Political party

Al-Wafd: the journey of Egypt’s emblematic political party

Al-Wafd: the journey of Egypt’s emblematic political party

Egyptian House of Representatives | Photo credit: Daily News Egypt

A beacon of liberation, of a renewed national spirit and of secular conviction, al-Wafd has become one of Egypt’s most important political parties. The eruption of the 1919 Revolution, led by Saad Zaghloul, freed Egypt from the shackles of British occupation and enabled the creation of the country’s first institutionalized political organizations in contemporary history.

Egypt was on the cusp of political revolution and modernity.

Under the leadership of Saad Zaghloul and Mostafa El-Nahas, al-Wafd ushered in a new era of leadership after the end of British rule. Al-Wafd became a dominant political force garnering massive public support and admiration. The party was able to contribute enormously to the development of the 1923 Constitution and the evolution of the political system reigning in Egypt.

The 1923 Constitution had established a new constitutional monarchy, where power would emanate from a representative body of nationally elected parliamentarians. Wafdists strongly supported the end of dynastic rule and encouraged more democratic forms of governance.

In the 1924 parliamentary elections, al-Wafd won 179 of 211 parliamentary seats outright. As newly elected prime minister, Zaghloul chose a cross-section of Egyptian society for his cabinet, which he named the “people’s ministry”.

According to Raymond Hinnebusch, a distinguished professor of international relations and Middle East politics at the University of St. Andrews, “Saad Zaghloul’s rhetoric took on an anti-establishment tone, however, Wafd leaders – lawyers and landlords – never questioned the sanctity of private property or envisioned a social revolution.

The Wafdist government did not last long, however.

Over a period of three decades, between the end of British rule and the outbreak of the 1952 Revolution, the balance of power between the king, the Wafdist rulers and the British residence remained turbulent. This was further exacerbated by the reluctance of al-Wafd to consolidate their political powers.

The Wafdist leaders had “allowed the British to impose a semi-constitutional regime reserving wide powers to the king and themselves, and had chosen to work within this system”.

Although the party became one of the most successful political organizations and was the ruling party, albeit with limited political power, the rise of Gamal Abd El-Nasser quickly ended the era of liberal politics in Egypt.

Following the 1952 Revolution, led by Gamal Abd El-Nasser, all political parties were abolished.

Nasser’s attempts to dismantle the old political order had succeeded, and the establishment of authoritarian one-party rule led by the Free Officers Movement became the political reality of Egypt.

The presidencies of Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak were quite different from their predecessor. The introduction of limited pluralism has created an increased number of political parties, but these will remain marginalized largely because of rigid laws and systematic electoral fraud.

In 1978, Al-Wafd was re-established once again during the Anwar Sadat era as the “New Wafd” party. The New Wafd struggled to attract the immense public support it had once garnered in the early 20th century.

A failed party coalition with the Muslim Brotherhood in 1984 and later in 2011 under the Democratic Alliance would alienate the party from its base of support.

The New Wafd party continues to play an active political role today, with a number of businessmen in its ranks, and is considered one of the most funded political parties in Egypt.

Party spokesman Yasser al-Hudaybi confirmed that the New Wafd has “500,000 members and more than 220 offices across Egypt”.

Recently, the election of Abdel-Sanad Yamama as leader of the New Wafd party promises to restore vigor and vitality to one of Egypt’s most important opposition political parties. Yamama believes that previous leaders have transformed “al-Wafd into a pro-government party”, thus departing from both its fundamental principles and its doctrine.

Yamama strives to restore the New Wafd’s “true role as an opposition party advocating liberal democracy, active political participation, rights, freedoms, social justice and Egypt’s pioneering role in its Arab and regional sphere”.

Al-Wafd has long been a cornerstone of party politics, creating an iconic political front that strove to protect liberal ideals and equality among all Egyptians. The party’s reincarnation under Anwar Sadat and its role under successive regimes testified to the sheer political power commanded under Zaghloul’s leadership.

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