‘No to Religious Parties’ campaign gathers steam in Egypt
CAIRO - Liberal activists and politicians in Egypt launched a campaign aimed at driving the public away from Islamist parties.
Called “No to Religious Parties”, the campaign warns against what supporters describe as the “dangers” posed by Islamist parties on Egypt’s future and its unity.
“These parties have a racist ideology that aims at destroying the unity of this society,” Samir Ghattas, a liberal politician and one of the founders of “No to Religious Parties”, said. “They discriminate against Christians and everybody else who does not blindly follow their ideology.”
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party was the largest Islamist party in Egypt after the 2011 revolution. The Brotherhood, which emerged in 1928 as a charity educational organisation, won a majority of seats in 2012 parliamentary elections. One of its senior members, Muhammad Morsi, was elected president in June 2012.
But the Brotherhood failed to address the country’s economic and political problems, which led to demonstrations in June 2013 to demand its removal from power.
A government crackdown that followed Morsi’s overthrow and the dissolution of the party diminished the Muslim Brotherhood’s power and presence on the streets to virtually nothing.
Now, the largest Islamist party in Egypt is al-Nour, an ultraorthodox Salafist party which acts as the political arm of the Salafist Call. The Salafist Call has existed for decades and formed al-Nour after the 2011 revolution. The Salafist Call promotes what it describes as a “pure version” of Islam.
When the Brotherhood was in power, al-Nour was allied to it. However, the Salafists switched to support the demonstrators in 2013.
Ghattas and his colleagues in the campaign say al-Nour is just another face of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Like the Brotherhood, the Salafists want to have their own supreme leader and found their own Islamist dictatorship,” he said. “Like the Brotherhood, they do not have a national agenda but one that expresses the interests of some foreign powers.”
Al-Nour controlled 22% of the seats of the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament in 2012. As it campaigned, the party refused to include photos of its female candidates on election posters. It placed flowers instead.
Al-Nour party chief Younis Makhyoun said he and his colleagues do not pay attention to “No to Religious Parties”.
“Some people just want to see us out of this country’s political stage altogether in order to be alone on this stage,” he said. “We are not a religious party but a political one and this was why the government licensed us.”
The Egyptian constitution bans the founding of political parties along religious lines. Al-Nour’s members are bearded and some preach in mosques. The discourse of the party is never free from religious overtones.
Leftist activist Hussein Abdel- Razek supports “No to Religious Parties”, saying Egyptians are tired of mixing religion with politics.
“The people have seen for themselves the disastrous consequences this can lead to,” Abdel-Razek said. “I believe the mood of the public is totally against these Islamists now.”
However, he said he was afraid that the dissolution of al-Nour Party as well as other Islamist parties in Egypt would open the door for violence.
Ghattas’s campaign said when it had collected enough signatures from the public it would submit the documents to a state court to seek a ruling against religious parties.
“No to Religious Parties” spokeswoman Dalia Ziada said she and her colleagues had collected 400,000 signatures.
“There is massive public response to the campaign,” Ziada said. “A lot of people are just supportive.”