The New Old Wafd

Egypt’s oldest nationalist party, the Wafd Party, is facing a deep and challenging internal conflict. Despite intervention by Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a new internal election, and a formal announcement that the crisis is over, the party’s internal problems are unlikely to heal soon.

On the surface, the party appears to be divided between two camps. The first is led by party leader El-Sayid El-Badawy, while the second supports leading member, Fouad Badrawy, who hails from a family with strong Wafd roots.

Badrawy lost by a small margin in the party’s leadership elections in April, 2014. He received 956 of the votes, while current leader, Badawy, received 1,183. Earlier this month, following a decision by over 1,000 members to withdraw confidence in Badawy, the current leadership suspended Badrawy and seven other members of the party’s high board. Together the suspended members refer to themselves as the Wafd’s Reform Front. Following Sisi’s intervention, an agreement was apparently reached among party members to reinstate the suspended members.

However, beneath the party’s internal bickering lie more serious problems for the Wafd. The party, which has survived decades of turbulent Egyptian politics, has a long record of grave errors of judgment. For this, it is now paying a hefty price.

The Beginnings of the Wafd

The founder of Wafd, Saad Zaghloul, was not just an Egyptian national hero; he represented the aspirations of many Egyptians to have a contemporary, independent state that values all its citizens regardless of religion, ethnicity, class, or gender. That is precisely why, in the 1919 uprising against the British, Egyptians chanted “Saad! Long live Saad!” For them, he was the humble Egyptian citizen who understood the poor, and at the same time, the Pasha who fit in with the aristocracy. Zaghloul’s ability to manage this delicate balance was crucial for his success and for the popularity of his party, which continued after his death under the leadership of his successor, Mustafa al-Nahas. Even after Gamal Abdel Nasser disbanded all political parties in 1954, Egyptians did not forget Wafd and its positive role in Egypt’s contemporary evolution.

Later, following Nasser’s death, the Wafd Party was briefly resurrected during Sadat’s rule, then later during Mubarak’s tenure. The revival of the Wafd triggered some optimism regarding shift from an authoritarian political scene to a pluralistic democracy. I remember how residents of Heliopolis in Cairo warmly received famous composer and Wafd member Kamal al-Taweel when he decided to run for parliament in the late eighties. Many eager voters hoped the elegant, talented composer, whose music captivated millions in Egypt, would bring with his party a new air of elegance to Egypt’s rotting political life.

The high expectations, however, failed to materialize. Instead of revitalizing Egypt’s democracy, or at least pushing Mubarak’s regime out of its comfort zone, the Wafd opted to maintain the status quo, accepting the role of a “decorative opposition” that legitimized rather than discredited the regime. During the 2005 presidential elections, the Wafd’s Noaman Gomaa ran for president alongside Mubarak and Ayman Nour, despite a boycott by other parties. This in turn legitimized the outcome in favor of Mubarak. Gomaa’s poor performance in the presidential election, together with an equally poor party performance in the parliamentary elections, created serious divisions within the party.

Policies of Convenience

Since its creation, the Wafd has shifted its stances on several issues, including religion. In the lead up to the 1984 parliamentary elections, the Muslim Brotherhood and Wafd formed an electoral coalition in an attempt to counterbalance the dominance of the then-ruling National Democratic Party. The two groups managed to win fifty-eight seats in the 458-member parliament. The “new” Wafd put aside its famous slogan “Egypt is for Egyptians, and religion is for God” and adopted a more Sharia-compliant rhetoric in order to survive the rise of political Islam and the Brotherhood’s own slogan “Islam is the solution.” Unsurprisingly, the alliance fell apart after the election. Later, however, in 2010, cooperation between the two groups became more visible, again prompting more internal divisions among party members.

