Egypt's new Islamist bloc challenges Brotherhood dominance

Sherif Tarek , Wednesday 19 Oct 2011

Islamist coalition to emerge from Democratic Alliance's ashes could end up rivaling the powerful Muslim Brotherhood

Tahrir square
Salafists in Tahrir square (Photo: Mai Shaheen)

The defection of several Islamic groups from the Democratic Alliance, which until recently included as many as 30 different political parties and forces, is likely to result in a new coalition that will vie with the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) in parliamentary polls slated for next month.

The alliance, Egypt’s largest post-revolution electoral coalition, had initially managed to collect all of Egypt’s new Islamist parties – along with a handful of liberal and Nasserist parties – under its umbrella. With the FJP at the lead, they appeared set to join forces for Egypt’s first post-Mubarak elections.

Last week, however, following on the heels of the liberal Wafd Party, non-FJP Islamist parties abruptly pulled out of the coalition to protest their paltry shares on the alliance’s joint electoral lists. Defectors complained that the Brotherhood, the most influential Islamist group in the region, was hoping for a landslide electoral victory and the lion’s share of the seats in Egypt’s parliament.

The parties that left the alliance are now scrambling to form their own Islamist electoral coalition, expected to be unveiled some time before 22 October when the candidacy registration period ends.  

El-Noor, the largest Salafist party and one of those to recently part company with the Democratic Alliance, looks set to be a leading player in the new coalition. It has opened its electoral lists to its coalition partners, and appears to have won over a number of allies.

“El-Asalaa and [El-Jamaa El-Islamiya’s] El-Benaa Wa El-Tanmiya have agreed to join us, while talks with El-Fadila, El-Amal and El-Tawheed El-Arabi are still underway,” Nader Bakar, an El-Noor spokesperson and member of the party’s supreme commission, told Ahram Online.

For a while, El-Wasat, another Islamist party to have withdrawn from the alliance, sought to coax other defectors into joining its electoral list. But now it looks like the party’s parliamentary candidates might end up on El-Noor’s list. “We’re in ongoing talks with El-Wasat,” said Bakar.

Competing with the Brotherhood

“El-Noor and Co. will be competing with the Brotherhood in parliamentary elections for sure – I just hope it will be an honest contest that will ultimately benefit the people,” Bakar said. “For instance, we could embark on a public sanitation campaign, while, in return, the Brotherhood could offer other services, such as food subsidies. It would all be in the public interest.”

On the difference between El-Noor and the Brotherhood, Bakar explained: “We have a great relationship with them [the Brotherhood], but we have different points of view. We’re seeking to gradually implement Sharia [Islamic] Law, but we can’t force it on the public all at once because people aren’t used to it.”

“Our foreign policy positions also differ significantly from those of the Brotherhood,” Bakar added without elaboration, declining to comment on the Brotherhood’s known foreign policies.

“We both have an Islamic frame of reference, yes, but we’re not similar in every aspect,” he concluded. “It’s like two companies working in the same field, but which operate differently.”

When asked about the depth of cooperation between the parties that have so far joined El-Noor’s list, Bakar said: “Following elections, we will invite not only members of our coalition, but parties from across the political spectrum to form a coalition government.”

While the Brotherhood represents one of Egypt’s most established and best organised political groups, Egypt’s other Islamist parties and forces – including several that have emerged following the January revolution – should not be underestimated.
On 29 July, hundreds of thousands of Islamist protesters staged a nationwide demonstration, which remains until now the country’s largest-ever gathering of Islamist forces. Notably, however, the Brotherhood presence at the event was not as prevalent as that of other Islamist groups.

On that day, Islamist protesters – vastly outnumbering their liberal and secular counterparts – demanded the implementation of Sharia Law and called for safeguarding the country’s Islamic identity.

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