After lamenting an emphatic Islamist victory in Egypt's parliamentary elections’ first round, as well as the paltry shares of candidates representing their views and ideologies, Egyptian liberals breathed a sigh of relief upon the ouster of several key Salafist figures in the first round runoffs.
Al-Nour Party competed during the first runoff elections for 27 seats in Cairo, Alexandria, Assiut, Luxor, Kafr El-Sheikh, Port Said, Fayoum and Damietta. Much to its disappointment, however, the biggest Salafist party only secured five seats overall out of the eight governorates.
The runoff results were taken as a pleasant surprise for leftists and secularists, who have had butterflies in their stomachs since Al-Nour emerged as the second biggest winner in the first round, having seized 25 per cent of the votes.
Although the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), declared itself the would-be dominant force of the first post-revolution parliament with 40 per cent of the vote in the first round, Al-Nour Party was much more worrisome to critics of Islamists.
Salafists in Egypt are widely regarded as Islamic ultra-conservative extremists who would primarily seek to apply the strictest interpretation of Islam’s Sharia law, causing varied radical changes and the absolute deprivation of many current freedoms.
“The Salafist current mainly focuses on beliefs and appearances, which make many of them busy with issues like faith, atheism and the behavior of the people and their morals. Consequently, they know almost nothing about the issues that will affect the destiny of the nation,” stated veteran colonist Fahmi El-Howeidy in a recent opinion piece.
One of the clerics who gives Salafists their contentious image as hardliners is Abdel El-Monem El-Shahat, a candidate of Al-Nour Party in Alexandria’s second constituency who was outvoted by his FJP counterpart Mostafa Mohamed.
The FJP’s consistent performance in the ballot saw its candidates win a total of 36 individual seats so far. Liberals are not entirely unfazed by the Brotherhood’s supremacy but they shrugged off their fears by rejoicing in the defeat El-Shahat, who had been widely tipped to book a place in the parliament earlier.
El-Shahat, a Salafist Call spokesperson, hit the headlines for the wrong reasons of late after a host of controversial media statements. In one, he said Egyptian Nobel Prize winning author Naguib Mahfouz encouraged debauchery and prostitution through his novels.
His political perspectives stirred up even more controversy, having once said that democracy “is not only unorthodox, [but is considered to be] atheism” as it might enable people to do sinful things that go against Islamic doctrine.
On Twitter, renowned activist Wael Abbas tweeted: “I received a message on my mobile [that reads]: ‘The Muslim Brotherhood, the church, the remnants [of the former regime], liberals and secularists [are] one hand against Sheikh Abdel Monem El-Shahat’. I will say nothing else than this.”
El-Shahat was not the only Salafist who was beaten in the runoff elections. In the district of Nasr City, Cairo, Mohamed Yosri lost to Mostafa Al-Naggar, the candidate of Al-Adl Party who has been largely supported by liberals. Al-Naggar’s win met with congratulations.
Furthermore, the loss of independent Tarek Talaat Mostafa to Mahmoud El-Khodeiry was also cheerful for democrats, not only for being backed by Al-Nour Party, but also because Mostafa was a member of the now-defunct National Democratic Party (NDP), headed by ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
Mahmoud Afif, head of the 6 April Youth Movement media office, said on Twitter: “The loss of Talaat and Haidar Bogdadi (another former NDP member) gives steam to the [January 25] Revolution.”