Cairo, July 2. The National Progressive Unionist Party (Tagammu‘) held its second national congress in Cairo on June 27-28, 1985. The Tagammu‘, Egypt’s principal left opposition party, is a united front formation including members of illegal communist organizations, independent Marxists, Nasserists, enlightened religious elements and a number of newer, less politicized members who have joined the party since the parliamentary elections of May 1984. The Tagammu‘ did not win any seats then in the People’s Assembly, due to an undemocratic election law and some falsification of the election results. [1] But the nationwide campaign and the presence here of some 750 representatives from throughout Egypt—including women, workers and peasants—indicates that the party has substantially increased its size and organizational capacity since its first congress in 1980.

The congress approved the report of Secretary-General Khalid Muhyi al-Din (one of the original Free Officers who led the military coup against the Egyptian monarchy in 1952), which focused on the need to halt the continuing deterioration in the living standard of the Egyptian masses and middle strata. The Tagammu‘ includes several of Egypt’s most prominent economists among its leaders and members, and its economic program has always been well developed. The party has detailed proposals for ending Egypt’s economic dependency on the United States, increasing local food production, limiting the role of private capital and promoting the public sector of the economy.

Muhyi al-Din’s report also stressed the importance of combatting all manifestations of sectarian violence. The activity of the Tagammu‘ and other secular political forces has been constrained by the continuing religious resurgence in Egypt. The Islamic opposition is now setting the pace for all the opposition parties. It has a consistent record of struggle against the regime since 1954 and a substantial popular base. The government has suggested that an Islamic upsurge will overwhelm both the government and the lefthand that therefore they are in the same boat. The Tagammu‘ has tried to avert this possibility by promoting an “enlightened” Muslim religious trend which is demonstratively pious but does not seek to impose its views on society by coercion. The concessions which the secularists have made to keep these elements in the party appear so far to have been mostly in matters of cultural and political style.

The congress reiterated its commitment to struggle against “parasitical capitalism” (the corrupt, profiteering elements associated with former president Anwar al-Sadat and the “open door” economic policy), while continuing to advocate the socialist transformation of Egypt. This strategy of stages is an attempt to unite with what the party regards as the productive elements of Egypt’s “national bourgeoisie.” This stratum, it argues, is being stifled by the domination of foreign capital. This policy also strives to distinguish between those elements in the regime most closely ssociated with the presidency and other, relatively more independent sections of the state apparatus. The Tagammu‘ will rescind the period of grace which it had granted to President Husni Mubarak. It demands that he now offer real solutions to Egypt’s economic and political problems, rather than simply differentiate himself from Sadat, though the Tagammu‘ regarded this as a progressive step.

The most intense discussion centered on the February 11th agreement between King Hussein of Jordan and PLO chairman Yasir Arafat concerning a joint Jordanian-PLO delegation to enter peace talks. The congress resolved to support the PLO’s interpretation of this agreement, although the meaning of this is not clear, since the PLO has not published an official communique on the subject. For the Tagammu‘, the PLO remains the sole spokesperson for the Palestinian people, and it rejects any purely American-sponsored settlement not including the principal of Palestinian self-determination.

A substantial minority of 120 delegates wanted to condemn the Hussein-Arafat agreement for abandoning Palestinian rights. For this reason, even the statements most supportive of Arafat included hints of an eventual “full liberation” of Palestine, formulations which the PLO itself has not employed for some time. Some within the Tagammu‘ who have been the most persistent and prominent advocates of Arab-Israeli self-determination and recognition of the state of Israel (i.e., the communists and the Marxists) felt compelled to cover their position with inflammatory language, to protect themselves from charges of sell-out by the Nasserists and other radical nationalist elements in the party.

Despite the rhetorical confusion that this entailed, it was clear in the end that the dominant Tagammu‘ tendency supported the Hussein-Arafat agreement and its implications—the establishment of a Palestinian state which would join in a confederation with Jordan, alongside the state of Israel within its June 4, 1967 borders. In light of the general deterioration of relations between Egypt and Israel and the rising tide of anti-Israeli sentiment among most sectors of the Egyptian intelligentsia, this was the clearest political statement which could be expected.

In all its proceedings, the congress faced the problem of integrating experienced Marxist cadres with non-Marxist progressives and the newer members who are unfamiliar with political debate. Party leaders expressed satisfaction that this task had been accomplished adequately, and they were proud of the democratic atmosphere and free discussion which prevailed.

Tagammu‘ leaders spoke in sober and realistic terms about the party’s current possibilities. They do not expect any major breakthroughs. They are aware that the current atmosphere of relative political relaxation can be reversed whenever the government desires, as all the legal and coercive apparatus which Anwar al-Sadat used against the political opposition remains in place. This second congress indicates, though, the Tagammu‘ has established itself as a credible political force on a national scale, despite circumstances that are far from ideal.


[1] See Bertus Hendriks, “Egypt’s Election, Mubarak’s Bind,” MERIP Reports No. 129 (January 1985).

How to cite this article:

Joel Beinin "Egypt’s Left Opposition Party Holds Second Congress," Middle East Report 135 (September/ October 1985).

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