Abul Ela Madi
Born in 1958 in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Minya, Abul Ela Madi is Al-Wasat Party’s leader and one of its most prominent cofounders. He graduated in 1984 from Minya University with a degree in engineering and earned a law degree in 2008.
After defecting from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (MB) movement in 1996, he went on to form Al-Wasat Party, commonly known as an Islamist party with a “moderate” interpretation of Islamic divine texts. After several unsuccessful attempts to obtain a party license under the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, Al-Wasat was finally recognized in the immediate wake of the January 25 Revolution.
He is also a founding member of the Misr for Dialogue and Culture, a non-profit organization devoted to Muslim-Christian dialogue.
Madi boasts a number of published works and has participated in numerous conferences devoted to the subjects of political Islam and interfaith relations.
Before the Revolution
Madi first became involved in politics during his student years, winning consecutive student union elections at Minya University from 1977 to 1979. In 1979, while in prison for his university political activism, Madi joined the Muslim Brotherhood. Beforehand, he was a member of the Islamic Group (Al-Jama‘a Al-Ismaliyya). In 1996, however, he split from the Brotherhood due to disagreements over political strategy. He has had a tense relationship with the MB ever since he left it.
Shortly after leaving the MB, Madi established Al-Wasat Party, based on a “moderate-Islamist” platform.
Al-Wasat’s application for a party license was turned down multiple times by the state-controlled Political Parties Committee, which decreed that the would-be party "did not have anything new" to add to existing party platforms.
In 1996, Madi was hauled before a military tribunal alongside other party founders for allegedly trying to form a political party as a front for an “illegal organization”, namely the Muslim Brotherhood. He was released two months later.
In 2000, however, he managed to obtain a license from Egypt’s Social Affairs Ministry for the establishment of a non-profit organization, Misr for Dialogue and Culture, which aims to fostering Muslim-Christian dialogue.
Madi is known for his moderate interpretation of Islamic divine texts. He has repeatedly stated that Al-Wasat, unlike the MB, does not oppose the notion of a woman or non-Muslim serving as head of state. He also claims that his party boasts a number of Coptic Christians as members.
Madi is further known for his criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood’s centralized decision-making style and ironclad discipline, as well as his appeals to engage with non-Islamist political forces. In 2005, he became a founding member of the Kefaya protest movement, which brought together an ideologically diverse set of opposition actors, including Islamists, liberals, leftists, and nationalists. Kefaya was the first opposition movement to demand that Mubarak step down as Egypt’s president.
He also repeatedly called for less confrontational tactics vis-à-vis the state. For example, in a 2000 Ahram Weekly interview, he criticized the Muslim Brotherhood for escalating tensions between Islamists and the state by being too confrontational and insisting on contesting elections. In the same interview, Madi stated his support for “competent candidates”, including some fielded by Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party.
Madi has considered the long fight for official recognition of the Al-Wasat Party as a new strategy espousing a more public and legal form of political dissent, in contrast to the MB’s underground activism.
The Revolution and Beyond
Madi, along with members of Al-Wasat Party, supported Egypt’s January 25 Revolution from the outset. In an apparent attempt to highlight its revolutionary credentials, Al-Wasat adopted “From Tahrir Square to Parliament” as its campaign slogan for the 2011/2012 parliamentary elections. Following Mubarak’s ouster, Madi has repeatedly stated that the trials of the deposed president should serve as a “warning to any future leader or president”.
Madi also defended the raft of constitutional amendments proposed by a judiciary committee appointed by Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in the revolution’s wake. His party, meanwhile, zealously campaigned for the amendments, which were ultimately endorsed by seventy-seven percent of those who voted in a nationwide referendum in March 2011.
Liberal and leftist activists opposed these amendments on the grounds that they failed to overhaul the “authoritarian constitution” inherited from the Mubarak era, whereas Al-Wasat’s leaders, along with other Islamist groups, claimed that approving these amendments was the best way to ensure a swift end to military rule. All post-constitutional documents that have since followed the 19 March Referendum have failed to provide an exact date for when Egypt’s military council would formally hand over power to a civilian government. In recent months, Madi has vociferously criticized this long transitional period, asserting that there is “no excuse” for SCAF’s increasingly long stay in power.
In the nine months since the uprising, Al-Wasat Party has continued to advocate for a speedy transition to an elected government. It has opposed several of the post-revolution Tahrir Square sit-ins, arguing that elections should remain the public’s primary focus.
Madi has also opposed an official initiative by Al-Azhar scholars to build greater consensus among Egypt’s diverse political forces, particularly around the principles to guide the writing of the country’s next constitution. He has argued that Al-Azhar University should refrain from interfering in politics and should focus exclusively on religious affairs. “If Al-Azhar is allowed to enter politics, then so should the Pope,” he was quoted as saying.
In early November, Madi also opposed so-called “constitutional guiding principles" as proposed by Deputy Prime Minister Ali Al-Selmy. He asserted that two proposed principles were particularly dangerous; because, if approved, they would render Egypt’s military the “guardian” of constitutional authority and shield the military’s budget from parliamentary oversight. According to Madi, the proposed principles also perilously grant Egypt’s armed forces the exclusive right to determine whether or not the country wages war.
Additionally, Madi has openly criticized the manner by which proposed constitutional principles were presented to Egypt’s political movements and parties. He claims the approach has not been dissimilar from Mubarak-era practices of pressuring parties to approve draft legislation without any regard for their views or alternative proposals.
Madi is running in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Al-Wasat’s list in Minya, headed by Madi, is scheduled to enter what promises to be an extremely competitive race against the Freedom and Justice list headed by Saad Al-Katatny. Al-Katatny is the Secretary General of the Freedom and Justice Party, founded by the Muslim Brotherhood, the same group from which Madi defected in the mid-1990s.
Al-Wasat Party will participate in upcoming parliamentary elections without being part of any formal electoral coalition. The party was briefly part of the Muslim Brotherhood led Democratic Alliance for Egypt, but withdrew due to what party leaders described as the Muslim Brotherhood’s domineering role in the Alliance.
Madi boasts considerable electoral experience. Along with winning student union elections during his Minya University career, he was also elected Assistant Secretary-General of the Egyptian Engineer’s Syndicate, a post that he held from 1987 to 1995.
In 1987, while still with the MB, Madi was nominated to run in parliamentary elections, but his candidacy was dropped due to a law stipulating that an individual had to be at least thirty years old to run for office. Madi was twenty-nine years old at the time.
Madi went on to run in the 1995 parliamentary polls as an MB candidate in Cairo’s Helwan district, but lost. His decision to split from the MB later the same year drew the ire of that group’s leadership.
Madi has recently denied rumours that he has plans to run in Egypt’s first post-Mubarak presidential election. He has instead declared support for presidential hopeful and Al-Wasat Party member Mohamed Selim Al-Awa.
[Developed in partnership with Ahram Online.]
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