Parliamentary Elections Monitor

Note: This is an archived project; no significant changes have been made since parliament was seated in January 2016.

Freedom and Justice Party (Hizb al-Hurriya Wal-Adala)

October 16, 2015 . By TIMEP

Banned

Overview

The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) was announced in February 2011 by established figures in the Muslim Brotherhood, one day after popular pressure forced Hosni Mubarak to relinquish the presidency. Drawing on the extensive network of Brothers throughout Egypt, the party secured 47% of seats in the first post-Mubarak parliament, and the party’s first president, Muhammad Morsi, was elected president of Egypt. However, this sweeping electoral success, the first in the Brotherhood’s history, proved to be highly divisive, increasingly pushing Egyptians into one of two camps: supporters of the elected group and their religious sensibilities, and opponents of the FJP’s control of the government and fears of Islamization of state and society during that formational period. The tension between these camps and disillusionment with the Morsi-run government finally boiled over when Egyptians took to the streets on June 30, 2013, and the military responded by ousting the former president. A subsequent court decision dissolved the Freedom and Justice Party from politics. Thus, the party will not participate in the 2015 elections.

Background

Formally founded in April 2011, the Freedom and Justice Party was established as the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. The party’s early leaders and founders were all ranking Muslim Brotherhood members, some with previous parliamentary experience under Mubarak. This strong connection to the Brotherhood gave the party an instant support base and funding network, leading to an estimated 120,000 party members by the end of 2011 and one of the best-funded campaigns in that year’s parliamentary elections, complete with TV ads and large candidate lists. These relative strengths had a large impact at the ballot box with the party claiming 235 seats in the People’s Assembly (the lower house of parliament) in 2011. This staggering electoral victory gave them 114 more seats in the parliament than their nearest competitor, the Salafist Nour Party, and amounted to 47% of the total. The FJP also dominated the elections for parliament’s upper house, the Shura Council, in January and February 2012, winning 105 of 180 elected seats. This political ascendance did not last long: On June 14, 2012, barely four months after the lower house was seated, Egypt’s high court declared the body invalid, thereby canceling the FJP’s legislative dominance. The party’s successful presidential candidate, Muhammad Morsi, attempted to revive the parliament, but did not succeed before mass protests—against his rule, the domination of FJP members of the cabinet, and the Islamists’ control of the constitutional assembly—caused the military to step in and stabilize the situation. By August 9, 2013, the FJP was banned and dissolved, followed by their leaders being arrested and their assets being seized.

Stances

Official party doctrine espouses the idea of separating religion from the state and focusing solely on promoting conservative Islamic social norms as a means of allowing Egypt to remain a multi-confessional society while enhancing its Islamic identity. This delineation of religious and political spheres is hotly debated among party critics, however. Many of them point to statements by parliamentarians connected to the party who sought to use their position in government to rewrite societal or family laws to impose conservative Islamic ideology on the state. The 2012 Constitution, drafted under Brotherhood government, defined shari’a as Sunni tradition; this action and other aspects of the constitution led to criticism of Islamization of the state. While the party’s domestic policy was somewhat inconsistent, their general stance on economy was to promote private business through a free-market model. The FJP also declared its intent to kick-start the Egyptian economy by removing corrupt, former Mubarak supporters from positions of power and thereby preventing them from leaching the profits from Egyptian business owners looking to expand. The FJP’s foreign policy was strongly in favor of state sovereignty, decrying any efforts to meddle in the internal affairs of other states. Party members have spoken vociferously against the Camp David Accords, calling the agreements a “mark of shame.”

Party Relations

Despite early synergy among liberal groups and the Freedom and Justice Party, parties became more wary of the FJP’s Islamist tendencies and perceived hunger for power and left their electoral front, the Democratic Alliance, in favor of the Egyptian Bloc, a coalition based on counterbalancing FJP interests. This mistrust was further exacerbated by the Freedom and Justice Party initially promising to seek less than 50% of parliamentary seats and not run a presidential candidate, then running for 70% of the seats in parliament and registering two candidates for the presidency, winning with Muhammad Morsi. The group also lost political support among other Islamist parties in 2012 and 2013, due to perceived FJP dominance and ahead of possible elections in 2013. After Morsi’s ouster, though, a group of Islamist parties formed the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy (NASL), comprised of the Salafist Front, the Watan Party, al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, the Building and Development Party, the Istiqlal Party, and the Wasat Party; the group campaigned and protested in favor of returning the FJP-dominated government to power. The NASL has since been banned and many of the parties originally associated with it have withdrawn from the alliance. They have not, however, reneged on their support of the FJP, and continue to avoid the formal political process.

Internal Organization

The Freedom and Justice Party is comprised of three bodies on two levels. The largest body and lower level is the General Assembly, which is made up of representatives of each governorate who are elected by party members. The higher level is comprised of the High Council and Executive Bureau, who are tasked with running the party, are chosen by the General Assembly, and make decisions based on an absolute majority system. The General Assembly and Higher Council are each elected every four years.

Leadership

The Freedom and Justice Party was announced two months before it was actually founded and its leadership was revealed, which indicates that Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Muhammad Badie  and other members of the MB Guidance Council had a hand in early party formation and leadership. The names most closely associated with the FJP in the political ring are Muhammad Morsi, a former parliamentarian and the party’s first president who later abdicated this role to be Egypt’s president; Essam al-‘Arian, a founding member of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights who served as the party’s vice-president and acting president; Muhammad Saad Katatni, the speaker of the first post-revolution People’s Assembly who beat al-‘Arian in internal elections to become the new party president following Morsi’s election; and Muhammad al-Beltagi, an experienced politician and longtime parliamentarian that became secretary-general of the party. Morsi, ‘Arian, and Katatni were all members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Council before resigning those positions to take up leadership of the Freedom and Justice Party.