Saturday,18 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1182, (30 January - 5 February 2014)
Saturday,18 August, 2018
Issue 1182, (30 January - 5 February 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Heir apparent

The Nour Party is positioning itself as the Muslim Brotherhood’s political heir. But can it succeed?

Al-Ahram Weekly

While the long-running animosity — as expressed in Salafi leader Yasser Burhami’s strident statements — between the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis had become crystal clear even before the ouster of the Mohamed Morsi government it is important to bear in mind that the Salafist movement in Egypt consists of many factions, reports Amany Maged. All sided with the Muslim Brotherhood apart from the Nour Party, the subject of this article.

The Nour Party faces many challenges. It is struggling to hold its ideological ground in the face of the erosion of its grassroots base, a phenomenon that manifested itself during the recent constitutional referendum which many Salafi youth boycotted. At the same time, it is working to expand its political influence and hopes to secure a number of key posts in the forthcoming government. But it is under assault from seculars, the Muslim Brothers and revolutionary groups, hampering Burhami’s drive to muster support and mobilise forces.

The Nour Party is manoeuvring to fill the gap that has arisen following the fierce confrontation between the authorities and the Muslim Brotherhood. It hopes to emerge as the Brotherhood’s political heir but is hampered in this ambition by the fact its room for manoeuvre is restricted. What compromises can it credibly make to its ideological and operational doctrine which has always been abhorrent to liberal and leftist thought? What is its scope for action within the framework of the post-3 July order? There is the question of its relationship with civil and secular political parties, which it will be forced to deal with now that other Islamist groups have boycotted the current order and have set themselves against the Nour Party and its mother organisation, the Alexandrian based Salafist Calling. And given the Nour Party’s experience during the referendum, when it failed to mobilise its base, can it bank on its members’ continued support and willingness to abide by the leadership’s decisions? These are the factors that will determine whether or not the Nour Party will be able to fill the Muslim Brotherhood’s shoes.

There is a very real possibility the Nour Party may be able to succeed the Muslim Brotherhood in form — ie it could become the leading Islamist representative in the political arena. What is less likely is that the party will be able to approach the Brotherhood’s onetime status and influence. This has as much to do with the nature of the current phase as it does with the nature of the Salafist Calling.

On several occasions Nour Party officials have said their decisions and actions are informed by a determination to ensure that political Islam retains a foothold in the political arena. The Islamist trend was severely shaken during the period of Muslim Brotherhood rule which triggered a significant shift in popular attitudes towards “Islamism”.

While retaining an Islamist presence in official political processes may be the Nour Party’s main reason for siding with the post-3 July order its decision is unlikely to immunise it against the fate of other Islamist factions. Indeed, it is more vulnerable to criticism and attack now that it is the only representative of the Islamist trend in the field. Party leaders are also green compared to the Muslim Brotherhood leadership whose long experience has enabled them to survive until now without falling apart. The Salafist Calling dates only from the late 1970s and its active political involvement — via the Nour Party since the January Revolution — pales next to the Muslim Brotherhood’s 80-year history. The Salafis’ political savvy will be put to the test in the forthcoming phase, and the test will be all the more difficult given the lack of a single leadership body.

The test of the Nour Party’s resilience is likely to come sooner than expected. A videoclip has been circulating on the Internet in which journalist and writer Helmi Al-Namnam proclaims: “Now is the time to remove the so-called political Islam trend from the game. This is the right moment as the Nour Party is more dangerous than the Muslim Brotherhood.” The Nour Party and the Salafist Calling have already faced a barrage of criticism for failing to mobilise supporters to vote yes in the constitutional referendum.

But the main challenge to the party’s ambition to succeed the Muslim Brotherhood comes from the movement it wants to replace. The Muslim Brotherhood has been relentless in its attacks against the Nour Party. One of its strategies has been to rally its allies among other Salafist groups in the hope they will lure Nour members away and create a rift in the party’s conservative religious base.

Ali Bakr, an expert on Islamist movements, holds that for all their claims that they do not seek power the Nour Party and Salafist Calling are active players in the public and political party spheres. Their behaviour while the Muslim Brothers were in power, their shift towards the National Salvation Front following the referendum on the 2012 constitution and, more recently, their refusal to do anything more than issue statements of condemnation following the massacre in front of the Republican Guard Club, the break-up of the Rabaa Al-Adaweya and Nahda Square sit-ins and other incidents have given the impression they are consummately pragmatic. Party leaders justified their refusal to withdraw from the roadmap at such junctures on the grounds that the state was in danger and that the greater blame lay with the Muslim Brotherhood. This failed to prevent some parties in the government from regarding Nour Party leaders as opportunistic. When faced with this charge the leadership insisted that it was forced to take the positions it did in order to safeguard the “Islamic identity and Islamic Sharia [in the constitution]”. The fact that Nour Party and Salafist Calling leaders have had to repeat such justifications at every turn indicates that they have become so immersed in politics that they are now willing to do whatever it takes to survive in rapidly fluctuating circumstances, albeit with reference to, and beneath the cover of, a flexible religious rhetoric.

The Salafist Nour Party awaits one of two fates. Either it will be accepted as a player that can help shape the new order or it will be sidelined. Currently it is the latter that looks the most likely outcome despite the fact that Nour Party and Salafist Calling leaders are digging in their heels to defy all challenges, whether external or internal.

There is no doubt the party is in crisis, and not just because of the erosion in its ranks and the disaffection of younger party members. It is telling that many of the founding members of the Salafist Calling have faded from the scene. Sheikh Mohamed Ismail has not appeared in public or given sermons since 30 June. Those close to him have said he has gone into “retreat due to the sedition”. Ahmed Hatiba has withdrawn totally from politics while Sheikh Said Abdel-Azim has detached himself from the movement. Sheikh Ahmed Farid has made only a handful of appearances, albeit to support the constitution.

The Nour Party and the Salafist Calling face another challenge that most analysts have overlooked. For at least a year their attitudes and behaviour towards a succession of political issues and events suggest that the Salafist Calling and its political wing, the Nour Party, are shedding the scholastic proselytism that characterised the Alexandrian Salafist school. They regularly raise slogans such as “Safeguard the Salafist Calling and the Islamist trend” and “Turn out to vote” and overlay them with patriotic jingoism and exhortations not to oppose the government or challenge the authorities. Convening its first Alexandrian conference to drum up a “yes” vote for the constitution the movement closely coordinated with the army and police. And in symbolic acknowledgement that the Salafist Calling has relinquished its aversion to political involvement for good its vice president, Sheikh Burhami, is now a card-carrying Nour Party member, thus combining proselytising and political party activities.

But if the Nour Party is on its way to becoming another Muslim Brotherhood it has a long way to go and there are few — if any — guarantees it will be able to negotiate the many hurdles it will face. 

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