Tag Archives: Al-Nour

#Egypt: Sharia and the new constitution

While the ultraconservative Salafist Nour Party lost the battle over Egypt’s new constitution, it is likely they will survive politically, and could even take the lead in the Islamist movement
Egypt’s new draft constitution provides better protection for fundamental freedoms and human and minority rights as well as for women and youth, and gives special attention to socio-economic rights, such as education and health.

However, a major issue, among many others, attracted attention throughout the process of drafting of the constitution: the place of Islam and Sharia law in public life.

As expected and already shown in the first draft submitted by the 10-Member Committee of experts on constitutional law, the text prepared by the 50-Member Committee has been stripped of all references to Sharia, inserted by the Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists, in the 2012 Constitution, and emphasised the “civil” character of the state. This process provoked a bitter debate between liberals — who dominated the committee — and the only representative of the Salafists, the member of Al-Nour Party, supported from time to time by Al-Azhar Institution, represented by three members on the committee.

But the balance of power within the 50-Member Committee, given the general political context after the fall of the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood, did not allow Nour Party to assert its ultraconservative views. The party’s representative was beaten in almost all issues of “Islamic identity” that he defended.

This was particularly the case when the controversial Article 219, introduced under Nour Party pressure in 2012, which gave a strict definition of the “principles of Sharia,” was eliminated from the draft constitution. According to Article 2, the principles of Sharia are “the main source of legislation.” The attempt of Nour Party to introduce, after the abolition of Article 219, a definition of “the principles of Sharia” in the preamble of the new draft constitution also failed.

The new text thus returns to the formula of the 1971 Constitution, in effect under former presidents Hosni Mubarak and Anwar Sadat, which merely mentions the principles of Sharia as “the main source of legislation” without giving them a particular definition, leaving their interpretation to the High Constitutional Court (HCC). Deleted Article 219 limited the powers of interpretation of the HCC, considered as too liberal by Islamists.

The 2012 Constitution also granted Al-Azhar a say, though not mandatory on legislators, on issues related to Sharia. This situation generated fears of the expansion of the role of the religious institution in political and public space, and even, for some, the establishment of a theocracy. This provision is deleted from the new draft constitution, with the agreement of Al-Azhar, which does not want to intervene in the thorny issues of politics.

In the same vein, Article 76 of the 2012 Constitution has been deleted. It provided that a crime may be inferred directly from the text of the constitution, without explicit mention in the penal code. Legal experts interpreted this provision as paving the way for the application by courts of punishments under Sharia law, without the need for prior legislation on specific categories of crime.

The inclusion in the preamble to the draft constitution of the formula “civilian government” is another indication of the de-Islamisation of the national charter. The term “civilian” was neither in the 1971 Constitution nor, a fortiori, in that of 2012.

After the unfortunate experience of the Muslim Brotherhood in power, the liberals, supported by representatives of the three Egyptian Churches — the Coptic, Catholic and Anglican — insisted on introducing this term to cut short any attempt to Islamise the state in the future. This desire to emphasise the civilian character of the state gave rise to an intense debate with the Salafists, which had been joined by Al-Azhar. Nour Party was opposed to any inclusion of the term “civil,” as for them it reflects Western and secular values. The liberals wanted initially to use the formula of “civil state,” which was rejected by Nour Party and Al-Azhar, because for them it could mean a “secular state.” The compromise formula was, finally, “the establishment of a democratic and modern state,” with a ”civil government.”

On another level, the draft constitution prohibits in Article 74 the establishment of political parties on religious or sectarian bases. It thus returns to the formula of the 1971 Constitution. However, the question of religious parties remains. These parties, 11 in total, were created after the popular uprising of 25 January 2011, under the constitutional declaration of March 2011, promulgated by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which also prohibited the establishment of religious parties. The latter, to circumvent the difficulty, avoided making clear reference in their statutes and programmes to their religious nature, but their action and discourse betrayed this dimension. The political context of March 2011 is certainly not that of December 2013, at least for what is left of the Muslim Brotherhood and its political party, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), currently frozen.

It is likely that the Salafist Nour Party, the second political force after the FJP in the last parliament, which was dissolved, will survive this prohibition. It is the only Islamist party that agreed to the roadmap announced by the army following the dismissal of Mohamed Morsi 3 July. It also participated in the drafting process of the constitution and refrained from withdrawing from the 50-Member Committee despite the setbacks it suffered, when virtually all of its demands were rejected. The party called on its supporters to vote “Yes” for the draft constitution in the upcoming referendum in January.

This position can be explained by the fact that Nour Party is aware that the wind has turned and that the Islamists have lost the dominance they gained after the fall of Mubarak. Its leadership is both realistic and ambitious. It certainly lost the battle of the constitution, given the new balance of power established after the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood, but taking into account the weak anchor of liberal parties in the electorate, it keeps the hope and the ambition of inheriting the dominant position of the FJP in parliament and in political life.


How far Egypt’s Brotherhood-Salafist rivalry will go

If Egypt’s Salafists and Muslim Brotherhood are increasingly at each other’s throats, it is only because the liberal opposition has resoundingly failed



Hicham Mourad , The Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist El-Nour Party that dominated almost three-quarters of the seats in the People’s Assembly (the since dissolved lower house of parliament) and more than 80 percent of the Shura Council (the upper house of parliament now invested with full legislative powers pending the election — expected in October — of a new lower house) have been locked in a power struggle that is increasingly defining a fractious political scene.

