In response to President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s call for a “national dialogue” on Egypt’s political and economic priorities in the coming stage, the Wafd, Egypt’s longest-serving party, held a series of meetings last week to prepare for the discussions. The Wafd’s newly-elected chairman, Abdel-Sanad Yamama, described the national dialogue as a “golden opportunity” for political parties to present their visions on Egypt’s future and that a committee had been formed to prepare the Wafd’s agenda. Yasser Qoura, deputy chairman of the Wafd Party and head of the committee, talks to the Weekly about the party’s preparations for the national dialogue
How do you see President Al-Sisi’s call for national dialogue?
This call was greatly welcomed by the Wafd Party. We, in the Wafd Party, believe that this call is a serious one and comes in time to put an end to political sclerosis in Egypt. We know that when President Al-Sisi came to office in June 2014 he drafted a number of priorities for the country, on top of which were fighting terrorism, restoring the country’s internal stability, and standing up to economic crises. This led political reform to take a back seat. But as the country regained stability and as the country is about to face a new wave of challenges, it is important that a national dialogue be held to find common ground among all political forces on the country’s priorities in the coming stage and introduce a number of political reforms.
What about political reform?
This is a very important issue for the Wafd Party. Being one of the oldest political parties in the world and with a history of more than 100 years, the Wafd has always been considered the voice of liberal democracy. We in the Wafd believe that Egypt is currently suffering from a state of political stagnation and we hope that the proposed national dialogue will be able to get it out of this condition.
How do you describe the Wafd’s internal situation?
During some point, the Wafd was roiled with internal rivalries and conflicts, but after the democratic election of Abdel-Sanad Yamama last year as a new chairman of party, the Wafd restored stability and its members now agree that it should regain its pioneering role in defending liberal democracy, freedoms, respect of human rights and free and fair elections.
What political reforms are expected to be adopted by the Wafd during the national dialogue?
The Wafd Party decided to form a committee to be tasked with preparing its vision on political reform. I was appointed head of the committee which will include a number of the party’s senior officials and with the cooperation of the Wafd Party’s Institute for Political Studies. The committee shall prepare a paper to be presented to the national dialogue on The Wafd’s vision for political reform. But all in all we think that a number of essential political reform steps should be taken to reinvigorate political life. These should include amending the constitution, changing the political parties’ law, and forming a presidential council for Egyptian political parties to coordinate positions and policies and solve internal disputes peacefully. We believe that the existence of a large number of political parties is not good. Most of these are not effective and without a clear ideology. We ask that political parties with liberal platforms be merged into one political party, and those with leftist ideologies be also unified into one political party. We want two strong political parties competing for power just like the Labour and Conservative Party in the United Kingdom and the Democrats and Republicans in the United States.
What amendments does the Wafd want to be introduced to the political parties’ law?
We want this law to be amended to help political parties have adequate sources of funding. The current law stipulates that political parties get funding from only two sources: membership fees and donations. These are by no means enough and let’s recall that before the 2011 revolution the state was providing LE500,000 in annual financial assistance to each political party. But this came at the expense of the principle of independence of political parties. So the law should be amended to help political parties double their sources of income in order to be able to get to the people on the street in the form of organising political rallies, opening television channels and issuing newspapers. Political parties should be allowed to implement income-generating investment activities. On the other hand, the law should also be amended to allow political parties with similar platforms to merge with each other into a bigger entity. A presidential council should be formed to coordinate positions among political parties, intervene to solve internal disputes and negotiate with the government.
Are you still in favour of the state donating money to political parties?
No. We are completely against this. We believe that political parties should depend on their own sources of funding and have their own mouthpiece papers that should spread their platforms and fight their battles.
What about businessmen? Do you agree that businessmen should set up political parties and join parliament?
Our experience in Egypt shows that mixing politics with business is harmful to political life because businessmen usually use their money to buy votes and seats in the parliament. They aim to join parliament not to defend the people’s rights, but to get parliamentary immunity.
Some believe that the call for political dialogue came under pressure from the US and the West and because of the economic pressures caused by the Ukraine-Russia war...
Yes. I think that the US is exerting a lot of pressure in the area of democratisation, free speech and respect of human rights. But I do not think that President Al-Sisi’s call for national dialogue came from being under pressure. It came because of the economic pressures caused by the Russia-Ukraine war. I think that President Al-Sisi came to the conclusion that Egypt has defeated terrorism and regained stability and that it is high time to walk the road of political reform and democratisation. The president wants to listen to all views across the political spectrum and he wants to see how the principle of political pluralism and the multi-party system can be implemented.
Do you agree that the Muslim Brotherhood should be excluded from the proposed national dialogue?
It is completely impossible that a group having blood on its hands be allowed to participate in the dialogue. The dialogue should be open to all civilian forces which teamed up during the anti-Muslim Brotherhood 30 June Revolution. These are civilian forces which stood shoulder to shoulder against [the country] turning into a religious state.
Some believe that the national dialogue should be organised by the Senate rather than the National Academy for Training (NAT) which they say is a bureaucratic institution affiliated with the presidency. What is the Wafd’s take on this?
I think the president chose the National Academy for Training because it is responsible for organising global youth forums and so it has good experience in this field. Not to mention that by organising this conference the academy will open the door for young people to gain experience and prepare them as future leaders.
Do you think that the Wafd Party could be a majority party in the near future?
Right now we are rebuilding the party. The Wafd’s Higher Council will be elected next October to take charge of reforming the party and preparing it for parliamentary elections scheduled in 2025. Right now the Wafd has just 36 MPs in the House and the Senate. We want this number to be no less than 90 in the coming parliament and to be the majority party in the 2030 parliament.
What message does the Wafd Party want to convey to Egyptians through the proposed national dialogue?
Our message is that we are currently passing through very tough economic times due to the war in Ukraine and this requires us all to be patient and join hands with the state because we are all in an extreme state of danger.
Do you agree that the scope of the national dialogue be widened to include economic issues?
Economic issues should take priority. We want a new government that can tackle economic global challenges efficiently and professionally.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 May, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.