CAIRO — The Egyptian public and the country’s politicians have many questions concerning the significance of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s intervention to solve the internal conflict among leaders of the nationalist Wafd Party, one of the oldest Egyptian political parties founded by Saad Zaghloul in 1918.
Conflicts within Wafd escalated in April 2015 following a call from a number of its leaders to withdraw confidence from party chairman El-Sayed el-Badawi and hold new elections for the party. Badawi responded to the call May 1 by suspending the membership of party leaders opposing him.
Opponents attributed their call to withdraw confidence from Badawi to a number of reasons, including the deterioration of the political and financial situation within the party, Badawi’s monopolization of the decision-making process and talks about his squandering of the party’s moneys and bank deposits. There are also undisclosed reasons relating to certain parliamentary elections alliances, conflicts among the party’s leaders and the interference of various political sides into the party’s internal affairs.
Sisi met with parties to the conflict within the party, to raise the issue of the president’s partisan backer in parliament, and if the Wafd would constitute this backer that is stipulated by a number of articles in the new Egyptian Constitution. Article 146 of the constitution states, “The president of the republic shall assign a prime minister to form a government and introduce his/her program to the parliaments. If his government does not win the confidence of the majority of parliament members within 30 days at most, the president shall appoint a prime minister who is nominated by the party or the coalition that holds the majority or the highest number of seats in parliament. If the government of such prime minister fails to win the confidence of the majority of parliament members within 60 days, the parliament shall be deemed dissolved, and the president of the republic shall call for the election of a new parliament.”
This means that the president’s decisions, especially those related to the formation of the government, will not pass if there is not a majority that supports the decisions in parliament. If the decisions are opposed by the parliament members more than once, this threatens the dissolution of the parliament itself.
Given that Sisi does not want to establish a party supporting him — whereby he said during his March 2014 campaign that he will not seek to establish a political party — a group of parties, among them the Wafd, announced in March 2014 that they would stand behind him in the May 2014 presidential elections and form his partisan backer in the parliament. These parties included the National Progressive Unionist Party, the Free Egyptians Party, the Conference Party and the Nour Party.
Meanwhile, civil parties in Egypt announced prior to the 2014 presidential elections that they would stand in opposition to Sisi. These included the parties that were supporting Hamdeen Sabahi, his rival in the 2014 presidential elections, such as the Constitution Party, the Popular Current that is led by Sabahi himself, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Freedom Egypt Party and the Socialist Popular Alliance Party.
The fact that the president took part in the disputes taking place within the Wafd was criticized by politicians in Egypt. Hassan Nafaa, a political science professor at Cairo University, described the matter as shameful, telling Al-Monitor that “[Sisi’s] intervention in favor of the party means that he must intervene any time a crisis may arise within other parties.”
Nafaa said, “He intervened to appear as a man keen on the unity of political parties in Egypt, despite the fact that [the president’s] general policies and the current political parties law weakens the parties’ role."
He explained that the current policies will not allow the president to find parties in parliament that support him, since Egypt is headed toward a stage of “political execution” managed by the security services and bureaucracy.
“The role of businessmen in political parties is negative, and depends on funds, buying protection and financing media outlets. I hope that businessmen — particularly [Naguib] Sawiris and Salah Diab — will put an end to their role in political life, as it corrupts partisan life,” Nafaa added.
The wealth of businessmen has a direct impact on political life and public opinion in Egypt. This is manifested through the media corporations owned by businessmen or the political parties they belong to. Sawiris is the owner of ONtv and founder of the Free Egyptians Party. Diab owns the biggest share of Al-Masry Al-Youm daily newspaper and is chairman of its board of directors and a prominent member of the Wafd Party.
Some within the Wafd Party pointed to the role played by Diab and Sawiris to oust current Wafd head Badawi, who is a businessman himself and owns Al-Hayah TV network.
According to reports in the Egyptian media, Diab and Sawiris intervened in the Wafd Party quagmire to gain control of political life and form an expanded electoral list for the upcoming elections, to obtain the largest proportion of parliament seats. This, in turn, would allow them to put great pressure on the president, in light of the expanded authorities the 2014 constitution grants to the parliament, reaching even the possibility of removing the president himself. These claims were denied by the Free Egyptians Party, which released a statement May 7 saying their founder was not involved in the Wafd crisis.
For his part, Wahid Abdel Meguid, vice chairman of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Al-Monitor that conflicts within parties cannot be solved by traditional meetings like those used by tribes, and thus the president’s initiative did not bring about results to solve the Wafd crisis. “Crises involving internal disputes are plaguing a majority of Egyptian parties, not just the Wafd,” he said, adding that the reasons for this involve two issues. The first is linked to the political and legal environment in which parties operate, which is more closed and less free. The second issue concerns relations between leaders within a single party. Parties leaders are currently busy with competition among one another, since this nondemocratic climate doesn’t allow them to direct their energies toward rivalry with other parties.
Meguid questioned how the president could have a strategy that relies on the Wafd or another party as a political partner in the coming parliament, while these parties are merely guests of honor and the parliament’s seats will go to the wealthy and family members.
Margaret Azer, a former member of parliament who previously served as assistant secretary-general for the Wafd Party, told Al-Monitor, “I think that the president’s intervention in the Wafd crisis was a message to all parties experiencing internal conflicts to pay attention to the fact that Egypt is going through a critical stage that requires building and inclusion.”
She added, “The president’s choice of the Wafd [to be his backer in parliament] resulted from its long history and place in the hearts of Egyptians.”
The Constitution Party and Free Egyptians Party are also experiencing internal crises due to the search for a head for each, while the Egyptian Patriotic Movement Party is led from abroad by Ahmed Shafiq, the former 2012 presidential candidate who now lives in the United Arab Emirates. In addition, the Nasserist Party is plagued with disputes regarding internal elections.
Egypt's current political landscape is mired in complexity and confusion, and perhaps this is the real reason behind the continuous postponement of parliamentary elections.
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