During a tense meeting held on 7 March at the headquarters of the liberal Wafd Party, members of the party’s higher commission exchanged harsh words with Wafdist parliamentary members over the party’s performance in parliament. Two members of the party’s higher commission, Abdel-Alim Dawoud and Tarek Sabak, were highly critical of the performance of the Wafdist parliamentary bloc. Dawoud and Sabak said that Wafdist MPs do not express the official stance of the party in parliament and that they usually make decisions without consulting Wafdist leaders.
A number of the Wafd’s higher commission members have been expressing resentment at the Wafdist parliamentary bloc policy after some Wafdist MPs voted last month to drop the parliamentary membership of MP Anwar Al-Sadat. Al-Sadat was accused of leaking copies of controversial draft laws to foreign institutions, a charge Al-Sadat firmly denied, insisting the accusation was politically motivated.
Disagreements between Wafdist leaderships resurfaced when Yasser Qoura, a member of the Wafd higher commission, called for amending Al-Azhar bylaws in a way that would limit the grand imam of Al-Azhar’s term in office to eight years. Quora’s proposal came in the wake of a controversial topic, that of verbal divorce, which reportedly led to a thinly concealed clash between Al-Azhar and the presidency’s office. Quora’s proposal led Alaa Ghorab, another member of the higher commission, to accuse some Wafdist members via his Facebook account of forming a lobby of the defunct National Democratic Party and of taking sides with the security apparatus.
Wafdist MPs who were present at the meeting argued that the accusations levelled at them were groundless and biased. A statement issued by the Wafd parliamentary bloc said that Wafdist MPs had, since 2014, submitted 13 draft laws and around 1,000 official inquiries in parliament, the largest number in the party’s history.
Some higher commission members who have been severely criticised clashed with their critics during the meeting.
At this point, Wafd Chairman Al-Sayed Al-Badawi stepped in, attempting to restore order at the meeting.
Al-Badawi had called for holding the closed-door meeting to clear the air between Wafdist members after news of their differences was made public in social networking sites. “Differences should be discussed at party ranks, not via social networking sites,” Al-Badawi said, addressing the members. He threatened to apply the party’s bylaws against any Wafdist who insults or humiliates his colleagues.
The heated atmosphere reached a climax when Al-Badawi dismissed Ghorab. The decision came after members of the higher commission voted for a decree in which any Wafdist member who insults or even criticises another colleague via social media should be dismissed. Ghorab was not officially informed of the decree.
“It is an unprecedented incident in the history of the Wafd Party. It’s unacceptable to dismiss a member just for expressing his opinion. What happened is an attempt to silence any opposing voice at the party,” Dawoud said, noting that public figures should accept criticism. “He who is incapable of doing that should quit politics,” Dawoud said, referring to party members who were angered after being rebuked.
Following mediation efforts by Dawoud and Sabak, Al-Badawi annulled Ghorab’s decree, deciding instead to freeze his membership until he was questioned. On Saturday, Ghorab hurried to issue an official statement in which he expressed respect for all Wafdist institutions and denied insulting his colleagues.
The four-hour meeting ended with calls to hold further meetings to settle the disputes and differences in views.
“What happened during the 7 March meeting is something healthy. It reflects the party’s democratic way in discussing issues and expressing views. It also reflects everyone’s wish to improve the performance of the party,” Hossam Al-Khouli, deputy chairman of the Wafd Party, said, denying rifts within party ranks.
Spokesman of the party’s parliamentary bloc Mohamed Fouad said criticism, so long as it was conducted via institutional dialogue, was usually welcomed. “It helps correct the party’s performance,” he said. According to Fouad, for years the Wafd had managed to overcome differences and splits.
In March 2015, a power struggle in the ranks of the Wafd saw eight board members withdraw confidence from Al-Badawi, citing his abuse of authority. They managed to mobilise around 1,000 Wafdists. Al-Badawi hit back by referring the board members to an investigation after suspending their membership. The row between the two sides continued despite the intervention of the presidency as a mediator. Following the suspensions, things calmed down until the most recent clash.
Wafd Party elections, due to be held in early 2018, are being viewed as the reason for the stand-off. Party sources close to Al-Badawi say some candidates for the party’s chairmanship were behind the latest incidents. However, Dawoud rejected the reports. “It is too early to talk about party polls. No party leader has yet declared his intention to run for chairman. The whole issue is limited to differences in views over the party’s performance,” Dawoud said.