The Brotherhood needs us more than we need them: Salafist Nour Party spokesman

Bel Trew, Monday 15 Oct 2012

After a dramatic month that nearly saw Egypt's second-largest party in parliament crumble, Ahram Online interviews Nour Party spokesman Nader Bakkar on how he interprets events

Nader Bakar
Nader Bakar, member of the high commission of An-Nour Party, the political arm of the Salafi movement in Egypt

Egypt's Salafist Nour Party witnessed a dramatic split in the last month, as warring factions battled it out over the party presidency.

Internecine squabbles culminated on 26 September, when the Supreme Committee withdrew confidence from their president Emad Abdel-Ghafour, who, in turn, attempted to sack the decision-making body.

Fearing the total collapse of the party and after 10-hour crisis talks, both sides finally came to an agreement on 6 October.

It was decided Ghafour would remain in his post and the internal polls – which Ghafour had tried to postpone in a bid to safeguard his own post - would take place as scheduled. Some commentators believe it just a patch-up job and think grievances remain.

Ahram Online talks to spokesman Nader Bakkar - whose own job was on the line last week - about the party's future.

Ahram Online: What was behind the split?

Nader Bakkar: [On 27 August ] Dr Emad Abdel-Ghafour joined the presidential team, he became a president's assistant. Personally, I have some problems with this. I learnt while working in various institutions and during my economic studies, that the principle of "conflict of interest" is one of the main concerns for those in top managerial positions.

In my point of view this had to be tackled. To be in a high executive position in the country's hierarchy and at the same time a party president … is a conflict of interest.

Ghafour said that he received complaints from about nine governorates [concerning the internal party elections]. He was convinced that cheating was taking place. He was worried that the electoral process was not being followed properly and so said we should stop the party elections. This was the beginning of the conflict.

Dr Emad Abdel-Ghafour is a very respectable person: I do not want to make the matter personal.

Eighty per cent of our people agreed with Article 156 [of the Nour Party bylaws], which states the presidential position of the party should be up for election after the initial People's Assembly polls in November 2011… it became an administrative conflict.

We [the Supreme Committee] said that, in accordance to our administrative laws, that he is not the one who can lodge this complaint. Logically he cannot stop the elections because his position itself is up for election.

So the settlement was a compromise: the Supreme Committee can have their elections while Abdel-Ghafour retains the presidency for the moment?  

What happened is [former vice president] El-Sayid Mostafa Hussein Khalifa [then temporary party leader] agreed to step down, which is a good sign. It was his right, administratively and logically to remain president.

AO: Did the Salafist Call (Islamist preaching movement) stir up the debate?

NB: No. You are referring to some of their scholars' and preachers' speeches regarding the divisions. They were expressing their own personal opinions but were not involved. We asked them to help at the negotiation stage, following one of the recommendations put forward at our party conference last Monday…

AO: Did you lose many members because of the internal fighting?

NB: If you are talking about leaders, no. Members, yes, but I think the number was very minor…  Dr Hesham Abdel-Nasser, one of the Supreme Committee members [did resign]. One of our administrative laws, which I don't think he read carefully, states that if you resign in a public forum and fail to deny it in the following three days, it is considered a full resignation.  

AO: Why are people saying the Brotherhood had a hand in the disputes?

NB: Expectations: people expected that the party that would benefit the most from this dispute would be the Brotherhood.

Many people believe there will be a political alliance between the Nour Party and the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) in new elections. Are you ready to follow their agenda?

We've never had a formal political alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood. 

But in the last elections, the Nour Party and the FJP had political programmes which fed into each other… the Islamists got 60 per cent of the seats...

We are now rivals.

AO: Some people believe the party disputes are more than administrative and reflect ideological and political differences related to the Brotherhood

NB: I respect your point of view but I don't believe a political debate would have been able to create the level of crisis that we have seen within the Nour Party.

Again, many people speculate about the Nour issue: about whether the Brotherhood was involved. [For parliamentary elections] What I can say is it is very early to talk about a formal partnership.

But, we are thinking about the matter daily because of the [growing] alliance between the liberals and the left.

The Brotherhood needs a coalition with the Nour Party much than we need an alliance with them.

Any regime, and I think you can say that the Brotherhood is the regime, at the beginning… needs friends and supporters. They are handling a lot of issues.

The Nour Party, on the contrary, is focused on developing our organisation; making it more solid, more powerful, increasing our percentage [of seats in parliament] for the coming year.

The stress and the pressure is not on our shoulders; it is on the  Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) shoulders. We are more free.  

AO: Do you think Salafist groups, like eliminated presidential candidate Hazem Abu-Ismail's new party, might challenge the Nour Party's leadership? Some members left after you refused to back Abu-Ismail.

NB: Not at all. We welcome any new party to the political scene, whether it is a new Salafist group or the Constitution Party, because a real party will inspire us to work harder to convince our people, the Egyptian citizens, to vote for us...

Unfortunately until now the only common agenda between the liberal and leftist parties has been complete antagonism to the FJP and the Nour Party.

This attitude makes our job easier in the run-up to the elections. To date, the liberal and leftist parties have not submitted a ... substitute programme for [Egypt].

I don't think there is one [non-Islamist] electoral party that has offered a solid political and economic programme ... their ideology is clearly not very acceptable to the Egyptian people.

AO: What does the Nour Party think of Morsi's performance during his first 100 days?

NB: From the beginning I had concerns about the principle of the "100 days." In my view it was not suitable for an unstable political climate like Egypt.

There were some points that he didn't promise but he still achieved… like resolving the issue of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. This is a very good sign in terms of Egypt putting its foot on the path to democracy.

Morsi still needs to address economic issues. … However he did excel in, for example, foreign relations and connections.

He built trust [internationally] in Egypt within a very short period. In the coming period he should concentrate more and more on these domestic issues and build on what he achieved abroad.

However, there is a very important thing to mention here: is this outstanding performance Morsi's own personal performance? Or is it an institutional performance?

We should build a presidential institution that can perform [not just rely on the individual's achievements].

AO: We have just had the anniversary of the Maspero massacre in which over 26 were killed as they protested the burning of a church. How is the Nour Party reassuring Christians they will retain their rights and see justice?

NB: I think that what the Christians are feeling is related to what the previous [Hosni Mubarak's] regime tried to build regarding relations with Muslims, especially Salafists.

A year and a half has passed following the revolution, nothing has happened. Even if there are some disputes between Muslim and Christians, the Salafists are trying to resolve them.  

This is very obvious in our response to the situation in Al-Amriya [where a Christian family was forced out from a village].

Some of the Christian MPs, such as Suzy Nashed, Magaret Azab ... testify that the Nour Party played a role in the sorting the issue. We opposed the migration of Christians from Alexandria.

AO: What about the burning of churches in the last 18 months? Or the detention of two Coptic children for allegedly desecrating the Quran? 

NB: In regards to the Copt children, we have a massive problem with applying laws, which is not just Christian problem but a problem for all Egyptians. We are against any kind of discrimination based on religious matters.

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