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Nour Party struggles forth, despite all odds
 
 
Courtesy: Al Jazeera
 

The Salafi Nour Party will contest parliamentary seats in just two districts this year, according to the final electoral lists published by the High Elections Commission (HEC) on September 16. The party had initially intended to fight for much more, but is now renegotiating its position in a vitriolic political landscape.

Nour Party candidates will run for seats in the Cairo and West Delta districts, which includes Alexandria — the constituencies where it has the most voting power. Alexandria is widely viewed as a Salafi stronghold. The set-up may be a sign of the Nour Party’s evolving dynamic with the current government. Salafis sided with the military in 2013 when it toppled former President Mohamed Morsi. But this dynamic may prove costly as various actors are now trying to foil the Nour Party’s parliamentary ambitions.

Salafis stand alone

The party had originally intended to run in Upper Egypt as well, but according to party leaders, decided against it to ward off accusations that they were trying to monopolize the parliament, like the Muslim Brotherhood did.

Shaaban Abdel Alim, the party’s assistant secretary general, is confident about their odds, as “the Nour Party is one of the few parties with a strong presence on the ground.”

This supposedly strong presence in the streets is an enviable trait, but nonetheless, Nour is standing alone in the elections — the party was sidelined during the political scramble to form alliances and electoral lists.

In a July 28 interview with the privately owned Al-Shorouk newspaper, Tark al-Nouly — a member of the For the Love of Egypt electoral list — claimed that the Nour Party’s participation in the political sphere is a manipulation of the Constitution, and that their role in parliament would be limited. For the Love of Egypt was formed in response to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s call for a unified political front, and the candidates represented in the list tend to be staunchly pro-Sisi and anti-Muslim Brotherhood.

In a September 21 article, the privately owned Youm7 newspaper declared that the Nour Party was in an all-out battle with For the Love of Egypt for seats in the West Delta.

There are 15 Nour Party candidates vying for West Delta seats, four of whom are the party’s strongest assets, including core leaders Nader Bakker, Talaat Marzouk, Mohamed Ibrahim Mansour and Ashraf Thabet.

Grassroots support won’t be enough

In Alexandria, Salafi supporters are mainly concentrated in the far east of the governorate, particularly near Montazah. Women in the villages of Khorshed and Tabya tend to vote Nour, and there’s also a strong base of support in Sidi Beshr, the home of Yasser Borhamy, the vice president of the Salafi Dawah group.

There are also major support bases around two major Salafi mosques, including the Nour al-Islam al-Khairy Mosque in Raml and the Al-Kholafaa al-Rashedeen Mosque in Abu Suleiman.

But the party isn’t just betting on its existing popularity. Following methods similar to those of the dissolved Muslim Brotherhood, Nour has been distributing meat and other foods at low prices in these neighborhoods, residents say. The party has also established a committee specializing in dispute resolution and settlements to help resolve conflicts between area residents.

Despite these efforts, Nour probably won’t win the high number of seats that they acquired in the 2012 parliamentary elections, says Mokhtar Awad, an analyst at the Center for American Progress who focuses on Islamist ideology. In 2012, the party won a surprising 24.3 percent of the seats.

“I think it is obvious, even to Nour, that their 25 percent control over the last parliament is not going to happen again. I think if they manage 5 percent, that would be a great achievement for them,” says Awad.

The party might be able to achieve a modest 5 percent thanks to its organizational abilities and on-the-ground activities, but Nour simply doesn’t have the financial resources that it used to, Awad explains. And in addition, the party lost a significant part of its Islamist base by siding with the military in 2013.

Lawsuits and smear campaigns

Legal troubles are also taking a toll. Several lawsuits have been filed to bar the Nour Party from contesting the elections — or even to dissolve the party altogether — on the basis that it’s a religious party, and thus in violation of the Constitution.

In September 2014, the Court of Urgent Matters in Cairo rejected lawyer Naguib Gabrial’s lawsuit to dissolve the party due to the court’s lack of jurisdiction. Around the same time, Tarek Mahmoud, the legal advisor for the Popular Front, filed a similar lawsuit against all political parties with a religious basis, including Nour. It was also rejected by the Alexandria Court of Urgent Matters.

Then, in April 2015, the High Administrative Court’s Chamber of Political Parties Affairs also claimed a lack of jurisdiction in the lawsuit filed to call for the Nour Party’s dissolution. On July 5, the same court rejected two lawsuits filed by the Independent Current and the Revolutionary Forces Bloc that called for the party to be banned.

The Nour Party has repeatedly declared that it is not a religious group, but rather a political party based on a religious reference.

Outside of the courts, other political players are trying to stymie Nour’s political participation using different tactics.

Dalia Ziada, director of the Liberal Democracy Institute, is a co-founder of the No to Religious Parties campaign, which recently emerged to advocate for a “civil state so that we can accomplish the goals of our revolution.”

The campaign set out with the goal of collecting 2 million signatures to demand a ban on all religious parties, and according to the privately owned newspaper Al-Bawaba, it has already met that goal.

 “We don’t want to repeat the Muslim Brotherhood scenario,” says Ziada. During the political disarray in 2011, nine political Islamist parties were founded — and Nour Party is the “worst example” of them all, she claims.

“When they reach the parliament seats, they will send us back a million years,” Ziada argues. “If they put terrorists on the list, then people will be forced to pick terrorists.”

“Some people say to leave it up to the elections to decide, this is not proper,” she continues. “The state’s responsibility is to give citizens clear and proper choices. That is democracy.”

The Nour Party has threatened to file a lawsuit against the campaign for defamation, and has asked the campaign members to try and provide proof supporting their accusations.

Abdel Alim, Nour’s assistant secretary general, says these attempts to dissolve the party are essentially smear campaigns.

“The whole thing is motivated by political spite, but the judiciary is there at the end of the day,” he adds.

“There is a dedicated core of activists and lawyers who simply have it out for Nour,” says Awad of the Center for American Progress, adding that many people don’t trust the Nour Party’s support of the state.

But he believes that Nour is unfazed by these attacks, “largely due to what I suspect is a direct promise from the authorities that they will not be harmed.”

Alliance with the state

The party has been paying it dues. In late July, several billboards carrying the slogan “Egypt is stronger than terrorism” were spotted all over Cairo and Giza, part of the party’s anti-terrorism campaign denouncing militant attacks against security forces and supporting the state’s fight against terrorism.

“The party is taking part in fighting threats against Egypt, both domestically and abroad,” asserts Abdel Alim.

And in late July there was a significant reshuffle within the party’s leadership, which many view as an attempt to purge any Brotherhood supporters.  

Borhamy, of the Salafi Dawah, told local media that the Dawah sacked 50 members who had pro-Brotherhood sentiments  and refused to acknowledge the “June 30 revolution.”

The Salafi Dawah is “prepared for a scenario of dissolution,” declares Awad. “Borhamy himself said that he is willing to dissolve the party if needed to avoid confrontation.”

But for now, at least, Awad believes that Nour is here to stay.

“They are a crucial component of the post-June 30 landscape,” he explains. “They are meant to show that the state is not indiscriminately fighting against all political Islamists, and that those who accept the changes and are non-violent do have a role in political life.”

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