Egypt: Islamist Nour party looking to make gains

A child holds a picture of ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi. Picture: AP
A child holds a picture of ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi. Picture: AP
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WHILE Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood this week looks back in anger at its removal by from power by the military, an ultra-orthodox Islamist party is looking forward and hoping to replace it in voters’ favour.

Far from celebrating the downfall of its larger rival, the Nour Party, which sits on the religious right of the political spectrum, is weighing the cost of Brotherhood mistakes it says have weakened the Islamist movement.

Courted by the army that toppled president Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s second biggest Islamic force has wielded decisive influence over the choice of a new premier, vetoing the first two liberal choices.

But Nour’s leader is surprisingly downbeat for a politician whose main rival has just been dealt a major blow robbing it of 2012 election victory.

“There is no doubt that the Islamist current in general has lost a lot because of the Brotherhood’s failure in managing the past period,” Younes Makhyoun said yesterday.

“I do not think the Islamist movement will achieve what it achieved before because of these erroneous practices,” he said.

Islamist groups expect to secure nothing like the 65 per cent of the vote they won in parliamentary elections 18 months ago.

Under the army’s transition plan revealed this week, new parliamentary polls will be held in about six months’ time.

“The Islamists will be reduced to their natural size – no more than 25 to 30 per cent,” said Kamal Habib, a former member of a Muslim militant group.

Nour believes the Islamists’ popularity, in retreat even before Mr Morsi was elected, has been further dented by the failures of the former president’s one year in office and the bloodshed resulting from its unceremonious termination.

Mr Makhyoun was also sharply critical of the Brotherhood for pushing to the fore hardliners who had used violent rhetoric in recent weeks, saying that had further sapped the appeal of Islamists in Egyptian society.

Established after the 2011 uprising that ousted former leader Hosni Mubarak, Nour is 84 years the Brotherhood’s junior. It emerged from the Dawa Salafia, a quietist religious movement based in Alexandria – a party stronghold today – that believed in saving souls rather than seeking power. Nour claims 800,000 members, nearly as many as the Brotherhood’s membership.

Advocating a puritanical vision of Islam, it used its foothold in officialdom to press for Islamist-inspired changes to the constitution last year. It then lobbied for their application, demanding, for example, that a law allowing Egypt to issue Islamic bonds be sent to Muslim clerics for approval.

Having aligned itself with the Brotherhood at key moments in 2012, it distanced itself from the movement this year, echoing opposition accusations that Mr Morsi was staging a power grab.

As the political crisis deepened this year, Nour positioned itself as a would-be mediator. Its more nimble approach has given it huge leverage over the army-mapped transition that the Brotherhood has vowed to boycott.

Hazem el-Beblawi, the economist named interim prime minister on Tuesday, owes his job to Nour’s rejection of other liberal politicians initially suggested for the position.

The army is going out of its way to satisfy Nour as the only Islamist party that signed up to its roadmap, isolating the Brotherhood and giving the new ­authorities Islamist credentials.

A decree setting the rules for the period of interim rule ­includes Islamist-tinged language sought by Nour and ­opposed by liberals.

“We value the Nour Party ­position very much and we see a future for this party in Egypt,” said a military source.

Yet Nour’s approach brings risks. Islamist allies said it has sold out, an accusation that may damage its standing, particularly after more than 55 people were shot dead when the army fired on pro-Morsi protesters.

• Egypt’s prosecutor has ordered the arrest of the leaders of fallen president Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, charging them with inciting violence in a clash that saw troops shoot 55 Mursi supporters dead.

Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad said the announcement of charges yesterday against leader Mohamed Badie and several other senior figures was a bid by authorities to break up a vigil by thousands of Morsi supporters demanding his reinstatement.

The Brotherhood leaders were charged with inciting violence in Monday’s shootings, which began before dawn, when the Brotherhood says its followers were peacefully praying. The army says terrorists provoked the shooting by attacking its troops.

Haddad said the Brotherhood leaders had not been arrested and some were still attending the protest vigil at Rabaa Adawiya mosque. The charges against them were “nothing more than an attempt by the police state to dismantle the Rabaa protest”.

“What can we do? In a police state when the police force are criminals, the judiciary are traitors, and the investigators are the fabricators, what can one do?”

In addition to Badie, prosecutors ordered the arrest of others including his deputy, Mahmoud Ezzat, and outspoken party leaders Essam El-Erian and Mohamed El-Beltagi. Khairat El-Shater, another senior leader, was held last week.

The prosecutor also ordered 206 Brotherhood activists arrested after Monday’s violence to be detained for a further 15 days on accusations of involvement in the killings. It released 464 others who had been detained, on bail of about $300 each.

Egyptians have hoped the start of Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, would cool passions, but it has been overshadowed by rancour.

Thousands of Brotherhood supporters braved brutal summer heat yesterday to maintain their outdoor protest vigil despite the fast, clustering in tents to protect themselves from sun during daylight hours when Islam forbids eating food or drinking water.

A list was posted at the camp bearing the names of the more than 650 people arrested following Monday’s “massacre”.