Leader of Egypt's largest ultraconservative Islamist party splits, forms new group
In this Monday, Jan. 23, 2012 file photo, Salafi lawmakers attend the first Egyptian parliament session after the revolution that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak, in Cairo, Egypt. (AP Photo/Asmaa Waguih,Pool, File)
Sarah El Deeb , The Associated Press
Published Tuesday, January 1, 2013 7:01PM EST
CAIRO, Egypt -- The leader of Egypt's largest Islamist ultraconservative party announced Tuesday he is forming a new political party, splitting from the Salafi Al-Nour, which has emerged as the country's second strongest political group.
The new party is part of a proliferation of religion-based political parties. Another prominent ultraconservative TV preacher, who was a presidential candidate, has also announced plans to form a new party.
The plans come just two months before President Mohammed Morsi is expected to call for new parliamentary elections.
It could indicate divisions among Islamists as they compete for seats in the legislature and a role in Egypt's evolving political struggle between more secular-minded political parties and Islamists.
It also reflects the dispute within the Islamists groups who struggle to reconcile democratic manoeuvring with religious ideology.
Salafis are among the most hardcore conservatives in Egypt, with a stricter vision of Islam than Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood. They are known to have a wide variety of clerics as spiritual leaders and various schools of thought, and because they are new to the political scene, have less experience in political structures.
Al-Nour has been locked in an internal power struggle since September because its leaders disagreed over the role of a body of clerics in the party's politics.
The party emerged from nowhere following Egypt's 2011 uprising to take 25 per cent of the seats in last year's parliamentary elections, trailing only the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's best-organized political force. But a schism erupted after some of Al-Nour's political leaders tried to shake off the control of clerics.
Emad Abdel-Ghaffour, who headed al-Nour, said he is forming the Al-Watan (Homeland) party which will have as its main principles Islamic law or Shariah, social justice and upholding human dignity.
Abdel-Ghaffour, also a presidential adviser, has been an advocate of separating the party from the Salafi clerical body, the Salafi Call, which backed the party's creation. He and more than a hundred of Al-Nour members, many former members in the now-dissolved parliament, split to found the new group.
"I don't want to talk about (the split from Al-Nour). This page is over and we are opening a new page," he told a gathering of supporting Salafi clerics and members of other Islamist parties.
"Everyone talks of slogans and principles. Few, very few stick to them. Even fewer work to support them. Many talk of social justice, many talk about human dignity and Shariah. We don't want talk. We want action," he said.
Salafis are generally wary of the Brotherhood's hold on politics. But the split among the Salafis may also be a sign of new political alliances with the powerful Brotherhood ahead of the parliamentary elections.
Prominent ultraconservative TV preacher, Hazem Abu Ismail, announced at the gathering he will also be launching a new party and will enter elections as part of an alliance with Abdel-Ghaffour's new party.
Abdel-Ghaffour, who has shown pragmatism, is more inclined to co-operating with the Brotherhood to ensure stronger Islamist performance in the upcoming elections as the Brotherhood's popularity dips amid fierce competition with liberal and leftist groups.
The secular-minded groups complain that Islamist groups are trying to monopolize power and steer Egypt toward a theocracy-like ruling system.