Middle East

Al-Nour emerges as key broker in post-Morsi Egypt

Supporters of Mohammed Morsi in Cairo on 12 July 2013
Al-Nour backing for the army's removal of Mohammed Morsi angered some of its supporters

The Salafis have come a long way in Egypt.

From an underground and frequently persecuted movement, whose members gathered in mosques under the radar in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, to being key players in the formation of an interim government after Mohammed Morsi's removal from power.

The Muslim Brotherhood may have been in power for the past year, but the biggest political rise after the January 2011 revolution was that of the ultra-conservative Salafis - who adopt a very strict interpretation of Islam and call for Sharia law.

Not long after the toppling of former President Hosni Mubarak, the Salafis formed their first political party, al-Nour (the Party of Light).

In the first parliamentary elections after the revolution (2011-2012), Salafis got the second biggest number of seats after the Muslim Brotherhood.

Since then, they have had a prominent presence in key moments in Egypt's politics.

They backed the Muslim Brotherhood-led drafting of the constitution and were quick to defend former President Morsi when he came out with the presidential decree last November that gave him both legislative and executive powers.

But this last year has been a testing one for al-Nour.

Its relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood has grown very tense in the past few months, with many members accusing the Brotherhood of monopolising places in power and excluding other Islamist parties.

The party itself has suffered internal divisions and feuds which resulted in the defection of its leader Emad Abdel Ghafour, who in turn headed another Salafi party, al-Watan.

Al-Nour has since maintained that it is the official political representative of the Salafi movement.

Internal crisis

Now the Salafi party finds itself in a unique position after the ousting of Mohammed Morsi.

On the one hand, it is at an advantage, as political factions working on an interim government are keen to keep them on board to look inclusive and to show that Mr Morsi's removal had backing among the Islamists.

That has given it some political leeway it did not have during Mr Morsi's time.

For example, it blocked an attempt to appoint as prime minister the prominent opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei, of the National Salvation Front.

But al-Nour also faces an internal crisis, with many members reported to have left the party to join the Muslim Brotherhood in support of the ousted president - especially after the killing of more than 50 Islamist protesters who were demonstrating near the Republican Guard complex.

In a move to save face, al-Nour threatened to break with the country's new military-backed leadership.

It announced the suspension of co-operation with the interim leadership over the road map for the post-Morsi Egypt.

It also condemned what they described as a massacre and demanded an immediate start to reconciliation efforts between Mr Morsi and his opponents.

Whether this will make any difference to the interim leader's stance on the way forward is very difficult to gauge in the extremely fluid political situation.

But it leaves Egypt's first and biggest Salafi political party trying to capitalise on its position, while attempting to convince its members that they have not completely abandoned other Islamist movements.