In his first interview with the press after being elected as chairman of the Wafd political party on Friday, Bahaa el-Din Abu Shoka reveals to Egypt Today his plans for the party. He elaborates on his strategy for the party, its role in Egyptian politics, and the Wafd’s position in upholding and strengthening Egypt’s democracy since 1919.
With a voter turnout of about 2,500, Abu Shoka won the chairmanship with 1,300 votes. His closest competitor, Hossam Al-Kholi, obtained only 900 votes, according to Wafd newspaper.
A previous member of the Egypt’s Shura Council from 2012 until its dissolution in 2013, Abu Shoka is an Egyptian lawyer and politician. Abu Shoka is the current Secretary-General of the party and the head of the Wafd parliamentary bloc. In mid-June 2012, Abu Shoka was appointed as a member of the Constituent Assembly of Egypt, participating in creating the country’s new constitution.
In his first statement after the election, Abu Shoka said that he will call for a meeting with a large number of political parties to discuss forming a major coalition that can play a vital role in the political scene in the coming period. Abu Shoka further revealed that Al-Wafd party will nominate one of its member for Egypt’s 2022 presidential election.
Egypt Today sat down in an exclusive interview with Abu Shoka to understand more about the future of the Wafd party and the role it is expected to play in Egyptian politics..
ET: What made you decide to run for the chairmanship of the Wafd party?
Abu Shoka: What pushed me to run for chairman, despite being extremely busy as a lawyer, head of the Wafd parliamentary bloc and head of the Constitution and Law committee in parliament, is that I was in front of members, junior and senior, asking me to run for chairman of the party. I swear, this was never part of my plan; for me, what I was achieving in my other roles was enough for me.
However, when one is faced with what ones feels is a national duty – this is much bigger than a party duty – one has to rise to the occasion. These elections were not really elections for the chairmanship of the party, it was the members of Wafd demonstrating their insistence on being part of a strong party able to have a strong presence in Egypt’s democratic scene, led by a strong leadership.
There was insistence that the Wafd party is the hope of Egyptian politics. There will be no real democracy in Egypt without the Wafd party.
ET: Building on your last remark, why is it that the Wafd party has such a pivotal role in Egypt’s democracy?
Abu Shoka: This party has been in the political scene since 1919, Egyptians have known it for a long time. It has played an integral part in Egyptian politics over the past 100 years. The Wafd party, during the past 100 years, from 1919 until today, has kept up with Egyptians. It has lived with the people and they have lived with it to the point where they have integrated and intertwined the party into the heart, mind and ideology of Egyptian homes; every home has the Wafd party within it.
It is the only party that has been documented by historians to have a huge popularity that came out of a revolution. The greatness of this revolution, 1919, is that it embodied national unity. How great was it to have a priest stand on the stand in a mosque and give a speech? This happened in the 1919 revolution.
The symbol of the Wafd party from then until today is the crescent with the cross within it. The words of Saad Zaghlool still ring loud and clear, “Right above strength; the people above the government.” These are all the beliefs of the Wafd party; this is what we stand for.
The 1923 Constitution set up the parliamentary representative system based on the separation of and cooperation among authorities and adopted democracy in Egypt. Today, some say that we are on the edges of democracy; no, this is not true. The 1923 Constitution, which relied on the Belgium Constitution, was perhaps the best constitution in the world because it is based on the idea that the king owns and does not rule.
After that time, the party, as well as its fights, challenges and views, were surrounding the constitution, democracy, stability of the country and the independence of the individuals’ view. From this point, perhaps during the past 100 years, Wafd’s governance and those who came through the party line had a strong popularity among the people. For example, in January 1950, Moustafa al-Nahhas came with a landslide win of about 93 percent. Today, they say that 90 percent is a lot and that such popularity is surprising, but I do not think that it is unheard of to have people love their leader, to want to support him and respect him. Back in January 1950, the Wafd held the majority with 93 percent – no one said anything at the time. It is not a bad thing for a leader to have such a high popularity; it means that citizens are supporting them.
The Wafd party also pioneered the fight for many of the rights that we see today. For example, laws protecting workers and farmers, the protection of employees, the protection of marginalized classes. It also worked on implementing social equality, with all that it has to hold. This is why the party became known as the party of the ‘Blue Jellabiya.’ It became known as the conscience of the Egyptian people; in truth, this was not an exaggeration because it was the party that fought for Egyptians and stood up on their behalf.
On April 4, some people alleged that Nahhas was brought by the British and was supporting them; this is not true. It could not be further from the truth actually. What had happened at the time is that the German military personnel had passed El Alamein, and the British had stated that if Nahhas is not brought to [assume] power within a specific amount of time, they will take over the country; they would come in with their tanks and topple the king.