The Wafd also distanced itself from its policy of tolerance, embracing a more anti-Semitic view. As Samuel Tadros points out, Ahmed Ezz al-Arab, the vice chairman of Wafd, openly denied the Holocaust in a 2011 interview with The Washington Times. The only possible explanation for this view is again due to the party’s desperate desire to fit in with the prevailing climate in Egypt that has grown hostile to Jews since Egypt’s 1967 defeat against Israel. Recently, commenting on Norway’s objection to deposed President Mohamed Morsi’s death sentence, Ezz al-Arab compared it to Norway’s execution of Vidkun Quisling, a Norwegian politician who aided Hitler’s occupation of Norway. These deeply illiberal remarks do not reflect Ezz al-Arab alone. The fact that he secured a top rank in the party latest’s High board election, receiving 1,218 votes, indicates that many in the Wafd share his alarming, illiberal views.

During the 2011 revolution, the Wafd, like the Muslim Brotherhood, did not initially join the demonstrations; however, party leader Badawy gave his approval for the youth of his party to participate in their personal capacity. This sit-on-the-fence attitude symbolized his leadership style that neither inspired popularity nor earned the party any revolutionary credentials.

In 2013, the Wafd Party supported Sisi’s roadmap after Morsi’s ouster, but the party leader later lashed out after a meeting with Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab regarding the electoral law for the upcoming parliamentary election. Badawy said that the next parliament would be the “worst in Egypt’s history.”

The Egyptian Wafd

Despite those fiery comments, Wafd’s leadership welcomed Sisi’s intervention following its recent internal rift. A senior member described it as “a lifejacket” for the party. This description provides the best explanation of the relationship between the president and non-Islamist political parties in Egypt. On the one hand, they need him as a patron who conceals their own unpopularity. On the other, Sisi needs parties that compete in the parliamentary election ___ the crucial, final part of his pledged roadmap. Sisi cannot afford for Egypt’s oldest party, the Wafd, to suffer an internal meltdown.

Now the Wafd has a new elected board, which has voted in favor of a bylaw amendment to change the name of the party from “New Wafd” to its original “Egyptian Wafd.” Will this change signal a return to the party’s original values? Unlikely.

Sadly for the Wafd, it is relying heavily on the grandeur of its past, rather than its present achievements – on the old Egyptian Wafd, which was led by true statesmen who stood by their principals. The Wafd Party has shifted from the party that campaigned for freedom to a shallow, go-with-the-flow party that is willing to accommodate everything from authoritarianism and revolution to Islamism and a coup, with survival as its sole aim. The Wafd also suffers from a deep identity crisis. It has become neither liberal nor secular, and enjoys no distinct differences that make it stand out among other non-Islamist Egyptian parties.

In 1965, during the funeral of Wafd’s late leader, Mustafa al-Nahhas, thousands of Egyptians chanted during the funeral procession: “There is no leader after you Nahhas.” With the current colorless, divisive leadership of Wafd, that prediction has tragically proven to be correct.

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On Bilal Erdogan’s alleged Egyptian Nationality

Bilal photo

(Bilal Erdogan)

Yesterday, I tweeted an Arabic report published in Egypt’s newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm (AMAY) about an ongoing court process to deprive Bilal Erdogan, the son of the Turkish president Recep Tayyib Erdogan, from his Egyptian citizenship. The report claimed that Bilal had used the Egyptian passport issued to him by the ousted Egyptian president Morsi to flee to Georgia after a huge corruption scandal went public on Dec. 17, 2013, and hinted that this is enough reason to revoke his citizenship.

Due to the seriousness of the allegations, and the huge interest that my tweet has generated among many Turks, I decided to trace the story to find as many details as possible. Here is what I found:

 First, the report seems to be authentic. It was published not only in al-Masry Al-Youm, one of Egypt’s biggest newspapers, but also in other Egyptian outlets. Second, the case is not new. It started in October 2014, when Egyptian lawyer Samir Sabry submitted the case to Egypt’s State Security, citing the Bilal Erdogan case as one of many cases in which the ousted president Mohamed Morsi allegedly abused his legal powers and granted many foreigners Egyptian citizenship. The case was escalated to the General Public Prosecutor to check the authenticity of the documents provided by Lawyer Sabry. The first court session was on the 9th of November 2014.

