Egypt’s political life still struggles under Sisi

Egypt’s political parties are witnessing internal divisions that further deteriorate poor political partisan activity.

al-monitor Egypt's Wafd Party Chairman Sayyid al-Badawi speaks during the meeting of the party's Supreme Council about the upcoming 2018 presidential elections in Cairo, Egypt, Jan. 27, 2018.  Photo by REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany.

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political parties, egyptian politics, abdel fattah al-sisi, wafd party

Dec 5, 2018

CAIRO — The head of the Wafd Party, one of Egypt’s oldest political parties, Bahaa Abo Shoqa, referred on Nov. 22 former party head Sayyid al-Badawi to investigations. He accused him of committing financial violations and spreading rumors against the party. Abo Shoqa also accused Badawi of being directly involved in an internal division that sparked after the elections of the party’s Supreme Council on Nov. 9.

On Nov. 16, 26 prominent Wafd members filed a grievance contesting the election results, claiming that the elections were invalid.

In a press statement Nov. 18, Abo Shoqa replied, pointing to “attempts to distort the elections conducted with integrity and full transparency.”

Egyptian political analysts linked the Wafd Party’s internal division to the deteriorating political and partisan activity in Egypt. A number of prominent Egyptian parties, such as the Free Egyptians Party and the Dostour Party had also experienced internal disputes in the last two years. Meanwhile, opposition parties accused the current regime of tightening its grip on the public sphere and preventing parties from exercising their political rights.

The Wafd Supreme Council is composed of 60 members, 50 of whom are elected by the General Assembly, while the remaining 10 are appointed by the head of the party. The Supreme Council has wide powers and is the party’s decision-making body. It may conduct a vote of confidence in the head of the party, and it also presents the party's candidate in the Egyptian presidential elections.

In the latest elections, Abo Shoqa’s supporters grabbed 45 seats in the 60-seat council. The 26 losing members held a press conference Nov. 21 announcing their decision to put Abo Shoqa to a vote of confidence and to resort to the judiciary to quash the election results.

On the same day, Abo Shoqa dismissed six prominent leaders from among the 26 opposing members, accusing them of violating the party’s bylaws and questioning the will of the General Assembly.

Al-Monitor spoke to Yasser Qora, one of the dismissed Wafd leaders who objected to the election results. “The elections were marred by several violations. Objectors raised grievances against the election results, but the party leader refused to examine them,” he said. “Abo Shoqa had secretly prepared an electoral list to have his supporters within the Supreme Council. He wants to tighten his grip on the party.”

Official spokesman for the Wafd Party Yasser al-Hudaibi defended Abo Shoqa’s position. He told Al-Monitor, “Those who contested the election results ought to resort to the judiciary, but they opted for defaming the party in the media. This is why we took a decision to dismiss them, and this decision is irreversible.”

But Qora argued, “Abo Shoqa ignored our grievances and held a meeting of the new Supreme Council that included the winning candidates. This violates the party’s bylaws.” He pointed out that the party’s bylaws specify that the new council may only be convened after the end of the mandate of the outgoing council set for May 2019 and after resolving all challenges against the elections.

He added, “The head of the party ought to contain the crisis. But he often relies on the security services to face his critics and threatens them with dismissal. This is contrary to the democracy espoused by the largest liberal democratic party in Egypt. We have appointed a lawyer and we will sue the head of the Wafd Party to have the election results invalidated. We will not waive our right.”

The Wafd Party was founded in 1919 by Saad Zaghloul who led the Egyptian revolution that year against the British occupation. The party spearheaded the political scene until the revolution of July 23, 1952. Yet the first time the party ran in presidential elections was in 2005. Its candidate, the party head, Noman Gomaa lost against former President Hosni Mubarak. Since the January 25 Revolution, the party has been running in parliamentary elections. It supported Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the presidential elections in 2014, and then in 2018.

Hassan Nafea, a political science professor at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor that although the Wafd Party crisis is internal and is not supposed to affect the Egyptian general political scene, it reflects a divided political partisan sphere in Egypt.

The crisis ensuing from the elections of the Supreme Council is not the first one hitting one of Egypt’s most prominent parties.

In September, a similar internal dispute had sparked between Abo Shoqa and a prominent party member, parliamentarian Mohamed Fouad Badawi. Abo Shoqa suspended Badawi’s membership. He referred him to investigation over allegations of violating the party’s bylaws by submitting a personal status draft law to the parliament without communicating with the party. However, party members argued that the suspension was due to an article by Badawi criticizing Abo Shoqa.

The ensuing state of division led to a mass resignation of party leaders, including Ahmed al-Sigini, a member of the Wafd Supreme Council and head of the parliamentarian Local Administration Committee.

“Security interventions greatly weakened the party. Recently the party seemed to be a blind follower of the regime; it was no longer an opposition party. This deepened the crisis,” Nafea said. “The prevailing political climate does not foster partisan activity. The regime wants parties that owe it allegiance and will not allow any other party to assume a real political role.”

The Information and Decision Support Center lists 83 political parties, of which only 16 are represented in parliament. In light of this large number of parties, some called for mergers or party coalitions.

In an appearance Jan. 19 within the scope of the "Ask the President” initiative, before his election for a second presidential term, Sisi addressed the weakness of political partisan activity in Egypt. In a 2017 meeting with foreign and Egyptian journalists, Sisi had also called for the mergers of political parties into 10 or 15 strong parties. This has yet to happen.

Journalist Abdel-Azeem Hammad believes what is happening in the Wafd Party is a recurring pattern of conflicts taking place within the political parties in Egypt in recent years. He noted that after any partisan internal elections disputes and splits occur between the losers and winners. “The Egyptian parties are now divided into two groups,” he told Al-Monitor. “The first is opposing the regime for the sake of opposition only; the second consists of parties that only seek to secure personal interests. These are trying to get closer to the regime to benefit from it.”

Hammad noted that the regime contributed to weakening the political parties. “It did not provide them with a favorable and encouraging environment. But this is not new,” he said. “The policy of weakening political parties has been pursued by successive governments for decades.”

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