Egypt's secular opposition closes ‎in on Salafist Nour Party

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 25 Nov 2014

Political forces say the ultraconservative party must be stopped from winning a majority in upcoming ‎parliamentary polls

Nour Party
Salafist Yasser Borhami (R) speaks during a conference in Egypt's Nile Delta city of Mansoura in Dakahlyia (Photo: Al-Ahram)

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.‎
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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."‎

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