Atlantic Council Middle East Published Articles

Do Salafi Splits Signal Weakness or a Different Kind of Strength?

Ahmed al-Qadri
Ahmed al-Qadri

From my latest article in EgyptSource:

The Nour Party, the political flagship of Egypt’s burgeoning Salafi movement, is in full damage control over scores of member defections to the new Watan Party. This is appropriate, as the damage is substantial.

The Nour Party lists why it is dismissive of its new rival, but Watan boasts impressive transfer:

According to Ahmed al-Qadri, the English language spokesman for the Watan Party and former vice-president of Nour’s energy committee, the resignations affect the great majority of leadership positions. Besides former party president Emad Abdel Ghaffour and spokesmen Mohamed Nour and Yousry Hammad, nineteen regional offices resigned collectively.

Furthermore, Qadri explained, every single member of Nour’s technical committees has resigned. Including the economic, political, agriculture, energy and other committees, these groups of experts facilitated the work of Nour’s members of parliament. Of Nour’s 107 MPs, 52 have joined Watan, along with sixteen current members of the Shura Council.

The problem is not over doctrine, but over the influence of religion over politics:

“Some people wanted to assign positions based on proximity to leading religious figures,” said Qadri. “One of Nour’s mistakes was that the Salafi Call had the right to interfere in the party and change job descriptions. We want to work to unite all Salafi schools but have a legitimate and independent political party.”

Some Salafis fear – and liberals hope – these divisions will damage the electoral campaign of Islamists. But Qadri sees it differently:

“If the main figures of a party make a mistake, it may cost them votes, but if we have variety in the Salafi trend then those votes can simply shift to another party,” he said.

“If you are only one party you will be too sluggish to promote yourself because there is no competition.”

And from the conclusion, he hinted that this multiplicity might actually distance religion from politics:

“You cannot simply say ‘sharia’ or ‘Islamic state’ because we all believe in this,” he said. “The Egyptian people have learned that no one will any longer give their vote to a flag, but only to those who offer them solutions.”

The coming elections will tell, but unity is always important. Just ask liberals worried over possible splits in the National Salvation Front.

Please click here to read the full article on EgyptSource.

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