INTERVIEW: Expressing liberal democracy – Egypt – Al-Ahram Weekly

In response to President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sissi’s call for a “national dialogue” on Egypt’s political and economic priorities in the next stage, the Wafd, Egypt’s oldest party, organized a series of meetings last week to prepare the discussions. Newly elected Wafd chairman Abdel-Sanad Yamama described the national dialogue as a “golden opportunity” for political parties to present their visions on Egypt’s future and that a committee had been formed to prepare the Wafd agenda. Yasser Quura, vice-president of the Wafd party and head of the committee, talks to the weekly about the party’s preparations for the national dialogue

How do you see President Al-Sissi’s call for national dialogue?

This appeal was very well received by the Wafd party. We of the Wafd party believe that this call is serious and timely to end the political sclerosis in Egypt. We know that when President Al-Sissi came to power in June 2014, he defined a number of priorities for the country, above which were the fight against terrorism, the restoration of the country’s internal stability and the resistance to economic crises. This caused political reform to take a back seat. But as the country has regained stability and is about to face a new wave of challenges, it is important that a national dialogue takes place to find common ground among all political forces on the country’s priorities in the coming stage and introduce a number of political reforms.

What about political reform?

This is a very important issue for the Wafd party. Being one of the oldest political parties in the world and with a history of over 100 years, the Wafd has always been considered the voice of liberal democracy. We in the Wafd believe that Egypt is currently suffering from a state of political stagnation and we hope that the proposed national dialogue can bring it out of this state.

How would you describe the internal situation of the Wafd?

For a time, the Wafd was troubled by internal rivalries and conflicts, but after the democratic election of Abdel-Sanad Yamama last year as the party’s new president, the Wafd restored stability and its Members now agree that it should regain its pioneering role in upholding liberal democracy, freedoms, respect for human rights and free and fair elections.

What are the political reforms expected by the Wafd during the national dialogue?

The Wafd party decided to form a committee to prepare its vision for political reform. I have been appointed to head the committee which will include a number of senior party officials and with the cooperation of the Wafd Party Institute of Political Studies. The committee will prepare a paper to present at the national dialogue on the Wafd’s vision for political reform. But overall, we believe that a number of essential political reform steps need to be taken to reinvigorate political life. These should include amending the constitution, amending the political parties law, and forming a presidential council for Egyptian political parties to coordinate positions and policies and resolve internal disputes peacefully. We believe that the existence of a large number of political parties is not good. Most of them are not effective and without a clear ideology. We demand that political parties with liberal platforms be merged into one political party, and those with leftist ideologies also be unified into one political party. We want two strong political parties to compete for power, just like the Labor and Conservative Party in the UK and the Democrats and Republicans in the US.

What amendments does the Wafd want to see brought to the law on political parties?

We want this law to be amended to help political parties have adequate sources of funding. Current law stipulates that political parties obtain funding from only two sources: membership fees and donations. This is by no means enough and remember that before the 2011 revolution, the state provided LE 500,000 in annual financial assistance to each political party. But this was done to the detriment of the principle of independence of political parties. The law should therefore be amended to help political parties double their sources of income so that they can reach people on the streets in the form of organizing political rallies, opening television stations and publishing newspapers. Political parties should be allowed to implement income-generating investment activities. On the other hand, the law should also be amended to allow political parties with similar platforms to merge with each other into a larger entity. A presidential council should be formed to coordinate positions between political parties, intervene to resolve internal conflicts and negotiate with the government.

Are you still in favor of the state giving money to political parties?

No. We are completely against that. We believe that political parties should depend on their own funding sources and have their own mouthpiece newspapers who should spread their platforms and fight their battles.

And the businessmen? Do you agree with businessmen creating political parties and entering parliament?

Our experience in Egypt shows that the mixing of politics and business harms political life as businessmen usually use their money to buy votes and seats in parliament. They aim to enter parliament not to defend the rights of the people, but to obtain parliamentary immunity.

Some believe that the call for political dialogue came under pressure from the United States and the West and because of the economic pressures caused by the war between Ukraine and Russia…

Yes. I think the United States exerts strong pressure in the area of ​​democratization, freedom of expression and respect for human rights. But I don’t think that President Al-Sisi’s call for national dialogue came from pressure. It came due to economic pressures caused by the Russian-Ukrainian war. I think President Al-Sisi has come to the conclusion that Egypt has defeated terrorism and regained stability and that it is high time to embark on the path of political reform and democratization. The president wants to listen to all opinions across the political spectrum and he wants to see how the principle of political pluralism and the multi-party system can be implemented.

Do you agree that the Muslim Brotherhood should be excluded from the proposed national dialogue?

It is quite impossible for a group that has blood on their hands to be allowed to participate in the dialogue. The dialogue must be open to all the civil forces which regrouped during the anti-Muslim Brotherhood revolution of June 30. These are civilian forces that clashed [the country] become a religious state.

Some believe that the national dialogue should be organized by the Senate rather than the National Training Academy (NAT) which they say is a bureaucratic institution affiliated with the presidency. What is the Wafd’s point of view on this?

I think the president chose the National Training Academy because it is responsible for organizing the global youth forums and therefore has good experience in this field. Without forgetting that by organizing this conference the academy will open the door to young people to gain experience and prepare them as future leaders.

Do you think the Wafd party could be a majority party in the near future?

Right now we are rebuilding the party. The High Council of the Wafd will be elected next October to take charge of reforming the party and preparing it for the legislative elections scheduled for 2025. For the moment, the Wafd has only 36 deputies in the Chamber and the Senate. We want this number to be no less than 90 in the next parliament and to be the majority party in the parliament of 2030.

What message does the Wafd party want to convey to Egyptians through the proposed national dialogue?

Our message is that we are currently going through very difficult economic times due to the war in Ukraine and this requires all of us to be patient and shake hands with the state as we are all in a state of extreme danger.

Do you agree that the scope of the national dialogue should be extended to economic issues?

Economic issues must be given priority. We want a new government that can tackle global economic challenges effectively and professionally.

* A version of this article appeared in the May 26, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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