Emad Abdel Ghaffour, head of the Islamist Salafi Nour (Light) Party, speaks during an interview with in Cairo February 7, 2012 (Photo: Reuters)
Ongoing disputes within the Nour Party – over both leadership issues and ideology – appear far from settled, leaving the future of Egypt's largest Salafist party hanging in the balance.
The disagreements, which have recently burst into public view, have led to rifts within the party, the unity of which is now being harshly tested for the first time since its establishment in the wake of last year's revolution.
The division became apparent when Nour Party Chairman Emadeddin Abdel-Ghafour decided to postpone internal party elections until after Egypt's yet-to-be-scheduled parliamentary polls. The decision came after the party reportedly received a large number of complaints from its provincial branches regarding the first round of party elections.
However, the Supreme Committee, the party's highest authority after its General Assembly, challenged the decision by ordering polling to continue on schedule.
"It is the Supreme Committee that decides on the fate of the internal elections, not the party president," party spokesman Nader Bakar told Ahram Online.
Other leading party members also challenged Abdel-Ghafour's decision to postpone elections, including Nour Party Secretary-General Galal Morra, who stressed that, according to party regulations, the party president was not entitled to make such a decision.
Speaking to Ahram Online on condition of anonymity, one high-ranking Nour Party member said: "It's fair to say that between 75 and 80 per cent of the party's members have come out against Abdel-Ghafour's decision."
Meanwhile, the party's central elections committee has already upheld results of the first round of party polls, conducted earlier this month in 19 governorates. Second-round polling is slated to begin on 28 September in the Cairo, Giza, Qalyoubia, Dakahlia, Gharbia, Sharkia, Matrouh, Port Said and North Sinai governorates.
Abdel-Ghafour, for his part, along with his supporters who collectively call themselves the 'Reformist Front,' have reportedly filed a lawsuit aimed at halting the elections for hundreds of administrative posts within the party, including that of secretary-general.
Changes at the top
Appearing to add insult to injury is the reported commissioning of cleric Saied Abdel-Azim to be in charge of proselytising issues within the party, a leading post previously filled by prominent preacher Yasser Borhamy, considered the Nour Party's godfather.
The move was reportedly made based on the recommendation of the Salafist Calling's Trustees Council, consisting of the six founders of Egypt's Salafist Calling who originally launched the Nour Party.
Since replacing Borhamy, Abdel-Azim has unsuccessfully sought to contain party divisions. According to media reports, Borhamy is reluctant to give up his post, thus hindering his successor's attempts to end the rift and leading to speculation that further division is inevitable.
The high-ranking Nour Party member, for his part, refused to comment on the replacement of Borhamy, but explained the Salafist Calling's general vision.
"They want those in top management positions to be qualified enough for their respective posts," he said. "It used to depend on the individual's popularity rather than on his respective qualifications."
Without elaborating further, he added: "We can say that up to 80 per cent of the party's members favour this vision; the disagreement is only over the timing of the application of this vision and not the vision itself."
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 Trustees Council.
The Salafist Nour Party was founded shortly after last year's Tahrir Square uprising that led to the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak, whose regime had persecuted Islamist activists for decades.
The party rose to prominence in last winter's parliamentary elections, when it secured the second largest number of seats in the People's Assembly – the lower house of Egypt's parliament – after the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party.
Both parties together accounted for almost three quarters of the seats in the assembly, which was dissolved in June by order of Egypt's interim military rulers. The move followed a controversial ruling by Egypt's High Constitutional Court, which found that the regulations governing last winter's legislative polls to be unconstitutional.
The Nour Party's current difficulties, meanwhile, have raised doubts about its ability to replicate its earlier electoral performance. The party has nevertheless announced its intention to run for 100 per cent of the seats in the People's Assembly.
A date has yet to be set for the upcoming parliamentary polls, but they will likely take place later this year following the drafting of Egypt's new constitution.