When he accepted to come into power, he did not do so to pursue personal interests or gains, he did so to protect the image of Egypt and Egyptians. The insult of a king or the head of a state is an insult to the whole country; he did this to ensure that Egypt remains strong.
History will not forget the efforts exerted by Nahhas and the party.
We cannot forget that on January 25, 1952 when the British powers – that country that proudly said that it has “the empire that the sun never sets on,”- demanded that Fouad Serageldin Pasha and employees surrender the governorate’s building in Ismailia but Fouad Pasha ordered them to open fire and fight until the very last bullet? This is what happened at the time; this day became known as National Police Day; that day is also the Wafd’s day.
ET: How do you imagine the future of the Wafd party?
Abu Shoka: Rationally speaking, in every plan there is the start and the result. If you want to reach specific results, you have to have good starts, starts that will lead you to the results that you want. These starts will not be right unless one reads the situation properly. Applying this to the Wafd party, the party needs to return to the start; what are the principles that the party holds? What are the values that the party holds? What are the issues that the party has adopted?
The party has adopted democracy; we will adopt democracy. This is what I announced: the Wafd party will be a main pillar in Egypt’s democracy. The constitution holds that there needs to be a peaceful transition of power between elected presidents. For this to happen, there needs to be multiple strong political parties, like in the U.S. and the UK.
How will there be a peaceful transition of power without the existence of multiple strong parties. We will prove to the world that our democracy is strong and we will quieten up those who doubt our democracy. We will say to them: this is the constitution, these are our political parties, and this is our political competition.
Therefore, we need to be aligned with the principles and the views of the start of the Wafd party. This, however, does not mean that we should be stuck in the past. We should take the ideas from the past and implement them now, ensuring they align with the present and the future.
T: How will the Wafd party prepare its youths for the political scene?
Abu Shoka: There are a few things that every political party should have. A political party should be ready to participate in elections at any point. It needs to be ready to deal with any political situation at any time, including political catastrophes; there is a whole science taught on decision-making techniques and problem solving and crisis management. If a problem does arise, politicians in the party should know how to deal with the problem and how to solve it. It is important for those in political parties to be able to contribute to the national plan and to help develop the country. It is the role of a political party to prepare its young members to be leaders of the government and to prepare them to join the political scene at any moment.
In this sense, it is also important to differentiate between the technical assistance and the political contributions that a government needs. We find that there are women and men ministers abroad that may not have the technical expertise for certain positions, but they have the political expertise to hold this position. What this means is that they are able to deal with the political situations and then they leave the technical side of things to the experts, who they are expected to cooperate with, of course. For example, you often find that the minister in Egypt changes but that the deputy to the minister does not; this is because the deputy is the technical expert.
A minister cannot just say, for example, that high school should last six years, only to have another minister change it a few years later on account of it not being successful, according to their view. This would create an unstable situation. This is why ministers need a team of experts and technical help. To deal with this problem, you find cooperation between ministries. For example, the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation are now cooperating over certain issues.
Previously, a lack of coordination between these two agencies led us to go from having strategically-planned agriculture to having farmers randomly planting in their plots. You find, for example, someone who is planting onions and because this is not planned, they may not be able to sell them. This is problematic because then he burns it to get rid of it; it is a waste. There needs to be strategic farming that goes along the policies and the interests of the Egyptian government to guarantee continued growth.
I will give you an example, and this is not me claiming to be a farming expert, this is merely my view: in Greece their economy is largely dependent on planting olives. They plant it and then export it to many countries; they are popular for it. Here, we have lands in the North Coast that have been used to plant figs for years. We can start planting these figs at a larger scale, drying it, and exporting it.
The North Coast and the El Alamein area was known as the Roman farm. Why? Because farming can depend on multiple different water sources, whether rivers, wells, rain, and so on; those farms, much like the Romans did, depended on rain. The North Coast has a lot of rain. The floods that cause disasters can be used, through scientific techniques, we can collect this rain.
This would be beneficial for two main reasons. First, the disasters will seize. Second, the water would be used for agriculture. This is the political strategic thinking that we need to have; we need to have a practical political strategic ideology to enable us to deal with political scenarios, national projects and the country. To have investment, both foreign and domestic, you need to rely on technical expertise; there also needs to be cooperation between different governmental institutions and ministries.
ET: From this point of view, how would you tackle high prices, for example?
