Egypt for so long also lends ElBaradei the air of having avoided the taint of corruption that covers some other opposition leaders in Egypt. In some respects, however, being out of Egypt for so long has also hurt ElBaradei. The main criticism of him is that he is not a "real" Egyptian anymore because he has lived in the United States and Europe for so long. One prominent Egyptian cleric made fun of his alleged inability to speak proper Arabic during the first week of the protests. ElBaradei finds himself in a unique position. Like the pro-democracy youth movements, he represents a movement, not a party. Unlike the youth groups, however, he is seen as more of a classic politician than a true revolutionary leader with a deep level of real grassroots support. ElBaradei's main value to the various opposition forces that have genuine bases of support bases throughout Egypt is that he is an "acceptable" representative of the Egyptian people in the eyes of Western governments, something that the Islamist MB cannot claim on its own. The Western fear is that the MB would try to turn Egypt into a Sunni version of Iran, and the youth movements cannot alleviate Western concerns because they do not have any well-known leaders.

Arab League Chairman Amr Moussa

The most recent addition to the list of possible successors to Mubarak to come from the opposition is Amr Moussa, a 74-year-old Egyptian who once served as the Egyptian foreign minister but is best known for his current position as secretary-general of the Arab League. Moussa said in a media interview Feb. 1 that he will seriously consider entering the race over the next few weeks, the most serious indication yet that he might join the political fray. Like ElBaradei, Moussa has been an international diplomat for the past several years. The main difference between the two is that ElBaradei's tenure took him to the United States and Europe, while Moussa has been able to remain in Cairo, where the Arab League's headquarters are. Moussa does maintain a busy travel schedule, but he has remained closer to events on the ground in Egypt than ElBaradei has, giving him more credibility among large segments of the population and thereby deeper grassroots support. Like ElBaradei, Moussa is not affiliated with any political party. His weakness may be that he has entered the fray too late. Even now, he has not given any firm indication that he intends to run for president, while ElBaradei has been busy networking with the youth movements and the MB, which has indicated that ElBaradei will be their man to represent the opposition in upcoming negotiations. Aside from the grassroots support, it is hard to envision how Moussa would provide a group like the MB any greater benefit than ElBaradei would, in terms of who to back in any coalition that could negotiate effectively with the military. Both would present a respectable face to foreign governments — mainly Israel and the United States — which are uncomfortable with the MB, while groups like April 6 simply need a well-known political figure to do the talking. Moussa would do the job just as well as ElBaradei, but it remains to be seen what Moussa's decision will be.

The Old Guard and Marginal Opposition Parties

El Ghad

The first of these groups is El Ghad, which means "tomorrow" in Arabic. El Ghad was founded in October 2004 by Ayman Nour, after his defection from the New Wafd party as the result of a power struggle with then-New Wafd leader Norman Gomaa. Nour, a wealthy lawyer and former member of parliament, is currently the party chairman. Nour was embroiled in a scandal shortly after forming El Ghad and was accused of forging documents in an attempt to speed up the licensing of his party so that he could participate in the 2005 presidential election. The government eventually delayed his trial date and allowed him to run, but — unsurprisingly — he lost to Mubarak by a landslide, garnering barely more than 7 percent of the vote. El Ghad is often described as a liberal democratic party and has no Islamist connections. The party is essentially the banner under which Nour, Egypt's best-known opposition figure after ElBaradei, has run for office. Following his failed run at the presidency, Nour was imprisoned from January 2005 to February 2009, released early from a five-year sentence on medical grounds (he is a diabetic). Today, Nour is one of Mubarak's most vocal critics and has participated in the recent street protests, even getting injured during one on Jan. 28. Much of the current leadership of the April 6 Movement actually came from the youth wing of the El Ghad party, which campaigned on Nour's behalf in the 2005 elections. "Facebook Girl" Esraa Abdel Fattah Ahmed Rashid was one of these youth group proponents, as was April 6 leader Ahmed Maher. They were reportedly frustrated with Nour's cautious political approach. El Ghad leaders have been described as very bureaucratic people who like to carefully plot every move, weighing the potential consequences on the group's relationship with the NDP. The El Ghad party headquarters doubles as the site of Egypt's so-called shadow parliament (El Ghad prefers the term "People's Parliament"), which held its first official meeting Jan. 30. Twelve opposition parties — including the MB, which controls 15 percent of the shadow parliament — have representatives in the body. It is but one of many dry runs by opposition members to come together and decide how they are going to organize themselves in preparation for the negotiations to come, which will likely be with the Egyptian military. Nour is not legally eligible at the moment to run for president due to his political problems with the NDP — a ban that will likely be rendered moot in the event the ruling party further disintegrates. Nour said recently that he would give his support to ElBaradei as part of future opposition coalition negotiations with the Egyptian military, but he has had a tense relationship with ElBaradei and will probably try to break away and run on his own if he senses the opportunity. Other known El Ghad members are Gamela Nour, Ayman's wife, who has been actively involved in the protests, and Wael Nawara, co-founder of the party, who is currently its secretary-general.

New Wafd Party

Another old-guard group is the New Wafd party ("Wafd" means "delegation" in Arabic). The original Wafd party arose during World War I and was dismantled after the 1952 revolution. The New Wafd party was established in 1974. Its leader, Sayyad al-Badawi, ran for president in 2005 and lost by a landslide. He even lost by a landslide to Nour, carrying less than three percent of the vote. The New Wafd party is a secular, liberal group that has made relatively mild calls for reform until recently, when it came in vogue to push for radical change, which the New Wafd had not been pushing for nearly as hard as almost all the other groups. The "New" Wafd, ironically, is really the "old guard" of the opposition, and it invited ElBaradei, a newcomer to Egyptian politics, to join the party. ElBaradei declined, which explains the New Wafd's current hostility toward him. The New Wafd did not boycott the first round of elections in November 2010, and after it got trounced, it decided to boycott the rest. In the past few months, the New Wafd party has become increasingly more brazen in its public opposition to the Mubarak regime. This process began with the election boycott and has recently been seen in al-Badawi's labeling of Mubarak's attempt to form a new government as an "unacceptable" concession to the opposition. Although the New Wafd has considerable historical legitimacy in Egypt due to its connection with the original Wafd party, it does not have an especially strong following on the street. When Nour defected in 2004 he took about 25 percent of the party with him, and it can be said that, in a way, the April 6 Movement is an outgrowth of the El Ghad youth branch, which itself was an outgrowth of New Wafd. Its leader is Sayyad al-Badawi, who took over from Gomaa in an internal party election in May 2010 and vowed to return New Wafd to its former status. Al-Badawi, a wealthy businessman, is the owner of Al Hayat TV and Sigma Pharmaceuticals.

Article Search

Copyright © Stratfor Enterprises, LLC. All rights reserved.

Stratfor Worldview


To empower members to confidently understand and navigate a continuously changing and complex global environment.