Wafd party

Egyptian Eelections Watch (Ahram Online and Jadaliyya) , Friday 18 Nov 2011

Al-Wafd (Photo: AP)

Wafd Party is one of Egypt’s oldest liberal parties and is expected to play a significant role in the upcoming elections. With deposed President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling party officially disbanded, Wafd has emerged as an influential player in the political arena. The party commands the largest network that any political party in Egypt possesses today, covering major cities in twenty-four out of twenty-six Egyptian governorates.

With a distinguished group of top Egyptian businessmen on its membership list, Al-Wafd stands out as one of the few established parties that do not face the same financial constraints that have historically challenged many of the country’s political parties. The party also enjoys a very strong presence in the media, thanks to its famous daily newspaper, its Internet portal, and a professional, well-equipped media department. Additionally, Wafd’s current leader Al-Sayed Al-Badawi is owner of Al-Hayat, one of Egypt’s top five television channels. Such are luxuries that very few Egyptian parties possess.

Wafd’s history dates back to the beginning of party life under the monarchy, making it the oldest among existing Egyptian political parties. The name of the party is Arabic for “The Delegation,” and it references Saad Zaghloul’s attempt in 1919 to lead a popular delegation to the post-World War I Paris Peace Conference to demand independence for Egypt against the will of British occupation authorities. Threatened by the immense popular support that Zaghloul was able to garner for his mission, British authorities exiled the Egyptian nationalist leader along with members of the prospective delegation to Malta. This move instigated a mass uprising, which led to the 1919 Revolution.

The uprising forced the British authorities to allow Zaghloul and his companions to return to Egypt and to lead a delegation on behalf of the country at the Paris Conference. In Paris, however, Zaghloul and his partners met little luck moving Egypt’s case for independence forward. The failure of the delegation prompted the eruption of popular anger against British rule, and occupation authorities responded by sending Zaghloul back into exile. As was the case the first time they tried to exile Zaghloul, British authorities were forced to backtrack on the decision due to tremendous popular pressure.

After returning from his second exile in 1923, Zaghloul and his companions transformed their Paris delegation into a political party carrying the name Wafd (The Delegation). Shortly thereafter, King Fuad I declared Egypt a constitutional monarchy and issued a new constitution that paved the way for forming Egypt’s first elected parliament after British recognition of the country’s independence. Under the Zaghloul’s leadership, Wafd Party contested the 1924 election, winning a majority of the seats in parliament. Zaghloul became Egypt’s first prime minister under the new constitution, and Al-Wafd Party effectively became one of the cornerstones of the tripartite arrangement that governed Egypt until the 1952 Revolution: the palace, British authority, and Wafd.

Months after the 1952 Revolution, Wafd was disbanded along with all other political parties by orders of Egypt’s new military rulers, who dissolved all political parties and organizations upon assuming power, sparing only the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) though not for long. In 1978, when President Anwar Sadat allowed the formation of political parties, Al-Wafd was resurrected under the name of the “New Wafd Party”.

The New Wafd, now known simply as Wafd, claims to embrace the same principles of the old party. It describes itself as a centrist party that calls for democracy, freedom of speech, and independence of the judiciary. Wafdist media prides itself on the fact that the party was the first to elect Copts to its high-ranking positions. They also note that the party took the initiative to develop and defend the famous crescent and cross emblem, which came to signify unity between Muslims and Copts—a major concern now in Egypt in light of the increasing visibility of Christian-Muslim tensions in the last few years. As Wafd’s founder, Zaghloul is often credited for crystallizing in the memory of Egypt’s political community the famous statement, “religion is for God and the nation is for all,” which contemporary defenders of secularism in Egypt still invoke. For many observers, Wafd’s history obligates its current leaders to defend secular principles against rising political Islamist trends. Thus, the party has faced internal strife every time its leaders have tried to pragmatically form coalitions with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).

Wafd’s uneasy relationship with the MB goes back to the 1940s. The palace had decided to support the Brotherhood as a means for counterbalancing Al-Wafd, which had tense relations with the palace throughout the 1930s and 1940s. By the end of the 1940s, competition between the two groups intensified as the MB began challenging Al-Wafd’s long-standing dominance inside the political arena.

