CAIRO — “Our party is being subjected to widespread criticism aimed at undermining the party and its members," Nader Bakkar, the deputy chairman for media affairs of Egypt's Nour Party, told Al-Monitor in an exclusive interview at its headquarters in Cairo.
"But we will not get caught in side battles, we will focus on our work in the streets and with the citizens,” Bakkar said, responding to those who have criticized the Islamic Nour Party for supporting Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for president.
Boycotting the elections would have been a "weak and non-influential choice," Bakkar said, adding that, "We had no other choice but to support one of them."
When asked about any connections to armed Salafi groups in the Sinai Peninsula and elsewhere, Bakkar said, "There are no communications whatsoever between the Nour Party and any armed groups on the Egyptian borders."
"Yet, we are ready as a party to cooperate with state agencies to perform this role through calling these groups to an ideological assessment," he said.
Bakkar, 30, holds a master's in business administration from the University of Alexandria, and also was the Nour Party’s spokesman during the Egyptian parliamentary elections in 2011-2012.
Bakkar rejected negative stereotyping of the party and sought to focus on the parliamentary elections later this year.
"We are affected by the negative image that was entrenched in the mind of Egyptians about the Islamist movement, which was the result of a whole year of mistakes," he said.
"This image will affect the Nour Party in parliamentary elections. Yet, I reaffirm that the party focuses on the distant future and not on the upcoming four years only."
The text of the interview follows:
Al-Monitor: Why did the Nour Party support presidential candidate Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and not respond to the calls for boycotting the presidential elections leveled by other Islamist movements?
Bakkar: First, we as a party are not convinced of the usefulness of boycotting the elections, because it is a weak and non-influential choice.
As the presidential election day approached, only two figures presented their candidacy, namely Sisi and Hamdeen Sabahi. We had no other choice but to support one of them. This is why we set standards before meeting both, according to which we chose the candidate that we have supported.
After meeting with Sisi and Sabahi and talking with them about a plan [aiming] to pull the country out of this crisis, and after discussions with the members of the party, we decided to support Sisi given his long experience in dealing with state institutions. We did not want yet another president who would clash with state agencies.
Al-Monitor: How can the Nour Party restore the support of Islamist voters, especially since the latest elections showed a decrease in the popularity of the party compared with an increase in the number of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood?
Bakkar: There was continuous talk [about this issue]. I say that the party’s popularity did not decrease. Even if some believe that the party has lost a part of the Islamist votes, it won at the same time the support of Egyptians who do not belong to a specific political ideology.
Al-Monitor: Parliamentary elections are imminent, how are you getting ready for it? Is it possible that the Nour Party will enter into an alliance with secular parties in Egypt?
Bakkar: The preparations of the Nour Party for parliamentary elections are based on three pillars:
First, the political platform, which we are currently preparing. The platform is realistic and based on authentic data that goes in line with the vision of the Egyptian state.
Second, the electoral campaign, through which the political platform is implemented. We are working on a central campaign that will set up the party’s plan to support its candidates.
Third, the electoral convention. We started with the procedures last Wednesday [June 4]. The convention will choose the representatives of the party for every governorate in the parliament and will specify the Coptic and female candidates.
When it comes to electoral alliances, we have no problem with opening channels of communication and forming alliances with prominent political parties. However, according to the conditions and standards set by the party, we currently have no proposals for potential alliances with specific parties. The claims about the Nour Party allying with the leftist National Progressive Unionist Party and the liberal Conference Party are unfounded.
Al-Monitor: Has Sisi promised the Nour Party that it will take part in the new government as a reward for its support? If there are indeed promises of this sort, what ministries were you offered?
Bakkar: The party did not receive any promises from Sisi in terms of the formation of the government. Sisi himself said that he did not owe anyone politically. I do believe that the government of Ibrahim Mehleb is characterized by good performance, and that it outperformed previous governments. I hope it will keep performing its tasks even after the election of Sisi.
Al-Monitor: Some explained the low turnout in elections as an end of Sisi’s landslide popularity. Do you agree with this statement? How can the Nour Party benefit from the decrease in the popularity of the new president?
Bakkar: I am aware of the link between these two issues and I do not wish to talk about it. Now, we have a president who was elected for four years, and as a party, we focus on the performance and not popularity. We are getting prepared for parliamentary elections, and we aspire for gaining wide representation in the parliament.
Al-Monitor: How can the Nour Party work amid a political environment banning religious parties? Do you still consider yourself a party that expresses Salafist ideology? How can you promote yourself as an Islamist project amid such situations?
Bakkar: Unfortunately, we are affected by the negative image that was entrenched in the mind of Egyptians about the Islamist movement, which was the result of a whole year of mistakes. This image will affect the Nour Party in parliamentary elections. Yet, I reaffirm that the party focuses on the distant future and not on the upcoming four years only.
When it comes to the nature of the party, we are not a Salafist party, but rather a religious political one that has a legitimate [religious] reference. Membership in the party is not limited to Salafists only, whoever accepts the ideology and approach of the party can join.
Al-Monitor: The instability in Egypt is ongoing. With violent acts being carried out on the western borders and in the Sinai Peninsula, especially at the hand of jihadist groups, what role can the Nour Party play between these groups and the authorities in Egypt? Are you in contact with any of these armed groups? Can you negotiate with them in some form?
Bakkar: There are no communications whatsoever between the Nour Party and any armed groups on the Egyptian borders. Yet, we are ready as a party to cooperate with state agencies to perform this role through calling these groups to an ideological assessment. Alongside the security response, ideology should be countered with ideology. Add to this that violence hotbeds are located in poor and marginalized regions. This is why we should strive, [with the help of] Al-Azhar, to correct destructive ideas.
Al-Monitor: The image of Egypt in the outside world has been highly affected by large violations of human rights, including thousands of political detainees in prisons. Does the Nour Party fear being targeted by the authorities in the coming phase?
Bakkar: I object to the notion that the party could be “targeted by the authorities in the coming phase.” We have objections on some of the current policies, including the protest law and the expansion of the circle of security suspects. Even though we recognize that the security situation in Egypt is not stable, we are highly concerned about the undermining of freedoms, since investigations should not mean oppression.