Free Egyptians Party youth boycott internal elections in protest at internecine strife

Ayat Al Tawy , Sunday 12 Mar 2017

A group of young members of the Free Egyptians Party say internal strife may herald the end of the liberal party

Free Egyptians
A file photo of Free Egyptians Party election conference (Photo: Al-Ahram)

A group of young members of the liberal Free Egyptians Party have said they are boycotting the party's internal elections, the latest of a series of internal fissures hitting one of the country's most important political parties.

A statement shared on Saturday by former spokesman Shehab Wagih said the group is boycotting the forthcoming vote for the higher committee in protest at the party's internal disagreements.

"We are saddened to admit that the ongoing crisis might be the end of our dream of an alternative. Thus, we have chosen to be satisfied with having our names linked to the prosperity of such an experiment, and not be part of its end," the statement read.

Wageeh told Al-Ahram Arabic website that he and the other signatories have not resigned their memberships.

The Free Egyptians Party was founded soon after the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime president Hosni Mubarak by telecoms tycoon Naguib Sawiris. The party holds the largest number of parliamentary seats of any single political party. 

"We believe the party used to be strong until personal rivalries occurred and led to its collapse…It no longer looks like the party that we founded or dreamed of," Wagih added.

Discord between members started to surface last year, with some members infuriated by what they deemed as the party toeing the government's line. Others believed Sawiris was over-critical of the authorities.

The current showdown dates back to December 2016 when party members, head by current chair Essam Khalil, voted to dissolve the party’s board of trustees after amendments were made to its bylaws.

Matters worsened following the sacking of Sawiris after he failed to show up for questioning over accusations of libel against party members.

The board refused to accept the decision, calling it “a coup,” and accusing the political bureau of “hijacking" the party away from its founders. Sawiris has taken the matter to court and a hearing is due on 19 March.

"Since the early precursors to the crisis, we have sought to maintain silence, work quietly to bring views closer and reach understanding between the sides of the crisis, and to preserve the cohesion of the party," the Saturday statement added.

Among the signatories of the Saturday statement are Mohamed Farid, youth secretary-general, Emad Raouf, deputy secretary-general, and Amira El-Adly, a member of the political bureau.

The party's board of trustees believes the call for elections by the party's current head Essam Khalil is illegal and that the vote should only be called by an election committee named by a third of the party's higher committee members who oppose the December decision.

Nasr El-Kaffas, the party's current spokesman, was quoted in local media as saying that the boycott reflects the personal stance of some members which the party respects. He added that the board of trustees only makes up a minority and that the party's parliamentary bloc and the majority of its higher commission backs its political bureau and its head.

Some observers believe the strife is the result of an ailing political climate that has taken its toll on most of the country's parties.

"The country's nascent political party life is overall miserable, with a faulty election law and an experiment that we have not been aware of for over 30 years," political analyst Sameh Eid said.

"All the post-Mubarak parties have a fragile foundation that was based on channeling big money and buying election professionals rather than relying on those with authentic affiliations."

"Such internal feuding will finish the party and will lead to it losing its reputation amongst the public and confidence that draws votes," Eid added.

Many other political parties which were founded following the 2011 uprising have been hit by internal differences or mass resignations, including the Constitution Party, founded by Nobel laureate and former vice president Mohamed ElBaradei, and the Egyptian Social Democratic Party whose former head Mohamed Abul Ghar resigned after internal dissension, citing a failure to "heal the rift" within the party.


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