Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—The man known as the spiritual godfather of Egypt’s Salafist Al-Nour Party, Yasser Al-Burahmi, called on the Muslim Brotherhood to rethink its approach in Egypt today in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat.
Dr. Yasser Al-Burhami is also the vice president of the influential Egyptian Al-Da’wa Al-Salafiya (Salafist Call) Movement.
In a broad-ranging interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Burhami said that the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood’s current approach to political life contravenes Sunni Islam, criticizing the group for its personal attacks against him. Burhami refused to confirm or deny whether Egypt’s Salafists would endorse a Sisi presidency, and denied that the Nour Party had betrayed the Brotherhood by going along with the military-backed roadmap.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Following the ouster of Egypt’s first Islamist president last year, how do you view the situation in Egypt today?
Yasser Al-Burhami: There can be no doubt that we are still in the middle of things. This is a difficult stage that Egypt must pass, and the biggest challenge on the political arena is the conflict and violence and spread of takfirist views. At the same time, the Ministry of the Interior is exceeding its role on the ground, and these transgressions could incite the youth in a dangerous manner, particularly those affiliated to Islamist movements
Q: What is your view of the future of the Nour Party?
The Nour Party is moving for the better, thanks to its public support base that has compensated for the loss of Salafist figures outside the Al-Da’wa Al-Salafiya. As I have mentioned, the party’s support base is expanding every day.
Q: What will the Nour Party’s plan for the forthcoming parliamentary elections be? Will there really be an alliance between your party and other parties?
The party’s rules do not allow us to forge alliances with non-Islamist parties. On the other hand, Islamist parties oppose the idea of alliances. We also reject the idea unless [these Islamist parties] change their ideology and their violent and takfirist approaches.
Q: Will you accept someone from outside the Nour Party and Al-Da’wa Al-Salafiya on your electoral list?
This is a possibility providing they are efficient, sincere and well-mannered and approve of the idea of political Islam.
Q: Will you accept former parliamentarians joining your electoral list at the forthcoming elections?
Yes, definitely. Those who have had a popular, parliamentary and political presence will form the basis [of this list].
Q: Will the Nour Party support Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi should he stand for the forthcoming presidential elections?
This is an institutional decision which will be taken once [presidential] nominations close.
Q: The new constitution clearly defines Al-Azhar as the sole legitimate religious reference in Egypt. What is your view of the role of Al-Azhar in the future?
We appreciate the role Al-Azhar played in the past. It has been a key supporter of the need to preserve national identity and maintain the constitution’s articles on Shari’a law. Our success, thanks be to God, depended on the support of Al-Azhar. Therefore, Al-Azhar has a very important role in confronting these “deviant” ideas which have been trying to infiltrate society, such as takfirism. Al-Azhar has been fulfilling its role completely and the charities, Al-Azhar, and the Ministry of Awqaf [religious endowments] must cooperate.
Al-Azhar has been wronged in the past. In years past, the former regimes used to interfere directly in the institution’s administration, appointing figures taking into account political rather than academic considerations. But following the constitution and January revolution, I think Al-Azhar is now in a better shape.
Q: From what we have seen, the Muslim Brotherhood is launching attacks on the Nour Party. However, they have also personally attacked you. Can you tell us why?
They have been attacking me for well-known reasons. First, it is the Brotherhood approach to destroying the opposing or competing entities. They teach their children that the way to destroy any entity is by reducing it into one individual and then attacking him. They implemented this technique with some of the old entities. They do not believe that Al-Da’wa Al-Salafiya is one thing and Yasser Al-Burhami is another. I am one of the members of the Board of Directors, each of whom is qualified to make decisions. Given its institutional nature, the Al-Da’wa Al-Salafiya has not been affected by the Brotherhood’s attack.
I would like to tell the Brotherhood that they need to reconsider their ideology because the approach their current leadership is adopting opposes that of Sunni Islam in terms of their views on faith, violence and justifying acts of killing, sabotage and bombings.
Q: Did you propose any initiatives to the Brotherhood before Mursi’s ouster?
Our initiatives were based on bringing about reform. In January 2013 we proposed an initiative aimed at achieving reconciliation by means of appointing a new prosecutor-general, forming a coalition government and establishing an honor code aimed at regulating all media outlets, particularly since the media adopted a bellicose tone that went as far as insulting others and sometimes declaring them traitors or infidels.
These three issues were the main reason behind the state of polarization, which exacerbated the situation in the entire society and state. Therefore, we—out of a sense of duty or responsibility—tried to establish a middle ground among the several sides that went through the tunnel of polarization or, shall we say, infighting.
Q: However the Nour Party were later present at the military press conference announcing the ouster of Egypt’s first Islamist president, endorsing the military-backed political roadmap. Did the Nour Party betray the Brotherhood?
The Nour Party did not betray Dr Mursi or the Brotherhood. We complied with the terms of the agreement we had with the Brotherhood even before the nomination of Mursi. We continued our support until the constitution was drafted in 2012. We also called for a ‘yes’ vote. In a meeting between the Al-Da’wa Al-Salafiya board of directors and a delegation from the Brotherhood’s guidance bureau on June 16, 2013, we tried to warn of the imminent dangers and the present mistakes, most prominently the violent, takfirist discourse.
Although they acknowledged these mistakes, the Brotherhood disclaimed the use of this discourse which they said did not represent them. We also drew attention to the proposals that had been issued in terms of changing government and appointing a new Prosecutor General, as well as the criticism that had been made regarding the number of Muslim Brotherhood members who had been appointed in the government. They [the Muslim Brotherhood] rejected all of this.
This is an abridged version of an interview originally conducted in Arabic.