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Egypt’s Islamists: Weak Presence in Elections

Egypt’s Islamists: Weak Presence in Elections

Islamist parties played a minimal role in Egypt’s parliamentary elections, which began on October 18 and continued in several rounds in November and December. The Salafist Nour Party – the only Islamist party that fielded candidates – fared poorly. It secured only 12 seats, compared to the 111 it won in 2011.

Egypt has not had a parliament since 2012, when the legislative body was disbanded by Egypt’s high court. The last parliament was dominated by Islamists. The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party won nearly 43 percent of the vote in the 2011 parliamentary elections, followed by 22 percent secured by the Nour Party. Along with smaller Islamist parties, Islamists held nearly 70 percent of Egypt’s parliament in 2012. 

But Egypt’s Islamists have suffered setbacks since then. The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s oldest and largest Islamist movement, was banned and declared a terrorist organization after President Mohamed Morsi was ousted in 2013. The “No to Religious Parties” campaign, led by Mohamed al Houty, has been seeking legal action to dissolve all Islamist parties since Morsi's ouster. By late 2015, the Nour Party had managed to survive by backing the military and President Abdul Fattah al Sisi. "Our philosophy is to avoid confrontation," said Nour leader Younes Makhioun in October. But the strategy cost the Nour Party support among its Islamist base. 

A number of Egypt’s smaller Islamist parties, including Wasat, the Strong Egypt Party, and Authenticity, boycotted the parliamentary elections. The following is a rundown of Egypt’s Islamist parties and their stance on the recent election.


Election status: Participated

"Our philosophy is to avoid confrontation…Even in opposition, we practice wise opposition, through nice words and politeness."

"The Nour Party has no problems with anyone, we have good relations with the army, with security, with government agencies.”
–Oct. 14, 2015, in a statement by party leader Younes Makhioun

"I believe this election is one of the worst in the history of the Egyptian Parliament and will be a dark mark for this era."
–Oct. 22, 2015, in a statement by party leader Younes Makhioun

"This result does not represent the true political or societal weight of Salafis in Egypt."
–Nov. 23, 2015, in a statement by prominent party leader Yasser Borhami 

History: Founded in 2011 and led by Emad Abdel Ghaffour, Nour is the main Salafi party. It was the first of three members of the Islamist Bloc alliance, which included the Building and Development Party and Asala. Together, they won 27.8 percent of the vote in the 2011–12 elections. The Nour Party initially supported Mohamed Morsi, but later backed Abdel Fattah el Sisi's presidential campaign after Morsi's ouster.

Positions: A socially conservative party, Nour emphasizes social justice and calls for a civil state, but it seeks the gradual implementation of Sharia law. It officially supports democracy, although senior officials have said that democracy is a form of apostasy. Nour says that religious, personal status, and family issues for Coptic Christians should be handled by Coptic religious traditions. Nour officially supports women’s rights, but its leaders advocate gender segregation in education and public spaces. It fielded women as candidates largely because of electoral law but used flowers or party symbols instead of their faces on election material. It supports a state-led economy but also the protection of private property. In July 2011, Nour said it would hold a referendum on the peace agreement with Israel, but in December 2011, Nour said it would uphold the treaty but possibly modify parts of it.

Muslim Brotherhood and Freedom and Justice Party

Election status: Banned

“The people must know that freedom isn’t granted, but rather seized, and free people do not get suppressed but they revolt. Rights will not be lost as long as we demand them.”
–Oct. 17, 2015, in a statement signed by individuals affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood

Image removed.History: Founded in 1928 by Hassan al Banna, the Muslim Brotherhood is the world’s largest Islamist movement with more than eighty branches. First organized as a social movement, the Brotherhood then went through a radical phase from the late 1940s to the 1960s, when Sayyid Qutb was a leading ideologue. Officially banned in the 1950s during the Nasser era, it renounced violence in 1969 and has fielded independent candidates for parliament since the 1980s.

In 2011, it launched the Freedom and Justice Party, led by Mohammed Morsy. In the 2011–12 elections for parliament, the party won a plurality with 43.4 percent of the vote as part of the Democratic Alliance coalition. In June 2012, Morsi was elected president.

But public opposition mounted against Morsi over the next year. In June 2013, the Tamarrod (revolt) movement organized mass protests. On July 3, the military removed Morsi from office. Egypt's High Administrative Court ordered the dissolution of the Brotherhood in late 2014 and declared it a terrorist organization.

Positions: The party supports Sharia law as the source of legislation but advocates a civil state, not a theocracy. It would grant the Constitutional Court the right to oversee legislation to ensure compatibility with Islamic principles. On worship and personal status, non-Muslims would live under their own laws or traditions. Brotherhood members have voiced diverse opinions on Israel, minorities, and women’s rights. On its website, the party states that “peace treaties with Egypt can only be valid if passed by a referendum of the people,” but in 2012 the party said it would honor Egypt’s international treaties. In 2007, it said neither Coptic Christians nor women should be eligible to become president. But in 2012, the Brotherhood said that while it would not nominate either to be president, it would honor the will of the Egyptian majority.

