Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1137, 28 February - 6 March 2013
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1137, 28 February - 6 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

Searching for allies

Omayma Abdel-Latif examines the possibility of Islamist alliances being forged ahead of the parliamentary elections

Al-Ahram Weekly

Hours after the Salafist Nour Party announced it would be contesting parliamentary elections scheduled to begin on 22 April its spokesperson, Nader Bakkar, ruled out the possibility it would ally itself with the Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). The statement not only reflected the growing political rivalry between the two parties but held out the possibility that the forthcoming vote could turn into a battle between Egypt’s two biggest Islamist parties.

The Nour Party’s decision surprised few despite earlier speculation that it would threaten to boycott the vote in the absence of guarantees to ensure a fair and free election.

“Boycotting the election is the worst choice a political party can make,” says Sherif Taha, a member of the Nour’s supreme committee, the party’s decision-making body. It can only mean being away from the decision-making process.

On Tuesday another Salafist party, Al-Binaa wal-Tanmiya, the political wing of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, also announced it would contest the polls. Other Islamist parties such as Al-Watan, Al-Fadila, Al-Asala and the newly born Al-Raya of Sheikh Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, are expected to follow suit.

If the secular opposition goes ahead and boycotts the elections Islamists will find themselves in an awkward situation. The electoral battle will be reduced to inter-Islamist competition. In the 2011 elections identity politics was the name of the game, with Islamist parties claiming the secular liberal opposition was bent on destroying the Islamic project. This time round little thought appears to have been given to the ticket on which they will try and win the day.

Briefing the press on Monday on the reasons why his party decided to participate, Bassem Al-Zarka, deputy head of the Nour, said the decision “serves the higher interest of the country”. Al-Zarka’s statement put an end to recent speculation about a possible electoral alliance between the Nour and non-Islamist parties to face up to the Muslim Brotherhood. He said his party would only enter an electoral alliance with parties that embrace an Islamist ideology.

Bakkar’s dismissal of any alliance with the Brothers triggered a bigger question regarding the identity of any potential allies for the Nour.

“The Nour has a clear-cut agenda and honours transparency and clarity in decision-making, something which the FJP lacks in any talk of alliance,” Amr Mekki, deputy head of the Nour, told Al-Ahram Weekly on Monday. He pointed out that his party would run its electoral campaign under the slogan “Running not Ruling the State”.

“We believe that many serious mistakes have been committed, the most serious of which is the Brotherhood’s attempt to rule by excluding all other national forces, including non-Islamists.”

A similar view was voiced by Safwat Abdel-Ghani, head of the political bureau of Al-Binaa wal-Tanmiya. Abdel-Ghani criticised the performance of both the president and the Hisham Kandil government.

“The president has failed to establish any sort of national consensus since taking power. He has also failed to act as the president of all Egyptians,” Abdel-Ghani said in an interview with Al-Shorouk newspaper. On the FJP, he said: “There is no transparency or clarity on the part of the FJP which has led to mistrust between the FJP and other parties.”

Abdel-Ghani did confirm that his party would participate in the national dialogue session due to be held on Tuesday.

Party pundits from the Nour and Al-Binaa wal-Tanmiya who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly insist that it remains crucial to have guarantees for a fair and free elections, including the appointment of a cabinet of technocrats to oversee the poll. The FJP, however, remains opposed to any cabinet reshuffle. The Nour, explained one official, is backing an alternative proposal.

“We will suggest that a handful of ministries which are in direct contact with the election process be occupied by technocrats in order to ensure that the state bureaucracy remains neutral,” explained Mekki. He is, however, sceptical that the president will act on the suggestion. “We have no guarantees of free elections, nothing at all,” he said. Another party source suggested that the electorate must remain vigilant to ensure the poll is fair. “We will be monitoring the elections closely and will not be silent or cover up for any irregularities that undermine the fairness of the vote,” insisted Mekki.

The Nour and other Islamist parties’ fear the FJP is working to influence the vote. Such fears have been consolidated by statements by Wafd Party head Al-Sayed Al-Badawi who in an interview on Sunday with Al-Shorouk said a leading figure from the Nour had told him that the Brotherhood has appointed at least 12,000 of its members to counting and voting committees nationwide.

In an article titled “The roots of the troubles with the Muslim Brotherhood” posted on the website Al-Islamyoon Sherif Taha, the Nour secretary-general in the Delta governorate of Daqahliya, bashed the Brotherhood for the way it dealt with Salafist forces and indirectly answered the question why his party has decided to go to the polls. “The Muslim Brotherhood,” he wrote, “understands only that power is everything. If you are weak they will exclude and marginalise you.”

Party officials told Al-Ahram Weekly that it was difficult to imagine an electoral alliance with the Brotherhood after recent twists and turns in the relationship. Observers, however, are sceptical. “The balance of power,” says Ali Abdel-Aal, a writer on political Islam, “will still be maintained. Both parties realise they cannot annihilate the other. The Brotherhood cannot wash away the Salafis and the Salafis cannot beat the Brothers.”

Both are driven by fears — real or imagined — over the fate of the Islamist project. Voices from within the ranks of Islamist parties have been accusing the Brotherhood of failing to encourage the advent of the Islamist project while the Brotherhood charge that the Salafis are inexperienced politically and are doing more harm to the project than its fiercest opponents.

Mohamed Abu Samra, secretary-general of Al-Islami (Islamist) Party, the political wing of Al-Jihad Al-Islami, said on Monday: “We believe we are in an Islamic state governed by Sharia law but there are some provisions and texts that are contrary to the law and which we will seek to change through constructive engagement.” He said boycotting the elections would mean leaving the field open to non-Islamists who will apply laws contrary to Islamic law, citing personal status laws as an example.

Al-Fatah newspaper, the Nour Party mouthpiece, referred to an initiative to agree an electoral code of ethics among Islamist parties to avoid discord. While most parties welcomed the move little has been achieved towards reaching this goal. The paper said that a meeting was due on Tuesday between Khairat Al-Shater, the Brotherhood’s deputy supreme guide, and members of the Nour. The Nour Party head Younis Makhioun, however, dismissed the story as baseless.

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