Wednesday,18 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1168, (10 - 16 October 2013)
Wednesday,18 July, 2018
Issue 1168, (10 - 16 October 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Existential choices

Amany Maged considers the fate of Islamist forces after political parties based on religion are banned

Al-Ahram Weekly

Following the 25 January Revolution, the electoral law was amended to permit for the creation of political parties merely by notifying the Political Parties Commission. If the commission failed to voice any objection within 30 days the party would be considered legal. In the eight months following the amendment 73 political parties were created.
Although their ideological orientations were diverse, the political arena was essentially divisible into two camps. In one stood the Islamists, represented by the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Nour Party, the Construction and Development Party and an assortment of smaller religious parties. In the other camp stood all the non-religious parties, primarily representing the socialist and liberal left, some of which eventually rallied together beneath the umbrella National Salvation Front. The Islamists went on to sweep the People’s Assembly and Shura Council elections and narrowly won the presidential poll. After a year in power Mohamed Morsi was ousted and the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which he hailed, was pushed to the margins. Now the entire Islamist trend is facing the prospect of political marginalisation after the 50-member committee charged with amending the constitution unanimously resolved to outlaw political parties founded on the basis of religious affiliation.
Several days ago the committee spokesman Mohamed Salmawy announced that a specialised sub-committee had approved amending Article 54, which deals with the creation of political parties, to include a provision prohibiting the creation of political parties on a religious basis or that undertake political activities based on religion.
The announcement hardly came as a surprise. Following 30 June the idea of banning religious political parties was widely discussed, with many political forces demanding such parties be made illegal.
The Nour Party described the proposed amendment last week as a “sword that will be held over the heads of Islamists”.
“It is wrong to make the whole Islamist trend bear responsibility for the mistakes of the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Nour Party President Younis Makhioun. His party opposed the amended article on the grounds that it was discriminatory and exclusionist. The purpose of the changes, said Makhioun, was to restrict freedoms and prevent the Islamist trend from engaging in politics.
“By what right should there be an article that will become a sword aimed at some parties? Will we include in the constitution an article prohibiting the creation of parties on the basis of liberal, secularist, socialist or Nasserist orientation?” he asked.
The Nour Party, which has acquired a reputation for voicing objections and then backtracking, did exactly that. It finally announced that it agreed in principle to the article prohibiting religious parties on condition that an explanatory article be included to define precisely what is meant by “on a religious basis”. Justifying its shift in position, the Salafist party explained that it sought to help the country overcome the current obstacles so that it could move forward towards the completion of the interim phase. It added that the party should be given credit for the flexibility it has displayed on numerous occasions, especially following the declaration of the roadmap on 3 July.
Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya and its political wing, the Construction and Development Party strongly objected to the proposed amendment. It reflected an inclination to seek to eliminate political rivals and would pave the way for any party of which the authorities disapprove to be abolished, argued an Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya spokesman.
So what do the religious parties plan to do? What are their options in the face of this potential threat to their existence?
One option, which the Nour Party is already pursuing, is to insist on the inclusion of an explanatory article to define the term “religious party” just as the Salafis are insisting the Committee of Fifty define the term “civil state”. The Salafis hope this will avert law suits calling for the dissolution of the Nour Party after the constitution is passed.
A second option is to bring non-Muslims into the party. A Copt could be given a senior post in the party and run for parliamentary elections as a Nour candidate. The FJP resorted to this course as a means to ward off accusations that it was a party with an Islamic frame of reference.
There have been rumours from the Salafist stronghold of Alexandria that they have already begun to plan a new party with a civilian, beardless face.
The Salafis are divided over yet another option, which is to relinquish politics and return to proselytising. While some support this, others maintain that they should remain politically engaged to ensure Islam is not separated from the state.
Whatever options they choose it is clear that the Salafist party’s thinking is strongly influenced by the fate their sometime ally the Muslim Brotherhood. Its wavering and backtracking in the name of “prioritising the national interest” is, according to many sources, a reflection of the fear of the spectre of a clampdown. Patriotism is the party’s armour.
If the Nour Party has a package of alternatives, the liberal trend also needs them. Now that the tables are turned and the liberals have gained the upper hand, liberals will most likely try to work out a way to keep the Nour Party in the picture.
Smaller Islamist parties, such as the Authenticity and Virtue Party, will have little choice but to bow to reality if banned. These fragile parties will then choose between proselytising work or recourse to violence.
The fate of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya’s Construction and Development Party is already facing question marks and most of its leaders are wanted by the police. The dissolution of the party is a near certainty if the constitution passes with the amendment banning religious parties.
Although Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya leaders made ideological revisions that included the renunciation of violence, and in spite of the fact that they tried to assimilate into society after the 25 January Revolution, their history of violence continues to haunt them. It is also clear that a number of these leaders could revert to violence. One of them, who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly on condition of anonymity, said he used to condemn democracy and its mechanisms as a heresy. “We changed this approach after 25 January and became engaged in the political process. We made some mistakes, of course. Such is the nature of the political game. But now society wants to ban us. How are we supposed to persuade our youth not to engage in politics and not to turn to violence again?”
The likelihood is that in the event of a constitutional ban Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya and the jihadist trend in general will resort to violence. This conclusion seems particularly valid in light of terrorist-related events in Sinai which began immediately after Morsi’s ouster. The only alternative to violence is to try to accommodate circumstances dictated by the new constitution. For many jihadists this would be unacceptable.

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