The 1952 Revolution brought that rivalry to an end—at least temporarily—as Egypt’s new military rulers disbanded all political parties, including Wafd. While the Free Officers initially spared the Muslim Brotherhood from that decision and allowed it to operate for a while, Gamal Abdel Nasser eventually banned the Muslim Brotherhood in 1954 as relations between the two soured.

The Muslim Brotherhood and Wafd returned to the political scene following President Anwar Sadat’s decision to transform Egypt’s one-party system into a limited multi-party one. Sadat allowed MB leaders to resume their work in the 1970s, and thus the MB was resurrected after a more-than-two-decades absence. Under Mubarak, the Brotherhood was generally allowed to participate in political life without an official legal status, though the degree to which the Mubarak regime tolerated the group’s activism varied over time. It was only after the January 25 Revolution that the Brotherhood was able to establish a licensed political party, namely the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). After its initial attempt to regroup faced state-imposed hurdles, Wafd was finally able to reestablish itself as an official party through a 1984 court order.

In the lead-up to the 1984 parliamentary elections, the Muslim Brotherhood and Wafd formed an electoral coalition in an attempt to counterbalance the dominance of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). The two groups managed to win fifty-eight seats in the 458-member parliament. Soon after, relations between the Brotherhood and Al-Wafd soured and their cooperation became limited. Wafdists claim that the Brotherhood reneged on its promise to ensure that any Brotherhood members elected through Al-Wafd’s list would caucus with the party’s bloc in parliament.

During Mubarak’s last decade in office, Al-Wafd and other licensed opposition parties were repeatedly accused of striking deals with the Mubarak regime at the expense of the Muslim Brotherhood. Some contend that the former regime used to rig certain electoral races in favor of Al-Wafd candidates in order to undermine the Brotherhood’s standing among opposition forces. Interestingly, Al-Wafd officials have charged that the MB agreed to a “deal” with the Mubarak regime in the 2005 parliamentary elections, contending that the regime allowed the Brotherhood to win eighty-eight seats in order to undermine and threaten liberal opposition groups that disagree with the MB’s Islamist agenda.

Relations between the Brotherhood and Al-Wafd saw relative improvement after the election of Al-Sayed Al-Badawi as chair of the latter party in 2010. Cooperation between the two groups became more visible that same year. This was to the dismay of many Wafdists who view their party’s cooperation with an Islamist group like the Brotherhood as a violation of the party’s secular principles. For example, in 2010 Al-Wafd’s official Sameh Makram Ebeid, a member of a prominent Wafdist family, resigned from the party on grounds that Al-Badawi’s attempts to enhance cooperation with the MB at the time were undermining Al-Wafd’s long-standing secular identity. Ebeid claimed that Al-Badawi tried to appease the Brotherhood by removing from the Al-Wafd’s publications the “crescent and cross” emblem, widely seen as the symbol of Muslim-Christian unity in Egypt. Al-Wafd’s unsuccessful attempt to form an electoral coalition with the MB in the lead-up to the 2011/2012 parliamentary elections revived similar concerns among its members and prompted internal divisions and some defections.

Before the Revolution

Despite its rich history, Al-Wafd Party was not thought of as a major political player before the January 25 Revolution. It frequently adopted stances that supported Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP), and is said to have struck deals with the regime in exchange for a few parliamentary seats.

Former Al-Wafd leader Noaman Gomaa was a presidential candidate in the 2005 election, which many viewed as little more than window dressing for an autocratic regime. When a majority of other parties decided to boycott the elections, Gomaa’s candidacy came across as selling out. Al-Wafd, the story went, was giving credibility to the elections in exchange for a handful of parliamentary seats.

In the 2005 elections, wherein the MB won eighty-eight parliamentary seats, Al-Wafd only won six. In the presidential election of the same year, Gomaa finished third after Mubarak and Ayman Nour of the then-newly formed Ghad Party. A former Wafdist, Nour had left the party four years earlier due to disagreements with Gomaa. Nour’s campaign was widely seen as credible and courageous, whereas observers did not take Gomaa’s campaign seriously.

