Established in the wake of the 25 January uprising, Al-Nour (“The Light”) Party is the largest of Egypt’s three licensed Salafist parties (the other two being Al-Asala and Al-Fadila Parties). It was established by Al-Da‘wa Al-Salafiyya (“The Salafist Call”), Egypt’s largest Salafist group, commonly known as Al-Daawa Movement. Al-Daawa started in Alexandria where it now enjoys a considerable following.
Al-Nour Party was officially licensed in June 2011. Official registration is of paramount importance in Egypt at the present time, as the current election law limits the right to contest two-thirds of the seats of the upcoming parliament to a limited number of officially registered parties, including Al-Nour. Under the rule of former President Hosni Mubarak, the state generally did not allow for the formation of Islamist parties, but after the revolution many Islamist groups managed to obtain official political party license.
Before the Revolution
Even though Salafists seemed uninterested in forming parties before the revolution, Yasser Borhami, a prominent Salafist preacher and a leading figure within Al-Daawa, called for the establishment of a political party that would work to unify Egypt’s Islamic movement and apply Islamic principles to all aspects of social and political life.
Many of Al-Nour’s current members had been involved in Al-Daawa, which has a presence all over Egypt and boasts a particularly formidable stronghold in Alexandria. Prior to the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak, the group had not been closely engaged in opposition politics on grounds that it was considered sinful to oppose a Muslim ruler. Salafist leaders even discouraged their followers from participating in the 25 January demonstrations, which ultimately turned into a mass popular uprising. Al-Nour Party spokesperson Nader Bakar once stated that the Salafists’ refusal to demonstrate on 25 January had been a positive step, because, otherwise, “the Americans would have ordered Mubarak to massacre them all.”
Al-Daawa activists, however, participated in forming popular committees, which helped maintain security in neighborhoods throughout the country after the nationwide withdrawal of police forces on 28 January. After the ouster of former President Mubarak, Al-Daawa began to directly to compete for political power in the country.
The Supreme Council, responsible for running the party, consists of thirty to forty members, all elected by the General Assembly, which itself includes between 150 to 200 representatives and founding party members from each governorate. The Supreme Council is tasked with electing the party chair and secretary-general, along with party secretaries for political affairs, administrative affairs, and media affairs.
The Supreme Council also elects members of the party’s governing and regulation committee.
The party offers two types of membership, “affiliated membership” and “working membership.” All individuals who join the party are considered “affiliated” members until they complete an orientation about the party and its principles, after which they become “working” members. Al-Nour is one of the very few parties in Egypt that employ a probationary membership system. Other parties that issue probationary memberships include the Freedom and Justice Party of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).
Like all political Islamist forces in Egypt, the party has maintained a consistent stance on the need to conduct elections as swiftly as possible. Members of Al-Nour’s mother organization, Al-Daawa, supported the constitutional amendments proposed by Egypt’s ruling military council, which were endorsed by seventy-seven percent of Egyptian voters in a 19 March referendum. The raft of amendments effectively called for holding legislative elections before a new constitution is drawn up. Many analysts believe that Islamist forces are poised to secure notable gains in upcoming polls, hence their insistence on conducting elections as soon as possible.
Al-Nour officials have responded harshly to any sign that Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) may be thinking about delaying the electoral races. “The military council will face the people’s anger if it postpones parliamentary elections,” Al-Nour spokesperson Nader Bakkar threatened in September.
Al-Nour Party will contest parliamentary elections through the Islamist Bloc (officially dubbed the “Alliance for Egypt”), which brings together Al-Asala Party and the Building and Development Party, the latter having been formed by the once militant Islamic Group (Al-Jama‘a Al-Islamiyya).
Al-Nour has said it would seek to contest ninety percent of parliamentary seats in the upcoming polls. Al-Asala candidates are largely concentrated in Cairo, while the Building and Development Party will be fielding candidates in Upper Egypt on behalf of the Islamist Bloc.
Al-Asala had unveiled plans to cede to Al-Nour all the seats in the governorate of Alexandria, where Al-Nour’s mother organization, Al-Daawa, has historically enjoyed significant influence. Salafist groups also reportedly enjoy considerable influence in the northern governorate of Kafr Al-Sheikh, presumably because many of their younger cadres complete their higher education in the Salafist stronghold of Alexandria. Salafist influence is also said to be strong in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Assuit and the Imbaba district of Giza (Greater Cairo), a notorious stronghold of radical Islamist organizations that often witnessed violent clashes between Islamists and the security forces of the former regime.
