Islamists protest in Cairo near the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo (Photo: Reuters)
Once again political Islamic groups are in the spotlight, this time due to the formation of new political parties. In one day both the Salafis and the Gama'a al-Islamiya announced they will form their own parties and compete in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
On Tuesday the First Salafi party submitted its papers to the Parties committee to become the first Salafist party formed in Egypt. For years the Salafi movement rejected involvement in politics and considered forming or joining parties to be forbidden by religion.
The founders of the new party are mostly members or ex-members of the Salafi Call in Alexandria. However, the board of directors of the Salafi Call said earlier it would not form any political party for the time being but would participate in political life through other available means.
Al Nour Islamic party (meaning light) is said to be one of five parties the Salafi movement is planning to form. However, Emad Eddin Abdel Ghafour, one of the prominent Salafi figures in Alexandria and one of the party’s founders, denies it is a religious party.
"We have members from everywhere around the country, and all social sectors are represented in our membership," he tells Ahram Online. "We have a large number of university professors, doctors, engineers, lawyers and technocrats from almost every sector." The new parties law issued by the government in March requires that a party have five thousand members to be formally established. Al Nour says its membership currently exceeds seven thousand.
The new party's program, according to Ghafour aims to "maintain the identity of the country and regain its preeminent position among nations," and to further economic and social development. Yet the party may be unable to obtain the required legal approval as the new parties law prohibits religious parties.
On its official Facebook group Al Nour identifies itself as a party that "believes Islamic laws should control political, economic and social jurisprudence." The party also says it believes in the foundation of a modern state based on respectful coexistence among all citizens.
"The party’s founders believe democracy should be achieved within the framework of Islamic law, that people should be free to form or join political parties which should operate without constraints, that power should be transferred peacefully through free and fair direct elections, and that the people should be able to freely choose their leaders," says the Facebook page.
Al Nour is not the only Islamic party on the way. The Muslim Brotherhood, a major Islamic political group announced weeks ago the formation of the new party Freedom and Justice. The party said it would nominate candidates for about half the seats in parliament.
This week the Gama'a al-Islamiya also announced it will form its own party and participate in the upcoming elections. The Islamic group, which was outlawed in the 1980s after the assassination of former president Anwar el Sadat, had many of its leaders released after the ouster of president Mubarak.
Tarek al-Zumur, one of the group's senior leaders who was released a couple of months ago, told Reuters the group planned to launch a "civil political party based on Islamic principles" that would welcome members of Egypt's Christian minority.
Al-Zumur, who was directly involved in the assassination of Sadat is expected to be a member of the new party's policy unit. "The party will not use violence in dealing with any situation or with the state and will abide by Egyptian law and the constitution," he told Reuters.
Al-Zumur’s statement about the party is not new, but it is considered by many as a sign that disputes within the group concerning the shape and limits of its participation in the political arena have been settled once and for all before the group's internal elections.
Last Monday the Gama'a al-Islamiya announced the results of the first internal elections in years. In the press conference Esam Derbala, one of the group’s leaders said that the group does not accept the idea of separation between religion and politics. "We cannot mix them completely or separate them completely," he says. "We have to understand that Islam supports freedom and social justice, and this is what we will try to teach people in the street."
All Islamic parties' founders stress that their parties will be open to Christian membership, a step they hope will reduce society’s fear of political Islam. However, this is not guaranteed.