Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1263, (17 - 30 September 2015)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1263, (17 - 30 September 2015)

Ahram Weekly

No light for the Nour Party?

The legal battle over the status of the only Islamist force contesting the parliamentary elections intensifies, writes Amany Maged

Al-Ahram Weekly

As parliamentary elections approach the campaign to ban religious parties is gaining momentum. In addition to launching a “No to Religious Parties” petition drive, secular liberals have initiated a number of legal procedures. They have fixed their crosshairs, in particular, on the Nour Party, the political wing of the Salafist Calling.

The Nour Party appears — till now at least — to enjoy judicial immunity to dissolution. In February the Authority of Commissioners, a consultative body affiliated to the Administrative Court, recommended that a petition filed by lawyer Gamal Ismail calling for the dissolution of Salafist party be rejected.

Ismail had argued that the Nour Party, which represents Salafis, had a religious frame-of-reference and was therefore in violation of constitutional provisions regarding political parties.

In its report the Authority of Commissioners rejected the lawsuit on procedural grounds, arguing that the petition should have been first submitted to the head of the Committee for Political Party Affairs, the only body that has legal recourse to sue for the dissolution of a political party and the liquidation of its assets before the Supreme Administrative Court.

A second attempt to petition for the dissolution of the Nour Party, launched by lawyer Samir Sabri, included the submission of a memorandum to the Committee for Political Parties Affairs charging that the party was established on a religious basis. It, too, was dismissed on the grounds that Sabri had first attempted to appeal to the Administrative Court.

A third suit before the Administrative Court aimed to prevent Nour Party members from nominating themselves as parliamentary candidates. While the court ruled that the Political Parties Affairs Committee must study the legal position of parties with a religious frame-of-reference it did not issue a ruling that would oblige the committee to reject candidacy applications from Nour Party members.

Some legal experts argue that while cases pertaining to the Nour Party should be settled before parliamentary elections the timeframe makes this impossible. One result, they say, is that any ruling against the Nour Party after the polls could result in the questioning of the legitimacy of the entire House of Representatives.

In the midst of this war of litigation the Nour Party continues to insist that its legal position is sound. One Nour Party member even suggests that attempts to contest the legitimacy of the Nour Party are tantamount to contesting the post 30 June Revolution roadmap, given that Nour was among the parties that took part in the inauguration of the roadmap, and the 2014 constitution which the Nour Party helped draft.

“Why is it only now that they are claiming Nour is religious party and are concocting rumours to tarnish its reputation?” he asked.

“Why did this not surface when the Nour Party was the only party in Egypt that supported the army in order to protect Egyptians from a fate similar to that of Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen? Why didn’t the liberal trend say at the time that the Nour Party is a religious party which has to be dissolved and that the roadmap must be cancelled because a religious party participated in it? Why don’t liberals argue that the 2014 Constitution is invalid because a religious party helped draft it?”

Salah Abdel-Maboud, a member of the Nour Party’s central committee, says the litigation attempts and campaign now being waged against the party are “proof of our strength, presence on the ground, and grassroots support”.

 “The Nour Party does not practice exclusion. Yet there are those who want to exclude the party. If we were not such a strong party there would not be this obsession with our positions. In order to know how strong you only need to look at the strength of the attacks against you.”

Maboud expects the onslaught by parties “that have no effective presence on the ground” to grow more intense as the elections draw closer. “It is the people,” he says, “who alone can resolve this situation by choosing the candidates they feel best represent them in the forthcoming parliament.”

A growing number of politicians and lawyers have criticised decision-making circles for attempting to keep the Nour Party alive despite it being founded on what they say is a religious basis the violates the constitution.

The Nour Party was created following a decision taken by the board of the Salafist Calling endorsing the creation of a political party to serve as the political wing of the organisation. A ten-member council of elders was then formed, consisting of Salafist Calling sheikhs over the age of 50, to oversee all matters pertaining to Sharia. This council still operates, yet party officials continue to maintain Nour is not a religious party.

“I was obvious legal moves to dissolve the Nour Party would not work,” Professor of constitutional law Gamal Gabril told Al-Ahram Weekly. “Any suit petitioning for the dissolution of a party must be initiated by the Committee for Political Parties Affairs filing a complaint with the Public Prosecutor’s office. The prosecution then initiates an inquiry and if its findings corroborate the petition it will turn the matter over to the relevant authorities. Individuals cannot file such suits on their own initiative.”

The Supreme Administrative Court’s refusal to consider the Nour Party case suggests the court could not find reasonable cause to dissolve the party, says jurist Shawki Al-Sayed.

Mohamed Attia, coordinator of the “No to Religious Parties” drive, says the campaign’s legal committee, headed by Hussein Hassan, submitted new documents to the office of the public prosecutor on 14 September that show the Nour Party is founded on a religious basis. In a press release Attia said the documents would be added to the suit’s dossier and would be used to further press claims that the Nour Party is violating constitutional and legal provisions which outlaw the mixing of religion with politics.

The Nour Party, beleaguered and with no one to stand up for it, has few alternatives but to fall back on its basic line of defence: that it is the victim of a campaign of exclusion despite its devotion to the higher interests of the nation and its rejection of violence.

Party officials also say they are not worried by the suits and are fully focused on the elections. In the words of one: “People interested in working with us our welcome. As for this legal manouevring, it is destined to fail. We were established in accordance with the law and work only to advance the interests of the nation.”

Experts on Islamist movements suggest the drive to dissolve Nour has two sides. One is to eliminate religious parties entirely. The other is to give the powers-that-be a legal card they can play in order to dissolve parliament and contend its constitutionality should they deem it necessary. Other observers see the tightening vice around the Nour Party as a way to ensure it abides by the laws under which it was created.

The legal onslaught against the Nour Party is casting a shadow over other religious parties, not least the Wasat (Centre) Party whose founder and chairman Abul-Ela Madi was released from prison several weeks ago.

Concerned that it might soon find itself in Nour’s position, Wasat issued a statement on 14 September declaring that it had totally disassociated itself from the Muslim Brotherhood with which it had sided on 30 June 2013.

The statement stressed that from its first attempts to establish itself in January 1996 the aim was always to establish a civil party independent of the Muslim Brotherhood. Established by virtue of an Administrative Court ruling on 19 February 2011, the party claims to have always been a rival to the Muslim Brotherhood and politically and ideologically independent.

The party supported Mohamed Morsi following his removal, the statement continued, because he was democratically elected and not because of his political affiliation.

The statement also reiterated that the Wasat Party rejected all forms of violence and confirmed the decision — taken by its central committee before Madi was released — that it would not be taking part in the parliamentary polls.

The Wasat Party’s central committee also announced that it had accepted the decision of committee members who are currently residing abroad who tendered their resignations to clear the way for the appointment of new committee members whose presence in Egypt would enable them “to contribute more effectively to the activities of the party”. The new central committee members are: Mohamed Mahsoub, who will serve as deputy chairman; Hatem Azzam, who has been appointed deputy chairman for foreign relations; Amr Adel and Asmaa Youssef.

 The committee accepted the resignations of the party’s former assistant secretary-general Amr Farouk, who is studying abroad on a scholarship, and committee member Atef Awad who resigned after his job required him to be based outside Egypt.

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