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Sunday, March 29, 2020

CAIRO—David Kirkpatric of the New York Times reports that Al Nour, the Salafi political party of ultraconservative Islamists, has emerged “as an unexpected political kingmaker in Egypt.”

Once seen as rank amateurs, Al Nour was the only Islamist party to support removing Morsi. After the coup, Al Nour’s  leader was photographed standing behind the general who announced the takeover, a symbolic photo used to prove that removing Morsi was not an attack on Islam. And while Al Nour’s leaders say they are into “building bridges,” they will be involved in determining future policy, from picking a new prime minister to keeping Islam prominent in any new constitution. They have already forced the removal of “liberal icon, Nobel Prize-winning diplomat Mohamed El Baradei, as interim prime minister.” And then they blessed the army’s choice of Ziad Bahaa el-Din, an investment banker and public official, as prime minister. Alarms went off when El Baradei was dumped.

During Morsi’s tenure, Al Nour succeeded in preventing an express guarantee of equality for women from being written into the new charter, and it has defended prohibitions of heresy. Their attempt to bring the country under Sharia’a law failed and angered Morsi.

Shady el-Ghazaly Harb, a leader in the anti-Morsi protests. “We will not have any concessions when it comes to writing the constitution, and we will die for that,” he added they will demand “a separation of religion and politics, because parties should not be built on religion.”

Islamist groups now call Al Nour’s leaders traitors and apostates. “They are being used to beautify or whitewash this military coup,” said Gehad el-Haddad, a Brotherhood spokesman. “They are making enemies on both sides.”

They are, however, excellent strategists. In the run up to Morsi’s expulsion, Al Nour urged both sides to compromise for the good of the country. When everything else failed, they made their own demands. Kirkpatrick wrote that “the party urged all sides to stop justifying violence even in their own defense, to stop allowing their debates to be portrayed as for or against Islam, and to cool off their provocations before the country descended into chaos,” and the army would need to be called in. When it was, Al Nour leaders were called in by the generals. “Now, the party intends to use its new influence to protect the incorporation of Islamic law into the Constitution, which was approved in a referendum in December.”

Bassam Al-Zarqa, the party’s vice president, said the liberals who called instead for a separation of religion and politics “want to incite a war between Islam and secularism. ...We have been the only party between two extremes, the only one not playing a zero-sum game.” Zarqa also issued a warning. “We’re not a cartoon party or a group of puppets in others’ hands; we are deeply rooted among the people.” Going after Al Nour and its followers, he said, “has a very, very costly price.”