Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – In a move that incited fears over the political future of Egypt’s Islamists, former Salafist Nour party leader Dr. Emad Abdul Ghafour has announced the founding of a new Salafist party to be called the al-Watan party. Ghafour, who resigned as head of the most popular Salafist party last week, is also Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi’s adviser on social communication.
Sources within the Islamist political trend in Egypt informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the division within the ranks of Egypt’s largest Salafist party – which won the second largest majority in Egypt’s first post-revolution parliament – represents the beginning of more defections from other Islamist trends, adding that this could affect the overall strength and unity of Egypt’s Islamists at the forthcoming parliamentary elections.
150 members of the Salafist Nour party, from 23 governorates, submitted their resignation from the party following a meeting last Tuesday. Many of those who resigned are expected to join Dr. Abdul Ghafour’s nascent political party.
Egypt’s Islamists enjoyed a strong showing at the last parliamentary elections; the Freedom and Justice Party – political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood – won 47 percent of seats, whilst the Salafist Nour party won 25 percent of seats. However cracks quickly appeared within the Nour party ranks, with numerous prominent MPs resigning over difference of opinions between the party leadership and the Al-Dawa Al-Salafiya [The Salafi Calling] movement. The Nour party is the political wing of Al-Dawa Al-Salafiya, a popular Salafist movement established in Egypt in the 1970s.
The Al-Dawa Al-Salafiya movement fears that these divisions and disagreements will affect the future of the Nour party, which was established less than two years ago. There are fears amongst Egypt’s Salafist community that the political problems that have affected the Nour party could lead to Salafist figures withdrawing from politics completely, particularly as some Egyptian Salafists are already of the view that political participation is religiously forbidden.
In an official statement issued on Monday, the movement stressed that “the Nour party is the only political arm of the Al-Dawa Al-Salafiya” and called on all its members and supporters to participate via the Nour party and “support its electoral campaign.”
For his part, Dr. Emad Abdul Ghafour confirmed that his new party – which is predominately made up of former Nour party members – will seek to play a strong role on the Egyptian political scene. He said that the al-Watan party will seek to form alliance with all Islamist parties on the scene in time for the forthcoming parliamentary elections which are expected to take place within the next two months. As for what parties in particular al-Watan will seek to ally with, Dr. Abdul Ghafour announced an alliance with the forthcoming party of Salafist Sheikh Hazim Salah Abu Ismail.
Former presidential candidate Sheikh Hazim Salah Abu Ismail was considered to be one of the front-runners for Egypt’s 2012 presidential elections but was ultimately disqualified from the elections after it was revealed that his mother held US citizen, something that made him ineligible for consideration according to the Egyptian constitution. Abu Ismail is expected to establish a Salafist political party in the near future; whilst other sources indicate that this as yet unnamed party will also issue a newspaper and launch a television channel in the first quarter of 2013.
Dr. Abdul Ghafour held a press conference at the Al-Azhar Conference Hall in Cairo yesterday where he announced the official launch of the al-Watan party. This press conference was strongly attended by Islamist forces and figures. Under a banner bearing the new party’s slogan – “a free homeland and dignified people” – Abdul Ghaffour stressed that “we want the al-Watan party to be an effective contributor in building a realm of dignity and social justice. We want Islamic Sharia law to be a reality we can live in, not just rhetoric.”
He added “we aim to establish a party that all factions of the homeland can relate to. We want for this party to feel for the poor, to support farmers, workers and businessmen alike.”
Sources within this new Salafist party, which will begin collecting signatures with a view to obtaining an official political license, stressed that the alliance with Abu Ismail’s new party will be an electoral one, and will include other Islamist parties. The source added that this Islamist electoral coalition will compete for all seats at the forthcoming parliamentary elections.
Abdul Ghaffour refused to comment on the reasons behind his resignation from the Nour party, stressing that he is looking to the future. He said that many people on Egypt’s political scene are raising slogans and talking about dignity, social justice and Islamic Sharia law but stressed that “in reality, nobody is working to achieve this.” He added that the al-Watan party will seek to reach all Egyptians in order to “seek the advancement of our homeland.”
A number of leading Salafist figures attended the al-Watan party press conference, including al-Watan co-founder Yosri Hammad, a former Nour party spokesman. In addition to this, Salafist preacher Hazem Saleh Abu Ismail was also in attendance. He played down the divisions within the Nour party, describing this as normal, stressing that such division and alliances are common in post-revolutionary periods. He added “we should not abandon our convictions that encourage harmony and cooperation for the good of the country.”
For his part, former Nour party MP Nizar Ghorab – who also defected from the party – described the Salafist party as something of an umbrella organization saying that “it was not a true representative of any single Islamist trend”. He stressed that the Salafists would not have achieved what they have on the Egyptian political scene without the presence of various other Salafist parties and groups, highlighting the difference in their political and Islamic Dawa approach.
Ghorab added that the Nour party was originally established based on a synthesis of all Islamist parties, but in itself does not enjoy any popular support on the Egyptian street. He asserted that all the talk about the Nour party’s popularity and presence on the street is wrong, in spite of the Nour party’s strong showing at the last parliamentary elections, adding that Islamist political parties are no different than other political parties in terms of internal division and differences of opinion amongst is cadres.
The former Nour party MP said that the real crisis is the result of the performance of Islamist parties and figures in the recent period, particularly their dealings with the public and the manner in which their political, economic and security policies are viewed. He stressed that the Nour party’s performance in the previous period was unsuccessful adding that this will negatively affect their electoral chances at the forthcoming parliamentary elections.
For his part, Dr. Najih Ibrahim, chief theorist for the Egyptian Al-Jama’ah al-Islamiyah (Egyptian Islamic Group] attributed this division to the blatant interference of Al-Dawa Al-Salafiya in Nour party affairs, saying that this is the result of the mixing and confusion between Islamic Dawa and political work.
He said “if a preacher exits the mosque and enters politics then he has lost a part of his holiness” adding “the ills of politics gradually begin to seep into these Islamist parties through their involvement in political work, and the greatest of these ills is internal division.”
Dr. Ibrahim said that he expected these divisions to provoke even greater divisions within Islamist parties, particularly those parties that have strong organizational power on the group. He added that what happened to the Nour party will weaken its chances at the forthcoming elections, particularly if it has to compete with other Islamist parties over the same seats.