While Egypt's secular political forces are stepping up efforts to contest the country's coming parliamentary polls as one bloc capable of winning a majority, they are also doing their best to eliminate a major rival from their way: the ultraconservative Salafist Nour Party.
Non-Islamist forces agree that the removal of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi from office in 2013 and the declaration of his Muslim Brotherhood group as a terrorist organisation might have offered them a historic opportunity to sweep the coming polls. But they also see the Nour Party as another rival Islamist force that should be isolated to completely dominate the new parliament.
According to Al-Ahram political analyst Osama El-Ghazali Harb, there is an agreement among all secular political forces that the Nour Party is not just an obstacle on their way to a sweeping success in the coming parliamentary polls. "It is also a big threat to Egypt's political life, which should be based on the constitutional principle of separating religion from politics," said Harb.
Harb indicates that the forces which aim to rid political life of the Salafist Nour includes all liberal and leftist forces, not to mention the diehard politicians of the former regime of Hosni Mubarak. "All of these see Nour as another Muslim Brotherhood proxy, and they agree that this party – or any force that mixes religion with politics – should not be allowed any window for having a foothold in the new parliament," said Harb.
Harb argues that article 74 of the new constitution clearly states that political parties cannot be based on religious grounds. "The existence of the Nour Party – like the Muslim Brotherhood – represents in itself a violation of this article," said Harb, adding that "if article 74 and other reasons were used to dissolve the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm – the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) – it should be used again to dissolve the Nour Party."
"This is not much for political interests like winning a parliamentary majority as for safeguarding the country against forces which are based on mixing religion with politics," said Harb.
According to Harb, leaders of the Nour Party believe that the declaration of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation has offered it a golden opportunity to replace the group's FJP as the country's biggest Islamist political force. "But all secular political forces should mobilise against this development, doing their best to isolate Nour politically and legally," said Harb.
Joining forces with Harb is Ali El-Moslehi, a former minister of social solidarity and the general coordinator of the secular Egyptian Front alliance – an electoral coalition comprising politicians who served under the Mubarak regime. El-Moselhi agrees that Nour is a religious party that should be ruled unconstitutional. "We will be battling Nour on different fronts, the most important of which is contesting the legality of this party before administrative courts," said El-Moselhi.
El-Moselhi said in a press interview that Nour supported the 30 June 2013 uprising against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood out of fear of the army and security forces. "This support was just a tactic to survive the post-Brotherhood era, but the fact remains that their strategic objective is the same as the Brotherhood: reaching power and turning Egypt into a religious state," said El-Moselhi.
Nour is currently facing a lawsuit filed by independent lawyer Gamal Sala, asking that the party be dissolved because it was founded on religious grounds in violation of article 74 of the new constitution.
The Supreme Administrative Court postponed the case to 17 January 2015, with some secular politicians like El-Ghazali Harb hoping that the case will be finally referred to the Supreme Constitutional Court.
Joining forces, Egypt's prominent constitutional law expert Nour Farahat warned on Monday of the possibility that Nour and other political Islam forces might sweep the coming parliamentary elections.
"In this case, they would use their majority to cancel all laws passed last year, including the presidential election law, and this could shake the legality of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi himself," said Farahat, urging state authorities and secular politicians to step up their campaign aimed at obliterating Nour and all other Islamist parties from political life.
"This shouldn't be viewed as a kind of imposing political disenfranchisement on Nour and other Islamist forces, but making sure that Islamists with religious grounds keep away from politics," Farahat told Al-Ahram newspaper.
Joining the fray, Ahmed El-Zind, chairman of the independent Judges Club, has also publicly called upon El-Sisi to take serious moves against political Islam parties.
"The president and the government should move quickly to put the new constitution into action, cracking down on political Islam parties to prevent them from joining the new parliament," El-Zind said in a public statement on 19 November.
According to Mahmoud Badr, leader of the Tamarod (rebel) movement which masterminded the ousting of Morsi, "Nour's Islamist ideology is much more extremist than the one espoused by the Muslim Brotherhood and this makes it a necessity that this faction must be eradicated from political life."
