Egypt vote result could signal demise of political Islam
CAIRO - The humiliating defeat of al-Nour, practically Egypt’s sole remaining Islamist political party, in the first phase of parliamentary elections is giving analysts insight into what may be ahead for political Islam in general.
The Salafist party, which, according to senior member Shaaban Abdel Aleem, campaigned to control one-quarter of the 598-seat parliament in the elections, could be limited to ten seats in the first phase, which covered 14 of the country’s 27 provinces.
While almost half of the seats of parliament are up for grabs in the elections’ second phase, set for late November in the remaining 13 provinces, al-Nour isn’t expected to fare any better.
“Egyptians have already discovered the reality of these parties, which use the Islamic religion to make political gains,” said Nabil Naeem, a jihadist-turned-anti-political Islam campaigner. “This is why al-Nour will not make major gains in the second phase of the elections.”
The party, which emerged in 2011 and was a close ally of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been the target of a fierce media campaign equating it with extremism.
Sticking to a strict interpretation of Islam, al-Nour also gave Egyptians reasons to fear it. It did not allow its female candidates to uncover their faces. It also said a woman — even if she is a member of parliament — should not make her voice heard to non-relative males.
Al-Nour chief Younis Makhyoun recently said Christians should not run for public posts. Before him, party preachers, such as Yasser Borhami, who acts as spokesman of the Salafist Call, the movement that founded the party, said Muslims should not congratulate Christians on their religious holidays.
Al-Nour also faces legal challenges since the Egyptian constitution bans political parties formed along religious lines. Egypt’s courts are expected to consider lawsuits demanding the party be disbanded.
Egyptian analysts say, however, that the disintegration of al-Nour, will lead to the demise of political Islam in Egypt.
“This is a testing time for political Islam in general,” Khaled Okasha, director of local think-tank Security and Strategic Studies Centre, said. “After the disappearance of the Muslim Brotherhood, the weakening of al-Nour shows that political Islam is in for bleak experiences in the future.”
The Muslim Brotherhood, which emerged as a charity-educational group in 1927, has been the target of a government crackdown since 2013. The movement used to be the strongest Islamist organisation in Egypt.
However, the crackdown, which led to most Brotherhood leaders being jailed, face death or leave Egypt altogether, has reduced the Brotherhood’s power on the streets to nothing.
Should al-Nour collapse, experts say, nothing will be left of political Islam in Egypt.
This may be a major shift in Egypt’s internal politics in general, one that can reverberate across the region.
Egypt, a predominantly Muslim country, can take credit for inventing political Islam. The Muslim Brotherhood has been inspiring Islamist organisations across the world from Jamaa Islamiya, which claimed responsibility for the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, to al-Qaeda, which is headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian doctor.
Okasha says Egypt is a contagious country in political terms.
“This means that the collapse of political Islam in it can reverberate in other Arab countries,” he said.
Political Islam has started to wane in almost all Arab countries, including Libya, Tunisia and Yemen, according to Okasha.
In Egypt, al-Nour leaders are calling on President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to intervene to prevent the disintegration of the party and stop the media campaign against it.
After all, al-Nour was one of the political parties that supported Sisi’s ouster of Brotherhood-affiliated president Muhammad Morsi in July 2013 and backed Sisi in the presidential election in 2014. It was abandoned by a large number of its members and fellow Islamists as a result.
As he cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood, Sisi courted al- Nour, spoke well of it and invited its head to meetings with political leaders to, observers say, not give the impression that he is against political Islam in general.
But now, al-Nour’s influence seems to be curtailed or this is at least what some of Egypt’s Islamist analysts say.
“The government courted al- Nour at an exceptional juncture that coincided with Morsi’s ouster,” Islamist analyst Negeh Ibrahim said. “But the same government does not seem to be ready to trust these Islamists any more, regardless of the loyalty they demonstrate or the humiliation they sustain as a result of supporting this government.”