The Islamist Bloc is likely to face stiff competition in Upper Egyptian governorates from affiliates of Mubarak’s now-defunct National Democratic Party (NDP) and its offshoots, particularly those hailing from powerful and well-connected Upper Egyptian families. Thus, Al-Nour has unveiled plans to launch voter awareness campaigns and mount legal challenges against those candidates once tied to the former regime.Nonetheless, Al-Nour said it does not anticipate large gains in Upper Egypt’s southern governorates.
The Islamist Bloc announced it plans to field 693 candidates In the upcoming parliamentary polls, signaling it would contest all 678 seats available for election (498 in the lower house and 180 in the upper house). On its part, Al-Nour is contributing 610 candidates to the coalition’s electoral rosters, which includes 477 candidates for the parliament’s lower house, and 133 candidates for upper house. Al-Asala and Building and Development are competing for only forty and forty-five seats, respectively, leaving more than eighty-five percent of the joint candidate roster to Al-Nour. Earlier in the election season, Al-Nour Party’s spokesperson once refused to specify the proportion of seats contested by each of the three parties of the coalition on grounds that Al-Nour did not want to belittle the role of its two coalition partners. The legal framework governing the elections gives SCAF the right to appoint ten of the 508 members of the lower house, and ninety of the 270 members of the upper house.
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The coalition will compete for seats in all of Egypt’s governorates, except for Sinai. The regime of former president Hosni Mubarak had previously prevented Salafist movements from operating in that region. While the Islamist Bloc’s electoral lists include women, none of its candidates are Copts. Al-Nour once stated that it is willing to consider fielding Coptic candidates, as long as those candidates represent the party’s platform.” Party officials claim that a handful of Copts had been among Al-Nour’s founding members.
The party’s announcement that it would field sixty female candidates in the upcoming elections became the source of considerable controversy, since many Salafists do not believe that women should vote, let alone run for office. In response, Al-Nour leader Emad Abd Al-Ghafour stressed that the party was committed to the principle that men and women should not mingle, and that the decision to field female candidates had been a necessary measure aimed at winning as many seats as possible, given that the law stipulates a set quota for female candidates on party lists. Al-Ghafour went on to note, however, that female candidates would remain at the tail end of the list and would therefore have very little chance of securing representation.
The Islamist Bloc announced plans to wage its electoral campaign under the slogan, “Together, we’ll build Egypt: A modern identity and state built with Egyptian hands and minds.” Al-Nour had pledged to refrain from using religious slogans, or from campaigning inside mosques, in the lead-up to the parliamentary polls, although one party official was recently quoted as telling supporters that voting for Al-Nour candidates represented a form of almsgiving that would someday be rewarded in heaven.
During last Eid holiday, moreover, Al-Nour activists competed with those of the MB’s Freedom and Justice Party over control of public prayer venues and spaces, as both parties sought to keep their names in the spotlight in religious forums convened during the Muslim holiday.
Earlier spokesperson Bakkar said that the Islamist Bloc would rely on an international marketing company to design its campaignads, stressing that none of the candidates affiliated with the coalition would spend more than the legally mandated campaign-spending cap of 500,000 EGP.
Relationship with Other Political Parties
Al-Nour had been part of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB)-led electoral coalition, the Democratic Alliance, before it defected in September. According to reports, Al-Nour withdrew from the coalition due to disagreements with the MB’s political party, the Freedom and Justice (FJP), over its share in the coalition’s joint candidate lists.
Party spokesperson Bakkar said in a press conference that Al-Nour’s dispute had not been with the FJP, but rather with liberal and secularist parties.
Observers believe the Islamist Bloc will end up competing with the MB for votes cast by pro-Islamist constituents, particularly in Alexandria. Notwithstanding its frequent criticism of the MB, the Islamist Bloc may coordinate its electoral strategies with the MB’s FJP.
Bakkar told Jadaliyya/Ahram Online that the Bloc and the MB had agreed to avoid competing for the same single-winner seats, though FJP officials have denied that such an agreement has occurred. The final candidate rosters of both parties in Alexandria suggest that they might indeed end up competing over single winner seats.
Moreover, the Brotherhood and Al-Nour signed a joint document committing both sides to “clean and fair competition” in their electoral faceoff, though it is unclear why other parties were not included in the agreement. Nevertheless, the two Islamist coalitions are expected to compete fiercely in party list races over votes cast by Islamist constituents who had previously had little choice but to vote for the MB.
