Wednesday,20 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1230, (22 - 28 January 2015)
Wednesday,20 February, 2019
Issue 1230, (22 - 28 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Salafists marginalised

The Nour Party is as isolated as ever in the run-up to parliamentary elections, writes Amany Maged

Al-Ahram Weekly

The 17 January meeting at the Wafd Party’s headquarters marked an escalation in attempts by secular parties to elbow the Nour Party out of the political arena. Antipathy to the Salafist party was palpable throughout the meeting, which convened on Saturday in response to President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s call for political parties to agree to a single list of candidates ahead of parliamentary elections.

“The Nour Party is willing to take part in an electoral list,” said Tarek Al-Sahri, head of the party’s central committee. “What is unclear, though, is how the meeting at the Wafd Party relates to President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s call.”

Attempts to unify political parties do not take place in the headquarters of one of them, said Al-Shari. The Nour Party was not invited to attend the meeting.

Following their exclusion, Nour Party officials have been keen to stress that they are happy to allow the electorate to be the final judge of their party and its electoral chances. The party will be fielding candidates, either independently or as part of a coalition, Al-Sahri said, and will fight the election on a platform that promotes national unity.

Friction between the Nour Party and secular political parties is a regular occurrence. The most recent instance was the verbal battle that erupted between representatives of the Nour Party and the Free Egyptians Party during Al-Sisi’s meeting with political party leaders on 12 January.

The flareup began when Osama Al-Ghazali Harb called for the Nour Party, the political wing of the Salafist Calling, to be dissolved. The Nour Party’s Talaat Marzouq condemned the call.

In a statement released on his Facebook Page, Marzouk wrote: “When the head of one party demands the dissolution of another party during a meeting with the president it is a sign that the party leader has failed to understand the principle of the separation of powers and urgently needs some private tuition. Apparently, many people have been unable to free themselves from the mental shackles of dictatorship.”

Shehab Wagih, spokesman for the Free Egyptians Party, responded: “What Dr. Osama Al-Ghazali Harb said about the need to dissolve the Nour Party is not just the opinion of the Free Egyptians Party but also of many Egyptian people. The Nour Party tries to portray itself as a civil party but its supporters often demonstrate that it is the opposite. Many people see the Nour Party as a religious party, and its own officials do not deny this.”

Despite legal suits brought against it on the grounds that the 2014 constitution bans political parties based on religion, the Nour Party is determined to survive. It argues that while the party adopts an Islamic frame of reference it is not a religious party. To support its claims it points to past attempts to include liberal figures, Copts and women among its candidates. It also insists that its support of the state against the Muslim Brotherhood makes it a pro-government, rather than opposition, party.

“Let the ballot box decide” is the party’s response to its secular opponents.

Nour Party Vice-chairman Ashraf Thabet told a recent press conference the party will field candidates in all constituencies and was expecting to win 25 per cent of seats. Responding to charges that the party is positioning itself to take the place once occupied by the Muslim Brotherhood, Thabet said, “The Nour Party will never be an ally or a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood. The party is being attacked from all sides, by secular and Islamist groups, because we represent a third way.”

The Salafist party anticipates winning enough parliamentary seats to ensure it has a say in the creation of a new cabinet. Strong parties, says Thabet, are always subject to criticism and accusations.

Many analysts view the party’s claims that it is not bent on occupying the place the Muslim Brotherhood filled in Egypt’s Mubarak-era parliaments with a pinch of salt. Of course, they say, the Nour Party would never admit this is its aim.

They also point to statements made by Nour Party central committee member Yahya Safi to the effect that winning the same number of parliamentary seats as those occupied by the Muslim Brotherhood in the Mubarak era is “an attainable dream in the current climate of tension and exclusion.”

Ahmed Ban, an expert on Islamist movements, dismisses any possibility that the Salafists will be able to occupy the position the Muslim Brothers occupied in the pre-revolutionary period. The political and social contexts between then and now are very different, he argues, and the public has no appetite for an opposition movement emerging along Brotherhood lines.

The Nour Party, says Ban, expected that it would win public support for standing with the state following Mohamed Morsi’s ouster in 2013. Instead, it found itself tarred with the same brush as the Brotherhood, lumped together in the public’s mind with the Islamist parties they had risen up to dislodge. Its efforts to counter the perception have been of no avail, says Ban, and the media continues to fuel the public’s rejection of the whole Islamist trend.

In the parliamentary elections that followed the 2011 Revolution the Nour Party fielded candidates on an independent list, the Islamic Bloc Coalition. It caught commentators by surprise when it won 24 per cent of seats, emerging as the largest parliamentary bloc after the Muslim Brotherhood-led Democratic Coalition.

Today, analysts say the Nour Party will be lucky to win 10 per cent of parliamentary seats. Should their predictions prove true the party will carry little weight in the legislature.

Safi is not daunted by the task his party faces. “We launched the Nour Party into the political arena. We are the only party running in the elections with an Islamic Sharia frame of reference. Who else will people turn to to represent the Islamist current?”

Several factors are likely to dampen the party’s prospects at the poll. Secular parties may lack a grassroots presence but they are expected to assert themselves by fielding prominent businessmen in constituencies reserved for independents. Nor is there any guarantee that the Nour Party can count on the votes of younger Salafists, many of whom have become disaffected with the party’s leadership.

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