In an interview, spokesman Mohamed Nour said his party would focus on bringing political stability and security to Egypt, and balancing the powers of the legislative, presidential, and judicial branches of government, after decades in which authority was concentrated in the presidency.
But Omar Ashour, an expert on Islamist movements at the University of Exeter, says it is likely the party will lean toward a socially conservative agenda. “They will want to maintain their credibility in front of their audience,” he says. “They want to reflect the idea of upholding the [Islamic] identity of Egypt and upholding the promises that they made. This is easier than trying to monitor or control the security services or trying to push the military out of politics.”
Nour isn’t the only party in parliament formed by salafis, or Muslims who believe in practicing Islam as close to possible as it was practiced in the first generations after the prophet Muhammad. That means enforcing strict gender segregation, forbidding alcohol, and generally supporting the application of sharia, or Islamic law. But Nour far outpaced the other salafi parties in the elections because, like the Muslim Brotherhood’s party, it was born out of an organization with a large following in Egyptian society.
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That organization is the Salafist Call, which was formed in the 1970‘s on an Alexandria university campus as a rival to the Muslim Brotherhood. Like the Brotherhood, it has a long history of providing social services to Egyptians in need – like running orphanages and schools. Though salafist groups have never participated in elections before, that grassroots organization and following helped it surprise many liberals with such a large percentage of the vote. Mr. Nour dismisses such surprise, saying that in better conditions, the party would have won more seats.