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Interview with Abdel Ghaffr Shokr: Founder of Coalition of Popular Socialist Party Egypt

Posted on the 06 July 2011 by Warigia @WarigiaBowman
I first met Mr. Abdel Ghaffr Shokr at an AUC conference on the Revolution or Democratic Transformation. He impressed me, so I decided to interview him as part of my effort to interview leaders of emerging political parties. In my personal view, the Western media is placing excessive focus on Islamist parties, and insufficient focus on Center and Left parties in Egypt.
This interview was conducted on July 4, 2011. The interview was conducted in his party headquarters near Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. The translation was conducted by John Ehab, a student of mine, and a journalist.
Start Interview
I am 75 years old. I was born in a village in the countryside, in Dakhalia. I attended Cairo University. I was in Literature, in the Department of History, in 1960. In 1965, I participated in the organization of socialist youth. I was the awareness secretary. I was the president of awareness in the whole socialist union (The Nasser Party). [Authors' note, that party was the NDP of the Nassr era.] I held that position from 1965 to 1969. In the 1960s, the youth organization had half a million members. Etihad Ishterraki, the Arab Socialist Union.
Q: What in your background made you a socialist?
I became a socialist due to a battle against a feudalist in Dakhalia. He was the biggest landowner. He was in the upper room of Parliament at that time. He was bad to the farmers. He owned around 46,000 acres. My dad had a struggle against him. Our family was persecuted because of this struggle. My father died of a heart attack in 1946. Because of this experience, I became committed against feudalism and capitalism. When I read, I became a socialist. When the coup of Nasser happened, I became a Nasserite. I was the President of Awareness in Egypt of ASU.
When Sadat took over in 71, I moved to the opposition. I was against Sadat;s economic policies and foreign policies. His economic policies favored the rich. In 1976, I helped found the Tagamoo party [Author's note: "Tagamoo" means gathering, or collection in Arabic]. This party was socialist. I became the secretary of awareness fro the party, and the Deputy of the General Secretary of the part (Khaled Mohadeen)

Skipping forward, in March 2011, I resigned from Tagamoo. I was indifferent to the General Secretary regarding his position about the Mubarak Regime. The GS (Rafat Said) was supporting Mubarak. Since 1990, Rafat Said had taken a position that was supportive of the regime. We were indifferent from then to now. There was not a chance to make new parties under Mubarak.
Q: Why did you not try to topple the leadership of Tagamoo?
I tried to withdraw the trust, but the council of the party voted "No."
Q: What party are you in now?
I am in the Party of the Coalition of Popular Socialists (Hezb el Tahalaf Shaaby Eshteraki). I am the representative of the founders. I am the coordinator of the founders. The party was founded on February 10, 2011, a few days before Mubarak stepped down. We had an announcement for all the leftists, that Egypt is in need of a new leftist party, a broad party.
In the January 25th Revolution, the leftists participated as individuals in the uprisings. [and groups within leadership?] because the Tagamoo party was conspiring with the regime.
The left needs a new party. We are different than Tagamoo. Our party will permit different platforms. The internal structure will be democratic. We will give the young people priority within the leadership. [Author's note, the interview was conducted at the party headquarters. There were no women present. There were a few young men present. One of the young men present was Bassam Satry, an author.]  We announced that we needed to establish the party. One the 14th of February, 100 people met and started the party.
Q: I know you have published your platform, but could you give me a sense of the big ideas of your party?
  • We want a civil state.
  • We believe in a reform of citizenship rights, and are opposed to discrimination on the basis of religion and ethnicity. 
  • We support a parliamentary state. 
  • We support a new constitution that would guarantee these values. This constitution will change the laws regarding parties, elections, syndicates and NGOs.
  • We believe in social justice. We support a new structure for wages and salaries. We want a minimum wage for all, around 1200 LE ($200 dollars a month). The maximum wage would only be for the public sector. It would be 15 times the minimum wage. This figure should be linked to prices, and should adjust as prices adjust.
  • Education and health should be free. These are the tools of social justice. The state claims that education is free, but there is private tutoring. We need to completely restructure education. 
  • We support free (universal) health care. 
  • We supported a graduated taxation system. 
Our constituency are workers, farmers, the middle class, small traders, owners of small and micro projects, women and young people.
Q: What does the party offer women?
The party offers women equality in obligations and rights. Women have the right to hold any office, including president. A lot of women are in the founding group. These include Doctor Fatma Kafagha of the UN, and Jehan Shaban. We need a grassroots party. We basically have similar ideas about women to the Tagamoo. The Tagamoo has some prominent women, including Farida Nagash, the Editor in Chief of Ahali Weekly Newspaper. She has raised good positions in her paper.
We are concentrating on winning the young people. Our platform includes the demands of the young people. Our problem is that the young people are not attracted to socialism today. We have a real problem to gain the young people.
Last Tuesday, we had a conference in a village in Dakhalia. 1000 people attended. We have not yet begun to organize the big cities. We are now focusing on personal contacts.
We objected to this rule for 5000 signatures to form a new party. We will meet the rule. We will get the signatures by the end of July. However, the publication requirement is unfair. It could cost at least 100,000 dollars (1/2 million LE) to meet this requirement. Although now, the SCAF is saying it will waive the signature requirement.
So, there is a law that out of Egypt's 29 governorates, the party must get at least 300 signatures from 10 of the 29 governarates. This is a way to eliminate small parties, and it is not democratic. In terms of our strategy, we will focus on the Parliament and local offices. We are not planning to organize around the Presidential election. Aboul Ezzi Harriri has said he may run for president. He is popular. It is not clear exactly when the parliamentary elections will be held. It sounds like they will be held in September, but the date has not been set. It is my guess that the parliamentary elections will be held in late September. The Presidential elections, I think, will be held in the New Year, in the Spring of 2012.
The SCAF has said the new Constitution will take six months. We do not support the parliament writing the Constitution. It would be better to have a constitutional convention elected by the people. The Constitutional Convention should represent political parties and all social segments of society.
I believe that the important leftist parties are
The Coalition (Ghaffr Shokr's party)
Democratic Labor
Egyptian Socialist Party
Communist Party
End Interview. WMB

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