Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1181, (23 - 29 January 2014)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1181, (23 - 29 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Past its sell-by-date?

Did the Nour Party succeed in mobilising its supporters for a yes vote in last week’s referendum, asks Amany Maged

Al-Ahram Weekly

Since the 3 July roadmap was unveiled the Salafist Nour Party has worked to position itself as an influential player in shaping Egypt’s future. Its motives for doing so are many. Perhaps the most important — as its leaders never tire of repeating — was the party’s keenness to steer the nation towards stability while also seeking to safeguard the future of political Islam by retaining a presence in all political processes. Indeed, the Nour Party is pretty much the only Islamist group left in political arena, although in this context it is important to bear in mind that the Salafist movement in Egypt consists of many factions apart from the Nour Party and its mother organisation, Salafist Calling. The Nour Party, in fact, has been strongly criticised for its actions by all other Salafist groups and factions.

The Nour Party was represented in the 50-member committee charged with drafting the constitution approved by an overwhelming majority in last week’s referendum. At the time the party insisted it was taking part in the committee to defend what it called the Islamic identity articles in the 2012 constitution, including Article 219, introduced to define what was meant by “the principles of Islamic law”, long cited by the constitution as the chief source of legislation.

The party fought tooth and nail to retain the article but then assented when it was scrapped. It also bowed to the elimination of Al-Azhar as the authority empowered to determine what was and was not consistent with Islamic Sharia, leaving the matter to the Supreme Constitutional Court. The Nour Party’s justification for its capitulations sounded noble enough — it was “acting in the higher interests of the nation”. But at what cost to its grassroots support?

More recently the party faced criticism from another direction as an assortment of political forces charged it was not doing enough to mobilise for a yes vote in the constitutional referendum. Nour Party president Younis Makhioun defended his party with facts and figures. It had organised door-to-door campaigns, held some 250 conferences and seminars to support the constitution and furnished free transportation, including 2,000 minibuses and 1000 tok-toks around the country to help people get to the polls. It had produced 750,000 posters, 4,000 banners and 2,000,000 flyers and organised 20 marches to promote the referendum.

“We have shown we are the most capable of all political forces when it comes to reaching people in remote villages and hamlets,” says Nour Party official Yehia Al-Safi.

The party’s success in bringing out the vote in popular areas in rural and urban Egypt had come as a relief to the general public, claimed Al-Safi, especially “after the campaign of violence that preceded the referendum”.

“We are not troubled by accusations from other Islamist factions,” he continued. “We seek neither praise nor gratitude. We await only the reward from God Almighty. The Islamic faith has taught us to serve the people and to prevent bloodshed. We stand with the state in order to safeguard Egyptian blood.”

But was the Nour Party as successful as it claims? Did grassroots members really listen to their leaders’ calls to vote?

If the Nour Party members Al-Ahram Weekly spoke with are typical the situation is rather more complex than party leaders depict.

 The party’s yes campaign was a “stab in the back of the project of Islamic government,” said one. It was “a betrayal of the party’s principles,” claimed another, an “attack against Islam which is supposed to be the foundation and cornerstone of the party”.

The party “has driven the last nail into its coffin,” claimed yet another member. “It has adopted the government’s and army’s position against the Islamist project which Mohamed Morsi had sought to realise.”

“The party leaders betrayed Islam and they betrayed the supporters of the party with their call [to vote in favour of the constitution] which followed a series of mistaken decisions taken in cooperation with the coup-makers’ government,” said Nour Party member Al-Sayed Ahmed.

Ali Bakr, an expert on Islamist movements, argues that the fatwa issued by leading Salafi pundit Sheikh Abu Ishak Al-Howeini kept many young Salafis from voting.

“The constitution is filled with many flaws. The vote on it should be boycotted,” decreed Al-Howeini. “People should not go to the polling stations either to approve or reject the constitution.”

 By way of explanation he posted on his website: “A usurper seized the home of a dignitary, killed all the people in the house, arrested those who sympathised with them and then hosted a banquet for the people of the neighbourhood. Should I attend that banquet?”

This fatwa, the authenticity of which was confirmed by Al-Howeini’s sons Hatem and Abu Yehia on their Facebook pages, had Nour Party leaders, determined to bring out the Salafist vote, worried.

The party formed a committee to speak with Salafi figures, including Al-Howeini and like-minded preachers Mohamed Hassan and Mohamed Hussein Yacoub, and attempt to persuade them to support the constitution. The committee failed and the preachers’ followers stayed away from the polls.

So what is the future of the Nour Party if it really has alienated a large segment of its membership?

Political commentators posit two possible scenarios. One is that the Nour Party will be rewarded for supporting the post-3 July roadmap by being given a number of ministerial portfolios, though they will not include any connected with religious affairs. The second scenario is a reverse of the first: having performed its function with respect to the roadmap the Nour will now be overlooked. In this case, say analysts, the Nour Party, weakened by disaffection among a rank and file that believes it was wrong to have sided with those who overthrew Morsi, will simply fade from the scene.

Most political activists say the Nour Party was far less effective than it claims in mobilising its supporters. If true, this is yet another harbinger of its possible political demise. But the party is hardly ready to throw in the towel. It is working not only to rebuild but also to expand it base, to which end it has announced it will not support an Islamist candidate for president.

This statement, issued by Salafi leader Yasser Burhami, elicited criticism, and not just from Islamist youth. Leftist political activists see it as a form of grovelling to the current authorities, another instance of the party’s veiled hypocrisy. How, they ask, could a party that purports to champion the Islamist project not support an Islamist candidate? Facing criticisms from so many quarters the Nour Party’s political future appears increasingly murky.


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