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Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 23 - 07 - 2013

After deciding last week to continue working together as a coalition of liberal and leftist parties, even after the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi on 3 July, the National Salvation Front (NSF) avoided a split in its ranks on Sunday 21 July, by officially deciding not to pick a successor for its former coordinator-general Mohamed Al-Baradei, now Egypt's vice president for international relations.
Azazi Ali Azazi, the official NSF spokesman, said the group that led the opposition against Morsi decided after a lengthy meeting at the headquarters of the Wafd Party that it would only appoint Ahmed Said, president of the liberal Free Egyptians Party, as its secretary-general. “We decided there was no need at this stage to appoint a coordinator-general,” said Azazi.
He added that the group would, meanwhile, continue working on three key goals they agreed on a week ago: supporting the 3 July roadmap that would lead to a new parliament and presidential elections following Morsi's removal in a popular revolt on 30 June; presenting major proposals to the committee of 10 legal experts formed by President Adli Mansour to amend the 2012 constitution drafted mainly by the Muslim Brotherhood, and which, according to many, practically sought a new constitution; and coordinating as a coalition in the upcoming parliament elections to make sure they win a reasonable majority against the Muslim Brotherhood and other political Islamist groups.
Since it was formed on 22 November 2012, in reaction to the constitutional declaration issued by Morsi on the same day giving himself expansive powers above judicial oversight, the NSF faced the challenge of remaining united, considering the presence of leaders of key opposition groups, and former presidential candidates who have a history of rivalry rather than building coalitions.
Over the past eight months, there were repeated reports of a split among NSF ranks, personal initiatives that were taken unilaterally by some of its leaders, and contradictory statements, all giving the impression that this was a shaky coalition. However, the challenge posed by the Muslim Brotherhood to what the NSF leaders saw as the main pillars of a “civil, modern and democratic state”, besides pressure from grassroots on the need for unity, kept the coalition together.
The choice of Nobel Peace Prize winner and former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Al-Baradei, as a practical NSF leader, has not been unchallenged over the past eight months. Former Arab League secretary-general and presidential candidate Amr Moussa and a few other NSF members have repeatedly noted that the NSF has a “collective leadership” and not a single leader.
However, in one of its most important meetings since its formation, on 1 July the NSF agreed that Al-Baradei would be its representative in any negotiations over Egypt's political future following the massive outpouring of millions of Egyptians all over the country on 30 June to demand Morsi's ouster. On 3 July, it was Al-Baradei who represented Egypt's opposition in the gathering requested by Defence Minister Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, and attended by the grand imam of Al-Azhar, the pope of the Coptic Church, vice president of the Salafist Nour Party and Tamarod movement youth, to announce the removal of Morsi and the appointment of former Chief Justice Mansour as temporary president.
Tamarod, or Rebel, sparked the wave of opposition that led to Morsi's removal by simply asking Egyptians to sign a petition saying that they no longer had confidence in his ability to run the country, and demanded early presidential elections. Tamarod said that at least 22 million Egyptians signed the petition across the country.
It clearly took a while for the long-time opposition group to decide its future after the practical end of the Muslim Brotherhood, especially after Al-Baradei's appointment as vice president, and the fact that several key NSF figures were named as ministers in the new government formed by Prime Minister Hazem Al-Beblawi, himself an NSF member by virtue of belonging to the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP). Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Bahaaeddin is also a member of the ESDP leadership.
While a few NSF members suggested that it was about time to dissolve the coalition and give the freedom to each of the group's 11 political parties to work on its own in the upcoming parliament elections, there were behind the scenes lobbying on who would succeed Al-Baradei as coordinator-general, a prestigious title for a group that many see, locally and internationally, as responsible for leading the opposition against Morsi.
Two days before the NSF leaders met on Sunday, the executive board of the Wafd Party suggested in an official statement that the group should suspend its activities, sending a clear signal to counterparts in the coalition that the country's oldest liberal party was unhappy with the lobbying taking place to pick a successor to Al-Baradei. The Wafd leaders obviously believed that Sayed Badawi, the party's president, should be the new NSF leader, considering the Wafd's history and the support it provided to the NSF.
However, smaller leftist parties within the NSF also had their candidate, Sameh Ashour, the head of the Lawyers Syndicate. And a third group of NSF leaders, including key figures such as former presidential candidate and leader of the Popular Current, Hamdeen Sabahi, ESDP President Mohamed Abul-Ghar, and the Dostour Party, supported a collective three-member leadership that would mainly have the task of coordinating with the presidency over vital issues such as the new constitution and other laws linked to elections.
After a lengthy, three-hour debate of all three alternatives, official NSF spokesman Azazi told reporters that “NSF leaders agreed that the tasks we need to work on collectively at this stage did not require a successor for Al-Baradei.” He added that the leader of the Free Egyptians Party, Said, was chosen as NSF secretary-general mainly to coordinate communication among its parties in order to adopt collective stands on the new constitution and upcoming parliament elections.
Azazi said NSF legal experts would soon present “a detailed draft that amounts to a new constitution” to the constitutional drafting committee formed by President Mansour on Sunday, with a short one-week deadline to receive proposals. The committee has a one-month deadline to finish its task before handing its proposal to a wider 50-member committee that would adopt the final draft.
The second committee, with a two-month deadline, will be made up of legal experts, representatives of political parties, youth and women. The final product will be put to a popular referendum in three to four months. NSF parties are concerned about the process of selecting members of the second constitutional drafting committee, and said there should be clear standards on how members would be chosen.

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