Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Key Islamist Force Quits Talks in Egypt ; Ultraconservative Party Withdraws from Efforts to Forge New Government

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Key Islamist Force Quits Talks in Egypt ; Ultraconservative Party Withdraws from Efforts to Forge New Government

Article excerpt

The Al Nour party was the only Islamist party to support removing Mr. Morsi, despite his ties to the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood.

A party of ultraconservative Islamists that emerged as an unexpected political kingmaker in Egypt after the military's ouster of President Mohamed Morsi said Monday that it was suspending its participation in efforts to form an interim government.

A spokesman for Al Nour, as the party is known, said its decision was a reaction to a "massacre" hours earlier at an officers' club here in which security officials said dozens of people were killed. The decision brought new complexities and unanswered questions to the effort to create a transitional political order.

Al Nour was the only Islamist party to support removing Mr. Morsi, despite his ties to the more moderate Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood. And the sight of Al Nour's bearded sheik, standing behind the general who announced the takeover on television, was the only signal to Egyptian voters that the move had not been an attack on Islam, as some of the ousted president's supporters are saying.

The party played a starring role in the military's choreographed presentation of its takeover as the chance to reunify a country on the brink of civil war between opponents and supporters of Mr. Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood. But while Al Nour's leaders say they intend to build bridges, some liberals say the party is pushing potentially divisive demands, from picking a new prime minister to keeping Islam prominent in any new constitution.

Over the weekend, Al Nour tested its leverage for the first time to force the retraction of an announced plan to name a liberal icon, the Nobel Prize-awarded diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei, as interim prime minister.

"You just can't do something like that, after we had appeared right next to you on the scene" at the televised announcement, Younis Makhyoun, a Nour party leader, said on Sunday. "We have grass roots," Mr. Makhyoun added, "and they don't agree on the choice of ElBaradei."

Instead, the state news media outlets reported on Sunday that the interim government was close to naming as acting prime minister Ziad Bahaa el-Din, a former head of Egypt's investment authority. A Nour leader blessed him in a radio interview as "one of the liberal figures that we greatly respect."

The party's ability to block Mr. ElBaradei from the premiership raised new alarms from liberals about what the ultraconservatives, known as Salafis, might demand next, even after the expulsion of the more moderate Brotherhood.

"This stage of the revolution was against this type of Islamist party," said Shady el-Ghazaly Harb, one of the organizers of 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, vowing that the charter should include "a separation of religion and politics, because parties should not be built on religion."

Other organizers of the protests that helped force Mr. Morsi from office said they would stage new demonstrations in part against Al Nour.

Many of the party's old Islamist allies, meanwhile, are denouncing Al Nour's leaders as traitors, if not apostates, for turning on Mr. Morsi and the Brotherhood.

"They are being used to beautify or whitewash this military coup," said Gehad el-Haddad, a spokesman for the Brotherhood. "They are making enemies on both sides."

For the sheiks of Al Nour, though, the Brotherhood's fall is also an extraordinary opening. "They have a chance to be the main Islamist player in politics in post-Morsi Egypt," said Samer Shehata, an associate professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma who studies Egypt's Islamists.

"They see an opportunity to capitalize on the Brotherhood's loss of support," he said. "Who is left in formal politics under the banner of Islam now? It is the Nour party."

The bedfellows could not be stranger. …

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