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The Wafd Party

The Wafd Party is historically the oldest and the strongest opposition political party in Egypt. But Today, many believe its power is fading

Ekram Ibrahim, Wednesday 10 Nov 2010
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Brief History

The New Wafd party was established in February 1978. Its formation was an attempt to revive the legacy of the original 1919 Wafd party which occupied centre stage of domestic politics between the two revolutions that shaped Egypt's modern history--the 1919 Revolution against the British occupation and the 1952 Revolution that overthrew the monarchy. The Wafd party is the oldest and, with 10 seats in the People’s Assembly, the strongest legal opposition party in Egypt.

Yet, despite the revival efforts, the New Wafd is missing some major factors that were characteristic of the original party. In recent years the party has suffered from a lack of charismatic leadership-- the hallmark of its former version. Moreover, the party, according to its critics, has deviated from its liberal platform, as a result of occasional alliances with Islamist political forces.

The Wafd--literally ‘delegation’--was named after the Egyptian delegation, led by Saad Zaghloul, which traveled to Paris to plead Egypt's case for independence at the Versailles Conferene at the end of World War I. The Wafd gained legitimacy thanks to Zaghloul, who collected tens of thousands of petition signatures from all over Egypt, demanding that they represent the Egyptian people.

The New Wafd party was one of several political groups that emerged after late President Anwar Sadat introduced limited pluralism into the political process. Fouad Serageddin, the secretary general of the pre-1952 Wafd, initially led the renewed party, but its activities were suspended only a few months after its inception, when Sadat backtracked on his pluralistic experiment and imposed new restrictions opposition groups. The party suffered another setback in 1981 with the arrest of its new founder Serageddin, but was re-licensed as a legitimate political party in 1983.

The New Wafd is often regarded as the strongest legal opposition party, thanks to the legitimacy of the old Wafd and its relatively large financial resources compared to other opposition parties. Yet for the last 20 years the Wafd has been steadily losing its influence. Historically, the party enjoyed the support of business elites and Coptic christians, but there are indications that members of these core constituencies are increasingly gravitating toward the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). During the 2005 presidential elections, the Wafd Party played an essential role when then party chairman Noaman Goma’a became a candidate. Predictably, Mubarak won the elections, but the Wafd’s participation in the electoral process was crucial for the regime’s efforts to appear legitimate and democratic.

In 2010 the New Wafd underwent many changes that helped it return to the political scene. The changes began with the party’s internal presidential elections. This electoral process was both democratic and liberal--features that are usually nonexistent in other Egyptian political parties. In May 2010 Sayyid al-Badawi became the undisputed leader of the party following internal elections, which put an end to long-standing leadership struggles. Since then, popular Egyptian figures such as presenter Amr Adeeb have joined the party ranks. In September 2010, the party announced that it would participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections. The party is attempting to portray itself as a third option for voters seeking an alternative to the NDP and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Party platform

Although the party has its roots in pre-1952 Egyptian politics, its officials insist that its liberal democratic platform deals with contemporary issues. With political reform as the cornerstone of their programme, Serageddin has repeatedly called for a new constitution, direct public voting in presidential elections in place of a yes-or-no national referendum, one term limitations, and giving parliament greater powers with regards to monitoring public expenditure. In addition, the party holds that parliamentary elections should be supervised by a neutral body. In the economic sphere, the party calls for a market economy, demanding that private enterprise be encouraged and that restrictions to investments be lifted. However, it also demands that monopolies not be tolerated, unemployment fought and wages correlate to prices. The party also calls for the amendment of tax legislation in order to ensure greater justice for taxpayers.

Domestically, the Wafd calls for the removal of all restrictions on press freedom, the elimination of limitations on the establishment of political parties and that greater civil liberties be allowed. On foreign issues, the party advocates Arab unity and the protection of Palestinian rights. It also opposes the Khartoum regime of Gen. Omar Al-Bashir and believes that any threat to the supply of Nile water to Egypt should be met with serious action. It has also backed the government's efforts to remove weapons of mass destruction from the Middle East.


Notable party leaders

Sayed El-Badawi, 60, is the Wafd’s current chairman and a prominent businessman. In addition to owning Hayat satellite channel and Sigma Pharmaceuticals, El-Badawi became a joint owner of the independent daily newspaper Al-Dostor in August 2010. Though he had pledged not to soften the tone of the independent paper, El-Badawi immediately fired Ibrahim Essa, the outspoken and anti-Mubarak editor-in-chief. Essa’s dismissal supported speculations that El-Badawi has been cooperating with the current regime.

Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour is the New Wafd’s secretary general. Abdel Nour, who comes from a prominent Coptic family that has been involved in nationalist politics since the 1919 Revolution, joined the New Wafd in 1984. He is a banker and a businessman, who founded the Egyptian Finance Company S.A.E. He obtained an M.A. degree in Economics from the American University in Cairo. Abdel Nour has been widely hailed as a liberal-minded politician who is in it for the long haul, and as a reformer who knows that change, while sometimes slow, is inevitable.

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