Badr vowed in a press interview that the Tamarod movement would be mobilised to "alert the attention of Egyptians of the dangers of theNour Party and the necessity of combating its ideology, which stands behind all terrorist acts in Egypt."
"Just like we were able to mobilise Egyptians against Morsi, we will do the same against Nour which is nothing but another Daesh (Islamic State), and we all should mobilise to fight it," said Badr.
On another front, Egypt's private media has also upped the ante against Nour, doing its best to tarnish its image and accusing its leaders of fomenting dissent and chaos. They used the arrest of a bearded man in the Nile Delta governorate of Gharbiya over charges of sexually abusing his wives to launch a hostile media campaign against Nour ahead of the polls.
Tawfik Okasha, the owner of the private television channel of Faraeen, accused Nour of funding terrorist acts in Egypt and calling for mass protests on 28 November. Okasha, who contested 2012's parliamentary polls in the Nile-Delta governorate of Daqahliya, was defeated at the hands of a Nour Party candidate.
In response to the above campaign, Nour has surprisingly opted to be on the defensive. The only offensive action, said Nour's leading official Ashraf Thabet, was that the party decided to file lawsuits against some media people who led the campaign against it, using false information.
Thabet, the former deputy speaker of Egypt's 2012 parliament and Nour deputy chairman, told Ahram Online that "the campaign against the party was expected."
"We knew that while parliamentary polls are approaching, we will be the target of greater fire from secular political forces which lack Nour's popularity on the street and believe that it remains a great obstacle for them to win a majority in parliament and form the coming government," said Thabet.
Thabet strongly denied that Nour has in any way backed the Salafist Front's call for protests on 28 November.
"By contrast," he said, "we launched a campaign under the title 'No for Violence' and we strongly condemned the Front's call as clear-cut proof that we are in support of the current ruling regime."
"We are part of this regime and we supported it when it ousted Morsi on 3 July, 2013," said Thabet.
Thabet, however, regrets that the ministry of religious endowments has recently acted against Nour's Salafist clerics, preventing them from delivering Friday sermons in mosques on grounds that they are not graduates of the leading Sunni Islam institution of Al-Azhar. Thabet deplored that "Nour Salafist clerics who were banned from preaching on Fridays were preaching against religious extremism in society."
Harb, however, dismisses Thabet's argument, stressing that Nour had before announced that it would mobilise its supporters to vote for the new constitution in a public referendum last January, but this had never come true. "By contrast, we believe that Nour's supporters had voted against the constitution," said Harb, arguing that "Nour always says what it does not do and does what it does not say."
"They, like the Muslim Brotherhood, believe that all secular politicians are infidels that must be wiped out," said Harb.
Thabet insists that Nour is not a religious party. "The party was founded in accordance with article 2 of the constitution which stipulates that Islamic sharia must be the major source of legislation in Egypt," said Thabet, adding that "as for article 74, it defines religious parties as the ones that seek to foment sectarian strife in society or harm national unity."
"Our party has never been convicted of any sectarian strife practices and we have never used mosques to speak politics or party propaganda."
Thabet insists that "there is a complete separation between Nour as a political party and the Salafist Call group which acts as the party's religious arm."
Harb said Thabet's argument looks very much like the Muslim Brotherhood's leaders when they were in office. "They claimed many times that there is a separation between the party's political wing – that is the Freedom and Justice party – and the group's supreme guidance office, but this had never proved true," said Harb, arguing that "religious parties like Nour and Brotherhood have two faces, one religious and one political, and both are exchanging roles in a way that serves their ideological interests."
Thabet said "if courts decided to dissolve Nour, we would move to set up a new party or adjust our platform to cope with the judgment, but we will never be in arms against the ruling regime."
"And note that we also have the right to exercise our political rights as independents, but it is not on our agenda to be in any confrontation with state authorities," said Thabet.
Thabet disclosed that Nour has prepared an initial list of candidates to contest the coming parliamentary elections.
"This list will be announced once the new electoral districts law is issued," said Nour, adding that "Nour will abstain from fielding candidates in districts where high-profile secularists plan to run as a goodwill gesture to all that the party does not aim to sweep the coming parliament."