In the 2010 parliamentary elections, Al-Wafd was once again accused of underhanded dealings with the NDP, which ended up dominating the vote through widespread fraud. Most opposition parties, including Al-Wafd, were initially poised to boycott the 2010 elections, but Al-Wafd broke ranks and began fielding candidates. Soon afterward, the MB and others followed suit. Al-Wafd was thus accused of sabotaging the prospective boycott. Many prominent figures were calling on parties to boycott the poll in order pressure the Mubarak regime into allowing independent candidates who were not handpicked by the NDP a fair chance at getting their names on the ballot in the 2011 presidential election. The party’s decision to participate, therefore, angered many young political activists who demonstrated in front of the party’s headquarters, causing the party a great deal of embarrassment.

In December 2010, less than two months ahead of the January 25 Revolution, Al-Wafd leader Al-Sayed Al-Badawi decided that the party would withdraw from the parliamentary elections. Al-Wafd had already won two seats in the first round,but Al-Badawi said that his party was going to boycott the run-offs in protest of what he described as electoral fraud.He added that Al-Wafd“wants to stand by the people and not by a deceitful parliament.” Many of the party’s candidates who qualified for the run-off races disregarded Al-Badawi’s directive to boycott the poll and participated anyway.

At the time, Ahmed Ezz, the NDP whip widely blamed for orchestrating the electoral fraud,denounced the decision. Some say that immense pressure from the party’s youth forced Al-Badawi to make this decision.

Al-Badawi was elected leader of Al-Wafd Party earlier in 2010 after Fouad Badrawi, grandson of founder Fouad Serag Al-Din, surprisingly decided not to run for the party’s top leadership post.

Earlier in 2006, severe disputes broke out when Al-Wafd leader Gomaa sacked his second-in-command Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour over the latter’s presumed failure to coordinate the party’s parliamentary campaign in 2005. When Abdel Nour and his supporters began calling for a “change of leadership,” the party’s Political Bureau revoked Gomaa’s decision to fire Abdel Nour. Al-Wafd Party’s Supreme Council subsequently dismissed Gomaa and appointed Mahmoud Abaza as interim leader.

A legal battle ensued, with Gomaa filing a complaint to the prosecutor general against his “illegitimate sacking,” saying only the party’s General Assembly was entitled to relieve him of his post. To his chagrin, the General Assembly did just that, appointing Mostafa Al-Taweel as interim leader this time.

The strife within the party reached an unexpected climax when Gomaa and his supporters broke into the party’s headquarters and opened fire on the rival faction. Nearly twenty-three people were injured in the subsequent battle. Gomaa was arrested in the aftermath of this incident.

After assuming leadership of Al-Wafd, Al-Badawi was able to bring key public figures into the party, including actress Samira Ahmed and poet Ahmed Fouad Negm. Al-Badawi, who made his fortune in the pharmaceutical business, alienated the liberal media when he bought the newspaper Al-Dostour and immediately sacked its editor, Ibrahim Eissa, who was one of the most outspoken critics of the Mubarak regime. In the wake of this incident, prominent Wafidist members resigned. They included Ahmad Fouad Negm. At the time, critics accused Al-Badawi of doing the “dirty work” of the Mubarak regime.

Similar accusations were leveled against Al-Badawi during the eighteen-day uprising that ultimately resulted in Mubarak’s ouster. Al-Badawi’s TV station, Al-Hayat, was criticized for siding against the protesters who led the revolution during its early days. Al-Wafd was also criticized for meeting with then-Vice President Omar Suleiman, along with other opposition groups, during the first week of protests in order to negotiate reforms that could mitigate public outrage.

Al-Badawi claims that he approved Al-Wafd youth’s participation in the “March of Millions” and other protests during the week that preceded Mubarak’s overthrow.  Yet the Revolution’s Youth Coalition, an alliance of some of the Mubarak era’s most eminent opposition groups, has openly questioned Al-Wafd’s conspicuous absence in the first weeks of the revolution.

