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Once fragile allies, the Wafd and Muslim Brotherhood become fierce electoral rivals

With their electoral pact ended, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Wafd Party look set to face off for parliamentary seats

Sherif Tarek , Sunday 9 Oct 2011
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File photo: Wafd Party president El-Sayed El-Badawi (left) and Brotherhood leading figure Essam El-Errian
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As widely speculated, the pact between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Wafd Party — each lie on the opposite end of the political spectrum — was not meant to last, with both sides recently turning from electoral allies in the making into direct competitors.

The Wafd Party and the Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, were the main two pillars of the Democratic Alliance for Egypt when it first saw the light in mid-June, four months after the January 25 Revolution.

The two forces intended to form joint lists of candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections, a contentious decision that left the whole political landscape in a state of disarray for several months.

The alliance’s spokespersons for some time said the group’s primary goal was to “establish a parliament that is representative of all political forces in society, and the creation of a national unity government,” and yet, many critics were unconvinced, questioning the real purpose and prompting much media chatter.

Sceptics asserted that a merger of the Wafd and the Brotherhood — the two most established and capable political forces in the country — was an attempt to decide ahead of time the outcome of the elections and, hence, control of the upcoming parliament.

“As a citizen, there is no need for me to bother to vote in elections; it’s predetermined now,” TV presenter Amr Adib told Wafd Supreme Committee member Alaa Abdel Monem in a heated discussion aired live during his show, shortly after the alliance was unveiled.

“The Wafd and the Brotherhood are the strongest political forces in the country; you have already shaped the parliament with this alliance. You do not have the right to do so, this is not democracy,” he added as Abdel Monem staunchly defended the alliance’s intentions.

This particular concern, however, was lately assuaged after the Wafd officially decided not to join forces with the Brotherhood during the elections, following disagreements over the distribution and number of candidates between the two sides.

“The Wafd’s Supreme Committee has decided that there will not be any sort of cooperation or coordination between us and the Freedom and Justice Party during the parliamentary elections,” Sherif Taher, member of the committee, told Ahram Online.

“It is fair to say that competition between the Wafd Party and the Freedom and Justice Party is very likely in the elections. We will have our own separate lists which other parties are welcome to join [if] committed to the Wafd’s programme and principles.”

For his part, Mohamed El-Beltagi, secretary general of the Freedom and Justice Party, said his party is keen to keep intact the electoral accord with the rest of the alliance’s parties, a cooperation that is not seen by other electoral candidates as fearsome as that with the Wafd Party.

“The Freedom and Justice Party seeks to maintain the Democratic Alliance for Egypt despite the withdrawal of the Wafd,” he told the Brotherhood’s official website. “We highly appreciate and respect the choice of the Wafd Party.”

Now, the Wafd Party’s only tie with the Democratic Alliance for Egypt and the Brotherhood is the “Code of Honour” that was signed by 34 parties of the alliance, including the Freedom and Justice Party.

“Our alliance with the Brotherhood was supposed to be electoral and political as well,” Taher explained. “The electoral agreement is called off, but we still have the Code of Honour in common. It’s an agreement on a general consensus over the form of the country as a civil modern state, and on its constitution.”

The Wafd is the oldest liberal party in Egypt, adopting a secularist vision. The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, conversely, has a conservative Islamic frame of reference that, critics believe, makes the group’s definition of a modern state more a religious one.

Thanks to that huge ideological gap, the deal between them was broadly forecast to fail before the elections. “The Wafd is the political antithesis of the Freedom and Justice Party,” Taher elaborated. “Personally, I wasn’t in favour of this alliance, because we are too different from each other.

“From a Wafdist perspective, the idea of the alliance was partly to contain the Muslim Brotherhood in the liberal current, in order to ensure that the country is civil [and not religious]. It was not an ideological union and was never planned to be a long-lasting alliance.”

Originally, the Brotherhood had committed itself to the civil non-religious state, in line with the consensual position adopted by the January 25 Revolution and most of its political players. 

But later, as the Salafists and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamya made their political presence felt, the Brotherhood leadership seemed to shift its position towards a religious state and the application of Sharia (Islamic law), although the group has been frequently denying ever changing its stand, with many of its leaders saying that “a civil state is a non-military one” and that “there is no theocratic state in Islam, thus there is no fear that having a Islamic state will be against democracy”.

“The Brotherhood’s position [towards the form of the state] actually made the alliance lose its way at some point,” Taher commented. “The religious-civil debate wouldn’t bother them much though, because they know that a civil state can easily turn into a religious one through amending several laws,” he added.

The ideological differences with the Brotherhood seemingly took a toll on Wafd Party before their agreement was declared over. Many believed that for the sake of its accord with the Brotherhood, the Wafd reversed its stance on several profound issues and had a similar attitude to that of the Islamist group, having — for instance — expressed refusal to participate in the Correcting the Path Friday mass protests.

And as the party’s role appeared to be peripheral and controlled by the Brotherhood, the Wafd suffered a series of internal disputes, which evidently contributed to the dismantling of the short-term alliance. Abdel Monem, who used to fully support the alliance, froze his Wafd membership after the party decided to boycott the Correcting the Path Friday on 9 September. Other Wafd figures followed suit as they called on party decision-makers to part ways with the Brotherhood.

“I think people in Egypt are sad because they had high hopes of the Wafd Party and were expecting it to be at the forefront of the political arena,” Mostafa El-Guindy, assistant to the Wafd president who also froze his membership in protest against the boycott of the demonstrations, told Dream TV at the time.

“The people see that the Wafd is not leading the way, but it’s the Muslim Brotherhood who does, and they are hiding behind the Wafd’s cloak, like the [former ruling] National Democratic Party used to [during the rule of toppled president Hosni Mubarak]. This is the word on the street.”

After the alliance was finally scrapped, Taher stressed that the Wafd’s principles and policies were never impacted by the Brotherhood. He stated: “No one can change the Wafd or its policies; this allegation was so untrue.”

On the Wafd’s boycott of the Correcting the Path Friday, he said: “The Wafd wouldn’t participate in a protest unless the callers for it are well known, and also the demands, and that wasn’t the case with the 9 September demonstrations.

“We took part in previous demos, but we had our doubts that this time it would end in chaos, and it did indeed when protesters broke into one of the Israeli embassy’s offices [prompting clashes with security personnel that saw three killed]. The Brotherhood had nothing to do with this decision.

“And after all, we are not like the Brotherhood; the Wafd might officially announce boycotting a protest but members are always free to go. Some of our youth took part in the Correcting the Path Friday and we didn’t expel or punish any of them.”

So the short honeymoon between Egypt’s oldest liberal party and the Muslim Brotherhood came to an end. But neither rules out the possibility of a new pact in the future, insofar as in politics there are neither true foes nor true friends, but only interests.

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