Egypt’s Salafis: We Will Outdo the Muslim Brotherhood

An election poster for Egypt's hardline Salafi Al-Nur party hangs on a pole outside Saint Peter's Church in Cairo on 4 December 2011. (Photo: AFP - Odd Andersen)

By: Radwan Adam

Published Sunday, December 4, 2011

Egypt’s Salafis have surprised many by capturing a third of the vote in the first round of parliamentary elections, and are vowing to garner more seats in the upcoming rounds.

The Salafis won 30 percent of the vote in the first stage of Egypt’s parliamentary elections. Their share looks like this: 30 percent in Alexandria; 20-25 percent in Cairo; 25 percent in Port Said, Asyut, and Luxor; 35 percent in Faiyum; 55 percent in Damietta; and 40 percent in Kafr el-Sheikh.

These results were declared by the Salafi al-Nour Party’s president Emad Eddine Abdel-Ghaffour, who told Al-Akhbar, they will outdo the Muslim Brotherhood in the following two phases of the elections.

“Wait for the largest [political] party in Egypt,” he said.

The ballots are a mix of individual candidates and party lists. In addition, there are two seats in each electoral district, one seat must be for a farmer/worker and the other is called the “other-category” seat.

The above results reflect the party list races. In the individual races, Muhammad Ibrahim Mansour won the other-category seat in the first district defeating the candidate on the “Equality and Justice” List.

Al-Nour candidates will compete in the runoff elections that will be held Monday on December 5 in most districts. Muhammad Abu Jamal will compete for the other-category seat in the seventh district in Cairo. Naji Shatta will enter the runoff elections for the other-category seat in the first district.

Candidate Muhammad al-Tawila will enter the runoff elections for the worker seat. Abdel-Moneim al-Shahat, speaker for the Salafi movement, will enter the runoff elections for the other-category seat. Al-Nour candidates will also compete for seats in the four districts of Alexandria.

The results achieved by the candidates of al-Nour Party (established after the Egyptian revolution), which came in second place after the Muslim Brotherhood, surprised many political quarters.

However Abdel-Ghaffar Skukr, a leader in the Socialist Popular Alliance Party had expected these results. He said that voters do not have much of an alternative, given the retreat of the popular left. Besides, Salafis have a strong presence in many areas in Egypt, especially rural areas and slums.

“They also benefited from the Muslim Brotherhood’s momentum and they consider themselves the hardcore of the Islamist movement in Egypt. This led many voters to vote for any bearded candidate,” Shukr added.

Adding to that, the money that al-Nour Party spent in the first stage of the election revealed that they are able to compete with the Muslim Brotherhood on that critical front as well, according to Shukr.

Abdel-Ghaffour, for his part, expects his party to defeat the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) candidates in the second and third stages of the election. “We will address all the mistakes that were committed in the first stage. We have youth and a capable cadre who are able to manage the next two stages with utmost competence and God is with us,” he says confidently.

Father William Sidhome, a Jesuit priest, expects the Salafi movement to experience a decline in the coming few years.

“People will find out that they do not have solutions to problems of unemployment, health care, and poverty. They are fooling people with heaven and with Qurans but people do not want to go to the afterlife with empty stomachs. The same applies to the opportunistic Muslim Brotherhood, which will recreate the former ruling party – the National Democratic Party – model in governance. They might even be worse,” he predicted.

Sidhome did not hide his concern regarding the possibility of a further decline in the rights of Copts and other religious minorities with the rise of the Salafi movement.

Nevertheless, he believes there is a historic opportunity for Egyptian Copts to come out from under the cloak of the church and join popular and liberal parties that defend the idea of a civil state. Otherwise, “their future will be bleak,” he says.

Amin Iskandar, a leader in the the Nasserist Karama Party and the Coptic candidate on the FJP list in Cairo believes that the Salafis have two options.

“Either they mature and develop politically with more political experience as did the Muslim Brotherhood or the democratic experiment will expel them forever. It is not logical for Salafis to raise religious slogans to solve problems like unemployment and housing because the people will laugh at them and attack them. But let us give them a try.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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