Egypt’s historic Wafd party eclipsed under El-Sisi’s rule

The Wafd party supports Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. (AFP/File)
Updated 19 March 2019
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Egypt’s historic Wafd party eclipsed under El-Sisi’s rule

  • The Wafd party was set up in the early 20th century
  • Critics say the party lost its liberal orientation under president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi

CAIRO: A century after Egypt’s March 1919 revolution, the prominent Wafd party credited with leading popular demands to end the British occupation, has now been largely sidelined on the country’s political scene, analysts say.
A one-time liberal opposition force with a mass following, Wafd is considered Egypt’s oldest surviving party, having started its political life under the then monarchy during the early 20th century.
But in recent times critics say the party’s role has descended into irrelevance under the rule of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
“The party has completely lost its lustre and no longer attracts liberals,” said political science professor at Cairo University Hassan Nafaa.
“Wafd still lives on the credit of its historic track record.”
Since its founding in the wake of the 1919 revolution, the party quickly rose through Egypt’s political echelons leading several governments which were largely at odds with the king.
It remained for years the face of Egyptian politics before being dismantled along with others amid the rise of the military rule in Egypt in 1952.
It was not until more than 20 years later that Wafd rose again from the ashes rebranding itself as the “New Wafd” under late president Anwar Al-Sadat.
But Wafd MP Fouad Badrawi maintains his party still has “impact” on the ground despite the political blows it has received over the years. “It has been through multiple ups and down over the years, but it is still surviving,” he said.
The “New Wafd” claims to embrace the principles of the old party with civil rights and freedoms at its core.
Critics however argue that Wafd has lost its liberal essence by supporting El-Sisi.
“It is not possible for any party in connection with the current regime ... to claim to be liberal,” Nafaa said.
Under El-Sisi, Egyptian authorities have curtailed freedoms and launched a crackdown on dissent. Tens of thousands of political opponents have been arrested and charged.
In January, Amnesty International said Egypt’s stepped up crackdown on dissent has made the country “more dangerous” than ever for peaceful critics.
Badrawi, who is also a senior Wafd member, however maintains that the party adheres to its liberal policies, dismissing rights group’s accusations as “baseless.”
“We (as the Wafd party) don’t object for the sake of objection. We only raise objections when the people or the nation are in danger,” Badrawi said.
Another core value of the old Wafd was its support for secular governance.
To this day, the party’s motto is still “religion is for God and the nation is for all.” Its emblem remains the cross interlinked with the crescent moon, symbolic of national unity.
This secular spirit was blurred after the party forged alliances with the Muslim Brotherhood group on several occasions since its resurrection.
“Its alliance with the Brotherhood damaged its image and reduced its popularity,” said Nafaa.
Wafd has also backed general-turned-president El-Sisi since his rise to power after the military ouster of former Islamist president Muhammad Mursi, who hails from the Brotherhood.
In the 2018 elections, the party threw its support behind El-Sisi who ran virtually uncontested winning 97 percent of the vote.
Wafd currently holds 43 seats in the 596-seat parliament which convened in 2016, two years after El-Sisi took office.
As an established party, it counts prominent businessmen among its ranks and is considered to be well financed compared to others.
“Wafd has some 220 branches and more than 500,000 members nationwide,” said Wafd spokesman Yasser Al-Hodeibi. Although it is not clear whether all the party’s members are active.
It also possesses the only partisan newspaper, according to Hodeibi.
Despite its ample financial capabilities, the party failed to field a candidate in the 2018 elections.
But it has nonetheless promised to run a candidate in the upcoming elections in 2022.
In recent weeks, the overwhelming majority in parliament including Wafd MPs approved in principle possible constitutional amendments that would extend El-Sisi’s rule beyond 2022.
“We are preparing three prominent figures so that one of them could potentially run the race,” said Hodeibi.
Nafaa believes a Wafd candidate will stand little to no chance if they are running against El-Sisi.
“It will be a candidate to justify the elections,” Nafaa said. “This will be another blow to the party’s image.”


