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"Al-Wasat was founded in 1996 when several young but well-respected members of the Muslim Brotherhood" broke away from the organization to form their own party. Abu al-‘Ala Madi took charge of the newly formed party and was assisted by fellow Brotherhood defectors Salah ‘Abd al-Karim and Essam Sultan. The party’s religious ideology is drawn from the Wasatiyya (Centrist) school of thought, a liberal interpretive tradition in Islamic thinking that gained popularity among some young Islamists in the 1980s and 1990s. The party seeks to interpret Islamic shar’ia principles in a manner consistent with the values of a liberal democratic system. Although al-Wasat advocates a political system that is firmly anchored in Islamic law, it also views shari’a principles as flexible and wholly compatible with the principles of pluralism and equal citizenship rights.

"Shortly after the party’s establishment, the government detained the party’s chairman and two other founders in addition to 23 members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Wasat’s leaders were charged with setting up a front party for the banned Muslim Brotherhood. Following the regime’s crackdown, the Brotherhood itself denounced al-Wasat. Allegedly, the Brotherhood’s deputy supreme guide, Ma’moun Hudeibi, ordered all Brotherhood members who had joined al-Wasat to resign immediately or face expulsion from the Brotherhood.

"The unlicensed al-Wasat has applied for legal party status several times since 1996, and the Political Parties Committee has thus far denied every application on the grounds that the party’s platform does not adequately distinguish it from existing opposition parties. In 2000, the government did grant al-Wasat permission to form an NGO, thereby offering the group a means of participating in civil society while restricting the scope of its political activities. Al-Wasat’s NGO, known as the Society for Culture and Dialogue, has functioned as a forum for members of the Egyptian intelligentsia, leading some critics to dismiss the NGO as a high-brow salon that lacks leverage and visibility in the political arena. Today, the party remains on the periphery of the political process and has been unable to mobilize a strong grassroots following.

"Major Party Figures: Abu al-‘Ala Madi: Founder and President; Essam Sultan: Leading party member

"Al-Wasat participated in the United National Front for Change, a coalition formed in October 2005 to coordinate an opposition campaign for the November parliamentary elections, in which it fielded a joint list of 225 candidates. Under the leadership of Egypt’s former prime minister, Aziz Sidqi, the front successfully united a range of formal and informal parties including the Wafd, the Nasserist Party, the Labor Party, al-Wasat, al-Karama, Kifaya, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

"In April 2009, al-Wasat joined the Egyptian Coalition for Change, an alliance that included the Kifaya movement, the April 6 Youth Movement, al-Karama, and individual members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The coalition presented a series of demands including the drafting of a new constitution, the abrogation of all emergency laws, annulment of the Camp David Accords (which normalized relations between Egypt and Israel in 1978), and the release of political prisoners.

"A leading member of al-Wasat, ‘Essam Sultan, helped found the National Association for Change. Although al-Wasat is currently a member of the coalition supporting Mohammed ElBaradei, some of its members have openly criticized his candidacy." [1]

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  1. Al-Wasat, carnegieendowment, accessed February 7, 2011.