Friday,27 April, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1333, (23 February - 1 March 2017)
Friday,27 April, 2018
Issue 1333, (23 February - 1 March 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Pushing the rift to the limit

Infighting in the Free Egyptian Party came to a head after the founder was dismissed

The rift within the Free Egyptian Party (FEP) just got bigger after the founder of the party Naguib Sawiris took the dispute to court to contest the party’s general assembly’s decision to change its bylaws.

In response, on 20 February the party’s disciplinary committee decided to dismiss Sawiris for “violating the party’s bylaws and insulting the party’s leadership”.

“Mr Sawiris disrespected the party’s leadership. We summoned him for questioning over his allegations directed against the party’s president and chief of the organisational committee, but he ignored our call and did not show up, so the party’s disciplinary committee decided to dismiss him,” party spokesman Nasr Al-Qaffas said.

Al-Qaffas said Sawiris forgot that after changing the bylaws he had become an ordinary member and therefore should be held accountable for violating the bylaws.

On 14 February Sawiris held a rally for party members loyal to him. Hundreds of former members who left the party the past several months attended the rally and announced their support for the board of trustees and their rejection of the current leadership.

During the rally Sawiris said he rejected the general assembly’s recent decision to change its bylaws. He said he regretted putting his trust in the current party’s chairman Essam Khalil, adding that Khalil had turned the party into a “private business that includes his friends and relatives”.

“To the esteemed people who are listening to us... we have the right to give advice. Let the public space open and allow us to speak,” Sawiris said in the rally.

“I was very sad about the Free Egyptians Party. I’m sad about the whole system,” he said.

“We don’t have to agree with the government on everything,” he said. “We are saying to the government from here that we are not against it. We just obey the law,” he added.

He said Khalil and his front men had turned the party into the former National Democratic Party, the ruling party of former president Hosni Mubarak which was dismantled following the 2011 revolution.

“How could anyone believe that a liberal party ends up promoting an anti-free market agenda and choosing a former police officer to be chairman of the Human Rights Committee in parliament?” Sawiris asked, referring to MP Alaa Abed who also chairs the FEP’s organisational committee.

Towards the end of the rally Sawiris said he will sue the party’s leadership in the Administrative Court of the Political Parties Affairs Committee. He also said he would file an insult and libel lawsuit against Abed for his “transgressions”.

A former police officer, Abed joined the FEP shortly before the parliamentary elections two years ago to help it garner the maximum number of parliamentary seats. FEP came first in the elections after winning 65 seats. The party then elected Abed as head of its parliamentary bloc.

“Party members are losing patience with Sawiris because his practices crossed a red line,” Abed said in a statement before the Sawiris rally. He claimed Sawiris no longer held legitimate power over the party.

“If Sawiris believes that he is a financial and political power based on his foreign support, he has to learn and understand what is happening around him in Egypt. We have nothing to do with his tricks and our party is strong with its leaders, parliamentary bloc and structure. And if he believes he is capable of running an uncovered and expired propaganda machine, this game is exposed,” the statement said.

Abed threatened to release recorded phone calls between him and Sawiris, suggesting Sawiris was getting help from abroad to back him. Sawiris could be charged with conspiring against the Egyptian state as a result.

A liberal-oriented party, the FEP has been one of Egypt’s most active in the last few years but has been torn between disputes which have escalated, apparently over plans in March to elect a new president and 50 members of the supreme body.

The problem started in December when the party’s chairman called for a general assembly in which party members voted to dissolve the party’s board of trustees which included Sawiris, the party’s founder and primary financial backer.

Consequently, Khalil held a press conference on 31 December announcing the approval by the party’s general conference members of amendments to the bylaws and the dissolution of the board of trustees, deemed the supreme authority of the party.

That same day, the board described the move as a “coup” and issued a statement rejecting the amendment. It raised the spectre of more feuding.

“The general assembly’s meeting to amend the bylaws violates Article 59 of the bylaws themselves, which stipulate the board must approve any bylaw amendments,” the statement said.

“The board of trustees declares its full rejection of the illegal coup by those who claim to be working in the interests of the country, without realising that Egypt’s main project at this stage is to fully complete the democratic transition,” the board’s statement said.

The board also said it pursued its legal rights via the party’s internal mechanisms and the Egyptian legal system.

Unlike many other political parties, up until recently FEP was not involved in turmoil. Last month the liberal Dostour Party saw its own dispute among its leaders over the choice of its new chairman. Internal divisions have also plagued the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and the Popular Socialist Alliance Party. Last year, a split in the liberal Wafd Party was resolved only after the personal intervention of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi after he helped mediate between the party’s leaders.

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