According to what leaked from those alleged documents, The Egyptian Lawyer Sabry, Bilal Erdogan has an Egyptian passport, in which his residence in Egypt (a legal requirement to be a citizen), is 1st Ahram Street Heliopolis, Cairo. As far as I am aware, no one can have access to these documents except the defendant Bilal Erdogan, or his legal team, and I doubt Turkey has even considered to send a legal team to check the case.

The fact that the court accepted the case indicates that both Egyptian security and judiciary have accepted the authenticity of those documents provided. In other words, any future verdict may not be whether Bilal Erdogan has Egyptian citizenship or not, but whether it is legitimate to revoke his citizenship.

As a consequence, the verdict, regardless of its nature, will be harmful to Morsi. The ousted president is already facing many ongoing legal charges, and has already been sentenced to death for one of them. Piling on more negative verdicts indicates dim prospects for his survival.

 Today in Turkey, Bilal Erdogan completely denied the allegations, calling them “slander and lies.” It also stated that Bilal Erdoğan is not an Egyptian citizen and did not use an Egyptian passport to flee to Georgia. Bilal Erdoğan also claimed that the report in al-Masry al-Youm was the doing of the “parallel structure,” a term used in Turkey to vilify the Gülen movement.

 Bilal Erdogan has every right to dismiss the allegations against him; however, it is important for him and for everyone else in Turkey to understand that what is going on in Egypt has nothing to do with Turkish domestic politics, but rather to do with the tense and deteriorating relationship between Egypt and Turkey. Moreover, Egyptian Lawyer Samir Sabry is a hard-core anti-Islamist with a record of other legal cases against non-Islamist revolutionaries.

 It seems that both Egypt and Turkey are using the case for domestic political reasons. In Egypt, the case is another weapon to demonize Morsi “ the traitor.” The case is clearly part of domestic politics; not even a single report was published about in in English. All reports, and comments were in Arabic. In Turkey, the story has become part of the polarized environment ahead of the election, regardless of its facts and background.

 The case is now postponed till next October, and may continue to drag on for years due to the slow bureaucratic nature of the Egyptian justice system. However, any verdict will be controversial and may not reflect the truth of what really happened in 2013 between Bilal Erdogan and Mohamed Morsi.

Posted in Egypt, Turkey | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Egyptian Aak 2015 – Week 21 ( May 18 – 24) an

Top News

  • Egypt appoints Brotherhood critics as Justice minister (Wednesday)
  • Egypt’s militants’ vows to attack judges (Thursday)
  • Egypt to host 2016’s World Economic Forum (Friday)
  • IMF criticizes Egypt’s decision to delay capital gain tax (Sunday)

 Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

 Friday

 Saturday

Sunday

Good reports

Good read

From Twitter

Plus:

Photo Gallery

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Nail-biting election race: HDP’s apparent gamble is Turkey’s nightmare

nervana111:

If you are following the Turkish election, then then read this piece.

Originally posted on TEMPORAL:

With two weeks remaining until the elections, the “razor’s edge” state of the votes is unchanged.

The latest survey by Ankara-based MetroPOLL issued some days ago indicates a slight fall in support for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), pushing it below the 10 percent barrier.

Its data is the following:

Justice and Development Party (AKP) 42.8 percent, Republican People’s Party (CHP) 27 percent, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) 17.1 percent and HDP 9.2 percent. (A later follow-up by the same pollster, yet to be published, is reported to show a rise only in mainly Kurdish provinces in southeast Anatolia.)

The two other pollsters I talked to — on the condition of anonymity because they are still finalizing the data — only slightly disagree with MetroPOLL, reporting a very critical but weak upsurge for the HDP, placing it between 10.2 and 10.5 percent.

