The Egyptian Tahrir Party received its official license on 5 September 2011, though party founders claim that they were talking about forming a party before the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. Sufi leader Mohammad Alaa Al-Din Abul Azayem called on followers to join the party, purportedly in order to counterbalance the influence of rival Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and Salafist movements.
Although the party is often described as a “Sufi” party and various Sufi movements publicly supportit, the group’s spokespeople are all non-Sufis. Party leader Ibrahim Zahran describes Egyptian Tahrir as a “civil party” that is open to all Egyptians and seeks greater freedom, justice, and development for all Egyptians. The party's platform, moreover, does not explicitly reflect religious leanings or agendas.
Before the Revolution
Sufi religious traditions have a long-standing presence in Egypt, with some eighty different orders active today. All these Sufi orders are members of a Supreme Council of Sufi Orders, a body that selects the “Grand Sheikh” or spiritual leader.
Under Mubarak’s rule, the involvement of Sufis in political life was limited, as they were encouraged by their leaders to remain apolitical and non-confrontational toward the regime. There have been notable exceptions to this trend, however, especially in recent years. For example, during the 2010 elections, Sheikh Alaa Abul-Azayem, leader of the Azmiya Sufi Order announced that he would run for parliament against Fathi Sorour, former speaker of the People's Assembly. Later, Abul Azayem withdrew his nomination and subsequently came out in support of Serour’s candidacy. He described his bid for office as an attempt to send a message to the Mubarak regime that its intervention in the religious affairs of the Sufi community was unacceptable.
Earlier in 2010, the regime intervened to resolve a power struggle within the Supreme Council of Sufi Orders. Taking the side of loyalist Sheikh Abdel Hadi al-Qasabi, then President Hosni Mubarak appointed him as Grand Sheikh to the dismay of Abul Azayem who sought the same position. After the January 25 Revolution, some twenty Sheikhs gathered asking for the removal of al-Qasabi because of his association with the old regime.
Egyptian Tahrir is highly centralized. The responsibility for running the party is delegated to a party Chair and a twenty-four-member Executive Board, all elected by the General Assembly. The Chair must receive three-fourths of the General Assembly’s confidence in order to serve. The Executive Board is tasked with appointing the heads of various specialised committees, as well as local office leaders. Abul Azayem explained to Jadaliyya/Ahram Online that he had intentionally avoided taking any direct role in the party’s leadership and appointed Secretary-General Essam Mohy Eddin in order to maintain the Tahrir Party image as an inclusive, secular organization that welcomes everyone, not only Sufis. The Elders Committee, which Abul Azayem heads, ensures that the party's policies are in line with its principles.
Initially, the Egyptian Tahrir Party was hesitant to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections on grounds that big money and former ruling party figures will dominate the vote. In fact, the party threatened that it would not participate in the vote unless a law is passed to bar former ruling party figures from running in the election. Even though discussions regarding the implementation of such a law remained inconclusive until the deadline for applying for election candidacies, the party ultimately decided to participate.
The Egyptian Tahrir announced on 25 October 2011 that it would field fifty-three candidates in seven governorates, including three Copts and six women.
The upcoming Egyptian legislature will be made up of 678 seats, of which 498 in the 508-member lower house and 180 in the 270-member upper house are to be elected. The SCAF will appoint ten members of the lower house, and ninety members of the upper house. Party officials state that Egyptian Tahrir will only run in party-list races but not individual candidacy races. Contrary to earlier expectations, the party did not become part of the Egyptian Bloc. Secretary General Essam Mohy Eddin says that Egyptian Tahrir views the next election primarily as an opportunity to test the party’s performance, train its personnel, and participate in the new political arena.
Relationship with Other Political Parties
Attempts by the Brotherhood to pose as the leader of the entire Islamist political movement failed despite some short-lived instances of success. Tahrir Party founders have publicly denounced behaviors of Salafists alleging that followers of such movements were destroying Sufi shrines, which Salafists deem as heretical.
The Egyptian Tahrir Party has often cooperated with secular-leaning parties and has signed joint statements with them. It was briefly a member of the Egyptian Bloc, an electoral coalition formed by secular and liberal parties, presumably to counterbalance the influence of the Brotherhood in the 2011/2012 parliamentary elections.
Secretary General Mohy Eddin announced in late October 2011 that the party plans to cooperate with other Sufi supported candidates, such as those affiliated with the Voice of Freedom Party.