The Revolution’s Youth Coalition’s criticism came after Al-Badawi denounced the 8 July 2011 sit-in, in which dozens of groups took part. Al-Badawi claimed that the sit-in participants had played no role in the January 25 Revolution.

Party Structure

Despite the recurring divisions within its ranks, Al-Wafd prides itself on the strength of its internal structure. The party is run by a Supreme Council which includes fifty members, all elected by the General Assembly, and is said to be the highest decision making body in the party. The party has branches in twenty-four out of twenty-six Egyptian governorates.

Parliamentary Elections

Al-Wafd was initially slated to contest the parliamentary elections through the Democratic Alliance for Egypt, an electoral coalition formed in mid-June 2011 that includes the MB’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). In October 2011, Al-Wafd officially withdrew from the alliance, citing disagreements over the selection of candidates.

Prior to Al-Wafd’s defection from the Democracy Alliance for Egypt, a spokesman for the latter said that the Alliance’s aim was “to establish a parliament that is representative of all political forces in society and that would lead to the creation of a national unity government.” Critics of the Alliance were not convinced. Some pointed out that a merger of the Al-Wafd and the Brotherhood—the two most experienced political groups in the country—was an attempt to dominate the next parliament.

Fielding 570 candidates in the upcoming elections, Al-Wafd will compete for over eighty percent of the available seats in parliament. Through forty-six lists, the party is contesting all 332 party list seats available in the 508-member lower house, and will present ninety-six candidates (out of a possible 166) for single-winner races in the same chamber. For the 270-member lower house, Al-Wafd will present candidates for 120 (out of a possible 130) party list seats, and will contest twenty-two single-winner races (out of a possible sixty). Party officials claim that Copts and women represent 6.5 and ten percent of their candidate rosters, respectively.

The legal framework governing the elections gives SCAF the right to appoint ten of the 508 members of the lower house, and eighty of the 270 members of the upper house

Party leader Al-Sayed Al-Badawi disclosed to the media that Al-Wafd’s candidate lists are free of ex-NDP members, except for four individuals who were once affiliated with the former ruling party. The disclosure came after many observers had accused Al-Wafd of fielding former ruling party candidates on their electoral lists.

Relationship with Other Political Parties

The only remaining tie between Al-Wafd and the Democratic Alliance (including the FJP) is the “Code of Honor” that thirty-four parties of the Alliance had signed. The Democratic Alliance is currently composed of eleven parties.

“Our alliance with the FJP was supposed to be electoral as well as political ...The electoral agreement is called off, but we still have the Code of Honor in common. It is an agreement on a general consensus over the form of the country as a civil modern state, and on its constitution,” Wafdist official Sherif Taher told Jadaliyya/Ahram Online.

Many Wafdists figures had publicly criticized their leaders’ decision to wage an alliance with the Brotherhood on grounds that the move made Al-Wafd subservient to a rival organization and compromised the party’s long-standing commitment to secular principles, which the Brotherhood opposes. Al-Wafd’s officials, however, hold that they left the Democratic Alliance primarily because there was insufficient room in the joint candidate list for the party to field all the candidates it had recruited. It is noteworthy, nonetheless, that Wafdist Wahid Abdel Meguid, the Coordinator of the Democratic Alliance, kept his position in the coalition despite the withdrawal of his party. Abdel Meguid is running in the upcoming elections on one of the Alliance’s electoral lists in Cairo.

After leaving the Democratic Alliance, there has been some speculation in the media to the effect that Al-Wafd would join the Egyptian Bloc electoral coalition led by secular-leaning forces, but this never happened.

Stances on Salient Issues

Form of Government

Al-Wafd believes in a parliamentary democracy, in which the power of the parliament exceeds that of the head of state. The party’s golden age was all rooted in parliamentary democracy dynamics prior to the Revolution of 1952.

Social Justice

Like all parties, Al-Wafd proclaims a commitment to policies that promote social justice, including state-sponsored health care and greater workers’ rights.

Economic Policy

Al-Wafd supports a market economy, stable prices, and increased foreign investments. The party opposes monopolistic business practices. Al-Wafd’s leader Al-Badawi is famous for being a successful businessman, like many of the party’s prominent members.

