Wednesday,22 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1267, (22 - 28 October 2015)
Wednesday,22 August, 2018
Issue 1267, (22 - 28 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

What next for the Salafists?

Al-Nour Party was a major loser in the first round of parliamentary elections, further weakening the Salafist party, reports Khaled Dawoud

Al-Ahram Weekly

“Don’t panic” was the message Salah Abdel-Maaboud, Al-Nour Party spokesman, told his followers after results of the first round of parliamentary elections came in, showing that the Salafist party was losing in its strongholds in the governorates of Alexandria and Beheira.

The party lost ground to the For the Love of Egypt coalition that ran on a platform of supporting President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and opposing political Islamist groups.

Meanwhile, the governorate of Marsa Matrouh remained loyal to Al-Nour, dubbed by its critics as a religious party with a fundamentalist agenda. It came first in the overall results, followed by For the Love of Egypt, but not by a wide margin.

“To the youth of Al-Nour: don’t panic. Only God knows what is good for us. We don’t know, but perhaps God is keeping something better for us in the future,” said Abdel-Maaboud in a short message posted on the party’s official Faceook page.

It was the first clear admission by Al-Nour’s leadership of its losses, a dramatic shift from the shocking victory it scored shortly after it first came out in the wake of the 25 January 2011 Revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak as president.

According to near-final results announced on Tuesday, Al-Nour had lost the key list it was hoping to win, with a total of 15 seats in the so-called western governorates of Alexandria, Beheira and Marsa Matrouh.

Because results are determined according to the majority system, whereby the winner of 50 plus one of the votes wins the entire list, the victory by Al-Nour in Marsa Matrouh was not enough to cover for its losses in Alexandria and Beheira to the For the Love of Egypt coalition.

Sameh Seif Al-Yazal, coordinator of the For the Love of Egypt list, said it won 58 per cent in the western governorates, enough to avoid a runoff.

A few individual candidates from Al-Nour will compete in the runoffs next week in the three governorates, assuring a continuing presence in parliament, but the overall result was bad. Al-Nour’s individual candidates also fared poorly in Giza governorate and ten other governorates in south Egypt, known as the Saeed, where elections took place on Sunday and Monday.

In the parliament election held in December 2011 after Mubarak’s ouster, Al-Nour Party, which was little known at the time, came in second, with 22 per cent of the votes, after the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, which won 46 per cent. Parliament was dissolved less than six months later following a ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court that the Election Law was unconstitutional.

The Salafist movement in Egypt has always had a strong presence in several governorates, including Alexandria, Beheira, Marsa Matrouh and key neighbourhoods in Cairo.

Under Mubarak, they stayed away from politics and preferred to concentrate on da’awa, or preaching, in support of their fundamentalist, conservative agenda. Thus, winning 112 seats in 2011, and forming the second biggest bloc in parliament was indeed a surprise to all observers.

Like the Brotherhood, the Salafists controlled many mosques and ran a network of charity services that provided them with huge funds from inside and outside Egypt, namely the oil-rich Gulf region where there is a strong Salafist movement in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.

Al-Nour’s support for the army’s removal of former president and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi on 3 July 2013, following nationwide anti-Brotherhood demonstrations, did not seem enough to save the party from harsh criticism by liberal and leftist parties who claimed that it was no different from the Brotherhood, if not worse.

Other political Islamist groups, led by the Brotherhood, considered Al-Nour members to be “traitors” who had put their own interests first, especially after they refused to denounce the violent dispersal by police of the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins to protest against Morsi’s removal.

At least 1,000 people died in Rabaa and Nahda, including many Salafists whose supporters disagreed with Al-Nour’s official position against the Brotherhood. Thus, practically, Al-Nour came under attack from all sides.

Al-Nour’s leadership supported Morsi when he first became president in June 2012, but mainly to push him to adopt a more fundamentalist agenda and to make sure that the constitution he drafted while in office matched their strict interpretation of Islam, particularly concerning the implementation of Sharia rules, freedom of expression, women and Coptic Christians.

Key Salafist leaders of Al-Nour also shocked Egyptians with some of their fatwas, or edicts, particularly those made by sheikhs Yasser Borhami and Abdel-Monem Al-Shahat.

For example, Borhami said that Muslims were not allowed to congratulate Christians during Christmas because that would imply recognition of their religion. He also strongly defended the marriage of girls as young as nine, if not less, saying this was common practice during the early days of the Prophet Mohamed.

Shahat, meanwhile, said that ancient Pharaonic treasures should be destroyed because they are statues of human likenesses, which are banned in Islam. However, as a compromise, and to avoid international criticism, he suggested that Pharaonic statues should be wrapped in plastic sheets.

Shahat was among Al-Nour Party candidates in the 2011 elections, and narrowly lost to a rival representing the Brotherhood.

Recognising that running again would renew attacks against the party, Shahat, like many other Al-Nour candidates, decided to stay away from the current elections. The party had originally announced that it was putting candidates in all 448 districts reserved for individual seats, as well as 120 candidates for the four lists that cover all of Egypt.

However, after a campaign started by a group of secular youth titled “No to Religious Parties”, and increasing attacks by secular parties such as the Free Egyptians and the leftist Tagamu Party against Al-Nour, the party’s leadership announced they would cut by half the number of their candidates.

Instead of competing over the four lists, Al-Nour President Younes Makhyoun said they would announce candidates in only two zones: the western governorates list made up of 15 seats (including Alexandria, Beheira and Marsa Matrouh), and the Cairo and Delta list that will be determined in the second stage of voting in a month, with a total of 45 seats. The party also decided to field only 200 candidates across the country for individual seats.

Yet this was clearly not enough to lessen attacks against Al-Nour. Mohamed Attia, who heads the No to Religious Parties group, said Al-Nour was “the back door for Muslim Brotherhood candidates”, and strongly rejected their claims that they were a “civilian” party.

Attia also charged that only a few Coptic Christians who agreed to run on Al-Nour’s two lists, as mandated by the Election Law, were convinced by the measure after receiving generous donations. He noted that Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church also criticised Copts who agreed to run as Al-Nour candidates.

To make things worse, Al-Nour critics started bringing up old videos of Borhami in which he attacked the concept of democracy and elections to start with, saying they violated the teachings of Islam. “The only rule we accept is that of God, not of the people as claimed in Western democracies. We cannot change the rules of Islam through popular elections,” Borhami said in one of the videos.

Borhami sharply criticised those who referred to his previous statements, saying he had expressed such views when Mubarak was in office, and when all elections, he added, were rigged.

Makhyoun, Al-Nour president, said the party held the Free Egyptians Party, led by billionaire Christian business tycoon Naguib Sawiris, responsible for most attacks against its candidates. Both parties filed complaints to the High Election Commission (HEC) that the other side was using sectarian language in its propaganda.

“Such attacks against us will not weaken our will,” Makhyoun said in a statement. “We will enter the parliament to defend Islamic Sharia and the principles of our religion in accordance with the constitution’s Article 2, which states that Islam is the main source of legislation. No one can call us a religious party.”

But Makhyoun’s statements have apparently not saved the party from a heavy defeat, and many observers expect that as much as the 2011 elections saw the sudden rise of Al-Nour, the 2015 voting, amid a general atmosphere that is hostile to political Islamist groups, is likely to be the beginning of its end.

add comment

  • follow us on