Will Egypt’s religious parties be banned before the elections?
The debate about the participation of religious parties is making a powerful comeback
As Egypt braces for the upcoming parliamentary elections, which begin in phases starting in mid-October, the debate about the participation of religious parties is making a powerful comeback.
According to Article 74 of the 2014 constitution, drafted after the toppling of the Muslim Brotherhood government, political parties cannot be established on religious, ethnic, sectarian, or geographical basis.
This article, together with concerns about another Islamist-dominated parliament, triggered the launch of a campaign called “No to Religious Parties”, which has the ultimate aim is getting those parties banned, and thus unable to compete in the elections.
“No to Religious Parties” follows the strategy used earlier by Tamarod, the campaign against former Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, which was based on collecting signatures from anti-Brotherhood Egyptians all over the country.
The latest campaign, which is also available electronically, includes a form entitled “No religion in politics and no politics in religion” and features the logos of parties against which the campaign was launched, a total of nine. While the campaign seems to be gaining momentum among Egyptians, it remains to be seen whether its objective can actually be achieved in such a short time and given the support such parties still enjoy among the Egyptian public.
Dalia Ziada, director of the Egyptian Center for Free Democratic Studies and a co-founder of the campaign, said that religious parties aim to repeat the history seen with the short-lived Muslim Brotherhood government.
“The Muslim Brotherhood used democracy to come to power and once they did, they violated all democratic principles,” she said in an interview with the Egyptian satellite channel al-Hayat.
Ziada explained that signatures, which she said have so far exceeded 750,000, are a means of helping the campaign in the legal action it plans to take. “Parties cannot be disbanded without a court ruling so those signatures give us the right to file a request with the elections committee so it can take the matter to court and we already did that,” she explained.
Salah Abdel Maaboud, member of the higher committee of the Salafi al-Nour Party, one of the parties targeted by the campaign, argued that since only the court can disband a party, the campaign is pointless. “Is the judiciary expected to be influenced by the number of signatures?” he said in the same interview. “If the campaign is using signatures to prove that people don’t want us, why don’t we wait till elections prove that? Isn’t this what democracy is about?”
But according to Ziada, elections constitute the last phase in the democratic process. “Before elections, it is the state’s duty to make proper options available to the people and that this why parties need to meet a set of criteria. For this reason, the state should not allow a party that violates the constitution to run in the first place.”
Salah Fawzy, professor of constitutional law and member of the High Legislative Reform Committee, argued that the campaign will not succeed since al-Nour and similar parties do not violate the constitution. “Article 2 of the Egyptian constitution states that Islam is the religion of the state and Islamic law [is] the main source of legislation,” he told the Egyptian news website DotMasr. “Therefore, parties based on Islamic principles are constitutional.”
According to Fawzi, Article 74 of the constitution does not apply to religious parties. “This article did not ban parties with a religious background, but rather [bans] using religion for political gains.”
While supporting the campaign, Hesham Ouf, co-founder of the Egyptian Secular Party, underlined the problem of Article 2, which he believes is the main obstacle to disbanding religious parties. “This article is always used by religious parties to legitimatize their existence and it is because of this article that the court might rule in favor of those parties,” he said in an interview with the Egyptian daily independent al-Youm al-Sabea.
That is why Ouf argued that the campaign cannot bear fruit just through collecting signatures. “We need to engage in thorough discussions with constitutional experts to examine the possibility of disbanding political parties in the presence of Article 2,” he explained. “If this proves futile then we will have to go for the more radical solution: demanding the removal of Article 2 from the constitution.”
Secular parties unconstitutional?
Based on Article 2, calls to disband “non-Islamic” parties have started on the other side. Sameh Abdel Hamid, leading member of the Salafist Call, from which al-Nour Party originated, argued that liberal and secular parties are unconstitutional.
“Religious parties are formed based on Article 2 while this is not the case with secular parties that do not recognize Egypt as an Islamic state and call for separating religion and politics,” he said in a statement. Abdel Hamid added that secular parties support values that violate Islamic principles, therefore violate the constitution again. “Those parties promote a Western lifestyle in which homosexuality and other vices are allowed,” he said, adding that all parties should have an Islamic background in order to be constitutional.
Former jihadist Amal Abdel Wahab noted that the campaign against religious parties made a grave mistake. “They offered religious parties, especially al-Nour, a golden opportunity to abort their attempts through using Article 2 and even started a counter-campaign,” he told the Egyptian news website al-Bawaba News. Abdel Wahab argued that the campaign should not have used the argument that those parties are religious. “They should have rather focused on the history of those parties, their thirst for power, their hidden agendas, and their former alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood.”