Stances on Salient Issues
Form of Government
According to Bakkar, the party supports a hybrid form of government combining elements of a presidential political system with that of a parliamentary one, along the lines of the current French system. This is in contrast with the position of the MB, which is known to be a strong proponent a parliamentary political system.
The party’s platform states that there should be a “just and equal distribution” of income and wealth among the Egyptian public. This contrasts with most mainstream parties, which usually call for establishing a decent minimum wage without explicit reference to the need for wealth redistribution. Al-Nour’s platform invokes the Islamic concept of “zakat,” which stipulates that well-to-do Muslims should allocate fixed portions of their annual incomes to the poor.
According to the party’s platform, the national economy should be managed in conformity with Islamic principles, which should also inform legislation governing the banking sector and loan finance. The party rejects loan interest on grounds that it contradicts Islamic values. The platform also underscores the importance of anti-trust laws and the government’s role in protecting consumers against monopolistic practices, both were subjects of heated debates in Egypt before the January 25 Revolution.
Al-Nour further calls for promoting national agricultural production so as to allow Egypt to attain a degree of self-sufficiency and food security, an area where the country is considered particularly vulnerable. The party is also committed to raising the budget designated for research and development in the civil and military industrial fields to at least four percent of Egypt’s gross domestic product.
Religion and State
Al-Nour spokesperson Bakkar said that Al-Nour’s campaign motto and its emphasis on “identity” reflect the raison d’être of the Islamist Bloc’s parliamentary bid, namely “the application of Sharia [Islamic Law] in a gradual way that suits the nature of society.” Bakkar’s statement implicitly refers to a common belief among many Islamist activists that Egypt’s journey to the complete application of Sharia should be slow and gradual so as not to alienate people. The term “modern state,” Bakkar added, signified neither a secular state based on conventional Western understandings nor a fundamentalist religious state, but rather a modern state that relies on science in pursuing progress and prosperity.
Yasser Borhami, considered a godfather of the party, once wrote that Islam was “both religion and state” and could not be separated from politics, although he stressed this was not an endorsement of a theocratic state. Like many Al-Nour officials, Borhami emphasizes the importance of Article Two of the Egyptian Constitution, which holds that Islam is the religion of the state. Al-Nour’s leaders often criticize the use of terms like “civil” or “secular” state, arguing that secularism does not mean the separation of religion and politics, but rather the complete alienation of religion from life altogether. Secularism, they argue, amounts to atheism.
Prominent party members, however, have not always adhered to the pragmatism reflected in the aforementioned positions. For example, Hazem Shouman, a well known Salafist cleric who is running in the upcoming elections on Al-Nour’s list told a gathering in Mansoura on 6 November that Islamic and Islamist rule is imminent and there is nothing that secularists can do to stop it. More recently, Shouman crashed the stage of a concert by singer Hisham Abbass in Mansoura University, and told attendees that such concerts were sinful.
The party completely rejects the practice of trying civilian suspects in military courts, describing it as a serious threat to Egyptian political life. In addition Al-Nour has often called for the release of the political prisoners whom the state is detaining through the powers of the infamous emergency law. It is believed that many of these detainees belong to Islamist organizations.
Strike Law and Labor Movements
The party states that the worker’s right to strike is lawful, while also being guaranteed by international conventions. Al-Nour offsets this assertion, however, by adding that strikes are “undesirable” at present, since they could adversely affect the economy during Egypt’s critical transitional phase.
The section on foreign relations in Al-Nour’s political platform is atypically brief, outlining a broad commitment to enhancing Egypt’s regional and international role and improving its relations with neighboring countries. There is no mention of the party’s stance vis-à-vis Palestinian rights or the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, although the document stresses the importance of respecting existing treaties and conventions.
Al-Nour Party once indicated that it opposes the annulment of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, but called for revising some of its provisions. In another instance, however, it pledged to decide on the future of the treaty through a national referendum.
Media Image and Controversies
Al-Nour’s quick emergence in the political arena after the January 25 Revolution has raised many questions in the minds of observers of Egyptian politics. Many wonder how a movement like Al-Daawa—typically perceived as an apolitical movement that was tolerated by the Mubarak regime to pacify political Islamist trends—was quickly able to form a political party with sufficient resources to contest and campaign for almost all the seats in parliament. This has led speculators and political rivals to accuse Al-Nour of receiving foreign funding from like-minded governments like that of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Officials of the ministry of justice have confirmed that Salafist organizations received grants worth hundreds of millions of pounds from Qatari organization after the revolution.
