A new popular campaign “No to Religious Parties” is collecting signatures to pressure Egyptian authorities to dissolve all religious parties in the country.
The group states it is not against religion, but rather against the idea of mixing religion with politics, and the use of religion to achieve political gains. The campaign was spurred by the experience of the Muslim Brotherhood in power before the group’s ouster in 2013, although the campaign claims that religious parties legally operating now pose more danger to the “civil nature of the state.”
The campaign says it is not affiliated to any political party or group, and the fact that some of its members are already a part of other parties or group does not indicate any political affiliation or leanings.
General coordinator of the campaign, Mohamed al-Houty, explained to Mada Masr that some of these parties state clearly that they implement Islamic Sharia, and that their practices are sectarian and extremist. “Some of these party members and leaders are imams and lead Friday prayers. They usually use this for political leverage, and this is unacceptable,” he asserted.
Houty also referred to Nour Party officials refusing to stand to the national anthem, as well as what he described as these parties’ stances against women and Copts, referring to different fatwas by party leaders that are considered discriminatory and incite violence against minorities. Incitement by Salafi clerics was widely attributed as a reason for an angry mob that killed four Shias in Giza in June 2013.
The general coordinator explained that the campaign is fighting on two fronts, the first of which is a legal battle with the Administrative Court to ban all religious parties. The second front is a popular one, with the group aiming to collect 25 million signatures in a petition demanding to dissolve these parties. The petition will then be submitted to the Political Parties Affairs Committee.
The political parties listed by the campaign as ones that should be banned include the Nour Party, an offshoot of the Alexandria-based Salafi Dawah; the Wasat Party, whose leader Abul Ela Mady was released from prison this week; the Building and Development Party, the political arm of Jama’a al-Islamiya; as well as the Asala and Fadila parties. Houty also mentioned the Strong Egypt Party, the founder of which is former Muslim Brotherhood leader Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh.
Although the Strong Egypt Party does not use Sharia as its frame of reference, and despite the party’s critical stance on the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, the party is widely criticized for its opposition to the current ruling regime. It is often accused of being connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, due to the political background of its founder, as well as the number of former Brotherhood youth who have joined the party since its establishment.
Houty specifically criticized the Nour Party, the main Islamist party on the political scene after the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party was dissolved last year, persuant to a court order.
Nour Party won the second highest bloc of seats in the country’s 2012 dissolved parliament, and was considered to be a major ally of the Brotherhood before the group’s ouster. But following the fall of former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, the party shifted alliances when it openly endorsed a military-brokered political road map that ended with the party supporting President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during presidential elections last year. This shift led to criticism of the party from the Brothoerhood and secular political forces alike. Both saw the Nour Party’s shift in political alliances as an opportunistic move to stay close to the administration in power, regardless of ideology.
However, Nour Party leader Shaaban Abdel Aleem has called the campaign illegal, arguing that the law stipulates that parties can only be dissolved based on court rulings, not petitions or campaigns. “[The campaign] does not have real popular support among the population. It is financed by other political parties and businessmen who want to damage the reputation of the Nour Party before parliament elections,” he claimed.
Some media reports referred to remarks by Aleem stating that the party intends to give up on the idea of calling for the implementation of Sharia to avoid any attempts to dissolve the party. However, Aleem denied these claims when he spoke with Mada Masr, explaining that his comments were taken out of context.
“I clearly said that the party’s electoral program is guided by Article 2 of the Constitution, which stipulates that Islamic Sharia is the main source of legislation. This is a smear campaign against the party,” he asserted.
Houty is confident, however, that the lawsuit the campaign is filing will succeed in dissolving these parties, given Article 74 of the Constitution, which bans the formation of religious parties. He explained, “The article stipulates that parties cannot be founded on religious ideals or discriminate based on religion, gender or ethnicity, which is the case with all of these parties.”