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

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.”

Palestinians, Arabs ‘must learn lessons of Naksa’

A Palestinian man facing Israeli soldiers waves a national flag during a protest against Israel's plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, near the town of Tulkarm on June 5, 2020. (AFP)
Updated 06 June 2020

Palestinians, Arabs ‘must learn lessons of Naksa’

  • Jordanian MP Kais Zayadin said that the biggest mistake Arab countries made was to trust that the occupying state would make peace and reach a lasting solution to the Palestinian cause

AMMAN: Leading Palestinian and Arab figures have used the 53rd anniversary of Naksa — the displacement and occupation of Arab territories that followed Israel’s victory in the 1967 war against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan — to highlight political mistakes made during and after the conflict.

Adnan Abu-Odeh, political adviser to Jordan's King Hussein and King Abdullah II, told Arab News that Arab countries and the Palestinian leadership had failed to understand the goals of Zionism.

“Governments that participated in the war were naive, expecting a repeat of the 1956 Sinai invasion when the US ordered an Israeli withdrawal. This was followed by the mistaken belief that we could liberate the land using guerrilla warfare," he said.

Anees Sweidan, director-general of foreign relations in the PLO, told Arab News that the Palestinian cause is undergoing a complicated phase where political opportunities are limited.

“The US bias towards Israel and absence of unity has put the Palestinian movement in a difficult situation. It is harder to generate external support and the financial crunch is causing much suffering despite the fact that we have made important accomplishments in the UN and Europe.”

Abdalqader Husseini, chairperson of the Faisal Husseini Foundation, said that the opportunities the anniversary offers should not be ignored.

“We need to realize that this is an illegal occupation that continues to dig deeper and escalate every day to the degree that the international community has lost interest and world conscience has become numb to Israeli practices. We in Jerusalem have not normalized with the occupiers and we have not accepted the new situation as an inescapable reality that we must accept.”

Jordanian MP Kais Zayadin said that the biggest mistake Arab countries made was to trust that the occupying state would make peace and reach a lasting solution to the Palestinian cause.

“We went to Madrid with hope, the Palestinian leadership went to Oslo with optimism that they could reach a phased solution that would lead to statehood. As we remember this Naksa, we must revisit the path that has allowed the occupying entity to steal our land and cause havoc to our people without any deterrence from the international community," he said.

They (Palestinian youth) personify the meaning of steadfastness for dignity, and they have the will to protect our heritage, our identity, and our holy places.”

Mahdi Abdulhadi, head of PASSIA thinktank

Nibal Thawabteh, director of the Bir Zeit University’s Media Development Center, said the biggest mistake since 1967 was focusing on politics and avoiding community development.

"We don’t have a strong sense of citizenship, some have become accustomed to religious Islam. We need to work more on the citizenship.”

Ahmad Awad, director of the Amman-based Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies, said there is a lack of acknowledgment of the reasons behind the Arab loss.

“Political, economic and cultural factors caused our loss, and we feel that most Arab countries have not learned this lesson. Instead of learning, we are going backwards, failing to defend their existential rights, shifting to isolationism as well as cultural and economic regression in our region."

Instead of looking backward, some Palestinians wanted to look forward.

Mahdi Abdulhadi, head of the PASSIA thinktank in Jerusalem, said that Palestinian youth who never felt the shock of the 1967 defeat but have seen the exposure of Arab regimes in the face of the "deal of the century" will prevail.

“They personify the meaning of steadfastness for dignity, and they have the will to protect our heritage, our identity, and our holy places.”

Lily Habash, a Exeter University political science graduate, told Arab News that things look different on the ground.

“The world is changing and Israel uses geopolitical and regional changes to its advantage,” she said.

Dangers today encourage despair but Palestinians will be steadfast in the long term, she added.

“Some say we need a savior to get us out of this dilemma but I believe we need to trust in ourselves and work on all fronts.”