Let’s continue to analyze trends and consequences. But first…

View original 641 more words

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Egyptian Aak 2015 – Week 20 ( May 11-17) to

l_morsi_05122015

(Egypt’s ousted president Morsi, photo via AP)

Top Headlines:

  • Egypt’s Justice Minister has resigned (Monday)
  • Ex-President Morsi and more than 100 other people were sentenced to death (Saturday)
  • Egypt executes six alleged members of Sinai-based militant group (Sunday)
  • British Ambassador in hot war over a tweet (reports)

Continue reading

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New Controversy Rages around the Hijab in Egypt

( Dr.Ali Gomaa’s comments with English subtitles)

The debate around Islamic headscarves (Hijab) and an Islamic dress code for women is still raging in Egypt. Sheikh Ali Gomaa, an internationally known Islamist jurist and Egypt’s ex-Grand Mufti (top interpreter of religious edicts issued by Muslim clerics), recently joined the debate with some very surprising and alarming comments. In his own television program, Sheikh Gomaa not only reaffirmed that headscarves (Hijab) are mandatory in Islam; he labeled any woman who disputes this interpretation as an infidel. His comments have raised fears among non-Islamist Egyptians that supposedly moderate mainstream scholars are now giving their blessing to new institutionalized Islamism.

In Egypt, the dress code for women has been controversial for nearly 100 years. The controversy started in 1919, when many women took off their veils as a gesture of support for Egypt’s freedom from British occupation. Political Islamist groups, however, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, have always campaigned for a strict Islamic dress code that includes covering the head as a minimum requirement for Muslim women. The group’s supporters resorted to social coercion to spread their message, using fear tactics (such as threats of punishment in the afterlife) to ensure adherence to the dress code. Salafists have opted for an even blunter approach, with a sharper dose of social coercion against women in their social circles.

Until recently, and even during Islamist Morsi’s tenure, leading mainstream religious scholars have chosen their words carefully to avoid being perceived as harshly critical of non-Hijabi women. These scholars have been happy to appear on TV with non-Hijabi women to discuss various religious topics. Many observers interpreted this attitude as a sign of a moderate approach toward women’s rights. Islamists, on the other hand, have viewed this as hypocritical and a sign of appeasing the ruling elite and its faux liberalism image.

While Sheikh Gomaa has no official position, his views have always reflected the country’s religious trends. He is known for expressing some progressive views on democracy, female genital mutilation, and others issues. Nonetheless, his recent comments on the hijab are troubling for many reasons. Sheikh Gomaa has now divided non-Hijabi women into two groups, sinners and infidels. Sinners are those who acknowledge Hijab as a must, but fail to adopt it. Infidels, in his view, are those who openly challenge the concept of mandatory Hijab.

Interestingly, Sheikh Gomaa added a caveat stating that only a judge can issue a verdict of blasphemy or apostasy against defiant non-Hijabi women. As an ex-Mufti, Sheikh Gomaa is fully aware that Egypt’s judiciary is not composed of religious scholars, and that civil judges are in no position to judge religious matters. Therefore, inserting this issue into the subtle mix of religious and civil matters in the judiciary is risky and could lead to endless cases of injustice and encroachment on civil rights.

Additionally, his views could lead to a culture of bullying against non-Hijabi women and possibly create legal traps for any outspoken women. Sheikh Gomaa’s insistence that defiant non-Hijabi women could face court cases will potentially open the gates of hell for Muslim women who dare to challenge traditional views. These women will find themselves in a defensive position, having to somehow prove to a judge they are indeed “good Muslims.”

Lastly, while it is hard to know what the real motives behind Sheikh Gomaa’s recent harsh views are, they seem to be part of a larger campaign by mainstream Al-Azhar-affiliated scholars to monopolize the interpretation of religious scripts and block any efforts by outsiders to advocate any views deemed too liberal. An example is the recent legal case against researcher Islam Beheiry

Few days after Sheikh Gomaa’s comments, mysterious pro-headscarf graffiti has appeared at the Cairo University metro station. Also worth mentioning, in a 2014 Egyptian television program, a non-Hijabi woman was forced to wear the Hijab in order to join in a debate on women rights and Islam with two scholars ____ the same two scholars who debated researcher Islam Beheiry.

Those who advocate monopolizing religious studies under the umbrella of Al-Azhar claim it can prevent the chaos of extremist fatwas (religious edicts) issued by radical clerics who glamorize radicalism and extremists groups. That may indeed sound logical and plausible, particularly as groups such as Isis are waging a barbaric wave of terror throughout the Middle East. However, Al-Azhar scholars, including Sheikh Gomaa, appear to be adopting a strict approach to controversial issues, including women’s dress code, possibly as a way to appeal to conservative crowds that have drifted away from Al-Azhar towards political Islam.

