Dodging the Islamist bullet

“Beware of women belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood who will carry the Quran in their hands,” said Yasser Borhamy, the deputy head of the Salafi Dawah group. “When police forces and others who oppose them try to disperse the protestors, these women will fall to the ground with the books and reveal their bodies.”

Borhamy’s statements came during one of a series of conferences organized by the Salafi Dawah and its political arm, the Nour Party, as part of their campaign titled, “Our Egypt, Without Violence,” that aims to raise awareness against the demonstrations planned by the Salafi Front for November 28.

The stance against Friday’s protests is part of the Nour Party and the Salafi Dawah’s quest to be included in the political space sanctioned by the current regime. This mission began in the aftermath of the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, when the Nour Party sided with the pro-military regime, supporting the constitutional amendments and the presidential elections that followed.

Today, Nour Party representatives have been touring the country, stopping off in various governorates to hold public conferences in order to warn against the dangers of Friday’s demonstrations, and differentiate themselves, the Salafi Dawah, from the Salafi Front.

Salah Abdel Maaboud, a leading member of the Nour Party, was on his way to one of those conferences when speaking to Mada Masr, while his colleagues were covering another conference in Kafr al-Sheikh.

“We are the only political party that has taken action against the planned demonstrations, warning against the use of violence and the will to shake up the country’s security,” he says.

Another purpose of the conferences, according to Abdel Maaboud, is to differentiate between the Salafi Dawah and the Salafi Front.

With the call for demonstrations on November 28 came another opportunity for the Salafi party not only to prove itself useful for the regime, but also to distinguish itself from the more extremist Salafi groups in front of the general public. 

“We want to clarify to people that the Salafi Front is one thing and the Salafi Dawah is another,” says Abdel Maaboud. “Those who are behind the mixing between the two have their own interests, while we are seeking the unity of the nation.”

Abdel Maaboud also clarifies that, since its inception following the January 25 revolution in 2011, the Salafi Front has always been against the Salafi Dawah. He also claims that the front has no more than 15 members or so, a number reiterated by other members of the party in the media.

According to Ashraf al-Sherif, an expert on political Islam and a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, the Nour Party is different than the rest of the Islamist groups both ideologically and politically.

When it comes to Islamic Sharia, Sherif says that members of the Salafi Dawah do not believe in going against the ruler or this kind of mutiny that the Salafi Front is calling for, while they actually consider those who do believe in this to be followers of Sayyed Qutb, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950-60s, and not a true Salafi.

Politically speaking, Sherif notes that the Nour Party is more reasonable, realistic and seemingly more concerned with national interest.

“November 28 is a chance for them to reaffirm their distinction,” says Sherif.

But this distinction comes at the cost of growing their Salafi constituency.

Mohamed Galal, a member of the Salafi Front and the spokesperson for the November 28 demonstrations, reaffirms that the Nour Party never represented him or any other member of the front.

“The Nour Party no longer represents any group on the streets,” he says, adding that the party is far removed from the Islamist youth on the ground, and aims to serve its own interests in politics.

“The Salafi youth are no longer with the Nour Party since its position on the coup, so we think the Nour Party no longer has any basis, it is only doing so to appease the president and appease authorities,” adds Galal.

November 28 thus becomes a means for the unrepresented Salafi youth to express their voices, he argues. “From the beginning of the revolution in 2011, we’ve been going out into the squares as Muslim youth but hiding our identity and not calling for Islamic Sharia, while other groups were calling for democracy and secularism,” he says. “Our demand was Islamic Sharia but we didn’t want to announce it for the purpose of general agreement and harmony.”

Nowadays, however, he sees that the people going out onto the streets for protests and subsequently being detained are Islamist youth. Therefore, they felt it was time for them to reaffirm their identity and state their demands clearly.

This divide between the party and the overall Salafi current is a problem. Sherif explains that the Salafi current is different than the Muslim Brotherhood in that they are not an organized group with leadership. Instead they have to have conviction and ideological credibility, which he says the Nour Party has lost.

“The Nour Party no longer adopts a clear cause,” he says, adding that during the 2012 parliamentary elections, the party stood for implementing Islamic Sharia but no longer calls for that.

Therefore, Sherif believes that in the upcoming parliamentary elections, the Nour Party will not garner votes from the general Salafi public but rather specifically from members of the Salafi Dawah, who represent the only hardcore supporters of the party.

However, Nour’s Abdel Maaboud denies that the party has lost its supporters.

“The party has its people and its wide base of support on the ground,” he says. “We still have outreach, look at the conferences, and look how many people are attending them. Who else can do that? Three conferences in one day and they’re all full of people.”

Galal believes that Nour’s days are numbered. “[The regime] will eventually abandon the party because it has already played its part during a particular phase, so they will treat them the same way they treat the rest of the political currents,” he says.

Since the party’s failure to provide enough voters for the presidential elections that brought Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to power, pro-regime media turned against the Nour Party, questioning whether keeping it alive as one of the few remaining political parties with an Islamist background would be in the interest of the regime.

Moreover, some political powers close to the regime have engaged in discourse against the Nour Party.

The grassroots movement turned political party Tamarod, for example, has been leading this rhetoric, releasing statements against the Nour Party in the media and saying that they are one in the same with all other Islamist movements. Earlier in September, the party also survived another attempt of sabotage, as a lawyer named Naguib Gabrial filed a lawsuit to dissolve the Nour Party and ban them from running in the upcoming parliamentary elections. However, the court ruled in favor of the party, citing a lack of jurisdiction for the claim.

“There is secular opposition that wants to eliminate the Nour Party from the political scene,” says Sherif. “They are fighting a battle on two fronts, on the Islamist front and on the civil powers front.”

Yet Sherif believes that the regime will always need the Nour Party as the token Islamist political party.

“The regime needs an Islamic movement as an ally so that it is not said that they are fighting Islam. They need an Islamic movement that practices politics,” he says.

In return for their survival on the political scene, he says that the Nour Party needs to stick to their assigned role and not defy the regime.

Passant Rabie 

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