Stances on salient issues
The Egyptian Tahrir Party’s platform advocates for a free market economy with the state interfering only to ensure social justice. The platform does not outline a detailed economic vision. Secretary General Essam Mohy Eddin explained to Jadaliyya/Ahram Online that the party could not establish a clear preference on these issues at such an early stage and that decisions related to economic policy would ultimately depend on the changing conditions and direction of the country.
While the party’s platform does not explain in any detail how it plans to support social justice if elected, it identifies poverty as a major problem facing Egypt. Essam Mohy Eddin told Jadaliyya/Ahram Online that Egyptian Tahrir aims to support the poor and ensure decent living conditions for all. This goal, he explained, is not to eliminate classes but rather to reduce income disparities.
Religion and State
Egyptian Tahrir supports a civil state founded upon justice and equality among all individuals. The party recognizes the importance of Article 2 of the Egyptian constitution, which provides that Islam is the source of legislation. But the party also recognizes the rights of followers of other Abrahamic faiths to their own religious freedoms and personal status laws.
Party founder and Sufi leader, Abul Azayem, however, is often accused by other Sufi religious figures of using religion in his calls for political action. From Essam Mohy Eddin'sstandpoint, mixing religion and politics is nearly impossible because even Sharia is contested and has multiple branches; following all Sharia branches would be impossible. He told Jadaliyya/Ahram Online that the party believes that laws should not go against Sharia, but should bear its spirit. Mohy Eddin added that other parties’ attempt to mix religion and politics amount to an abuse of Islam, which the Egyptian Tahrir Party rejects.
According to Egyptian Tahrir Chair Ibrahim Zahran, the party supports the adoption of supra-constitutional principles, which, he claims, would ensure individual and civil rights and liberties irrespective of who wins the upcoming legislative election.
According to the constitutional declaration issued by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces last spring, elected legislators will be tasked with selecting assembly members who will write the country’s next constitution. Opponents of supra-constitutional principles claim that imposing such principles on constitutional writers would compromise the democratic integrity of the constitution writing process itself.
Strikes Law and Labor Movements
Essam Mohy Eddintold Jadaliyya/Ahram Online that in general, labor action is considered a healthy phenomenon. The Egyptian Tahrir Party fully supports the right to demonstrate and hold demonstrations as an integral part of the freedom of expression but is against actions that undermine the economy.
Media Image and Controversies
During his conflict with Abdel Hadi al-Qasabi, Sheikh Abul Azayem apparently made statements in support of Gamal Mubarak and other National Democratic Party members. Egyptian Tahrir Party members deny such claims.
Egyptian Tahrir Party leaders are often resentful when their party is labelled as the “Sufi Party” just because Abul Azayem spearheaded its creation. Last September, the party issued a statement claiming that while fifty percent of the party’s members are Sufi, the party should not be labeled as such since it is open to all Egyptians irrespective of faith. According to Egyptian laws, parties based on religion are illegal. In the past, Sufi leaders have criticized the party’s founder, Abul Azayem, for using religious rhetoric in political debates.
Given the perceived association between the Azmiya Sufi Order and the party, some observes were surprised by the decision by the Egyptian Tahrir Party not to nominate any Sufi leaders on its list of candidates, particularly Abul Azayem. While some claim that Sufi leaders are avoiding electoral candidacy out of fear that electoral defeat would shake their public image, Abul Azayem claims that he chose not to contest in 2011/2012 parliamentary polls due to his busy travel schedule and responsibilities to followers of the Azmiya Order.
Serving as Egyptian Tahrir Party Chair, Ibrahim Zahran is an international expert on petroleum and natural gas. He is a strong opponent of Egyptian gas exports to Israel. Prior to the January 25 Revolution, Zahran was a member of the National Association for Change.
Alaa Al-Din Abul Azayem
Leader of Egypt’s Sufi Azmiya Order since 1994, Mohammad Alaa al-Din Abul Azayem is one of the cofounders of the party. He has often been critical of the stances of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist movements vis-à-vis other religious communities, including Christians and Muslim minorities. In 2010, Abul Azayem announced that he would run against then-Speaker of Parliament Fathi Sorour in the 2010 parliamentary elections. Abul Azayem described his bid for office as an attempt to send a message to the regime that its intervention in the religious affairs of the Sufi community was unacceptable. Abul Azayem later withdrew his nomination and subsequently supported Sorour’s candidacy.
Founding: September 2011
Numbers of members: 7,000
Ideology: Secular proponent of market economy and state intervention on behalf of the poor