Abu Shoka:The problem with rising prices, for example, is a problem of lack of cooperation. You find that a merchant or trader has control over a whole area. In other words, monopoly. They buy from you [the farmer] the kilo of mandarin for say LE 0.85, and then they sell it to you [the consumer] for LE 10. Both the producer of the fruit and the consumer are being used by the middleman who is making the money and is sucking their blood. Why are there no governmental interventions to ensure that this procedure is done in a fairer way to all parties involved? An intervention would not curb the right for competition that the economy thrives on.
You have consumer institutions and different institutions that can ensure that this procedure is done fairly. Instead of leaving it solely in the control of the traders who are monopolizing the field, why not have selling points? These institutions can start working and they can buy the kilo of mandarin, continuing for example, for LE 150, instead of LE 0.85. Then, they could sell it for a mere LE 3. They will benefit both sides. When people pay LE 10, they do not know that the cost is much less. This goes for all fruits and vegetables, which are all considered staple items in any home.
This is also part of the development of the political sphere, which will enable the development of the country, the prevalence of security within the country, which has already happened through strategic measures, the renewal of the military and the military’s arms, and economic prosperity. We need to have a democracy coupled with a government that pursues scientific solutions.
ET: But in the current situation, highlighted by a lack of mature political parties, how can they produce practical political thought?
Abu Shoka: The problem that has occurred is that mistaken ideological solutions that have infiltrated political parties and have grown with the seniors, only to have the juniors learn it from them. In this case, the unusual becomes the usual, and the exception becomes the norm.
Good management and nurturing good ideologies that lead to good ideas are key. Management does not have to take a long time; good management could simply be done in a mere few hours.
ET: You have spoken extensively about democracy in Egypt, will you uphold democracy within your party when taking decisions?
Abu Shoka: The Wafd party is a symbol of democracy; decisions will, therefore, be taken in a democratic manner. The view of the majority will prevail no matter who the minority are, even if it is me, and decisions will be taken collectively after extensive discussion. Those who want to march to the beat of another drum will have to find another bank, if the majority takes a decision. If the person who is expressing their disapproval of a decision is ‘right,’ they still need to abide with what the majority wants, as they are the majority. There will be a stand for those who sing to another tune against the congregation after a decision has been made.
ET: Young Wafd members have recently developed a reputation for swearing and saying unacceptable comments on social media platforms, especially Facebook, how will you deal with this?
Abu Shoka: This will not be tolerated in any way, shape or form. We will not have our image tainted by those stepping over the line. During my visit to the governorates on the campaign for chairman trail, I told people that I will be strict with those who step over the line and that those who want to elect me knowing this are welcome to do so. I will not tolerate bad behaviour or tolerate the Wafd party’s name being tarnished.
Wafd’s principles and values will be upheld to the highest of degrees. I will not tolerate or allow uncivilized discussion manners; it will not be that when one disagrees with the other, they simply swear at each other. This cannot, and will not be allowed to, happen. In fact, if legal action is required, I will not be afraid to take action.
Young members of Wafd party are the hope for the future. I have said that before and I will say it again, we need to prepare the youths to represent the people. We also need to talk and collaborate with the church to ensure that there is adequate representation of Christians. Representation needs to be at a much greater level and much wider scale.
We will also have candidates for the 2022 presidential election.… If there is a young person, over 40 years of age, we will put them forth, if not, then we will put forth an older candidate. Kennedy came to power young; he was 43 years old. So did Macron at the young age of 39. It does not have to be someone young though.
ET: It is no secret that the Wafd party and its opposition newspaper is facing financial problems, and has been facing these problems for years, do you have a strategy to ensure the party and newspaper secure funds?
Abu Shoka: All I can say is: wait, watch and learn.
After all this history, that I thank God for I would not run for chairman without a plan. I would not do it for the name; I have a plan, with God’s will, that I will carry out.
ET: There has been talk circulating about you contributing to the party’s budget after your first year as chairman, what are your comments on this?
Abu Shoka: Right, let me tell you first that this was not me telling people on the campaign trail, or otherwise, vote for me and I will give money to the party.
What I said was clear, and it was not aimed to advertise my candidacy. I ran to be a successful chairman and I will not accept failure or letting the situation digress or even stay as is. This is unacceptable.
What I said is that until we have fixed funding sources for the newspaper and the party, I will be personally responsible for their expenses. Some might have commented on the issue, saying it is not possible for one person to take care of these expenses. To those people I say, I never said I would take care of it on a personal scale, rather that it is my responsibility; those who want to donate money to the party or the newspaper are more than welcome to do so. If someone wants to pay all the expenses, they are more than welcome to do so.
We accept donations from all, as do all big political parties around the world who are covering their expenses through donations from their members. However, we are also weary of who we accept money from. For example, we would not accept money from a so-called businessman whose whole background shouts drug lord.