Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1260, (27 August - 2 September 2015 )
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1260, (27 August - 2 September 2015 )

Ahram Weekly

Campaigning against Islamists

The campaign targeting Islamist parties could backfire, writes Amany Maged

Al-Ahram Weekly

A group of intellectuals and representatives of civil forces have initiated a campaign to disband Egypt’s remaining Islamist political parties. The immediate objective is to prevent Islamists from winning seats in the parliamentary elections expected before the end of this year.

Last week, members of revolutionary groups and of the Tamarod (Rebel) Movement held a press conference at the Press Syndicate to announce the “No to Religious Parties” campaign. They clearly had the Salafist Nour Party in their sights. Nour Party officials were quick to respond, threatening legal action against anyone who attempted to slander or defame the party.

“No to Religious Parties” spokesperson Doaa Khalifa said the campaign hoped to collect 25 million signatures in support of dissolving religious parties. So far, she said, more than 200,000 signed “mandates” had been gathered and will be submitted to the Political Parties Affairs Committee.

The campaign, said Khalifa, would hold conferences “in the street”. She predicted that it would repeat the success of the Tamorod movement which launched the petition demanding early presidential elections which is widely seen as the precursor to the 30 June demonstrations that led to the ouster of Mohamed Morsi and an end to Muslim Brotherhood rule.

The campaign has already established an executive office in Alexandria where it hopes to develop a large base of support. Hanan Abdel-Hadi will serve as campaign coordinator in Alexandria. General campaign coordinator Mohamed Attia says the goal is to establish offices in all of Egypt’s governorates.

“We are pushing for the complete exclusion from political life of religious parties. We will mobilise public opinion by holding awareness-raising workshops,” Attia added.

Meanwhile, lawyer Samir Sabri, Ahmed Darrag of the 25 January-30 June Alliance, Social Justice Coalition coordinator Gamal Zahran, the Popular Democratic Coalition’s Karima Al-Hefnawi, breakaway Brotherhood leader Tharwat Al-Kharbawi and actress Taysir Fahmi have submitted a memorandum to the Political Parties Affairs Committee demanding that both the Nour and Strong Egypt Parties be dissolved. They argue the parties act as a front for the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood and were established on the basis of religious affiliation, in violation of Article 2 of the constitution.

Salafist Calling’s Vice President Yasser Borhami has denounced the “No to Religious Parties” campaign as an attempt to vilify the Nour Party, Salafist Calling’s political wing, ahead of parliamentary elections.

“Anyone who objects to the party should seek recourse through legal channels not by engaging in slander,” said Borhami during a recent press conference.

Some members of Salafist Calling are urging a counter petition to collect signatures of those opposed to the dissolution of the Nour Party. The move has been rejected by Nour Party leaders.

Nour Party assistant secretary-general Shaaban Abdel-Alim says the party will not allow itself to be distracted by the campaign and is busy preparing candidate lists for the parliamentary elections. He denied claims the Nour Party was a religious organisation, insisting it acted within both the law and constitution.

There is no evidence at all that the Nour Party has ever exploited religion in pursuit of its political goals, says Abdel-Alim, and any reports to the contrary are unfounded rumours. While the Nour Party has undertaken numerous initiatives to help bridge the rifts between Egyptians “unfortunately there are parties that are seeking to sow more division”, he said.

Doaa Khalifa claims that following the launch of the campaign she has received death threats and that the Nour Party has threatened “to set Egypt on fire if the party is dissolved”. She added that she is in the process of filing police complaints against the people who threatened her.

“Anyone who claims that we have made death threats against them should corroborate their claims with proof,” says Abdel-Alim. It is the “No to Religious Parties” campaign, he adds, that is operating outside the law since they are acting as a political organisation without having first obtained a license.

“They are just trying to eliminate the Nour Party because they’re afraid of competition in the next parliamentary elections,” he says.

The “No to Religious Parties” campaign is certain to fail, argues expert on Islamist movements Khaled Al-Zaafrani.

“The campaign calls for anarchy and turmoil in the street. It is not being conducted in accordance with any legal framework.”

Its aim, says Al-Zaafrani, is to stir confusion and raise suspicions about the Nour Party ahead of parliamentary elections. He rules out the possibility of a counter campaign.

“The Nour Party and its leadership will shrug off their detractors. They can do so because they are operating in accordance with the law.

Wahid Abdel-Meguid, deputy director of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, agrees. The “No to Religious Parties” campaign, he says, is a “publicity stunt with no practical value”.

“If you have valid questions about the legality of a party you pursue them through the Committee for Political Party Affairs and then through the courts.”

The problem, says Abdel-Meguid, is that the law offers no clear definition of what constitutes a religious party and does not explicitly outlaw parties claiming to base their programme on a religious frame of reference.

Most experts agree the purpose of the campaign is to tarnish the Nour Party in the run-up to the parliamentary poll. There is also a consensus that the campaign is likely to prove unnecessary given the way that the popularity of Islamist parties plummeted following the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Few observers believe it is in the interest of the authorities to dissolve the Nour Party, and many caution the campaign could backfire given how easily it could be portrayed as an assault on the Islamic faith.

add comment

  • follow us on