Nour Party Picks Up Islamist Mantle In Egyptian Transition

Having joined the coup against Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, the Salafist Nour Party seek to lead the Islamist current in Egyptian politics.

al-monitor Younes Makhyoun (C), head of the Salafist Nour Party, attends a news conference with presidential media adviser and spokesman Ahmed al-Muslimani (L) at the party's headquarters in Cairo, Aug. 28, 2013. Photo by REUTERS.
Walaa Hussein

Walaa Hussein

@walaahuseen

Topics covered

salafists, road map, political islam, muslim brotherhood, muslim, morsi, egyptian coup, egypt crisis, egypt, al-nour party, al-nour

Sep 17, 2013

After the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the College of Commissioners’ decision to dissolve the group, and after the arrest of officials in the group’s guidance office and in its right arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, the Salafist Nour Party has emerged as the representative of Egypt’s Islamist current.

The Nour Party is now seen as a substitute for the Muslim Brotherhood in the negotiations among the existing political forces in the process of establishing new constitutional mechanisms for Egypt.

The Nour Party is the second-largest Islamist party in Egypt. It won the second most seats in parliament after the Freedom and Justice Party. Although Nour had previously rejected the military's roadmap toward a civil state, it recently said that it will participate in the 50-member committee preparing a new constitution and, unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, will form electoral alliances and participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

In an interview with Al-Monitor, Mohammad al-Saghir, a member of the higher committee of the al-Gamaa al-Islamiya’s Building and Development Party, which is part of the National Alliance for Supporting Legitimacy, said the Nour Party is being seen as the face and the sole representative of the Islamist movements in the current political scene not because it is becoming more popular while the Brotherhood is declining, but because it is the only Islamist party that agreed to join those who conducted the coup.

The alliance includes 11 parties that refuse to recognize the deposition of President Mohammed Morsi. The alliance considers the military council’s action to be a coup against the legitimate authority and the president.

According to Saghir, the Nour Party only represents itself in the 50-member committee, not all Islamist movements.

“If small Islamist parties are allowed to practice politics in Egypt in the next phase, there will be no alliances with the Nour Party, which is not expected to win the parliamentary majority nor remain at the forefront of the political scene as a substitute for the Brotherhood. After it allied with civil parties and supported the military coup against President Morsi, Nour has lost its support base, which is concentrated in the Alexandria governorate, as evidenced by the fact that the largest demonstrations against the coup happened on Alexandria’s corniche,” he added.

Official Nour spokesman Sharif Taha told Al-Monitor that the Nour Party is at the forefront of the political scene because the party accepted the military's roadmap, which was rejected by other Islamist parties. He said that there is no coordination between the Nour Party and other Islamist parties and that there is a harsh campaign against it. The Brotherhood is part of that campaign because it considers the Nour Party a partner in the coup. Taha said that the Nour Party does not represent the Brotherhood’s views in the 50-member committee and that the Nour Party is participating from a national perspective and not as representatives of a specific current. He said that the Nour Party is participating for higher national interests and considers the state’s Islamic identity to be a key issue for dialogue, but does not reject other issues presented by the civil parties.

The Nour Party, as it takes the place of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party in the political scene, should learn from the Brotherhood’s mistakes. Has it done that? According to Taha, “We were aware of the danger that the Brotherhood leads the previous phase [into], when most voted for the Islamist current. That view turned out to be right after the Brotherhood’s fall, as a result of its many mistakes as the group sought to control the government, parliament and the presidency. There are many lessons to be learned. The Nour Party is present in the political scene but without being at the forefront.

"We will not field a presidential candidate but we will work to win parliamentary seats. We believe that Egypt is too big to be led by one faction, and I don’t think that the Brotherhood will stay away from the scene. If the current phase requires a true democracy, then [the Brotherhood] will return to the political scene. The Brotherhood thought that winning the majority is a blank check from the people and an absolute right to act. That made their popularity dwindle. The Nour Party will not raise slogans because if [those slogans] do not reflect reality, then they will not convince the masses.”

Although the Nour Party is facing a wave of criticism from its former allies in the Islamist current, it has not gained the trust of its new allies in the revolutionary forces and civil parties, with which the Nour Party partnered in forming the roadmap after June 30. The Tamarod movement, which campaigned for Morsi’s ouster, considers the Nour Party to be America’s replacement for the Muslim Brotherhood. Ahmed Doma, a political activist and a member of the Coordinating Committee for June 30, said that since the start, the Nour Party wasn’t on the revolution’s side and that it stood in the middle with no specific goals. He warned the Nour Party not to think of replacing the Muslim Brotherhood in power or they will have the same fate as the Brotherhood and the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak.

Although civil parties have welcomed the Nour Party joining the roadmap’s development, the parties represented by the National Salvation Front (NSF) consider the Nour Party’s role uninfluential in the current stage and find that it has lost a lot of popularity, which is why the NSF is not bowing to the Nour Party’s threats to withdraw from the committee. Some see those threats as political blackmail intended to preserve a number of constitutional articles related to the state’s Islamic identity.

If the Nour Party is betting on winning a percentage of parliamentary seats in the next election to stay in the political scene as the representative of the Islamist current, this will be a big challenge. Not only the Nour Party, but all political forces in the Islamist current will have their work cut out for them, because their popularity has dropped due to the violence and organized political terrorism adopted by Islamist extremist groups.

A group in the northern Sinai calling itself Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis is currently one of Egypt’s most extreme groups and it uses al-Qaeda’s methods. It has claimed responsibility for several recent bombings, including a failed assassination attempt against Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim in front of his home in ​​Nasr City and an explosion in front of military intelligence headquarters that killed six soldiers. The group has announced that it has an assassination target list that includes Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. 

At a time when the Muslim Brotherhood is accused of financing the activity of this new terrorist organization, the Nour Party, like other Islamist parties, will find it difficult to regain the confidence of the Egyptian voters in the upcoming legislative elections. The elections will determine whether the Nour Party will stay at the forefront of the political scene as a representative of the Islamist current in Egypt.

Walaa Hussein is editor-in-chief of the section covering parliamentary news in Rose al-Yusuf daily. An expert in African affairs, Hussein has collaborated for Nile Channel, writing and preparing the newscast.

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