The announcement made by a Salafist group in Egypt on Jan. 1 calling for the birth of the new Al-Watan party was not just about another Egyptian political party in a country where new parties have become difficult to count. This announcement, however, reflects a clear shift in the structure of the Salafists for the foreseeable future, especially at the level of political action, at least for some time before the second post-revolution legislative elections.
The fact that the Salafists are divided into more than one faction is proof of this shift. These factions are in turn further divided. In fact, the head of Al-Nour Party, Imad Abdul Ghafoor, resigned to form the new Al-Watan party to create an opposing force to the Al-Nour cadres and to take with him the party’s headquarters. Those who resigned established these headquarters at their own expense, turning these premises into the headquarters of the most recent fledgling parties in Egypt.
This is not just another party that will be added to the Salafist bloc. It is a reflection of a split within the Salafist call itself, with the Al-Nour Party as its political arm. In fact, yesterday’s participation by the Salafist preacher Mohamed Abdel Maksoud in the party’s inauguration conference served to further bring this division to light. Maksoud was known to be one of the pillars of this movement and a former supporter of the Al-Nour Party.
The emergence of the new party may reduce the popularity of a Salafist faction represented by the Al-Nour Party, given the criticism by those who resigned from it as a result of its recent decline in popularity in the public life despite the fact that it had a parliamentary majority with the Freedom and Justice party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. However, those who resigned say that recent practices of the party have not been consistent with the literature of the Salafist call itself, which is grappling with this division. It has thus far produced three parties: Al-Nour, al-Asala and Al-Watan. This reflects a state of fragmentation within the Salafist movement, which had been unpopular under the former regime.
The sudden emergence of this movement following the revolution may have contributed to its division, leading its members to exchange accusations. Some Salafist preachers have even gone so far as to support a Salafist party at the expense of the two other parties. This may be a sign that more partisanship lies in store for the Salafist movement, given the efforts by Salafist preacher Hazem Salah Abu Ismail to establish a new party despite his participation yesterday [Jan. 1] in the inauguration of the Al-Watan party.
This has led Salafist leaders to warn their cadres of the pitfalls of partisanship and ask them not to allow such a phenomenon to distract them from the Islamic call. This has already been translated by a leader of the Al-Nour Party in Giza, Ahmed Aboul-Nasr, who resigned from the secretariat in protest against the party's preoccupation with politics at the expense of the call, knowing that other leaders have made the same criticism of the party.
Needless to say, this partisanship, which has become deeply rooted in the structures of the Salafist call and its parties, will reflect its electoral alliances, leaving Egyptians with more than one alliance. Moreover, this will lead them to lose a number of votes in the parliamentary elections scheduled to be held in two months. In contrast, the opposing political forces believe that this will serve them well, as the National Salvation Front has announced its intention to compete for all the parliamentary seats.