The leaders of El-Nour Party, an offshoot of the “Salafist Call”, the most powerful Salafist organisation in Egypt, are portraying themselves as an alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). Their upcoming visit to the United States is an opportunity to present their credentials to the West as a possible replacement for the Brotherhood, which is in trouble and under fire from critics since late November 2012 when the President Mohamed Morsi tried to place his decisions above judicial scrutiny.

The “divorce” between the Salafist El-Nour and the Muslim Brotherhood was affirmed when the first presented on 30 January an initiative to resolve the country’s protracted political crisis based on the conditions set by the liberal and secular opposition, grouped in the National Salvation Front (NSF). The goal of El-Nour was, among other things, to “break” the hegemony exercised by the Muslim Brotherhood on the institutions of the state.

The Salafists, who had supported by Islamist affinity the FJP in several major political issues, expected to take their share of the pie once the Brotherhood was installed in power. But they were disappointed by the share of power reserved for them by the Brotherhood.

Rivalry between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists is not new and does not date back to the uprising of 25 January 2011, which saw the emergence of Salafists as a political force. In fact, relations between the two currents were, at least since the late 70s, marked by a struggle for religious and political influence in mosques, charities and universities.

While the Muslim Brotherhood feared the rise of the Salafists, the latter opposed attempts by the Brotherhood to marginalise them. This competition turned into an open brawl between supporters of the two camps in 1980 when the Brotherhood tried to prevent the Salafists from acquiring a wider audience among students at Alexandria University. This second largest city of Egypt is now a stronghold of the Salafist Call, created in the early 1970s.

This rivalry between the two was partly responsible of the decision of the Salafists to enter politics after 25 January 2011. Having disdained politics and preferred to focus on proselytism to Islamicise society, they decided to create their own party, El-Nour, in May 2011, after the founding of the Brotherhood’s FJP 30 April. Besides seeking to implement their vision of an Islamic society and state, their goal was to prevent the Brotherhood having a free hand in its efforts to monopolise the “Islamic project” and marginalise thereby Salafists through its hold on power.

But faced with a common enemy — the liberal and secular forces that fiercely oppose the blurring of politics and religion — the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists have formed and coordinated positions togther at key moments, as in the March 2011 referendum on constitutional amendments that led to the holding of legislative elections before the drafting of a new constitution. This cooperation has enabled them to defeat the political programme of the liberal parties. However, latent rivalry between the Brotherhood and Salafists came to light shortly after the coming to power 30 June of Egypt’s first Islamist president, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood.

The disappointments of El-Nour have since multiplied. While it came in the second place during the first post-revolution parliamentary elections with 24 percent of the seats of the People’s Assembly after the FJP at 47 percent, El-Nour was dissatisfied with the share of power decided for it by the Brotherhood.

Moreover, it found itself under attack and gradually marginalised by the Brotherhood who also played a role, as stated by the Salafist Call and several leaders of El-Nour, in the dissent that hit the party, causing the split that saw party chairman Emad Abdel-Ghafour and about 150 other members form a new Salafist party, Al-Watan, on 2 January. For Al-Nour, it is clear that the Muslim Brotherhood wants to weaken the Salafists by encouraging divisions in the current.

The Brotherhood has also sought to expand its domination of the religious field and diminish the strength of El-Nour by extending its influence in the Islamic Association for Rights and Reform — an Islamist umbrella group, and the second largest after the Salafist Call — through the participation of Khairat Al-Shater, strongman and deputy supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, who is considered by many Salafist leaders as very close to Salafism. He belongs to the Qutbist Brothers who adhere to the radical ideas of the Brotherhood ideologue of the 1960s, Sayed Qutb. The Association for Rights and Reform supported the Brotherhood and granted guardianship to the new Al-Watan Party, the El-Nour dissident. Three Salafist figures from the Salafist Call resigned late February from the association, accusing it of partiality to the Brotherhood.

Since early 2013, El-Nour launched a growing campaign of criticism and accusation against the Brotherhood similar to that of the liberal opposition while taking over the reins of the NSF’s national reconciliation initiative. Its aim was to increase pressure on the FJP, to force it to make concessions limiting its grip on power, though so far without much success.

The FJP-El-Nour rivalry is expected to continue and even intensify progressively as legislative elections approach, which auger to be a major test of popularity for both Islamist movements. The scope of this power struggle, however, is dependent on the strength or the threat posed by the secular opposition to Islamist forces. Salafists still regard the Muslim Brotherhood, despite their ideological and political differences, as part of the Islamic project. The continued weakness of the liberal opposition will result in the intensification of inter-Islamist rivalry, while a possible rise of the opposition will push El-Nour and the Brotherhood to constrain their power struggle and coordinate to defeat the liberals.


Members of military, police banned from contesting Egypt polls

Shura Council approves Article 42 of proposed electoral law, meaning members of armed forces, police and General Intelligence will be barred from contesting parliamentary seats

Ahram Online,

Egypt’s Shura Council (the upper house of Egypt’s parliament, currently endowed with legislative powers) has approved legislation banning serving members of the armed forces, police, and General Intelligence apparatus from contesting parliamentary polls, Al-Ahram’s Arabic-language news website reported on Wednesday.

Judicial authorities, regional governors and members of Egypt’s Administrative Supervisory Authority will also be banned from vying for parliamentary seats, according to the council’s decision.

The Shura Council consists of 270 members, 90 of whom – including 42 Islamists – were appointed by the president in December. Of the council’s 180 elected seats, 58 percent are held by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and 25 percent by the Salafist Nour Party.