Understanding Egypt: The Difference Between ‘Islamist’ Factions

The Muslim Brotherhood's FJP and Al-Nour Are Two Very Different Parties

With Egypt releasing final results in its lower house of parliament elections, the analysis of the vote has centered around headlines like “Egypt’s Islamists Win 75 Percent of Parliament.” Though useful in analyzing the trends of the Egyptian voting public (particularly since this is their first free election), it risks oversimplification in the analysis of where the ruling power will be.

The “75 percent” is made up of two distinct parties which are perhaps an excellent example of exactly how broad the term “Islamist” can be. The larger of the two parties, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Salafist al-Nour Party are not only distinct, but might not even be the most likely coalition.

Both parties came to power in largely the same manner, with long-standing charitable operations being parlayed into political might in the first free election in Egypt’s history.

Though both parties were long illegal under the Mubarak regime the FJP represents “moderate Islamism,” a right of center religious conservatism that roughly mirrors that of the Christian Democrats in Germany or the Pakistani Muslim League in Pakistan.

By contrast the al-Nour were the offspring of a much more strict interpretation of the Quran, the Dawaa Movement, which started in the 1970’s in Alexandria as a more puritanical alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood.

By necessity of the demographic makeup of Egypt, the al-Nour Party insists it will allow the nation’s Christian minority to continue to operate unmolested, with a separate set of laws for them. They are, however, generally less accepting of religious minorities, and have much in common with the ruling theocracy in Saudi Arabia.

Though the FJP could certainly establish a government with al-Nour and govern as a right-far-right coalition with a strong religious slant (the current Israel coalition being a recent example of that model), the relative newness of democracy and the effort to establish new international relations in the wake of the 2011 revolution makes this actually a less likely coalition.

Rather, the FJP seems to be more interested in courting the much smaller secular reformist parties, with the prospect of taking some left of center groups (particularly those with international support) into a coalition as a way of increasing their diplomatic prospects, while leaving al-Nour as either an extremely minor government partner or an outright opposition leader.

This sort of Left-Right coalition has precedent elsewhere, with Germany and Britain both going that route in recent elections where a right wing party won a victory but fell short of a majority. Egypt provides an interesting difference, however, because there is virtually no political “center” in existence, with the status quo candidates mostly cast aside in the wake of Mubarak’s ouster. Both the concept of coalition partners and opposition members will, instead, likely vary from issue to issue, though it does seem likely that, should the current junta ever step aside and allow a new government to form, that the FJP will try to put reformists in certain positions with high international profiles.

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Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of Antiwar.com.