Egypt’s Salafist al-Nour party was present, along with other parties which make up the country’s political scene, when on July 3 the army chief, Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, put an end to Mohammed Mursi’s tenure as president and announced a roadmap towards an Egypt without the Muslim Brotherhood in power.
The presence of the second biggest Islamic party in Egypt at al-Sissi’s side raised the eyebrows of its rival, the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as those who thought that al-Nour was next on the political execution hit list.
This study is an attempt to understand the stance of the al-Nour party, its role and its potential influence in the near future.
Going separate ways
Although the al-Nour party and the Muslim Brotherhood both benefited from the power vacuum after former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted, their paths split after Mursi ascended to the presidency.
The first clash between the two parties came during the parliamentary elections when both attacked each other. In spite of all this, the al-Nour party became the second largest political group in parliament, this forced the Muslim Brotherhood to admit the need to collaborate with al-Nour in order to ensure the triumph of the “Political Islam project.”
The love and hate relationship between both parties has been through many phases, the most dangerous was what is regarded as the conspiracy which occurred during the first round of the presidential elections. This is when al-Nour openly supported presidential candidates Abdul-Monem Abou al-Foutouh and held secret talks with Ahmad Chafic, before supporting Mursi in the second round.
Battle of the constitution
The Muslim Brotherhood felt the need to collaborate with the al-Nour party to guarantee them success in rewriting a constitution that would better serve its purpose, enforce control over the parliament, agree on the establishment of the constituent assembly and create a unified Islamic front against the civilian movement.
After realizing that they were losing ground, al-Nour started weighing up their options, including the option of jumping ship, and launched an international campaign to present its credentials as a moderate substitute to the Muslim BrotherhoodNajlaa’ Maccaoui
Al-Nour’s support during the period of preparing the constitution was a strategic move to ensure that Islamic Sharia (Islamic law) clauses are included. The result was that one of al-Nour’s leaders, Yasser Borhami, described the constitution as the best ever document in Egypt’s history and considered it a “triumph against the Christians and the seculars.”
Soon after the constitutional draft was finished, conflict erupted between al-Noor and the Muslim Brotherhood as the party opposed the full empowerment of the president, which was part of Mursi’s constitutional declaration.
“Brotherizing” the state
The power struggle between both groups was multi-faceted and wasn’t limited to al-Nour’s participation in the “national salvation front” which was seen as targeting the Muslim Brotherhood’s power.
Attacked by the Muslim Brotherhood, the salafists of the al-Nour party tried to defuse the situation but the former escalated and fired presidential advisor Khaled Alamedine on February 17th 2013. This initiated an open conflict between the both parties.
Al-Nour felt deceived by the Muslim Brotherhood and openly expressed its fear for the future of their party if the Brotherhood succeeded in its plans to take control over the nation’s resources and key political positions. For their part the Brotherhood accused the al-Nour of being hostile to the Islamists’ ascension to power.
After realizing that they were losing ground, al-Nour started weighing up their options, including the option of jumping ship, and launched an international campaign to present its credentials as a moderate substitute to the Muslim Brotherhood. They did so while reiterating their support of the president and his legitimacy and opposing the “Tamarod” campaign.
Al-Nour refrained from participating in any demonstrations, supporting or opposing the president and it refused to describe the June 30th demonstrations as being against the Islamic project, or as a war between believers and disbelievers.
The Salafist rhetoric opposed ousting the president as non-constitutionally founded, but it warned against amending the clauses related to issues of identity and Islamic Sharia. Despite this, they soon joined in commending the road map announced by Lieutenant General al-Sissi on July 3.
The Muslim Brotherhood and the policy of skipping stages
The al-Nour party was clear in their call for a fully-fledged Islamic state and initially expressed its fear of the possible failure of an Islamic president. They blamed the Brotherhood for fighting the wrong battles and skipping stages in the political process while Borhami welcomed the Syrian and Libyan approach, even if the establishment of an Islamic state were to cost 10 million victims.
Both al-Nour and the Brotherhood agreed on supporting the Islamic project and on opposing those who refuse it. So, the conflict wasn’t over the project itself but on the modus operandi.
Struggle for existence
The al-Nour party tried to mediate and convince the Brotherhood to take specific measures to contain the situation, starting with admitting that the Islamists are losing their popular support and that there is no way out of this impasse, except through real efforts to build bridges.
Hence, the party decided to support the army in its “popularly motivated movement,” to ensure that the Islamists don’t lose what they gained in the constitution and save the face of Islam by differentiating themselves from the Brotherhood.
But the truth is that the al-Nour has become the sole representative of the Islamic movement and is expected to gain from this fact and reinforce its political status and presence.
In spite of this, the party condemned the violent acts that claimed the lives of a number of Mursi supporters, while stressing its opposition to any street demonstrations as they contribute in widening the gap between citizens.
In addition to this, the party sent a clear message to the secular movement by opposing the nomination of Mohammed Baradei as prime minister. They also succeeded in reinforcing its presence and imposing its conditions, such as opposing the constitutional declaration of July 8 that gave the president the right to nominate a committee that will study the constitutional amendments, as well as combining clauses of the constitution or attempting to change any clauses related to Islamic Sharia.
The al-Nour party is presently opposing both sides of the actual conflict, caught in an uncertain political moment and riddles with an internal dissent.
In spite of all this, al-Nour still confirms its support of the Egyptian army and condemns the violent sentiments of Mursi’s supporters, while stressing that the party is an alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood with a different approach.
So, the party wants everybody to view it as the sole promoter of an Islamic agenda and it champions the idea that it shouldn’t be excluded from power because it was the only Islamic party to oppose the Muslim Brotherhood when they were in power.
But will the party succeed in becoming trustworthy and will it be saved if the wind changes direction towards ending the presence of political Islam on the spectrum of Egyptian politics?
Time will tell and it won’t be long before we know who will succeed and who will be marginalized, who might be broken into pieces and who might fall back into old habits.