CAIRO: Infighting between different factions within the Al-Wafd party turned violent Saturday, following each side’s failed attempts to reclaim the Dokki headquarters ended in bloodshed; at least 21 (according to Mounir Fakhry Abdel-Nour, although other reports of 23 injured have surfaced) were injured in the violence, including two female journalists (Niveen Yaseen and Sahar Ramadan), and a party hall was burned down.
Supporters of overthrown party leader Noaman Gomaa seized the headquarters early Saturday after an earlier decision was made by the general prosecutor’s office to reinstate Gomaa and give him access to the premises. Party “reformists, who had revolted against Gomaa and were led by senior Al-Wafd partisan Mahmoud Abaza and former parliamentarian Mounir Fakhry Abdel-Nour, had been in control of the headquarters for weeks.
“Dr. Noaman Gomaa initiated the violence; everyone saw this on TV, says Mohammad Abu-Seleima, head of the party’s affairs in the Port Said governorate. Abu-Seleima came to Cairo when he was informed of the incident. “I could not believe what I saw at first . Noaman Gomaa evidently lost his temper and made this strange move.
Gomaa’s supporters reportedly sneaked into the office through a backdoor early Saturday and threw out the young supporters of their opponents. Al-Wafd reporters arriving at the scene were forcefully blocked from the headquarters, which included the main office of the Al-Wafd newspaper. Violent clashes occurred when a group of young reformists attempted to penetrate Gomaa’s cordon and re-claim the party office.
Some of the “reformists who were present at the site claimed they were beaten and shot at by Gomaa’s supporters; a claim denied by Gomaa’s followers and his daughter.
Iman Noaman Gomaa told the press on Saturday that Gomaa’s reclamation of the quarters was civilized and nonviolent, although his rivals’ reaction led to the bloodshed.
“Dr. Noaman Gomaa is a peaceful man, she says. “He never began by violence. All along, he resorted to law to get his right back. He raised court cases and filed complaints.
Gomaa’s daughter also blamed security officials for failing to interfere before the violence escalated. “Where was the government all along? Where was the police? she asks.
Truckloads of security and riot police arrived on the site at 5:00 p.m. This was more than eight hours after the violence occurred.
The younger Gomaa believes that the security’s reluctance to interfere revealed a form of hostility or bias against Gomaa and his cause. “This chaos was meant to happen. The security [officials] meant to leave the situation as is . because the headquarters should have been closed down earlier until the rival groups reconcile or their disputes are solved through court.
“Even the media is supporting Abaza and his followers. They give a distorted picture of what happened. One wonders about who this situation really serves, says Gomaa’s daughter.
She insists that the gunfire was started by Gomaa’s opponents and not Gomaa himself.
“Some reporters had guns, they came with guns, claims Gomaa’s daughter, who spoke on air to TV show host Amr Adib during his popular Cairo Today show.
In its report, Agence-France Presse said that to reclaim control of the compound, “Abaza supporters. were breaking the gates and throwing Molotov cocktails into the old palace, one wing of which was destroyed by the flames.
“We had no firearms whatsoever. We did not even have batons or sticks to defend ourselves . let alone guns and weaponry, says Abdel-Nour, one of Gomaa’s principal challengers and an eyewitness. “Those who were with Noaman Gomaa were not even supporters. They were thugs; around 60 thugs who were paid LE 50 each to storm into the quarters and shoot people.
“Noaman did not enter through a backdoor as some of the press reported. He stormed the place through the front door, Abdel-Nour tells The Daily Star Egypt. “He went in from the front door and shot at youth convening at the offices. The thugs even stole their mobile phones.
“Our supporters were defenseless and [Gomaa] is also the one responsible for the room that burned down, adds Abdel-Nour. “All those who fell and were injured were our people; Al-Wafd reporters . our supporters . who shot at them? Who, then, had the guns? Us or Gomaa?
According to AFP, some Al-Wafd members had claimed that Gomaa and his men might have seized archives and computer hard drives before they were forced to leave the compound.
The struggle between the two factions initially unfolded when a shift of power led by Abaza and Abdel-Nour removed Gomaa from office. Many of the party’s younger generation, calling themselves “the reformists, seized the party’s headquarters, overthrowing Gomaa and all those who supported him. The reformists claimed Gomaa was an authoritarian and a “dictator who endorsed his absolute control over party policies.
Gomaa, deeming the move “unconstitutional, publicly protested what he called “an inner revolution. In turn, party rivals took over the Dokki headquarters, holding press conferences and issuing different and sometimes conflicting statements and insider reports. Two months following the overthrow, the reformists elected a new party leader, Mustapha Al-Taweel.
Gomaa, insisting that he is “the one and only chairman of Al-Wafd, filed two court cases against Abaza and his group. After seizing the headquarters during one instance, he fired the top newspaper editors and terminated its publication.
During the strife, the interference of the High Council of Journalism, headed by Safwat Al-Sherif, was minimal. The High Council’s role was restricted to issuing reports and warnings; however neither side was fully endorsed as the rivals contested for rights to the paper. The prosecutor general’s decision initially supported Gomaa, giving him forced access through security forces.
Nevertheless, when minor clashes re-occurred, the prosecution remained neutral and uninvolved, until Saturday’s violent clashes, when they called upon forces to interfere.
After hours of clashes, riot police encircled the quarters. According to Abdel-Nour, the police were initially passive and did not attempt to stop the violence.
Later, a convoy of security personnel managed to enter the quarters and convince Gomaa to leave.
“They lied to him, Gomaa’s daughter said. “They told him they were taking him home but instead they took him to the Dokki prosecution office. He was tricked into leaving.
Gomaa left the headquarters in an armored police vehicle.
Those that were injured on Saturday are currently hospitalized; two cases are reportedly critical. One victim suffering a gunshot wound was a pedestrian who happened to pass by the quarters during gunfire.
Gomaa and five other senior Al-Wafd members are currently being held in Cairo’s attorney general’s office, along with at least 60 other men. Among the accusations brought against Gomaa and his cohorts are attempted manslaughter and damage to public property.
“Dr. Noaman put all his legacy and history on stake. He’s supposedly a law expert, says Abu-Seleima. “But his attitude was that of a gangster; using thugs and arms was just too much.