Amid low expectations for Egypt's opposition parties in the upcoming October legislative elections, the liberal Wafd Party has launched a reform effort aimed at increasing its share of seats in the People's Assembly.
Dr. El-Sayyed El-Badawi, chairman of the party, said on July 8th the party "will enter the People's Assembly elections with a large number of candidates. This step will position Wafd at the heart of the political scene."
He said Wafd is seeking to recruit six independent members of the People's Assembly into its parliamentary ranks before the end of the current parliamentary session. Wafd already has 14 MPs.
The Wafd Party held internal elections in May described by observers as democratic and transparent. They resulted in El-Badawi's victory as head of the party, and he promised to carry out "historic" reforms.
Wafd was founded in 1918 by Saad Zaghloul and is one Egypt's oldest political parties. For more than two decades, it suffered from internal problems that prevented it from challenging the ruling National Democratic Party in legislative elections. The party enjoys a large budget, unlike other Egyptian opposition parties.
In April 2006, internal disputes over the party presidency erupted in violence. They ended when Mahmoud Abaza succeeded Dr. Numan Gumaa as party president.
"The package of reforms sought by party leaders focuses on two themes," Monir Fakhri Abdel Nour, secretary-general of the Wafd Party, told Al-Shorfa. "The first pertains to preparing party cadres for the next People's Assembly elections, and the second theme is (building) a strong presence on the street to encourage youth to join the party."
"The next (People's Assembly) elections are the top priority for the leadership, particularly as the next parliament could see the transition of power in Egypt," Abdel Nour added.
"Reform in Egypt must be begin with achieving social justice based on combating poverty and improving citizens' standard of living," he said. "Wafd will hold fast to these demands during its electoral battle against the National [Democratic] Party."
The campaign for internal reforms began by bringing numerous public figures into the party during June, including businessman Salim Mashhour, Rami Lakah, independent MP Alaa Abdel Moneim, major poet Ahmed Fouad Negm, and Zamalek soccer club player Abdelwahed El-Sayed, and several professors.
Regarding a possible alliance with other opposition parties in the elections, Abdel Nour said the party has yet to decide on this matter, but Wafd is a member of the coalition of democratic parties, which includes the National Progressive Unionist Party, the Democratic Front Party and the Nasserist Party.
Some observers, however, say the Wafd Party will only be able to overcome its current marginalization by connecting more with voters in the street.
Dr. Wahid Abdel Meguid, deputy chairman of the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, said any real efforts to reform Wafd could revive partisan life in Egypt because of the party's material and human resources.
But he does not expect the party to gain a significant number of seats in the People's Assembly because its influence on the street has declined to a point that he described as "semi-non-existent."
"What the Wafd Party needs at the moment is not to bring in a new set of public figures," Abdel Meguid told Al-Shorfa. "It needs to take to the street to strengthen its public base and stop remaining isolated from the public without tackling the problems of ordinary citizens."
He said that in 1984 the Wafd Party won 57 seats in parliament because of its popularity in the provinces and among young people but lost its influence because of internal conflicts and "the regime's interference in its affairs."
He added Wafd has an opportunity to gain political ground because leaders of the National Democratic Party have encouraged parties to talk to the street because they "discovered they are the most powerful weapon for countering the Muslim Brotherhood, which has bases of support among the masses in all provinces."