While it has not publicly disclosed its sources of funding, Al-Nour Party officials have denied these claims, and its spokesperson challenged that anybody could present evidence proving that the party receives foreign funding. Saudi officials have also denied these allegations.
Nevertheless, assertions that Al-Nour receives external funds kept circulating, especially as the party’s relative extravagance came to the fore. In one case, Al-Nour together with Al-Dawaa, were able to transport about two million people to Cairo from all over Egypt to participate in the 29 July Tahrir Square demonstration, which was considered the largest Islamist public gathering in Egyptian history. Al-Nour also managed to erect a grand platform in Tahrir Square that overshadowed the platforms of all other parties, including the more established MB. Speculation as to where the party received its funds intensified, particularly that Al-Nour’s constituency is believed to be largely drawn from the rural poor, and to a lesser extent the urban poor.
External funding of political groups remains a thorny issue in Egyptian political debates. It is usually raised in relation to entities that accept funding from US-based institutions. While concerns have been raised about possible Saudi and Qatari funding of Islamist groups, US funding remains the more sensational topic in Egyptian media.
In early October, Al-Nour’s youth activists spoke out against a decision by party leader Emad Abd Al-Ghafour to sign a statement committing the signatories – which included figures from various political parties – to a set of SCAF-proposed political reforms. The statement, dissenters within the party complained, lent the SCAF unconditional support, did not address the ongoing application of Egypt’s hated emergency law, and failed to provide a timetable for the swift transition from military to civilian rule.
The party’s decision to field female candidates in upcoming elections was reportedly a source of contention within Salafist circles. While the party holds that female participation in politics – as both voters and legislators – is religiously unacceptable, it has tried to repair its image vis-à-vis women’s rights by convening a gathering of its female activists. The party’s detractors, however, cynically mocked this initiative, pointing out that none of the speakers at the event were women, but rather a handful of old men lecturing female attendees about the nature and scope of their political rights. While Al-Nour’s platform states that men and women are equal with respect to human dignity, it underscores “the importance of maintaining differences in their human and social roles.”
More recently, Al-Nour was criticized for refusing to include photos of its female candidates alongside those of its male nominees in its electoral flyers, simply inserting the image of a flower above the names of women running on the party’s lists.
A co-founder of Al-Nour Party, Borhami is one of Egypt’s most prominent Salafist clerics and vice president of Al-Daawa Movement. While he does not have an official post inside the party, Borhami – as vice-chair of Al-Daawa, Al-Nour’s mother organization –appears to hold considerable influence over party decision-making. Observers consider Borhami a particularly controversial figure due to his relatively strict religious opinions.
Last July, Borhami supported a SCAF-issued statement calling for a halt to public demonstrations so as to avoid chaos and instability. Notably, Borhami discouraged Al-Daawa supporters from taking part in the 25 January protests, which ultimately culminated in Mubarak’s ouster. A few weeks earlier he was criticized for his attempts to calm down public uproar over the death of Salafist activist Sayed Belal in the custody of State Security Investigations Services in early January 2011. Belal, who was arrested in connection with a church bombing in Alexandria in December 2010, was reportedly tortured to death while in police custody. While non-Islamist groups like April 6 movement blamed Egyptian authorities for Belal’s death and called for punishing those responsible, Borhami, to the disappointment of disgruntled Salafist activists, asked followers to “be patient” and exercise restraint.
Born in Alexandria in 1958, Borhami graduated from Alexandria University with a degree in medicine, after which he studied Islamic Law at Egypt’s prestigious Al-Azhar University.
A Salafist cleric closely associated with the party, Hazem Shouman will run in upcoming parliamentary polls at the top of the Islamist Bloc’s list in the city of Mansoura. He is commonly known as the cleric who attacked presidential hopeful Mohamed ElBaradei by questioning the latter’s commitment to Islam, although he later apologized for the remarks.
Shouman is well known outside Islamist circles for his widely cited quote in which he stated, “A civil state means your mother can’t wear the hijab.” Shouman told a gathering in Al-Mansoura on 6 November that Islamic and Islamist rule is imminent and there is nothing that secularists can do to stop it.