Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1205, (10 - 16 July 2014)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1205, (10 - 16 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Poor chances for the Nour Party

The Salafist Nour Party finds itself in trouble ahead of the forthcoming parliamentary elections, writes Khaled Dawoud

Al-Ahram Weekly

One of the key charges made by rivals of the strict Salafist groups in Egypt, especially among Political Islam parties, has been that they have always been keen to maintain good relations with governments in power in order to maintain their presence in the mosques they control and preach in.

Yet, the privileges the Salafis have been enjoying, even if they tell their followers that the acts of the government are against their fundamentalist interpretations of Islam, seem to be coming to an end amid the general anti-Islamist atmosphere in Egypt following the ouster of former president and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi a year ago.

On 23 June, the Ministry of endowments announced that prominent preachers Yasser Borhami and Abdel-Moneim Al-Shahhat, both key figures in the Salafist Nour Party, would no longer be allowed to deliver the weekly Friday sermon in mosques controlled by the Salafist Daawa Movement in Alexandria.

The announcement came in the framework of a decree issued by the ministry that those preaching at mosques should be graduates of Al-Azhar University, a condition that only applies to a minority of Islamist leaders in both the Muslim Brotherhood and the dozens of Salafist groups.

Al-Shahhat is an engineer, while Borhami is a medical doctor. A top Nour Party delegation including its president Younes Makhyoun met with Minister of Endowments Mohamed Gomaa on 3 July to discuss removing the restrictions on its leaders delivering speeches at mosques.

The decision to name Borhami and Al-Shahhat among those banned from delivering the Friday sermons came as a shock to the Nour Party and its shrinking numbers of followers considering the party’s position in support of ending the Brotherhood’s rule. 

When President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi read a statement on 3 July last year, at that time in his capacity as defence minister, announcing the removal of Morsi from office, the presence of the Salafist Nour Party’s Secretary-General Galal Al-Murra in the audience was seen as crucial.

The announcement meeting, chaired by Al-Sisi, was meant to send the message that the majority of Egyptians from all political trends and representatives of key institutions supported a quick end to Muslim Brotherhood rule.

 It included the commanders of the Armed Forces, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the Pope of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, Mohamed Al-Baradei, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and leader of the secular parties united under the National Salvation Front, and the Nour Party’s Al-Murra.

Al-Murra’s participation as a strict Islamist calling for the implementation of Sharia and whose party came second after the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party in early 2012 in the only parliament elections held since the removal of ousted former president Hosni Mubarak in the 25 January Revolution, contradicted Muslim Brotherhood claims that keeping Morsi in power meant preserving Islam in Egypt.

The Nour Party won nearly 25 per cent of the seats in the 2012 parliamentary elections, and it also supported Al-Sisi in his presidential election campaign, which he won on 3 June this year with a 96 per cent majority.

Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, now sentenced to death in three separate court cases, repeatedly called upon his followers during the 48-day sit-in Rabaa Al-Adawiya — that the security forces ended last August — to “protect the legitimacy” of the elections that brought Morsi to the presidency in June 2012.

He also promised them that if they died in the battle with the army and police, they would be “martyrs who died for the sake of defending Islam.” At least 1,000 civilians were killed in Rabaa during the ending of the sit-in, according to human rights groups, while the National Human Rights Council, appointed by the president, has put the figure at 640.

While the argument of Nour leaders was that maintaining the unity of Egyptians and preventing a civil and religious war were more beneficial for Islam than fighting to keep Morsi in office, their stand was sharply attacked by other Islamists, particularly after the dispersal of the sit-ins in Rabaa and Al-Nahda Square.

They were accused of treason and of being the “agents for the army”. Supporters of the Brotherhood have regularly attacked public events in which Nour leaders take part, whether weddings, funerals, or sermons in a mosque. Many supporters of Nour have also defected and joined more extremist groups that call for taking revenge for those killed in Rabaa.

Nour’s Borhami, known for his controversial fatwas, or religious edicts, that ban greeting Christians on religious festivals and reducing the age of marriage for girls to as low as nine, has been repeatedly attacked in recent months and now travels under police protection.

There have also been splits within the party’s leadership. Last week, Salafist religious leaders of the Nour Party in the coastal town of Marsa Matrouh announced they had decided to boycott politics and would not take part in any upcoming elections, saying they preferred to concentrate on preaching Islam.

Matrouh Salafis have defied orders issued to them to take part in recent votes, among them the vote on the new constitution in January and the presidential elections in late May. On both occasions, voter turnout in Marsa Matrouh, known as a centre for Salafis, was very low despite the official stand of the party that its members would vote “yes” to the new constitution and support Al-Sisi in the presidential elections.

Secular parties who maintain a hard line in attacking the Islamists have also been adamant about the need to weaken the Nour Party ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections, due before the end of this year.

A number of lawyers have even gone as far as filing cases demanding the dissolution of the party because the new constitution Egyptians approved in January bans the religious parties.

They claim that the Nour Party is as strict as the Brotherhood in seeking to impose its views on the public and has only been playing at politics until it gains wider control. They also point out that when Morsi was in office, the Nour leadership broke ranks with the Brotherhood only when it felt left out from taking top government positions despite promises from the former Islamist president.

To make things worse for the Nour Party, the parliamentary elections law approved recently by former interim president Adli Mansour reduces its chances of winning as many seats as it did in early 2012.

Like other secular parties, the Nour Party wanted the majority of the seats to be determined through the party list system, giving parties more power in naming candidates. However, the law stated that nearly 80 per cent of the seats, or 420, will be filled by individual candidates, while the remaining 20 per cent, or 120 seats, will be made up of lists that must include women, Coptic Christians, youth, workers, peasants, Egyptians living abroad and people with disabilities.

In 2012, the Nour Party had only a few women candidates for parliament, and due to its strict interpretation of Islam the party would not display their personal photos, using flowers instead. Hardly any prominent Christians would be willing to run on a list made up by a Salafist Party that considers greeting them at Christmas, for example, to be a sin.

Despite facing all these obstacles, it remains difficult to claim that the Nour Party will not win a reasonable number of seats in the next parliament. “Nour and the Salafist Daawa Movement have been working for decades through a network of mosques and social services in many poor Cairo neighbourhoods and several cities in the Delta, Marsa Matrouh and Upper Egypt,” said Rami Mohsen, an election expert.

“Their supporters know and trust their Salafist sheikhs more than anyone else, and will always vote for the candidates they direct them to support. Maybe they will not win as many seats in 2012, but they will be there,” he added.

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