The Wafd Party’s new chairman faces an uphill struggle in the face of divisions and a looming financial crisis
Mona El-Nahhas, , Saturday 7 Apr 2018

During an emergency general assembly held at the Dokki headquarters of the Wafd Party on Friday Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka, who served as party secretary-general for eight years, was elected chairman.

Abu Shoka won 1,384 votes, enough to succeed Al-Sayed Al-Badawi who has served as Wafd chair since 2010. Deputy chairman Hossam Al-Kholi placed second with 900 votes, ahead of Yasser Hassan, the party’s Media Committee head, with 193.

“The Wafd will be run on the principle of collective responsibility and all decisions taken in a democratic way,” Abu Shoka said during a press conference immediately after the results were announced.

Preparing the ground for a Wafdist candidate to stand in the 2022 presidential election is among Abu Shoka’s priorities as chairman. “As one of the oldest parties we should have a presidential candidate,” said Abu Shoka. Without the Wafd, he argued, there can be no real democracy in Egypt.

Al-Badawi congratulated Abu Shoka and urged all party members to back the new chairman.

Members of the higher committee must now choose a new secretary-general, the post vacated by Abu Shoka.

Fierce competition between Abu Shoka and Al-Kholi divided even Wafdist MPs, though it would seem Abu Shoka’s proximity to official decision-making circles — he is the head of parliament’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee — tipped the balance in his favour.

The consensus among Wafdists is that the new chairman will not have an easy ride. A looming financial crisis, improving the poor performance of the party’s newspaper and healing divisions in party ranks are among the challenges Abu Shoka faces.

The Wafd has been embroiled in internal disputes since the start of Al-Badawi’s second four-year term in office. Members of the reformist wing of the party who objected to Al-Badawi’s leadership were expelled in 2015.

A string of controversial decrees issued by Al-Badawi left the party divided into several groups. The last such — Al-Badawi’s proposal to amend party bylaws on the same day a new chairman was elected — was opposed by a majority of Wafdists who argued any changes should be left in the hands of the incoming chairman.

In the end general assembly members voted down Al-Badawi’s amendments. While not opposed to changes to the bylaws in principle a majority believe the amendments need further discussion to build a consensus.

Abu Shoka, who has promised to re-build the party during his term as chairman, now faces the task of building a consensus in support of change. He has also pledged to settle the outstanding issue of expelled members whose requests to rejoin the party will be referred to the Wafd’s higher committee.

“We want to turn a new leaf. Unifying Wafdists must be our focus in the coming period. No one will be excluded,” said Abu Shoka.

Higher committee member Abdel-Alim Dawoud called on Wafd members to put aside their differences and work together.

“With a strong and well-reasoned programme the Wafd can regain the public’s trust and restore its position in the nation’s political life,” he said.

Tarek Tohami stressed the importance of regional offices offering support to the party’s headquarters. According to Tohami, a member of the higher committee, “through direct contact with the people the party could easily widen its public appeal.”

It was a message underscored by the party’s deputy chairman, Tarek Sabbak. He called on all Wafdists to unite and serve their party so it can be restored to the forefront of the political scene.

*This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly