A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Curious Incident of the Wafd in the Daytime

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
"The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, "Silver Blaze"

Egypt's Wafd Party, which has been acting lately rather like a wholly-owned subsidiary of the ruling party despite its 90 years of history as a bastion of nationalism, has seemingly done something daring. That is the curious incident.

It has, seemingly, called publicly for a national unity government, dissolution of Parliament, and a proportional representation system. Not so long ago the current Wafdist head, Sayyid Badawi, bought the vigorous opposition newspaper
Al-Dostour long enough to fire its editor just before the elections, leading everyone to see him as in the government's pocket. So why is he seemingly throwing down the gauntlet?

But is he?
The Arabist, who's for good or ill in Tunisia right now but still watches Egypt, has his doubts:
My gut reaction: this is either a significant break with the Wafd's behavior for over 30 years, or he is making this announcement on behalf of the regime. Why the conspiracy theory? Because he doesn't mention the question of the presidency, a chief demand of the protestors. Perhaps he should be given the benefit of the doubt.
Exactly. Nothing about the Presidency. Talk about rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. He's talking about new Parliamentary elections, a change in the electoral system, etc.: unless Parliament is given real power, reforming Parliament is like reforming the Pompeii City Council when Vesuvius is erupting. A start, maybe. But perhaps a diversion. Here's the Arabic.

So is the Wafd just a stalking horse for the ruling party, or is this actually a real proposal that deserves some credit since mentioning the Presidency would cross a red line the Wafd won't cross?

Back when I ran videos of Sa‘d Zagloul, the Wafd founder/icon, I noted that according to traditions, at least,
He is said to have used the motto in colloquial Egyptian " kulla haga mumkin," : "everything is possible," but his last words were " ma fish fayda" : "It's no use."
I hope Sa‘d Pasha would not be disappointed in whatever Badawi is doing, and I hope he's not a stalking horse for the regime.

But stuff's happening, so let's watch.


David Mack said...

Is the Wafd dominated by old money interests that would make it more cautious about revolution in the streets? Does it have any constituency among the long suffering Egyptian masses? One of yesterday's demonstrators in Midan at-Tahrir was quoted as saying something to the effect of "The Tunisians only had no democracy. We Egyptians have no democracy, no food, no housing."

Michael Collins Dunn said...

The Wafd has moved away from the old landowner's party it once was, but what constituency it has left seems to be a mix of well-off rural and well-off urban supporters. Really, though, I'm not sure who the Wafd represents today. The government has used it as an ally a lot in the last 6 years.