Egypt’s largest liberal party faces divisions

Friday 11/09/2015
A sign at the front of the New al-Wafd Party reading \'al-Wafd Reformist Trend\'

CAIRO - In central Cairo’s upmarket Dokki neighbourhood, a new political party has popped up but to passers-by the new en­tity was reason for confusion.
The new party is only metres from the premises of al-Wafd Party. Founded in 1918, al-Wafd is Egypt’s oldest and largest liberal politi­cal party. The other group is also called al-Wafd but with the adjec­tive “New” added to its name.
The new entity is an offshoot of the old party, which held the ma­jority for a long time before the army-led movement of 1952 ended the monarchy in Egypt.
Al-Wafd has been headed for breakup. The party took its first steps towards splitting up a few months ago when its chief, Al- Sayed al-Badawi, a business and media mogul-cum-politician, sacked seven of the 53 higher party body members.
The sacked members formed a self-styled reform group and start­ed attracting followers and dissi­dents, founding the new political entity.
However, problems inside al- Wafd, according to sacked higher body member Abdel Aziz al-Nahas, started long before Badawi kicked him and the six other members out.
“The party chief committed se­rious violations in the course of the past few years, mistakes that gravely threatened the party’s fu­ture and precipitously reduced its popularity,” Nahas said.
Nahas and his comrades say the mistakes include Badawi’s support for ousted Islamist president Mu­hammad Morsi when he was in of­fice and also a series of what they describe as “dictatorial decisions” taken by the party chief.

They say the decisions include the firing of 900 party general assembly members and the ap­pointment of 1,200 others of Bad­awi’s choice in the assembly, which makes party core decisions.
Nevertheless, the potential dis­integration of al-Wafd into smaller ineffective pieces is a reflection of Egypt’s political strife, according to some observers.
There are more than 100 political parties in Egypt but the vast ma­jority are weak and do not have a meaningful following. Some politi­cal parties boast a membership of only the party chief and a handful of people, most of them either rela­tives of the party chief or friends.
This is the crux of Egypt’s politi­cal crisis: the country’s secular par­ties do not have any real presence on the ground, leaving the elec­torate with religious parties as the only options.
Al-Wafd is not the first political party to face partition. Before the 2011 revolution that ended the au­tocracy of longstanding president Hosni Mubarak, al-Ghad (Tomor­row) Party split into two. Leader­ship conflicts also threatened other parties, including the Nasserite Party, the al-Ahrar Party and the Arab Socialist Party.
Nevertheless, al-Wafd was the hope of this country’s liberals, es­pecially before Egypt’s parliamen­tary elections, which are expected mid-October. Together the Egyp­tian liberals’ hopes were pinned on al-Wafd to lead Egypt’s secular parties in the parliamentary battle against the Salafists.
“The weakening of al-Wafd will only serve its rivals and undermine the ability of Egypt’s secular par­ties before the elections,” political activist Hamdy el-Fakharany said. “This is very dangerous.”
Al-Wafd was among several par­ties trying to drum up a non-reli­gious coalition against the Salafists. These parties have come short of creating the aspired coalition and the division of al-Wafd will likely deal a severe blow to these efforts, according to Fakharany.
The crisis inside al-Wafd gained the attention of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who met party rivals in mid-May.
Sisi, according to Nahas, sug­gested during the meeting that Badawi keep the party higher body intact for one year and then have elections. The higher body is the party section that has the final say in party policies.
“While al-Badawi pledged to do this, he did not honour this pledge after the meeting,” Nahas said.
Badawi, meanwhile, says he will reconsider the sacking of Na­has and his colleagues only when they apologise for mistakes they made. He added during a recent party meeting that he did not bear any personal grudge to the sacked members but that they had affront­ed al-Wafd as an institution by talk­ing publicly about party problems.
The reformist group, however, says it will not apologise and that it only talked about the party chief’s failures.
Inside the group’s new head­quarters, what looked like a bee­hive was in action. The group’s members were busy making phone calls to party members to lobby against Badawi. They say they will have public rallies to tell of viola­tions by the party chief.
Mahmoud Ali, a member of the group, says along with the rallies, he and his colleagues will publish a book containing the violations of Badawi in a bid to rally support against him.
“Al-Badawi has turned this party into a body that little represents its members,” Ali said. “He committed serious violations and these viola­tions must be made clear to every­body.”