Building and Development Party

Election status: Boycotted

“Abstention from the elections confirms that underestimating the intelligence of the Egyptian people was a fatal error. Dr. Ahmed al Iskandarani, the official spokesman for the Building and Development Party, said that the low voter turnout in the parliamentary elections proved that the party’s position to boycott the elections was aligned with the pulse of the people who boycotted the electoral process. It confirmed the validation of the party’s vision that Egypt needs to reunite her children and needs their participation in building her present and her future. It does not need sham elections to increase the division between the segments of society.”
Oct. 20, 2015, in a statement

Image removed.History: The Building and Development Party (Bana wa Tanmiya) was founded in 2011 by Tareq al Zumr and Safwat Abdul Ghani as the political party of the Islamic Group (al Gamaa al Islamiyya), a former militant group linked to Anwar Sadat’s 1981 assassination and attacks on security forces, tourists, and Coptic Christians. It renounced violence in 2002. The second of three parties in the Islamist Bloc alliance, it won 2.6 percent of the vote in the 2011–12 elections. In 2013, the party joined the "anti-coup alliance," a coalition of Islamist parties opposing President Morsi's ouster. But in 2014, the group began calling for reconciliation with Sisi's administration.

Positions: A socially conservative party, Bana supports multiparty elections in a political system based on Sharia. On women’s rights, the party says it wants to “solve the problem of rising marrying age and the increasing number of divorces.” It seeks a “socially just” economy but encourages private investment. Bana rejects Westernization, and it wants to reduce foreign influence in the economy. The party says it will uphold international agreements as long as they do not oppose Islamic principles or popular will. It supports an independent Palestinian state. In January 2012, a senior party member said that he would welcome al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri back to Egypt.

Wasat Party

Election status: Boycotted

“The Supreme Body of the Wasat Party confirmed an earlier statement issued by the head of the party before his release from prison, not to participate in the current parliamentary elections in any way.”
Sept. 14, 2015, in a press release

Image removed.History: Founded in 1996 by Aboul Ela Madi, Wasat is a breakaway faction from the Muslim Brotherhood. It was not legalized until after Mubarak’s ouster. It won 1.8 percent of the vote in the 2011–12 parliamentary elections. In August 2014, the party withdrew from the "anti-coup alliance."

Positions: A progressive Islamist party, its ideology stems from the centrist (Wasatiya) school of Islamic thought. Wasat calls itself a “civil” party with an Islamic frame of reference that supports multiparty elections. It advocates a free market and encourages private investment. Wasat supports gender equality and inclusion of all religious minorities. It fielded sixty-nine women and two Coptic Christians on its electoral lists. It supports the Palestinian cause and the right of resistance to the Israeli occupation, but it does not seek to revoke or amend the Camp David accords.

Authenticity (Asala)

Election status: Boycotted

“The spokesman of the Authenticity Party, Hatem Abu Zeid, said that the best choice for citizens is the Provincial Council elections because the system does not respect the will of the voters in the first place.

“He pointed to the existence of state interference among the people because of the harmony between members of the dissolved National Democratic Party and the parties participating in the political process, stressing that the objective of shared interests and the calculations of those parties are unrelated to the voter.

“The military coup did not leave any space or outlet for legitimate political work, and the citizens do not have any real or logical choice before them. The next parliament is only a formality for outside appearances.”
Oct. 14, 2015, according to the press

Image removed.History: Authenticity (Asala) was founded in 2011 by Adel Abdul Maksoud Afify, Ihab Sheeha, and Mahmoud Sultan. Salafi Asala, the third party in the Islamist Bloc, won 0.6 percent of the vote in the 2011–12 elections.

Positions: Asala seeks to spread Islamic values and restore Egypt’s leadership globally. It believes in the strict application of Sharia law, gender segregation, modest Islamic dress, and prohibition of alcohol. Asala’s program states that political and economic international agreements should be revised. The party rejects recognition of Israel but reportedly does not seek to nullify the peace treaty with Israel.

Strong Egypt Party

Election status: Boycotted 

“The state institutions that are biased toward certain candidates and lists to form a parliament allied with the executive power, by holding mock elections to choose between a supporter and a supporter.”
Oct. 14, 2015, in a party statement

Image removed.History: The party was established in 2012 by Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former Brotherhood leader. At least five of its members are detained on political charges, some of whom were involved in opposing the constitutional referendum.

Positions: The Strong Egypt Party is a centrist Islamist party which advocates progressive economic policy and moderate social policies. The party supported Morsi’s ouster, but opposed the military’s involvement in politics. In a 2012 interview, Fotouh said that the military “should not be granted its independence from the remainder of governing institutions.” He also indicated that formalizing sharia in Egypt’s constitution was not a priority for the party.

Photo credits: Asala logo via Twitter; Nour Party logo via the party's Facebook page (cropped); FJP logo via the party's website; Strong Egypt logo via Wikimedia Commons; Wasat Party logo via Facebook; Building and Development Party logo via Twitter; Anti-Morsi protests via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.0]

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