Egyptian Politics by the Numbers

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Egypt's burgeoning liberal party meetings are drawing a sparse crowd

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A meeting of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party / Thanassis Cambanis

SHIBIN EL KOM, Egypt -- It's not fair to judge a party solely by the size of the crowd it draws, but by that metric, Egypt's burgeoning liberal parties are in trouble. A batch of newly-formed liberal parties has skittered onto the scene, building organizations from scratch across the country. Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood, drawing on 83 years of grassroots activism, has burst forth like a freshly established military field hospital.

Above is a picture of the crowd that gathered to celebrate the debut of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party in the Nile Delta town of Kafr el Sheikh earlier this month. The Social Democrats are the best organized and most ideologically coherent of the new liberal parties to emerge from the revolution. They have attracted some of the most driven and popular activists. Less than 200 people showed up for their meeting.

The Democracy Report Below is a picture from last night's rally of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party in Shibin el Kom, another provincial Delta town. Roughly 2,000 people listened rapt for three hours. Party officials roused them with calls to honor the martyrs of the revolution, reminded them of their religious roots and their long shared history of fighting the regime. Then, for hours, they talked shop -- agricultural collectives, trash pick up, constitutional priorities -- and sent the audience packing with instructions to approach seven people a day and enumerate the pros and cons of the Freedom and Justice Party.

Crowd size doesn't tell the whole story, but it's one of the only measures we have. The liberals have a lot of catching up to do -- perhaps a prohibitive amount before this fall's parliamentary elections.

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Thanassis Cambanis


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Thanassis Cambanis, a columnist at The Boston Globe and a regular contributor to The New York Times, is writing a book about Egypt's revolutionaries. He is a fellow at The Century Foundation, teaches at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, and blogs at thanassiscambanis.com. He is also the author of A Privilege to Die: Inside Hezbollah's Legions and Their Endless War Against Israel.

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