In Egypt’s post-Mubarak first parliament, which lasted for a few months in 2012, it was the first time for the Salafi Islamists (primarily Al Nour Party) to have such political representation. It was very messy though, as many Egyptians found it entertaining and liked to call it the “circus”.
The parliament channel Soot Al Shaab back then had the highest viewership in the country. Nader Bakkar, Al Nour’s spokesperson, had to go through an intense period of media appearances apologising for the statements and behaviour of his party’s members. He was sarcastically nicknamed The Apologiser.
That was not very different from the immature behaviour of other political parties during that very short-lived parliament, before it was dismantled by the Constitutional Court. However, for some cultural reason, people liked to look at the Salafis as aliens and use them as a rich raw material for daily jokes throughout social media.
Surprisingly, towards the end of last month, Al Nour made an unpredictable move to support the secular National Salvation Front (NSF) against their fellow Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood (MB) government. It was a move that most analysts and observers of Egypt’s complex political situation did not expect. Theories varied between conspiracy and straightforward political repositioning. Either way, it was definitely unexpected.
Tuesday night saw a significant change in Al Nour’s political tactics, occurring in the middle of what is known as “The National Dialogue”, sponsored by Morsi and aired live on TV.
Dr Younis Makhyoun, the newly elected president of Al Nour, opened fire on Morsi and his MB government concerning issues of the Brotherhood’s growing influence on the state and deficiencies of electoral laws and practices. Cameras showed Morsi’s face during a tough ten-minute session of embarrassment. Makhyoun was speaking with well-prepared evidence and claimed that documents proving his claims were in his hands.
Makhyoun, in his new Salafi political style, did not violate any of his group’s fundamental beliefs. He is still a hardcore Salafi Islamist, as both his appearance and his language might suggest. The difference seems to be that Al Nour has decided to change tactics, not beliefs.
They decided to switch from a political entity that blindly supports the MB Islamist project to a group that targets street support through “credibility”, a virtue that the MB government has definitely lost over the past two years.
It might be nothing but an electoral game claiming a disagreement with fellow MB Islamists, who are slowly losing street popularity which in turn endangers the whole Islamist project if the MB loses the parliamentary majority in the next elections.
The MB has done enough damage to the Islamist project by leading the country into one of its messiest periods in history and insisting on following the same tactics and leadership style inherited from Mubarak’s regime. Same lies, same oppression, and same old dysfunctional tools. At the same time the average citizen is developing awareness and political monitoring skills that should not be underestimated. And it seems Al Nour has realised this fact.
Whether it is a genuine new approach by Al Nour based on gaining the street’s support by demonstrating credibility, or it is just a political play between the newly-born party and the 80-year old MB, Al Nour in particular and the other Salafi movements in general are definitely doing the right thing for themselves. I consider this to be an illustration of a high degree of political maturity that no other player shows any signs of possessing.
Contrary to Al Nour’s mature tactics, no other single political group is currently credible in the eyes of the average citizen desperate for a clear roadmap, or any roadmap at all.
The National Salvation Front (NSF), led by Mohamed ElBaradei, has done enough harm to itself and to others’ faith in them by allying with Mubarak-era figures, the Feloul, for the sake of opposing the Islamist MB government. All “seculars” unite against the Islamist project. A very desperate move.
Other secular political groups are not in a better position in terms of credibility, for different reasons. The revolutionary youth groups, for example, are always seen by the average citizen as those who were fooled and had the revolution stolen from their hands.
I believe that the game is getting more dangerous and serious with the new developments within radical Islamist politics on the road to maturity. This new approach is definitely allowing them to gain ground among the public.
Yes, the Salafis are showing credibility in dealing with pressing issues in today’s complex Egypt, which no one else is able to do. But we still have to look at and be careful of the outcome of this growing power and never forget the nature of the governance model they seek. It is definitely not the one the revolution broke out for and definitely not the one people sacrificed their lives for.
However, at the end of the day, we have to raise the chapeau for Al Nour Party for their honesty, credibility and dedication to their dreams. Maybe other Salafi parties and groups are not as mature yet, but probably it is a lesson for them to follow. Let’s see what the following days bring.