|Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
15 - 21 March 2001
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
Troubled waters aheadWill the Wafd Party go the way of the defunct Labour Party? Shaden Shehab sorts through the jumble of accusations over two high-profile dismissals
It was a tense moment for the liberal Wafd Party last August when the death of Fouad Serageddin, founder of the new Wafd Party, sent ripples of speculation throughout political circles over imminent internal turmoil among party ranks. Seven months later, the decision by new party Chairman Noaman Goma'a to expel two Wafd members of parliament barely falls short of declaring war.
The expulsion of MPs Mohamed Farid Hassanein and Ayman Nour, announced by Goma'a on Sunday, is no small matter. Fearing a possibly violent reaction, the Wafd headquarters in Doqqi is currently under police protection, as well as Goma'a's house.
Goma'a charges Hassanein and Nour with "violating the party's statutes by inciting rebellious actions and failing to respect the party's hierarchy." The two retort that it is Goma'a who has violated the statutes, since he is not authorised to expel party members. This is the sole prerogative of the Wafd's Supreme Authority, of which Nour is a member.
"We will ignore Goma'a's decision altogether and if the Supreme Authority supports it, we will take legal action," Nour told Al-Ahram Weekly. Then, with barely a pause, he added, "If we are antagonised any further, we will take over the party's headquarters and cause Goma'a's downfall."
Nour, a prominent MP and close associate of the late Fouad Serageddin, backed the nomination of Serageddin's grandson, Fouad Badrawi, to step in as chairman of the Wafd Party. An engineer and former Nasserist, Hassanein is a relative newcomer to the Wafd. He had briefly joined the pro-Islamist Labour Party and only joined the Wafd two months before last October's parliamentary elections.
The demise of Serageddin on 9 August was a decisive moment for the Wafd and predictions bristled that the party was bound to face a bout of internal bickering as members tussled for the top post. By the time elections for the post of chairman were held on 1 September, there were indeed some disputes and legal wrangling. But all this faded away with the election of Goma'a and members vowed to keep the party united. Apparently, it was only the calm before the storm. Members, like Nour and Hassanein, who did not approve of Goma'a as chairman failed to hide their resentment and Goma'a did not forgive them.
The latest quarrel erupted when Hassanein staged a four-day sit-in at parliament calling for the release of suspects being held in the Nile Delta town of Toukh, in the governorate of Qalyoubiya, which Hassanein represents. Goma'a demanded that Hassanein end his "improper strike", but he persisted and the arrested men were soon released. On his way to Toukh for celebration, Hassanein escaped an assassination attempt without injury, but he claimed the Interior Ministry was behind the attack.
Hassanein was appalled by the lack of support he received from his party. "Not a word was published in the Wafd newspaper," he told the Weekly. "I requested Goma'a's approval to hold a press conference at the party's headquarters on Saturday. He refused, but it was too late to cancel," Hassanein recounted. The press conference took place and was interrupted by Hassanein's supporters from Toukh calling for Goma'a to come out. "Goma'a ignored them and went home using a back door," Hassanein said. The meeting erupted into chaos, with Hassanein's supporters calling for Goma'a's removal. "Nobody orchestrated this," Hassanein explained. "People felt slighted when Goma'a ignored them and took off."
The next day Goma'a announced Hassanein's dismissal from the party. He also expelled Ayman Nour, who was merely one of the many Wafd figures present at Saturday's incident. To add insult to injury, Goma'a went to the extreme of publishing the news in bold letters on the front page of Monday's Wafd. "Goma'a is just using the incident to get even with Nour, because he doesn't like him and is jealous of him," Hassanein said. "In the beginning I had thought that Nour was paying for my supposed mistakes, but I soon discovered that it was the other way round."
Nour is not taking the matter lightly either. "I was not even officially informed of my so-called expulsion. I read it in the [Wafd] newspaper," Nour said. "This is nonsense. The decision violates the fifth article of the party's statutes, which requires an investigation of the concerned bodies or a majority decision by the Wafd's Supreme Authority. I consider this decision null and void until further action is taken -- and then I will act accordingly."
While vying for the post of chairman, Goma'a claimed that no one should try and take Serageddin's place and vowed that he would limit the powers of the chairman. "But he is doing the exact opposite," growls Nour. Goma'a had announced that the post-Serageddin period should be one of transition from leadership to mere chairmanship -- his way of saying that, if elected, he would not compare himself to Serageddin as a leader and merely play the role of chairman. Goma'a had also said that the next chairman must revise the party's statutes, especially those dealing with the chairman's powers and term, because they had only suited the late leader.
Ibrahim Dessouqi Abaza, the party's assistant secretary-general, told the Weekly that Goma'a's decision can only invite violence and internal tension. "If someone had been planning the downfall of the Wafd Party, he could not have done a better job." He added sarcastically, "Why should we hastily expel two members of parliament -- as if we had a hundred?"
There are seven Wafdist MPs, currently the largest number of all opposition parties. If the expulsion is confirmed, the Wafd will be usurped by the leftist Tagammu Party, which has six members, as the leading opposition party. There are two Nasserists, one member of the Liberal Party and 19 Islamist independents associated with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
But Mounir Fakhri Abdel-Nour, who leads the Wafdist MPs, told the Weekly that the party's position in parliament is irrelevant. "So what if the Wafd Party is not the majority opposition party? We have nothing to lose. All members of parliament have equal rights -- we are not seeking titles." But political analysts suggest that the Wafd could end up facing the a fate similar to that of the Labour Party, whose internal disputes led to its dissolution. "Let us pray this does not happen," Abaza said.
Recommend this page
© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved
Letter from the Editor
|WEEKLY ONLINE: www.ahram.org.eg/weekly
Updated every Saturday at 11.00 GMT, 2pm local time