‘Sand mafias’ threaten Morocco’s coastline

Updated 38 min 45 sec ago
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‘Sand mafias’ threaten Morocco’s coastline

  • Unscrupulous construction contractors illegally stripping beaches of sand
  • Beaches and rivers are heavily exploited across the planet, legally and illegally, according to UNEP

MOHAMMEDIA: Beneath an apartment block that looms over Monica beach in the western coastal city of Mohammedia, a sole sand dune has escaped the clutches of Morocco’s insatiable construction contractors.

Here, like elsewhere across the North African tourist magnet, sand has been stolen to help feed an industry that is growing at full tilt.

A report last month by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) on the global over-exploitation of this resource accuses “sand mafias” of destroying Morocco’s beaches and over-urbanizing its coastline.

“The dunes have disappeared along the entire city’s coastline,” lamented environmental activist Jawad, referring to Mohammedia, on the Atlantic between Rabat and Casablanca.

The 33-year-old environmental activist leads Anpel, a local NGO dedicated to coastal protection.

“At this rate, we’ll soon only have rocks” left, chipped in Adnane, a member of the same group.

More than half the sand consumed each year by Morocco’s construction industry — some 10 million cubic meters (350 million cubic feet) — is extracted illegally, according to UNEP.

“The looters come in the middle of the night, mainly in the low season,” said a local resident in front of his grand home on the Monica seafront.

“But they do it less often now because the area is full of people. In any case, there is nothing more to take,” added the affable forty-something.

Sand accounts for four-fifths of the makeup of concrete and — after water — is the world’s second most consumed resource.

Exploitation

Beaches and rivers are heavily exploited across the planet, legally and illegally, according to UNEP.

In Morocco, “sand is often removed from beaches to build hotels, roads and other tourism-related infrastructure,” according to UNEP. Beaches are therefore shrinking, resulting in coastal erosion.

“Continued construction is likely to lead to... destruction of the main natural attraction for visitors — beaches themselves,” the report warned.

Theft of sand from beaches or coastal dunes in Morocco is punishable by five years in prison.

Siphoned away by donkey, delivery bike and large trucks, the beaches are being stripped from north to south, along a coastline that runs from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic.

FASTFACT

Siphoned away by donkey, delivery bike and large trucks, the beaches are being stripped from north to south, along a coastline that runs from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic.

“On some beaches, the sand has nearly disappeared” in parts of the north, said an ecological activist in Tangiers. “There has been enormous pressure on the beaches of Tangiers because of real estate projects,” he said.

To the south, the UNEP report noted, “sand smugglers have transformed a large beach into a rocky landscape” between Safi and Essaouira. Activist Jawad points to “small scale looting, like here in Mohammedia.”

But “then there is the intensive and structured trafficking by organized networks, operating with the complicity of some officials.”

While the sand mafias operate as smugglers, “key personalities — lawmakers or retired soldiers — hand out permits allowing them to over-exploit deposits, without respect for quotas,” he added.

A licensed sand dredger spoke of “a very organized mafia that pays no taxes” selling sand that is “neither washed nor desalinated,” and falls short of basic building regulations.

These mafia outfits have “protection at all levels... they pay nothing at all because they do everything in cash,” this operator added, on condition of anonymity.

“A lot of money is laundered through this trade.”

A simple smartphone helps visualize the extent of the disaster.

Via a Google Earth map, activist Adnane showed a razed coastal forest, where dunes have given way to a lunar landscape, some 200 km south of Casablanca.

Eyes fixed on the screen, he carefully scrutinized each parcel of land.

“Here, near Safi, they have taken the sand over (a stretch of) seven kilometers. It was an area exploited by a retired general, but there is nothing left to take,” he alleged.

Adnane pointed to another area — exploited, he said, by a politician who had a permit for “an area of two hectares.”

But instead, he “took kilometers” of sand.

Environmental protection was earmarked as a priority by Morocco, in a grandiose statement after the country hosted the 2016 COP22 international climate conference.

Asked by AFP about measures to fight uncontrolled sand extraction, secretary of state for energy Nezha El Ouafi pointed to “a national coastal protection plan (that) is in the process of being validated.”

The plan promises “evaluation mechanisms, with protection programs and (a) high status,” she said.

Meanwhile, environmental activists are pleading against the “head in the sand approach” over the scale of coastal devastation.