Recent changes within Salafist Nour Party may reveal larger conflicts within Egypt's disperate Islamist groups. While the party seems to be falling apart, inter-party tensions also suggest that different camps within the Salafist movement may be drifting further apart from each other.
On Wednesday, the Nour Party's supreme committee announced that it had withdrawn confidence from party chairman Emad Abdel-Ghafour, replacing him with El-Sayid Mostafa Hussein Khalifa. Abdel-Ghafour, for his part, reportedly retaliated by calling for the dismissal of supreme committee members.
The decisions come after days of conflict over whether the party's internal elections should be held on schedule. While Abdel-Ghafour had demanded that elections be postponed until Egypt's new parliament is voted in, the party’s supreme committee insisted on going ahead with the polls as planned.
In response, Abdel-Ghafour and his supporters – known as the 'Reformist Front' within the party – filed a lawsuit aimed at halting elections for hundreds of Nour Party posts, including that of secretary-general.
Accusations have flown between members of the supreme committee and Abdel-Ghafour’s reformist camp, with the latter stating on Twitter that he had decided to expel supreme committee members after learning of their alleged links with former members of ousted president Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party.
Among those expelled from the party by Abdel-Ghafour is former Nour MP Ashraf Thabet and official party spokesperson Nader Bakkar. In a party statement on Wednesday, the two were accused of holding talks with former presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq.
Meanwhile, supreme committee members have circulated a petition stating that Abdel-Ghafour had been expelled from the party due to his readiness to join President Mohamed Morsi’s advisory team.
Several supreme committee members – including Thabet, who was expelled by Abdel-Ghafour – had been staunch critics of the notion of making electoral alliances with the Muslim Brotherhood or of joining Morsi's government or presidential team. Given this position, the party had earlier declined offers to take up the environment portfolio in the Morsi-appointed government.
Also critical of would-be alliances with the Brotherhood was Nour Party 'godfather' Yasser Borhamy, who had been in charge of proselytizing issues within the party before Abdel-Ghafour replaced him with Saied Abdel-Azim.
The replacement of Borhamy was reportedly made based on the recommendation of the Salafist Calling's council of trustees, consisting of the six founders of Egypt's Salafist Calling who originally established the Nour Party.
According to media reports, Borhamy was reluctant to give up his post, thus hindering his successor's attempts to end the rift and leading to fears of further inter-party divisions.
Borhamy and Abdel-Azim, both of whom are professional surgeons, began their preaching activities in the 1970s. They both contributed to the establishment of the Salafist Calling in Egypt and are both members of the Salafist Calling's six-man trustee's council.
In the Nour dispute, the Shura Council’s parties committee – whose members mostly hail from the Brotherhood's ranks – has, for its part, backed Abdel-Ghafour. Despite the decision of the parties committee, which should legally have the final word in the event of inter-party divisions, Nour held its elections on schedule over the objections of its chairman.
On the day that Abdel-Ghafour was expelled, several Salafist members of the Shura Council also opened fire on Morsi’s appointed Cabinet. Tarek El-Sehri, deputy head of the Shura Council and a spokesman for the Salafist Nour Party, called on Morsi on Wednesday to sack the recently-appointed government of Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, which he accused of incompetence.
Also on Wednesday, the official website of Egypt's Constituent Assembly – tasked with drafting a new constitution – removed several controversial articles, argued for earlier by Salafist assembly members, from the draft charter.
Amendments made to article 2 of the 1971 constitution making "Islamic Law" – rather than "the principles of Islamic Law" – the major source of legislation were removed from the draft posted on the assembly's official website. The role assigned to Al-Azhar, meanwhile, making it the main reference point on Islamic Law issues, was also removed in the posted draft.
Unlike the Brotherhood, whose members within the assembly had remained largely silent on the issue, the Salfists had been uncompromising in their demand to insert clearer wording regarding the constitutional role of Islamic jurisprudence.
Younis Makhoyun, leading Nour Party member, clearly stated to parliamentary correspondents earlier this month that the Salafists wanted Article 2 to read: "Islamic Law – rather than 'principles of Islamic Law' – is the major source of legislation in Egypt... This means the hudood (punishments), such as cutting off the hands of thieves, should be enforced."
It remains unclear how the mounting divisions within the Islamist camp will impact upcoming parliamentary polls, now that the Egyptian judiciary has ruled against the reinstatement of the old, Islamist-led parliament.
In Egypt's first post-Mubarak legislative elections late last year, Salafist parties had refused to ally with the Brotherhood – given their major ideological differences – choosing instead to draw up their own independent electoral list. Now that the Salfists are experiencing serious internal disagreements, it remains unclear on which lines electoral alliances – if any – will be formed this time around.