Islamist parties still very much alive in Egypt

Sunday 09/04/2017

An examination of opinions and positions expressed by authorised Islamist parties in Egypt reveals factions in those parties in favour of using violence instead of political action. The authorities’ laxness in dealing with these attitudes and tendencies turns these parties into time bombs.

A recent eulogy by the Building and Development Party, an Islam­ist party, for one of its exiled leaders, Abou El Ella Abd Rabou, who died in Syria while fighting in the ranks of Ahrar al-Sham, revealed the adoption by the Islamist group of an approach it is likely to put into practice in Egypt.

We find the same attitude in the eulogies expressed by many of the party’s officials and cadres. They have used terms that seem to encourage violence. They described Abd Rabou’s actions in Syria as “heroic” and said he had left Egypt seeking shahada — dying for the faith.

The same terms have been used by Islamist parties in eulogies for Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the mufti of extremist groups, who died in prison in the United States. His funeral in Egypt was given a great deal of attention by many Islamist parties.

In Egypt, the legal framework for creating political parties clearly requires them “to commit to resorting to peaceful political actions, accepting political plural­ity and equality of opportunities, respecting opposite views and working towards social peace”.

Many self-exiled leaders of Islamist parties were implicated in the violence that ripped through Egypt since their departure following the revolu­tion in June 2013. These leaders joined terrorist organisations and kept in touch with party leaders in Egypt.

There are eight parties in Egypt with Islamist orientations — al- Nour, al-Bina wal Tanmiya, al-Watan, al-Wasat, al-Asala, al-Fadhila, ash-Sha’b and Misr al-Qawiya. Since the law forbids the creation of any party based on religion, practically all of these parties are inactive in the public sphere, except for al-Nour, which secured 12 seats in parliament and enjoys some political freedom.

For many observers, the remaining parties are legal fronts for extremist views justifying violence. Their hidden role of providing ideological support for terrorist activities may prove to have disastrous consequences soon.

Most of the Islamist parties have expressed political posi­tions that should have produced a strong reaction from the authorities. The absence of any reaction on the part of the specialised committee oversee­ing political activities by parties in Egypt seems to point to the existence of a crisis within the committee.

The committee is reluctant to take the necessary legal steps to dissolve these parties. This is all the more apparent in light of a recent court decision refusing a lawsuit demanding the dissolu­tion of al-Nour. The court refused to hear the case because “it was not submitted by the specialised authority”.

Many political civil circles have been critical of the government laxness in dealing with religious parties. Refaat El-Saeed, honor­ary president of the National Progressive Unionist Party (Tagammu), said the govern­ment’s strategy towards Islamist parties has failed since the parties went underground. He said the official attitude towards these parties encouraged more violence because the parties excel at working underground under the banner of legal political entities to gain maximum public support.

Saeed said he rejected the argument by some close to the government that said allowing religious parties to exist serves political plurality in Egypt. Saeed said this attitude would create a favourable environment for terrorism. More specifically, he said making deals with Salafists would result in giving al-Nour an edge. The party stands to reap great political benefits shortly.

Maher Farghaly, an expert on Islamist groups, pointed out that the Egyptian government preferred to use several approaches in dealing with political Islam in Egypt. The government chose to directly confront the mother organisa­tion, the Muslim Brotherhood, but preferred to contain the Salafist current and include it in the country’s political life.

Farghaly said the government refused to place all Islamist organisations in the same basket until it reached a definitive conclusion to the case of the Brotherhood and terrorist groups in Sinai. Also, Islamist organisa­tions have strong popular roots in villages and the countryside at large, which makes confronting them all at the same time ill-advised. Farghaly said that policy may last for quite some time.

Mohamed Attia, coordinator of the “No to Religious Parties” campaign in Egypt, said the Islamist parties took advantage of the absence of secular parties from the public scene. Al-Nour is simply trying to take up the former role of the Muslim Brotherhood. The ghost of Islamist parties is alive in Egypt.