Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1134, 7 - 13 February 2013
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1134, 7 - 13 February 2013

Ahram Weekly

Promoting legitimacy

Despite differences, Islamist forces are united around one goal — support of President Mohamed Morsi, writes Omayma Abdel-Latif

Al-Ahram Weekly

Islamist forces are increasingly convinced the endgame of the opposition, as represented by the National Salvation Front (NSF), is to deny them the right to govern. The call for demonstrations on 8 February under the banner of ending President Mohamed Morsi’s rule has acted to reinforce their suspicion that the NSF is engaged in serial attempts to undermine “Islamist legitimacy”.
A leading member of the Salafist Nour Party told Al-Ahram Weekly on Monday that the legitimacy of the president and the constitution “is a red line” which cannot be crossed.
“When we sat with the opposition we told them clearly we will not tolerate any move that targets the president’s legitimacy,” Mohamed Abbas, member of the Nour’s political bureau and secretary of its Cairo chapter, said. “This can only lead to chaos in the country. If Morsi is not allowed to complete his term in office, his successor will face the same fate.”
Such is the political context within which the Nour Party wants its recent initiative to break the political stalemate to be viewed. The initiative includes amending some of the most controversial constitutional articles, the dismissal of Morsi’s recently appointed prosecutor-general, reconciliation with some members of the former regime, dismissal of the cabinet and its replacement with a coalition government.
Party leaders have been making the rounds to explain the initiative, particularly after it met with harsh criticism from the Islamist rank and file.
Yasser Burhami, deputy head of Al-Daawa Al-Salafiya, the Nour Party’s mother organisation, cites the emergence of groups which advocate violence as a tool for change as one reason it is now an urgent task to break the political deadlock. 
“State institutions stand tight handed in the face of such calls against the president and the constitution. The initiative, therefore, is one way to say no to such calls including those which want to bring back the army into the political management of the country,” Burhami wrote in an article posted on Al-Salaf website.
Abbas, a professor of physics at Ain Shams University, says the party’s initiative is intended to “reverse the dynamics of the current political impasse”.
“We sought to stake out a middle ground whereby the opposition accepts the rules of the game and recognises Morsi’s legitimacy, even if his election victory was wafer-thin, and acknowledges that the only way to change him is through legitimate channels, ie the ballot box.”
But that is not going to happen any time soon since the Nour Party plan categorically rejects early presidential elections.
The Nour formed a liaison committee to initiate dialogue with other political parties. It met with Mohamed Al-Beltagui and Hussein Ibrahim from the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), Safwat Abdel-Ghani and Rifae Taha from Al-Binaa wal-Tanmiya and with Mohamed Mahsoub and Essam Sultan of the Wasat Party. A meeting also took place with Ayman Nour, head of Ghad Al-Thawra Party.
According to Nour Party figures, the moves represent the first attempt to break the political and ideological deadlock which is paralysing the country.
“The initiative was intended to restore the political stability necessary to pave the way for parliamentary elections, allowing Egypt to exit the transition period to a more stable rule that could achieve the demands of the revolution,” says Abbas.
The lukewarm response the initiative received from other Islamist forces left some Nour Party members peddling the theory that their party is being made to pay for adopting a moderate position and prioritising national interests over a purely partisan agenda.
Following the declaration of the initiative Nour Party members in Giza’s Al-Kanessa district were reported to have submitted their resignations, a move described by Ismail Abu Hadid, head of the membership committee, as yet another attempt to “soil the party’s reputation”.
The campaign against the Nour’s initiative included some Salafi sheikhs who accused the party of sowing division among Islamist, a charge Abbas and other party members deny.
“Why must we always be saying amen to everything the president or the FJP does?” asks Abbas.
The FJP and the presidency both made noticeably vague statements about welcoming any initiative which seeks to foster national reconciliation.
FJP head Saad Al-Katatni said the party was reviewing several political initiatives while considering a response. He did not mention the Nour initiative by name. The Strong Egypt Party remained silent. Its head Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh presented his own initiative last week. It, too, went unheeded. And while the Wasat, Hadara and Masr Al-Haditha (Modern Egypt) offered a cautious welcome, Jihadi Salafi figures such as Mohamed Al-Zawahri rejected it outright, and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya (Islamic group) and the Salafist Front (Al-Gabha Al-Salafiya) denounced it as a copy of NSF demands and a caving in to “the political thuggery” of the opposition.
“The initiative,” said Sheikh Rifae Taha, an Al-Gamaa member of the Shura Council, “gives a kiss of life to the counter-revolution and rewards those who resort to violence.” Islamists, he railed, should not sacrifice their religious principles at the altar of the ballot box.
The Nour responded to the criticism by turning down Al-Gamaa’s call for all Islamist forces to participate in a demonstration on 15 February “in defence of the president’s legitimacy”. Demonstrations and counter-demonstrations, as one senior party member put it, are not going to solve Egypt’s chronic problems.
The Nour Party initiative has exposed the ongoing political rivalry between Islamist parties. Opposition to the initiative appears conditioned on electoral calculations as the parliamentary ballot grows closer. Islamist parties are fighting over the same constituency, though there is little ideological difference between them. 
Abbas dismisses suggestions that the NSF’s reception of the initiative indicated an electoral alliance in the making. Burhami confirmed this by stating that the Nour Party would fight the elections alone and that there would be no coordination with the Muslim Brotherhood in any seats.
The Nour Party is striving to distance itself from the Muslim Brotherhood and its FJP. Party cadres have been vocal in their criticism of the way the Muslim Brotherhood is dealing with other Islamist forces. Younis Makhioun, party head, said in a lecture in Kafr Al-Sheikh that he had spoken directly to the president about the FJP’s exclusion of all other political forces, including Islamists. The Nour’s new party line appears to be to stress its political independence from the Muslim Brotherhood. The party is also working to gain lost grounds due to the misconduct of some party members by adopting what appears to be a centrist line calling for a “national consensus” agenda serving the national interests.
“It wants to appear as the voice of reason in the middle of the madness and to speak in the name of all Islamists,” says one observer. The success or failure of the ploy will depend on the space other Islamists are willing to allow Nour within the overcrowded map of Islamist politics.

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