I had a question
for Nader Bakkar, the spokesman and co-founder of the Salafist Nour Party: How
can Egypt avoid more of the bloodshed that has brought it to a crisis point since
the military deposed Mohammed Morsy? There was a long silence.
"It's a very
difficult question," he said eventually. "We understand that nobody can attack
the military and they will stand without any reaction. But we don't want
excessive reaction -- you should have the necessary emotional stability in front of civilians...At the same time, for the civilians who want to struggle
against the military, we are trying to convince them that this will not lead to
anything but more blood."
The message sums
up the balancing act the Nour Party, the second-largest political movement only
to the Brotherhood, is trying to achieve: It signed on to the "roadmap" that
ousted Morsy, providing valuable Islamist cover for the coup, but has since been
at odds with the new government and critical of the military crackdown against
the Muslim Brotherhood. They have taken the lead in pushing for a reconciliation with the Brotherhood -- but could gain the most if the Islamist movement is excluded from the political process.
swelling in Egypt again today in response to army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah
for demonstrations in favor of "confronting" the Brotherhood, Bakkar's job is
about to get a lot tougher. The Nour Party rejected
Sissi's call for protests, saying that popular mobilization on both sides
"foreshadows civil war."
For the Muslim
Brotherhood, the Nour Party's actions amount to a historic betrayal -- an
abandonment of Egypt's first Islamist government for short-term political gain.
"They are very naïve, they don't have much experience playing politics," said
senior Brotherhood official Amr Darrag. "Politically, they are our main
opponents. So they thought this was a good time to put us aside, or weaken our
position, or get rid of us, so that they can take charge as the leading party
in the political life."
Bakkar, on the
other hand, paints a picture of how the Morsy administration ignored the Nour
Party's advice to defuse the political crisis for half a year, systematically
antagonizing every Egyptian political player. "Facts are facts: The military
decided to be with the people, so it was a matter of deciding whether to lose
everything for the Islamic stream, or to keep a share in the next round," he
said. "Especially when we are not convinced in [the Brotherhood's] way of governing,
especially when we can see that normal people are against them."
Mubarak's reign, the ultra-conservative Salafists, who strive to emulate the
practices of the earliest Muslims, were the boogeymen of Egyptian politics.
They did not form political parties, some supported the violent overthrow of
the state, and their beliefs were seen as irreconcilable with democracy - a
contrast to the Brotherhood's "moderate" Islamist views. But today the tables have
turned: It is the Nour Party that cut a deal with the military and is calling
for inclusive governance, while the Brotherhood remains outside the political
Some have argued
that the Salafists were always better suited than the Brotherhood to Egyptian
politics. Yasmine Moataz Ahmed, a PhD candidate in social anthropology
at Cambridge University who conducted field research in Egypt's rural areas, found
that many of her interview subjects views the Salafists as "religiously less
strict" than the Brotherhood. The problem was the Brotherhood's top-down
structure: While Brothers in every corner of Egypt had to respond to the
dictates of their hierarchy, Salafists had no such structure and could more
freely adapt to the circumstances of their area. "[M]any of those who voted for
Salafis did so not out of religious adherence to the Salafi orthodoxy, but
because they did not want to support the [Brotherhood]," Ahmed wrote.
military seemingly poised to choose force over reconciliation with the
Brotherhood, the Nour Party is seemingly poised to scoop up the movement's voters
in the next election. The party has positioned itself as the opposition to the
array of secular politicians that also supported the military takeover, sharply
criticizing the makeup of the new government.
"We don't want
to give the impression that we shared in the 30th of June [anti-Morsy protests]
to have the prize now," Bakkar said. "We will not come to be in charge by any
means other than the elections. We will not be hired by the military."
however, is whether the military intends on allowing the Salafists a place in
the new political order. Recent signs have been disturbing for the Nour Party:
The military has ignored its pleas to reconcile with the Brotherhood, seemingly
opting for a policy of confrontation, while an army spokesman even
said that the Sissi would be eligible to run for president if he resigned
from the military.
But for Bakkar,
it was the failure of the Brotherhood's time in governance that has led to this
dismal state of affairs.
"They said it is
a battle against the deep state. We said OK, we are not struggling with you
against this principle," he said. "We are struggling about how to deal with the
deep state. You have to deal with the intelligence, deal with the military, and
deal with the bureaucratic system in the proper way. Don't give those people
the chance to gather together in a group against you."
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