Politics has taken its toll on the Salafi Nour Party and plunged that seemingly coherent political body into an open conflict, the end of which is unpredictable.
The emergence of the Nour Party and its competition in the last parliamentary elections, which led it to win 23 percent of the seats in Parliament, was one of the most important political phenomena in the year that that followed the 25 January revolution. In fact, the party’s rise at the expense of other civilian and democratic powers has proven bitter for the latter, particularly since that novice party has not taken part in the long struggle for democracy, yet managed to grab a quarter of the votes following a revolution whose primary goals were freedom and justice. This became all the more astonishing considering the fact that the Salafi sheikhs have largely prohibited participation in protests.
The impact of the Nour Party’s grabbing of almost a quarter of the votes when civilian powers combined could not seize as many has shocked the Egyptian polity, lowered the ceiling of hopes and forced democratic powers to take cautious and hesitant political positions. And several sectors of the society were understandably left in fear after the victory of the Salafi party.
As the recent struggle within the party intensifies to a point that threatens its political coherence, democratic powers have expressed disparate views on this development. Some view the internal rift within the party as a natural cost for being active in the public sphere. They also believed it is a healthy phenomenon since it will break the party’s coherence and hence threaten its political influence and ability to widely express a reactionary fascist mood inside the society. Other groups sense danger, fearing that schism would give rise to even more radical offshoots of Salafism that might threaten the democratic transformation and societal peace. It is crucially important for democratic powers to ponder the two possible scenarios to devise proper response strategies.
The first group is less fearful of the Islamist wave and more willing to count on the dramatic changes taking place inside the Egyptian society. This group has greater faith in action and is persuaded that the Islamist trend is subject to drastic transformations that menace its influence and presence.
The second group is still overwhelmed by the imposing presence of the Islamist trend and think of it as immune to the revolutionary and democratic changes caused by the openness of the political and social spheres, which may have gone astray. The problem with that opinion is that it does not see that rift within the Nour Party as a chance for democratic powers to exploit that historical crisis that the Islamist wave faces or to influence its results.
The Salafi current is the most dangerous product of the police state and the stagnant society of the authoritarian regimes that Egypt has lived under for decades. It is a remarkably fascist wave that feeds all of societal ills including sectarianism, sexism, extremism and demagogy. Its emergence after the revolution was a serious threat to the dreams of the revolutionaries. The demolition of the Atfeeh church, the Qena sit-in, the burning of the Imbaba church and other incidents in which Salafis played a key role were all incidents during which the revolution was threatened and suppressed.
The Nour Party does not only represent a certain wave, it has laid out the political and organizational foundation for a project to besiege the revolution with its civilian nature and to pile pressure on the Muslim Brotherhood and jeopardize its calculations. The Nour Party was not an undesirable by-product of an open political sphere but rather a force that challenged the public sphere in its entirety.
The religious-civilian polarization and all the sectarian publicity led by Salafis was in fact a project to stifle the revolutionary democratic dream through sectarian incitement and fascist practices. The Nour Party was not a product of the revolution but a perfect product of the counter-revolution, hiding in the guise of religious piety.
Several unanswered questions still linger, particularly on how that party gained such strength, how it was able to manage and finance its electoral campaign for the parliamentary elections and whether security bodies have supported it in any way. Nevertheless, the party has succeeded in providing a political alternative that expresses the reactionary and fascist tendencies in the society, which the party succeeded in mobilizing in the parliamentary elections.
The control the Salafi Dawah has on the Nour Party and its internal coherence were among the most dangerous features of the party. Its coherence has bolstered the sacred, collective nature of its message as the sole and strongest representative of Islam in the face of pluralism and the revolution, mobilizing millions of supporters.
The current conflict thus threatens one of the most important pillars of Nour Party — its coherence. This conflict will deprive the Salafi base of that bionic political organization which bolsters sectarianism and, hence, play a role in dismantling the Islamist base. The coherence of the Islamist street is dependent on the coherence of its political outback, and so the weakness of the political outback would dismantle the Islamist street by making it more fluid as it loses sectors of its more hesitant members.
The ball is now in the court of the democratic powers who should provide a coherent alternative capable of mobilizing the public.
One could say, despite the crisis facing the Nour Party, that Islamists maintain a strong presence at several levels, with the Brotherhood in power, Salafis organizing in legitimate political organizations and struggling over gains, and jihadi groups launching operations in Sinai, uprooting Christians and struggling with other Islamists for a bigger margin of action.
The Islamist current is in a period of self-discovery as they figure out their margin of maneuver and the ability to implement an Islamist project in an open political sphere that possibly reveals the contradictions within the Islamist wave and potentially its bankruptcy.
In order to exploit that moment, however, democratic powers must not have unreasonable fears of Islamists and must present their coherent revolutionary alternative.
The society is angry at the lack of justice, law and order, which has persisted with the rise of Islamists to power. There is also a societal anger at phenomenon associated with the state’s inability to deal with incidents that terrorize the public, such as the killing of a Suez student at the hands of a Salafi who thought his behavior was unethical, the killing of Egyptian security guards in Rafah at the hands of radical Islamists and the recent chaotic protest staged at the US Embassy. This is in addition to the rising sectarian incidents that terrorize Christians in various parts of the country, including the latest blasphemy trials. The Salafi influence on the drafting of the new constitution is another source of anxiety that threatens to tarnish the dream for equality among citizens of this country. The societal threats and anxiety following the rise of Islamists to power are deepening and this is a propitious time to provide an alternative.
Careful calculations on the part of the civil democratic groups will not work out, there is a need for brave action to bring down fascism.
Akram Ismail is a columnist and member of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party.
This article was translated by Dina Zafer.