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Friday, 22 November 2019

The 'no to religious parties' campaign gains momentum

Egypt's Ministry of Endowments announced on Wednesday that it supports a campaign aimed at preventing religious parties from contesting the upcoming parliamentary elections

Gamal Essam El-Din , Wednesday 26 Aug 2015
A campaign poster for the Salafist Nour Party during the parliamentary elections in 2011-2012 (Photo: Ahram Online)
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Views: 3093

Egypt's Ministry of Endowments supports a campaign entitled "no to religious parties," it said in an official statement on Wednesday.

According to Sabry Ebada, deputy of the endowments minister in Alexandria, "the ministry strongly supports 'the no to religious parties' campaign and hopes that the campaign will extend to cover all of Egypt's governorates because political parties based on religious foundations only lead to discrimination among citizens on sectarian grounds."

Ebada added, "a Muslim nation like Egypt should not discriminate among Muslims and non-Muslims and should act in the interest of the civil, social, economic and political rights for all of its citizens without religious or class leanings."

He also argued that "political parties are the ones who are established to serve all citizens without discrimination on religious grounds."

On Tuesday, Mohamed Abdel-Razeq, chairman of the endowments ministry's religious sector, also announced that article 74 of the new constitution clearly states that political parties based on religious foundations are strictly banned.

"As a result, we support any campaign aimed at implementing this constitutional principle," Abdel-Razeq said in an interview with Al-Ahram newspaper.

Abdel-Razeq also stressed that the Ministry of Endowments would fully exercise its power to ensure that candidates in the coming parliamentary elections do not raise religious slogans or use places of worship – mosques or churches – for election campaigns.

"The endowments ministry would also make sure that religious clerics who aim to run in the coming parliamentary elections would be prevented from delivering sermons at Friday prayers or delivering religious lectures in mosques throughout the election period," Abdel-Razeq said.

For a while after the 2011 uprising, when the Islamists took over the political scene, it was common for political arms of Islamist groups to use mosques for political purposes.

Abdel-Razeq added that "the ministry would do its best to ensure that there is a separation between religion and politics in mosques and Al-Azhar schools and institutes."

According to Abdel-Razeq, "the one year rule of the Muslim Brotherhood (2012-2013) led to the proliferation of radical clerics involved in mixing religion with politics and discriminating among citizens on religious grounds. We will do our best to relieve the nation of this bad heritage."

'The no to religious parties' campaign was launched two weeks ago by Tamarod (rebel) and political activist Hamdi Al-Fakharani.

Tamarod was a signature drive that played a leading role in ousting former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi from office in July 2013.

Tamarod claimed that it collected around 22 million signatures in favour of removing Morsi from office and appointing chairman of the Supreme Constitutional Court as interim president.

According to Doaa Khalifa, the member of Tamarod in charge of collecting signatures for "the no to religious parties", who spoke at the Journalists Syndicate on Friday, the group aims to collect 23 million signatures from ordinary citizens in favour of the campaign.

Nour Party under fire

Khalifa said the campaign mainly aims at imposing a ban on the ultraconservative Salafist Nour campaign ahead of parliamentary elections.

"I think everyone in this country knows quite well that Nour [party] is a religious party and that its ideology stands on discrimination among citizens on religious and sectarian grounds and as a result it should not be allowed to exercise any political activities," Khalifa said.

He also insisted "the campaign has been able in one week to collect more than 100,000 signatures from citizens from six different governorates."

Khalifa said on Wednesday that the endowments ministry's support of the campaign and its decision to prevent the Salafist clerics from Nour from delivering sermons in different mosques is a success for the campaign.

Al-Fakharani, a former MP who is a harsh critic of the Muslim Brotherhood, said he fully supports Tamarod's campaign.

"The Nour Party espouses the same ideology as the Muslim Brotherhood and all other extremist Islamist jihadist organisations like Daesh (ISIS) and it is very bad for political life in Egypt that members of this party could gain seats in parliament," said Al-Fakharani.

He also indicated "the signatures in favor of dissolving religious parties like Nour will be used to go to the court to ask for eliminating this party and others officially."

The campaign also gained support from former judges such as Ahmed Abdel-Rahman who was deputy chairman of the State Council and chairman of the political parties committee that was in charge of licensing political parties under the former Mubarak regime.

Abdel-Rahman said "the no to religious parties" campaign reflects a sweeping popular will."

"The revolt of the Egyptian people in 2013 was not only against Mohamed Morsi or the Muslim Brotherhood but against all religious parties and for their mixing religion with politics," Abdel-Rahman said.

However, Abdel-Rahman said "it is deplorable that no political institution has taken any serious step towards dissolving Nour and as a result the campaign comes to reflect the necessity of implementing article 74 of the constitution."

Nour is the only potent Islamist political party that supported the ouster of Morsi. It was excluded from the security crackdown on pro-Morsi Islamists that saw the Freedom and Justice Party of the Muslim Brotherhood dismantled. 

The Tamarod campaign gained support from leftist political parties such as Tagammu that has been a fierce critic of Muslim Brotherhood.

Rifaat Al-Said, the former chairman of Tagammu, said "the no to religious parties" is a step towards implementing article 74 of the constitution.

"The next step should include going to the political parties committee and administrative courts to ask for the dissolution of Nour and other religious parties," Al-Said said.

Osama Al-Ghazali Harb, a political analyst and a leading member of the Free Egyptians Party, said "the Egyptian people did not expel the Muslim Brotherhood from the door, only to see another religious party like Nour to come from the window."

But other political analysts, like Al-Ahram's Amr Hashem Rabie, were critical of Tamarod's campaign.

Rabie said Nour was part of the revolution against Morsi and its leaders never said they have a religious party.

Rabie believes that the wide popularity of Nour in Egyptian governorates represents the real motive behind the Tamarod campaign.

"Instead of competing against this party in fair elections, the Tamarod and other secular parties resort to courts to eliminate the party and gain seats without competition," said Rabie.

Shaaban Abdel-Alim, a leading Nour official, told Ahram Online that "Tamarod" itself is an illegal entity trying to impose its say on the political street.

"We are not a religious party. We are just a political party with a religious background," said Abdel-Alim, adding that "if Nour was dissolved in any way, the party's leaders would meet to form another party under a different name."

Abdel-Alim agrees that some secular forces aim to dominate the coming parliament without competition.

"They want to achieve this without facing any competition and by seizing on the wide animosity against the Muslim Brotherhood to obliterate all moderate Islamic forces from the political arena," Abdel-Alim said.

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