However, if theology is to be considered a science, then like all other sciences, it should be open to constant scrutiny and review. Islamic scholars like Sheikh Gomaa, however, seem to want it both ways. On the one hand, Islamic scholars resist outside scrutiny of their own views, while on the other hand, they are reluctant to revise what has been mostly regressive male-dominant religious scholars who persistently downgrade Muslim women to second-class citizen status.

The current debate around headscarves reflects a larger struggle within Egypt regarding the meaning of moderate Islam. Mainstream scholars seem to advocate the concept of tolerating sinners like non-Hijabi women as a sign of moderate Islam. Others reject it and, instead, seek a reformed interpretation of Islamic texts that will allow the inclusion of many liberal Muslims, including non-Hijabi women, within a wider, more diverse Islamic umbrella.

Many fondly remember moderate Al-Azhar scholars such as Sheikh Mahmud Shaltut. In fact, Sheikh Al-Bakoury and the legendary Quran reciter, Shaykh Abul Einein Sheisha, were both happy to be photographed with their non-Hijabi wives and daughters. Egyptian women and youth are now asking, what went wrong? Why are current scholars now more intolerant?

IMG_1933

Egyptian women should not be forced to wear the scarves just to please some Islamic scholars. Islam in Egypt has always been a tolerant, inclusive faith. Institutionalizing regressive Islamism within state pillars is not the way forward for Egypt. Egypt did not oust the Muslim Brotherhood, only to get a far worse model of Islamism.

Posted in Diary of Aak, Egypt, Islam | Tagged , , , , , , | 23 Comments

Egyptian Aak 2015 – Week 19 ( May 4 – 10) and

Mubarak birthday

A Hosni Mubarak supporter performs a traditional Sufi folk dance during his birthday- via Al-Monitor

Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

 Sunday

 Good Reports

Good read

On Mubark’s verdict:

From Twitter

Plus:

Video

Photo Gallery

Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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Egyptian Aak 2015 – Week 18 ( April 27 – May 3)

 

Gamal Mubarak

(Gamal Mubarak, son of ex-president, visits the Pyramids following his recent release from prison. Via Youm 7)

Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

 Thursday

 Friday

Saturday

 Sunday

 Good Reports

Good read

Plus

Press FreedomPhoto Gallery

Video

Poll

  • Baseera:  32% of Egyptians believe media is free

Finally, a visit to Cairo’s flower show

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Separating myths from reality: Egypt’s heated religious debates

Last week, the privately owned Egyptian satellite channel Al-Qaherah wal Nas decided to pull the controversial talk show “With Islam” at Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh’s request. The show’s host, Islam al-Beheiry, is a controversial figure in Egypt because of his candid views and biting criticism of what he describes as the unchallenged Islamic heritage passed on since medieval times, which is still used to justify many regressive practices. The channel announced the show’s withdrawal after Al-Azhar filed a lawsuit demanding its cancellation.

The decision also followed the airing of a long, heated TV debate between Islam Beheiry and two mainstream Islamic scholars (one from al-Azhar) on another TV channel (CBC TV), in which various contentious issues regarding Islamic theology were discussed for the first time on such a forum. The debate ended without any common ground being reached between the two sides, and left many in the audience baffled and frustrated.

Central to the issues raised in the debate were the Prophet’s sayings (hadiths) and traditions, compiled by Imam al-Bukhari in the eighth century. Imam Bukhari was born 138 years after the death of the Prophet, and his collection, Sahih al-Bukhari, is a series of hadiths compiled by Imam al-Bukhari (d. 256 AH/870 AD). The overwhelming majority of the Muslim world recognizes his collection of reports of the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad to be the most authentic. It contains over 7,500 hadiths (with repetitions) in 97 books.

