On Saturday 15 November, a court of law should pass its verdict, at the elementary level, on a lawsuit filed by three lawyers who demand to have the Salafist Al-Nour Party dissolved for allegedly violating the constitution.
The premise of the lawsuit is that the party, which was established as a the political arm of a broad base of the Salafists in the post 25 January political phase, is violating the constitution approved in January of this year which bans the license of any party that has a religious base.
“We are confident that the verdict would acknowledge the right of the party to continue its political activities because contrary to the allegation made by the lawyers who started the lawsuit, Al-Nour is not a religious-based party; Al-Nour is a party that allows and welcomes membership of all Egyptians with no discrimination; its base is article two of the constitution which stipulates that Islamic jurisprudence is the key source of all legislations,” said Ashraf Thabet a leading figure of Al-Nour.
Thabet was one of the Al-Nour MPs in the first post 2011 revolution parliament that was elected in the winter of 2011 and was dissolved a few months later – just a few days before the inauguration of Mohamed Morsi, the elected president who was ousted only 12 months after his ascent to power.
At the time Al-Nour had 22 percent of the seats in a parliament dominated by Islamsits – with over 50 percent going to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party (FJP).
Thabet, was deputy speaker of parliament while Saad El-Katateni, who led the FJP after the election of Morsi, was speaker.
Speaking to Ahram Online from the office of the party in Alexandria, the stronghold of Salafists in Egypt, Thabet was confident that “despite the discontent that the public had and still has with the performance of the Muslim Brotherhood while in office, there is still a strong power base that supports political Islam”.
Unlike the statements made on Thursday by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to a Kuwaiti daily where he anticipated that the Islamists share of the next parliament is certain to be low, Thabet is convinced that when all is said and done the Islamists are still a political force to be reckoned with and that Al-Nour is perhaps, “due to wise political choices and true understanding of the concepts of Sharia that prioritises collective public interest over limited political gains,” the one party that would have the largest share of the parties that would go to Islamists in general.
This share, Thabet said, “should be no less than 30 percent by any chance in any fair elections.”
Political calculations and reach-out tactics are what the current leadership of Al-Nour, is adopting.
Upon the increase of public anger against Morsi following the issuance of a constitutional declaration that granted the head of executive at the time temporary extra-judiciary powers, Al-Nour made careful and indirect criticism to the head of the state.
While the leaders of Al-Nour declined to take part in the political movement that was assembling against Morsi the party chose to distance itself from the Mulsim Brotherhood which had, up until then, gone the extra-mile to accommodate what some members of the group call the “exaggerated demands of Al-Nour”.
On 30 June 2013, Al-Nour declined to take part in the demonstraitons calling for Morsi to hold early elections. However, on 3 July Al-Nour’s second in command was present with a host of top brass and political figures who flanked then chief of army and now President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, as he announced the ouster of Morsi.
Leading figures of Al-Nour admit that it was a challenging moment that caused a little-talked about crack inside the party and the defect of some of its members to Al-Watan, a Salafist Party that took up the cause of Morsi. However, they insist that in retrospect the right decision was to side with the overwhelming public sentiment to have Morsi removed.
Dismayed by the attack and criticism, Al-Nour figures continued to act on the ground to provide services and interact at grass-root level.
In his small Alexandria clinic, which he shares with a brother and a sister who are also medical doctors, Yasser Burhami, a fiery and controversial member of Al-Nour, is providing inexpensive-to-free pediatric services to the residents of the neighbourhood.
Burhami is willingly taking money from his own pocket to send an aide, who is equally heavily bearded and dressed in a white long robe and pants, to buy the medication for the daughter of a poor woman.
The lady, Hadiyah, is so grateful. “I am praying for the Almighty to be on his side; I could not have afforded to take her to any other doctor and I would not have been able to buy the medication,” she said.
This lady and her entire family are permanent patients at Burhami’s clinic, who can never pay. They are also firm followers of the voting bids put by Al-Nour Party.
The equation is not give-and-take, as the lady in her late 20s explains. It is rather, she said, a confidence-and-gratitude based relationship.
For the followers of Burhami’s weekly sermons following the evening prayers at a small mosque not very far from his clinic, it is also a matter of confidence.
In the case of the latter, however, the confidence is not necessarily unconditional. Some of the young Salafists who take part in the Wednesday evening ‘lessons’ of Burhami, say that there are things that they would not follow their beloved and trusted sheik in doing.
When Burhami encouraged his followers last summer to vote for El-Sisi not many obeyed.
“His argument was that when we vote for him we establish an alliance that could help us to carry a political weight that we could use in asking him to honour certain Islamist demands; but for me that was not the question; my friends died in Rabiaa,” Burhami follower Salah said when referencing the dispersal of the pro-Morsi sit-in during the summer of 2013.
“ElSisi was minister of defense upon the dispersal; I could not have voted for him,” the Burhami follower, Salah added.
Al-Nour leaders agree that many Salafis, including some of Al-Nour’s membership, were at the Rabiaa sit-in “out of solidarity” or “out of offering themselves as human-shields to avoid having the sit-in violently dispersed’.
These leaders argue that they tried to provide a political deal that would have averted the bloody dispersal. They acknowledge the dispersal as “bloody, unjustified and catastrophic,” but insist at the same time that it was “at the end of the day the choice of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood who thought that by having many people killed during the dispersal that the political balance would be tipped in their favour; they were so wrong” one of the leaders of Al-Nour told Ahram Online.
With the close association that Al-Nour leaders chose to opt for with the post-Morsi political scheme, at the expense as some of the leaders acknowledge, of Islamist credibility of the party and the volume of its already declining membership, Al-Nour feels that its “support and sacrifices” have not been appreciated by El-Sisi’s regime.
Particularly disturbing is a reference included in the history curricula for secondary school students, which refers to the party as “unconstitutional for having been based on religious ideology.”
The grievance of the party that was made upon the beginning of the academic year, a few weeks ago, was promptly accommodated as teachers were ordered, according to some Al-Nour leaders and history teachers, to overlook this reference.
“It is part of a few pages on the 30 June revolution and we are now just teaching students about the role of President El-Sisi in the revolution,” said one schoolteacher in Alexandria.
The one Islamist party that supported the 3 July 2013 political roadmap won the battle over history curricula reference. Nonetheless, as its leaders admit, it is not winning the more important battle: its figures and clergy have been denied, according to a decree issued by the religious endowment ministry to preach in mosques.
Leaders and followers of Al-Nour attribute this decree to what they qualify as “prominent Muslim Brotherhood affinity” in the ranks of the endowment ministry.
“They know that Al-Nour would take their share of Islamist votes and they hate us because we chose to be with the state and not with them,” said one leader.
The blame is also put by Al-Nour at the doorstep of security bodies.
“They wish to eliminate all the Islamist current; it is a big mistake because if you eliminate all the political shades of the Islamist current you are indirectly encouraging the keen Islamist youth to join the more radical and militant versions like ISIS,” the same leader argued.
According to a security source, Al-Nour is no less radical than ISIS.
“They are just pragmatic; they are pretending to be otherwise for now but once empowered they would act exactly like ISIS does,” said the source.
This source, who asked for his identity to be withheld, argued that “the one thing one should not forget from the experience of [assassinated president Anwar] Sadat is never to get into an alliance with Islamists; he did and they turned around and killed him”.
For Thabet, it does not really matter whether or not Al-Nour will be dissolved by a court order.
“It might happen and it might not happen; if it happens we could consider having another political party; but whatever happens we have a strong constituency and we will continue to be at the service of and to represent this constituency,” he said.