Salafist Nour Party mobilised to win West Delta 15-seat constituency

Gamal Essam El-Din , Saturday 10 Oct 2015

Egypt's sole Islamist party has stepped up election campaigns to win 15 seats reserved for the West Delta constituency amid heated debate over its religious platform

File photo: Salafist Nour Party Chairman Younis Makhioun (Photo: Al-Ahram)

The ultraconservative Salafist Nour Party, the only Islamist party campaigning in Egypt's parliamentary elections, will have around 200 independents and 15 party-based candidates running.

The first stage of the elections, scheduled for 17 to 28 October, will be held in 14 governorates. The Higher Election Committee (HEC) in charge of supervising the polls announced Saturday that there will be a total of 286 seats up for competition in this stage, with 2,573 independent candidates competing for 226 seats in 103 constituencies, and 240 party-based candidates competing for 60 seats in two constituencies.

Senior Nour Party official Shaaban Abdel-Alim told Al-Ahram Online that "the party originally sought to field 220 independent candidates, but we have finally decided to reduce this number to less than 200 candidates."

"Besides, we decided to field 60 candidates in just two – rather than four – party-based constituencies: the West Nile Delta constituency (with 15 seats), and the Cairo, South and Middle Delta constituency (with 45 seats)," Abdel-Alim said.

"The party's officials agreed that we should focus on the party's power bases in the West Delta and Cairo constituencies rather than fielding candidates in all of Egypt," said Abdel-Alim, adding that "we know that we are facing a war from secular forces, but we want to send them a message that we want to be partners in the coming parliament rather than to be monopolisers."

The last few days saw the party stepping up election campaigns in different constituencies. The party's chairman and former MP Younis Makhyoun toured 11 Upper Egypt governorates which form part of the first stage of the polls.

"We do not have a list of party-based candidates in these governorates, but we do have many running as independents there," Abdel-Alim said. "In all of his tours, Makhyoun was keen to tell the party's candidates and supporters that the party stands behind the regime of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi as long as it achieves the national interests of the country and that the party puts the state's supreme interests above personal and partisan considerations."

Abdel-Alim will be running as an independent in the Upper Egypt governorate of Beni Suef.

The Nour Party's strongest power base is in the Nile West Delta constituency, which covers three governorates; Alexandria, Beheira and Marsa Matruh. Many of the party's candidates who won seats in the 2012 parliamentary elections are hoping to repeat their earlier success.

The party will be battling for the 15 seats reserved for party-based candidates in this constituency. It will be facing stiff competition from two electoral coalitions widely believed to be supported by the regime of President El-Sisi; the For the Love of Egypt and the Independent Current and the Egyptian Front. El-Sisi, however, has repeatedly denied that he favours any coalition.

Many of the candidates on the lists of these two coalitions are former members of ex-president Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), with strong tribal and familial connections in the Nile West Delta, especially in Alexandria and Beheira governorates.

The last few days of campaigning saw the two secular coalitions launching attacks against the Nour Party supported by the "No to Religious Parties" campaign, as well as several privately owned local media outlets.

The "No to Religious Parties" campaign distributed thousands of leaflets and flyers urging citizens in Alexandria and Damanhour (the capital of Beheira) not to vote for El-Nour "in order to not bring back to parliament the Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamist allies".

Several media outlets have also published numerous fatwas and recordings showing clerics affiliated with El-Nour claiming that democracy is forbidden by Islam and that women and Copts are not allowed to run in elections under Islamic Sharia law.

Abdel-Alim said the party has always been aware of the anti-Nour campaigns, "but we refuse to be trapped by these campaigns and we insist on never using insults and are keen to tell our supporters that these campaigns serve us rather than harm us."

In a public rally held by El-Nour's candidates in Alexandria on 6 October, the party distributed thousands of copies of the party's manifesto under the title "Why you should vote for El-Nour candidates". The manifesto insisted that the party's goal is to build a modern state in Egypt while maintaining Islamic Sharia as the major source of legislation.

"We firmly stand against the Westernisation of Egyptian society and we will do our best to thwart this malicious scheme," the manifesto said.

In what many consider pandering to Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Alexandria, the manifesto said that "while in parliament, the party will issue new legislation aimed at releasing all activists arrested under the protest law."

In its public rally in Alexandria, which drew around 5,000 supporters, Ashraf Thabet, a member of El-Nour's presidential council and the former deputy speaker of the 2012 parliament, said that the party "will not waiver in defending Islamic Sharia in the coming parliament."

"We did our best to maintain Article 2 regarding Islamic Sharia in the new constitution, and we will fight in the coming parliament to keep the principles of Sharia intact in the face of secularists," said Thabet.

El-Nour's public rally in Alexandria was attended by women wearing full face veils (niqab) and long black coverings.

Among the Nour's Party's candidates in the 15-seat constituency of Nile West Delta are Thabet, the party's deputy chairman Ibrahim Mansour, and former MP and senior official Talaat Marzouq.

The party's list also includes two Copts (one from Alexandria and one from Beheira's Damanhour) and seven female candidates.

Party officials say Nour chairman Younis Makhyoun decided not to run in the elections.

Nader El-Serafy, the party's Coptic candidate in Alexandria, told another rally in Alexandria's densely populated district of Al-Raml on 4 October that "secularists aim to make a separation between religion and politics, and because we reject this Western principle they are trying their best to tell citizens not to vote for us."

"But we are sure that our voters who reject separation between religion and politics will support us," Al-Serafy said.

Fawzia Khalil, a Nour female candidate, told a local newspaper that "those who think niqab does harm to women, I tell them that women without niqab are the ones who do the real harm to themselves and society."

El-Nour's leading official and candidate Talaat Marzouq wrote an article in which he insists that "those who want a separation between religion and politics should be considered enemies to Islam."

"While Egypt accepts the formation of secular parties with leftist and liberal backgrounds, it should also accept the rise of political parties with Islamist background," said El-Nour.

The above comments received immediate backlash from different secular forces.

Mohamed Abul-Ghar, chairman of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, said in a public statement Saturday that "the Nour Party is based on religious grounds and a result it should banned in accordance with the new constitution."

Mohamed Othman, an activist in charge of the "No to Religious Parties" campaign in Alexandria, said that "the statements issued by the Nour Party show it is a religious party and should be banned."

In a message to Nour leaders issued Saturday, Ahmed Kamal Abul-Magd, a liberal Islamic thinker, claimed that Marzouk's argument that secularists are "enemies to Islam" is clear proof that "the Nour Party is a religious party that espouses a radical Islamist agenda."

"Please do not pour oil on fire because your argument clearly shows that your party is one with a radical agenda and is based on apostatising those who differ with your interpretation of Islam," Abul-Magd said.

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