Religion and State

Since the 1920s, the party has embraced the slogan “religion is for God and nation is for all.” Al-Wafd believes in the separation between religion and state, and has historically advocated for national unity (between Muslims and Copts). Its short-lived alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood’s party, therefore, seemed perplexing for many observers.

Military Trials

Like most political forces, Al-Wafd Party says it opposes the trial of civilian suspects in military courts. The party, however, boycotted the Tahrir Square demonstration of 9 September 2011, which voiced strong opposition to military trials of civilians.

Strike Law and Labor Movements

Al-Wafd objects to the law banning labor strikes and sit-ins. Deputy Prime Minister Ali Al-Selmy, who is a member of Al-Wafd, said on at least one occasion that the law has to be amended. The law remains in effect until this day. The party, moreover, did not back this position with a lot of action on the ground, and refrained from joining many activities organized in opposition to this law.

International Monitoring of Elections

Al-Badawi said on at least one occasion that he opposes international monitoring of Egypt's electionsbecause he considers it a form of foreign interference in the country’s internal affairs.

Foreign Relations

In the past, Al-Wafd has been a vocal critic of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Recently, its party chair Al-Badawi has said that the United States is an obstacle to Arab-Israeli peace due to its bias toward the Israeli side and its blind commitment to protecting Tel Aviv’s interests. Al-Badawi has hinted before that annulment of the Camp David Peace Accords is fair game if Israel fails to deliver on its obligations as mandated by the agreement.

Media Image and Controversies

Al-Wafd’s alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood—the Democratic Alliance for Egyptthat once included over forty parties—was perhaps its most controversial decision since the January 25 Revolution. The FJP’s insistence on the implementation of Sharia runs against much of what the liberal Al-Wafd professes to stand for. Ex-parliamentarian Mostafa Al-Guindi and others suspended their membership in Al-Wafd in protest of their party’s partnership with the Brotherhood.

Key Figures

Al-Sayed Al-Badawi

Al-Sayed Al-Badawi has served as Al-Wafd Party’s leader since 2010. A shrewd businessman who graduated with a pharmacy degree from Alexandria University, Al-Badawi is also the head of Al-Hayat Television Network and chairman of the board of Sigma, a major pharmaceutical company. His success in securing a TV license from the state prior to the January 25 Revolution raised many questions at the time, as it was believed that the Mubarak regime handed out such licenses only to loyal individuals that it trusts. Al-Badawi first joined Al-Wafd in 1983 and became secretary general of the party in 2000.

Monir Fakhri Abdel Nour

Mounir Fakhri Abdel Nour is the party’s Secretary General. He served as minister of tourism in the interim cabinet of Ahmed Shafiq and kept this same post under the government of Essam Sharaf. Abdel Nour is also a successful businessman and former owner of Vitrac, a major food company. He opposed party leader Noaman Gomaa during the acrimonious power struggle of 2006. Abdel Nour was one of the few Wafdist candidates who complied with the party’s decision to withdraw from the run-off races during the fraud-ridden parliamentary elections in 2010.

Fouad Badrawi

Fouad Badrawi is the grandson of Fouad Serag El-Din, who brought Al-Wafd back to life in the late 1970s after decades of suspension under the rule of Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat. His unexpected decision not to run for party chair in 2010 paved the way for Al-Badawi to take over that post. He is now one of the party’s several high-ranking secretaries.

Mostafa Al-Guindi

Mostafa Al-Guindi is a businessman and former parliamentarian who joined Al-Wafd in 2010. He suspended his membership in Al-Wafd in protest of his party’s alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood, saying that Al-Wafd was wrong to associate itself with a religious-leaning group. He was one of the organizers of the post-revolution visits to Nile Basin countries by an Egyptian popular delegation.

Fact Box

Founding: 1978

Membership: Exact figures are unavailable, but Sherif Taher, a Supreme Council member, claims that membership is in the “hundreds of thousands.”

Political Orientation: Liberal

Alliances: Joined and subsequently withdrew from the Democratic Alliance for Egypt

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