PoliticsNews & AnalysisEgypt walks a hard line with Salafis of all stripes


Posted on Wednesday, 06 February 2013 18:12

Egypt walks a hard line with Salafis of all stripes

By Musa Khalil in Cairo

Voting on the constitution opened deep divides/Photo©SIPAA new Salafist party formed from Al-Nour further fragments the political spectrum.


A split with the largest ultraconservative party, Al-Nour, ahead of parliamentary elections underscored deepening rifts inside a movement struggling to reconcile puritanism with politics.

In December, more than one hundred Al-Nour members, including leader Emad Abdel Ghafour, resigned to form a new Salafist party, Al-Watan, to contest elections in March or April.

The rift's impact on the ruling – and by comparison much more moderate – Muslim Brotherhood is difficult to predict.

In late 2011 parliamentary elections, the Brotherhood found itself outflanked by Al-Nour, which won the second-largest number of seats.

Politicians formed Al-Nour several months before the election as the political arm of a deeply conservative sect that mostly eschewed politics under President Hosni Mubarak.

It owed its surprise showing to jaded voters who distrusted liberal parties and the Brotherhood.

On the other hand, the emergence of a hardline Islamist party – which has leaders who spoke against tourists donning swimwear at beach resorts – made the Brotherhood appear more moderate and business friendly.

The months after the election, which gave several Islamist parties roughly two-thirds of parliament, offered a rare glimpse at the political evolution of an Islamist movement that took the Brotherhood decades to complete.

Attempts at projecting a moderate image were undermined by hardline statements from their spiritual guides and the surprising peccability of some of their untested parliamentarians.

Politically, the movement proved itself to be capable of compromise.

Salafis were heavily represented in a council that drafted the new constitution.

Liberals and Christians boycotted the panel, in part over objections to new clauses that bolstered Islam's role.

The Salafis also dropped a demand explicitly to mention the rulings of Islamic sharia as the primary source of legislation.

Yasser Burhami, a leading cleric with the Salafi Dawaa, the group that created Al-Nour, said he had to lobby other Salafis to accept the final draft that passed in a referendum amid secular-led protests in January.

Al-Watan presents itself as a tolerant version of Al-Nour, willing to engage in broader alliances.

It has already announced a coalition with smaller and more moderate Islamist parties.

Ghafour's differences with Al-Nour appear to have been based in part on personal disagreements and objections to the influence of the Salafi Dawaa.

He may capitalise on the distrust and opposition Al-Nour profited from in its parliamentary run, but his alliance with hardline and sometimes outlandish cleric Hazem Abu Ismail threatens to undermine a moderate image.

It will also further split the Islamist vote, perhaps forcing the Salafis to further compromise in the next parliament●


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