Deputy founder of the nascent Salafi Watan Party and presidential assistant Emad Abdel Ghafour announced the establishment of the party on 1 December after resigning from the presidency of the Nour Party, the political arm of the Salafi Dawah.
He also announced the formation of the Free Homeland Alliance, an electoral coalition to be led by former presidential hopeful Hazem Salah Abu Ismail for the upcoming House of Representatives elections.
Egypt Independent met with Abdel Ghafour to speak about Islamist politics and its position and potentials in Egypt.
Egypt Independent: Why are you founding the Watan Party now?
Emad Abdel Ghafour: Because even though there are so many parties in Egypt, they have lost touch with the Egyptian street and the ordinary citizen. There is a political void that needs to be filled, and we founded the Watan Party to present a more coherent alternative that feels the pulse of the Egyptian street and better expresses its hopes and needs.
EI: But some say that the Egyptian people are becoming less interested in politics, and that the addition of yet another party to the map of existing political parties will be of no significance.
Abdel Ghafour: This is not true. The Egyptian people cannot find trustworthy representatives to place their confidence in.
EI: What is the difference between the Watan and Nour parties?
Abdel Ghafour: The difference is clear. When we formed the Nour Party, our goal was to set up a party that reflects the hopes of Egyptians, and we achieved successes with the Nour Party, much to the surprise of both Egyptian and international public opinion. But due to factors out of our control, we became isolated.
I thought that the solution was to have another entity that can satisfy those conditions and live up to those criteria.
EI: Is your vision of Islamic Sharia identical to that of other Islamist parties, such as the Nour, Freedom and Justice and Construction and Development parties?
Abdel Ghafour: We believe that instead of talking about Islamic Sharia, we should put it into practice. The same applies to social justice and dignity. We want them to be a living reality.
We believe that Islamic Sharia is about justice, mercy and wisdom. If we put these values into practice and seek benefit for the people, then we will be applying Sharia. We will take any road that we believe leads to the implementation of Sharia and takes the people out of the darkness to the light.
EI: There is confusion regarding the role of Abu Ismail in the new party.
Abdel Ghafour: To be sure, Abu Ismail represents a considerable scientific and social value in Egyptian society. He has appeal among hundreds of thousands of Egyptians.
When we founded the party, we were keen to win the support of several leaders of social and political activism, of whom Abu Ismail is one. At the beginning, we suggested that we have some sort of cooperation with him.
He decided to be the chief supporter of the party without joining it. He will tour governorates and do publicity without being an official leader.
EI: Some believe that you are different from Abu Ismail, who has the support of so-called revolutionary Salafis. How did those two seemingly disparate ways of thinking meet?
Abdel Ghafour: We thought that this alliance or understanding would be beneficial for all parties. We have gained the support of one of the leaders of public opinion and this will enrich the party.
At the same time, the membership of several experts in the party will moderate Abu Ismail’s views if the opinions he expresses have not been carefully studied or are insufficiently developed. The presence of all of these experts will help with the adoption of moderate views in the future.
Abu Ismail’s alliance with us will oblige him to stick to mechanisms of political work, which does not involve violence or threats to use violence. The alliance will strike a balance between the dynamism and mobility of Abu Ismail’s supporters and a more sensible political vision.
Additionally, the party’s decisions are nonbinding for Abu Ismail, and vice versa. Cooperation between us will have a positive impact on Abu Ismail, since it will make his views more realistic and moderate.
EI: What is the party’s frame of reference? Are there going to be jurisprudential references, certain scholars, with whom you work, since the party has an Islamic approach?
Abdel Ghafour: There will be no external guardianship, intellectual or otherwise, but there will be political mechanisms and political leaderships. There will also be a religious committee inside the party concerned with its Islamist dimension.
The party will conform to the opinions of prestigious scientific academies, such as the Islamic Research Academy.
EI: It is said that the foundation of the Watan Party before the elections will divide Islamists and splinter votes, what do you think?
Abdel Ghafour: On the contrary, in fact, the Egyptian street seems to be losing trust in political work, particularly in parties that have an Islamist frame of reference. Corrective movements that emerge from inside Islamist circles could restore confidence to some degree.
EI: Why weren’t members from the Muslim Brotherhood, liberal and leftist powers present at the party conference? And does that mean that they will not be part of the coming electoral alliance?
Abdel Ghafour: First of all, we have invited the FJP, but it seems they are busy. Still, our relationship with them is very strong.
As for the other currents, the speed with which we organized the party may have not enabled us to invite them. Members of the liberal and leftist current that we invited either declined the invitation or said they would come but failed to show up.
Concerning an alliance with the Brotherhood, let us be realistic, the Brotherhood and its party see themselves as our “big brother,” and so if there was an invitation, it is they who should extend it. If a nascent party sends an invitation to others, it is quite natural that it only gets a limited response.
EI: Has it already been determined which political powers will ally with the Watan Party? And what percentage of seats does the Free Homeland Alliance wish to contest in the elections?
Abdel Ghafour: There are several parties that are rich from an intellectual and scientific perspective but which do not have a wide base of support or sufficient financial resources.
These parties can join us and we will together create a mix that wins the support of the people.
Regarding the percentage of seats we want to contest, we have the ability to run for 100 percent of the seats. But coordination with other political powers is what will determine this issue.
EI: Is there a possibility of you allying with non-Islamist parties?
Abdel Ghafour:We can meet with any party that has a national agenda or frame of reference. We hope the alliance will encompass the biggest number of patriotic political powers that only work to serve the society.
EI: Abu Ismail talked about a clear legislative agenda, so are members of the alliance going to have a binding political agenda inside Parliament?
Abdel Ghafour:We have to make a distinction between an electoral and a political alliance. It is not necessary to have an alliance inside Parliament just because there was an alliance in the elections.
But there aren’t any major ideological or intellectual differences between parties that have an Islamist reference, and so it is easy for them to agree on a certain legislative agenda. The Watan Party has a legislative committee and a parliamentary bloc, which are examining the party’s agenda with Abu Ismail, who is a specialist in legal affairs.
The goal is to produce an end product to use in the legislative session. We have an independent agenda, you can say, but that will not stop us from reaching agreements with others.
EI: How are you going to handle financing as a nascent party with elections around the corner?
Abdel Ghafour: There are businessmen and university professors who spoke to me and expressed a desire to support the party. I sat with some of them, too.
This is not the first time we face these challenges. With the Nour Party, we had several successes with relatively few resources. We are now going through the same process, which may be slightly harder this time. However, this time our determination is stronger, experience broader and steps bigger.
EI: What are the priorities for the party in the coming parliamentary session?
Abdel Ghafour:The issue of justice is the most important issue and requires reforming the Interior and Justice ministries, for they are of core importance. We will work to reform the body of legislation that governs their work because the people long for justice and security. Then we will focus on reforming the economic system.
EI: Are you going to be able to strike a balance between your presidency of the party and your position as presidential aide?
Abdel Ghafour:We do not have a hegemonizing president, but rather bodies that work on different dossiers and a “coordinating president.” The philosophy on the basis of which the party was established calls for the division of power centers.
This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.