Al-Ahram Weekly Online   19 - 25 January 2006
Issue No. 778
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Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Shake-up at the Wafd

Months of conflict at the historic Wafd Party culminated with a decision to remove the party's controversial chairman Noaman Gomaa from office. Salonaz Sami reports

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Gomaa; Abaza and Abdel-Nour following the meeting; clashes between Gomaa and Abaza supporters at the party's headquarters on Wednesday

The Wafd Party's Dokki headquarters looked like a military zone on Wednesday as the party's supreme committee decided to remove its chairman Noaman Gomaa from office, following months of infighting. Armed vehicles and hundreds of anti-riot police surrounded the premises, as the committee appointed Mahmoud Abaza -- Gomaa's former deputy -- as party chairman for 60 days until a new chairman is elected.

Gomaa's supporters did not take the matter lightly. Dozens of them stormed the room where the committee was meeting in a desperate attempt to reverse the decision. At that point, the police -- who were already surrounding the building -- began preventing people, including journalists, from going in or coming out.

Abaza was angry about the police presence. "In the morning," he said, "the police allowed Gomaa's thugs into the party headquarters, and now they won't even allow the party's own members in. What does that mean?" Abaza said the police appeared to be taking sides in an internal party matter.

He said the decision to remove Gomaa -- who has been the party's chairman for five years -- was approved by 34 of the party's 40 supreme committee members. The main complaint against Gomaa was that he was running the Wafd like his own personal fiefdom. "We are all sad that things took this ugly turn," Abaza said, "when all we wanted was for the leadership of the party to be collective again. We are saying that the Wafd is a historic party, and that one day we will rule the country. But we can't do this when we are in fact ruled by one man."

A Gomaa supporter argued that the matter was not as serious as Abaza made it seem. "This is a simple dispute that will not affect the party itself; mark my words: things will be back to normal in a few days," said Mahmoud El-Saqqa, a member of the party's parliamentary committee. El-Saqqa claimed that Gomaa was willing to reach a compromise with Abaza and his supporters to calm matters down.

Another Gomaa supporter, Samir Wahba, the general secretary of the party's Al-Daqahliya branch, said the decision to remove Gomaa was illegitimate because it falls under the jurisdiction of the party's general, rather than supreme, committee.

Abaza said the committee's decision had been forwarded to the Political Parties Committee, along with a videotape of an interview Gomaa gave to a satellite channel, in which the former chairman indicated that it is the supreme committee's right to withdraw confidence from him if it sees fit to do so.

Gomaa placed third in last September's presidential election, gaining only 2.9 per cent of the total votes. The party also did poorly in the recent parliamentary polls, only earning a meagre six seats. One of its most prominent members, businessman Mounir Fakhry Abdel-Nour, was one of those who lost their seats in those elections. When Abdel-Nour later accused Gomaa of working against him, the conflict escalated, and Gomaa eventually took a unilateral decision to kick Abdel-Nour out of the party altogether. That decision will most likely be reversed under Abaza's leadership.

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