Following an hours-long general meeting on Monday evening, the Salafist Nour Party reiterated its intention to hold internal party elections as planned, contradicting a recent decision by party leader Emad Abdel-Ghafour, who was removed from his post within the party last week by the party's Supreme Committee.
"The assembly agreed to hold internal polls as planned and form a reconciliation committee composed of prominent figures from the party and the Salafist Calling," party spokesman Nader Bakar said at a news conference following a general meeting of the party's extended Supreme Committee, which includes senior party leaders, former party MPs and several members of the Salafist Calling, the umbrella group to which the Nour Party belongs.
Reports of rifts among the party's upper echelons have emerged in recent weeks. However, in a major development last Wednesday, the party's Supreme Committee withdrew confidence from its leader Emad Abdel-Ghafour and appointed El-Sayed Mostafa Hussein Khalifa in his place. Abdel Ghafour, for his part, has reportedly retaliated by calling for the dismissal of Supreme Committee members.
Monday's general meeting came after a decision last week by the party's Supreme Committee to hold elections on schedule and withdraw confidence from Abdel-Ghafour, following a week-long conflict over whether or not the party's internal polls should be held as planned. While Abdel-Ghafour had demanded that elections be postponed until Egypt's new parliament is voted in, the Supreme Committee insisted on going ahead with the elections.
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.
Khalifa chaired Monday's meeting as the recognised head of the party. Also at the chairing podium was party spokesman Nader Bakkar.
The party's official Twitter account announced that Bakkar had been removed from his position, a claim the spokesman later denied, asserting that the party's Twitter account had been hacked. The account, however, is believed to be controlled by Abdel-Ghafour's supporters inside the party.
During the news conference that followed the meeting, party leaders who spoke to reporters appeared to choose their words carefully. When they referred to Abdel-Ghafour's removal, they referred to it merely as "the decision," stressing that the vast majority of party members – some 98 per cent – had voted in favour of holding elections on time.
"The decision was approved by the majority of General Assembly members, so it doesn't violate party regulations, according to which the assembly has the right to appoint an interim chairman pending elections," said Ashraf Thabet, Supreme Committee member and former PM for the party, during the news conference Monday night.
Abdel-Ghafour, for his part, insists he is the legitimate head of the party and that Thabet is the one sowing division within the party's ranks. Abdel-Ghafour believes the party’s Supreme Committee lacks the authority to withdraw confidence from him as the party’s leader.
"Abdel-Ghafour is a presidential advisor and member of the Nour Party's Supreme Committee," Bakkar told reporters amid confusion as to Abdel-Ghafour's current position within the party.
Senior Salafist Calling leaders, including well-known group spokesman Abdel-Moneim El-Shahat, attempted to downplay the rift, telling members of the media that the party and the Salafist Calling had both maintained their unity despite the apparent emergence of Abdel-Ghafour's splinter group.
"It would be an exaggeration to call this a division per se," El-Shahat told reporters outside the conference hall. "It's merely a disagreement over the interpretation of legal regulations."
He added: "Emad [Abdel-Ghafour] said he had received complaints about the elections, while the complaints committee said it hadn't received any."
Nour Party member Mahmoud El-Kholy told Ahram Online: "Complaints [about the polls] went to Mr Abdel-Ghafour directly without being submitted to the party's complaints committee first. And, based on those complaints, he opted to postpone the elections."
"His [Abdel-Ghafour's] decision was made unilaterally, without referring to the Supreme Committee – which is against regulations," El-Kholy added. "It was also taken at very short notice. Complaints could have been investigated during the elections' later stages, and then the polls could have been repeated in districts where violations were found to have occurred."
El-Kholy went on to explain that Abdel-Ghafour's removal had been supposed to have happened when the latter accepted his position as presidential advisor last month so as to avoid conflicts of interest.
"But Mr Abdel-Ghafour did not submit his resignation when he took up the [advisory] post, so the Supreme Committee had to appoint a new leader," El-Kholy said. "I don't want to call it expulsion. It is merely a phase of reorganisation within the party."
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 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 performances. The party has nevertheless announced its intention to run for 100 per cent of the seats in the People's Assembly.
It remains unclear how the mounting divisions within the Islamist camp will impact upcoming parliamentary polls, after the Egyptian judiciary last month ruled against the reinstatement of Egypt's Islamist-led parliament.
A date has yet to be set for upcoming parliamentary elections, but they will likely take place later this year following the drafting of Egypt's new constitution.