Islam al-Beheiry has argued that Bukhari’s books are just a historical collection and therefore are not sacred and can be disputed. On the other hand, Al-Azhar scholars have defended Bukhari’s books and argue that they are reliable and religiously “scientific.” They also say that only highly educated scholars may issue religious verdicts based on Bukhari’s (among others) collection.

It was interesting to see how the Islamic scholars focused heavily on Beheiry’s aggressive attitude and his choice of words, reducing the debate to a pedantic interpretation of the rules of Islamic jurisprudence (Fiqh). Their aim clearly was to discredit Beheiry, and not to address the maze of existing religious verdicts (fatwas) on many contentious topics in Islam, which Beheiry has boldly raised in his program.

Furthermore, a few days before Beheiry’s show was pulled off air, President Sisi remarked that ‘religious reforms’ must come through state institutions and from qualified scholars. His comments were seen as clearly directed at Beheiry and in open support of Al-Azhar. The president may sincerely want to reform Islamic thought, but he also understands that without Al-Azhar backing, his legitimacy will be in question. He blinked, allowing Al-Azhar to force his way out of the controversy.

The problem, however, is not in Beheiry’s critical analysis, as Al-Azhar and probably President Sisi like to believe, but in the endless, often ludicrous, interpretations of Bukhari’s book. Here, again, is an example from Egypt of one controversy that was flared up few months ago due to Bukhari’s books:

A Salafi Muslim scholar, Mahmoud Al-Masry, has claimed in a video that the Prophet’s power was superior to ordinary humans. He went further, citing a specific number, “The Prophet’s physical power was equal to the power of 4,000 ordinary men.” Al-Masry justifies his claim by citing two hadiths allegedly in Bukhari’s books: The first was a conversation between two of the Prophet’s companions who claimed the Prophet was able to have sex with all his “9” wives in one night because of his “super-ability,” which matched 40 men in Paradise. The second hadith claims that every man who reaches Paradise would gain more power than 100 ordinary men. Extending his mathematical prowess (40 x 100), Al-Masry concluded that the Prophet’s power amounted to that of 4,000 “ordinary men.”

Al-Masry was, off course, mocked and attacked for describing the Prophet as someone with such an indulgent and excessive sex practice and for having nine, and not four wives, as Islam clearly states. Al-Masry later denied the sex part of the story and insisted he was only trying to explain the Prophet’s physical strength. He added that all his claims were based on Bukhari’s books.

This story is not an isolated incident. There are many similar stories of weird explanations of the Prophet’s life that Muslim youth learn from some mainstream scholars. It highlights how the adherence to every detail in Bukhari’s doctrine can lead to silly portrayal of the Prophet and even glamorization of wrong promiscuous behaviors. Indirectly, Bukhari’s books are used by radical groups like Isis to flourish and sanction sex slavery, among other abhorrent practices.

Islam Beheiry may be feckless, even inaccurate in some of his attacks on Islamic theology, but the essence of his argument is sound and it actually portrays Islam in a far more modern way than all the medievalist nonsense that the likes of Mohamed al-Masry propagate. The irony is that al-Azhar tolerates scholars like Al-Masry (who studied theology extensively in Saudi Arabia, as his website claims) more than a daring researcher like Islam Beheiry, whom al-Azhar sees as “insulting” to Islam.

Al-Qaherah wal Nas TV has justified its decision to cancel Beheiry’s show by saying, “Freedom of thought and expression are constitutional rights for all citizens. However, protecting the country’s best interests is a greater goal.” Sadly, such actions will not protect Egypt; they will only allow regression, myths, and medievalism to spread in society. Contentious religious debate, not protectionism, is the only way forward in dealing with the various challenges facing Islam in the modern era.

Posted in Best Read, Egypt, Islam, June30, Middle East, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Egyptian Aak 2015 – Week 17 ( April 20 – 26)

Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

 Saturday

 Sunday

Good Reports

Good Read

 On Morsi’s verdict 

 From Twitter

Video

 Photo Gallery

Obituary

Plus

Finally, here are Jayson’s Casper’s prayers for Egypt.

Posted in Diary of Aak, Egypt | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments