Though regarded as amateurish two years ago, Al Nour, an ultra-conservative Islamist party, gained leverage during the coup by backing up Morsi’s removal, the only ones among Islamists. The party claimed its goal was to preserve the balance of forces while the country was on the verge of civil war.
However, several liberals are prone to think the party, on the contrary, is sowing discord by its choice of the new prime minister or its views on Islam’s dominant role in the new constitution.
The leverage was successfully exercised this weekend as the party put away its original plan to support the promotion of the Nobel Prize-winning diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei, to the position of interim prime minister. Younis Makhyoun, a Nour party leader, accounted for this decision on Sunday, “We have grass roots, and they don’t agree on the choice of ElBaradei.” Instead it was almost ready to name Ziad Bahaa el-Din, a former head of Egypt’s investment authority, dubbed by the Nour leader as “one of the liberal figures that we greatly respect.”
This situation was very alarming for the liberals as they feared what the ultraconservatives might come up with next. Shady el-Ghazaly Harb, one of the organizers of the anti-Morsi protests, stated that religion and politics should be two separate issues and “parties should not be built on religion.” Other organizers of the protests added that if need be they would launch a new demonstration, this time against Al Nour.
As for the party’s Islamist allies, they see Al Nour as traitors, according to Gehad el-Haddad, a Brotherhood spokesman, the party is “making enemies on both sides.”
Samer Shehata, an expert on Egyptian Islam at the University of Oklahoma, sees the Brotherhood’s denunciation as a perfect opportunity for Al Nour to establish themselves as “the main Islamist player in politics in post-Morsi Egypt.” After the Brotherhood lost its support Al Nour is the only one left on the scene.
The reason for it was that ever since its start two years ago, the Nour party has been propagating not just for the principles of the Islamic law, but for granting religious scholar a constitutional power to rebuff any legislation that, to their thinking, contradicted Islamic law. However, the Brotherhood didn’t allow it to go through by siding with the liberals in this issue.
Recently the party has shown it has matured and learnt the tactics of negotiation. If before the Egyptian revolution of 2011, the Salafi parties (the name refers to the companions of the Prophet Muhammad) dodged electoral politics and asked for respect of the ruler and of God. After President Mubarak’s stepdown, at an open election, the Salafi parties led by Al Nour, earned nearly one-quarter of the seats in the Parliament, ranking second after the Muslim Brotherhood.
From then on, Al Nour assumed the role of the mediator and was basically the only one trying to bring to consensus the gradually polarizing society in the run-up to the recent takeover. Among steps taken by the party toward the conflict’s peaceful resolution, was the calling for a consensus cabinet with a bigger number of the President’s opponents, removal of the unpopular prosecutor; the party called for putting a stop to violence and impending chaos. Al Nour’s leaders were the first ones to urge an early presidential election and pleaded the opposition to give Mr. Morsi more time.
As of right now, the party plans to assert its influence by voting more of the Islamic law into the Constitution approved in a referendum last December. Bassam Al-Zarqa, the party’s vice president, dismissed the liberals’ claims about separation of religion and politics by saying, they “want to incite a war between Islam and secularism.”
Al Nour is now uniquely positioned to broker a new reconciliation of the political divide, he insisted. “We have been the only party between two extremes, the only one not playing a zero-sum game,” Bassam Al-Zarqa said. He also warned the Salafis are not going to step aside at this point as they represent a very large part of the Egyptian society.
Voice of Russia, The New York Times