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Internal spat threatens Egypt’s oldest political party

The Higher Committee of Al-Wafd Party decided to hold early elections for the party leadership, following an internal dispute over the allocation of the party’s seats in the National List of Egypt running in the country's upcoming parliamentary elections.

CAIRO — The Higher Committee of Al-Wafd Party (one of the oldest Egyptian parties) decided Sept. 19 to hold early elections for the party’s leadership within a month.

The decision comes a few days after disputes emerged with party leader Bahaa Abu Shoka over his decision to participate in the National Unified List for Egypt — which is running for the Egyptian parliamentary elections (due Oct. 21 and 25) — despite the opposition of some of his party members over the quota of seats allocated to Al-Wafd in the list. The party was allocated 19 seats out of a total of 284 in the National Unified List for Egypt — i.e., half of the 568 total number of seats in parliament. The Unified List includes 12 political parties that support Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The dispute escalated with Abu Shoka when several members of Al-Wafd Higher Committee (30 out of 42) announced Sept. 17 their withdrawal from the electoral list and the cancellation of the individual coalition contesting the remaining 284 seats reserved for individual candidates.

Abu Shoka released a statement on Sept. 17 shortly after Al-Wafd’s Higher Committee held a meeting on that day. He said, “The meeting was held in violation of the bylaws of the party. Therefore, it is null and void, as are its decisions.” He announced that the party will remain on the National Unified List for Egypt.

Abu Shoka added in his statement, “There is a systematic inclination to push the party into chaos for personal ends. The party will be the only loser.” He did not give more details.

Tarek Sabak, deputy leader of Al-Wafd and member of the party’s Higher Committee, told Al-Monitor over the phone that several members of the Higher Committee took the decision to withdraw from the electoral list due to the “low level of representation of Al-Wafd in the list.”

Sabak noted that, during the negotiations between the parties, 19 seats were allocated to Al-Wafd, including six men and 13 women, in a list of 284 seats. “Several of those whose names were proposed to be part of Al-Wafd’s quorum were not members of the party to begin with, and we do not accept this at all,” he said.

He concluded, “The Higher Committee decided to withdraw from the list and the electoral process.”

Sabak does not think that the decision of Abu Shoka to call for early elections for the party leadership will end the current crisis.

He said, “The crisis is ongoing, and Abu Shoka’s call for early elections is a personal decision because he does not want to stay in his position. In any case, we have decided not to participate in the parliamentary elections.”

Mohammad Abdou, Al-Wafd Party’s deputy chairman, told Sada al-Balad channel Sept. 20 that “Abu Shoka is responsible for the party’s boycott of the upcoming parliamentary elections. Transparency and justice have not been guaranteed for us to participate in these elections. We wanted to be part of the coalition, but we left the matter in the hands of Abu Shoka, who has left us in a pickle.”

He added, “The Nation’s Future Party (which is spearheading negotiations to form the National Unified List of Egypt) wants to monopolize most parliamentary seats, which is something we refuse.”

Member of Al-Wafd’s Higher Committee Tarek Tohamy, who supports Abu Shoka, told Al-Monitor, “The party’s Higher Committee did not unanimously approve of the decision to withdraw from the electoral list. Those who want to remain on the list had no intention of causing a rift or escalating the dispute with the other members of the committee.”

Tohamy noted that “the decision of early elections for the party leadership aims at keeping the party united and avoiding a clash among its members or a full collapse. Abu Shoka was blamed for the crisis because the party did not get a good percentage of seats allocated for it on the electoral list.”

Tohamy does not think the crisis will affect the political future of Al-Wafd Party. He said, “This is just one of many crises that Al-Wafd has faced over a span of 102 years since its establishment. It won’t be worse than the Feb. 4, 1942, crisis or the bloody clash within the party in April 2006. On the contrary, this crisis has only a moderate impact on the party’s structure.”

He added, “The party will continue with the parliamentary elections against all odds.”

Tarek Fahmy, a professor of political science at the University of Cairo, told Al-Monitor, “The clash outweighs the consensus within Al-Wafd in this crisis.”

He said, “I think the gist of the crisis is to target the leader of the party and withdraw confidence. I believe he steered the party without knowing what was going on, and he took decisions single-handedly. He also negotiated with the National List of Egypt without relying on any institutional work within the party. His nomination of his daughter on the list constituted the last straw. Naturally, the party’s sit-in on Sept. 15 was related to this nomination, which smelled of personal reasons and constituted a challenge for the Higher Committee.”

Fahmy argued, “The early elections will not solve the problem, but they might appease the situation temporarily. The future narrative isn’t promising, and if the clash continues within the Higher Committee, the party might implode and disintegrate.”

Sabak disagreed, “I do not think so. Al-Wafd is a long-standing party that is governed institutionally. I don’t believe anything will destabilize it, despite the current crisis.”

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