Archive for July 12, 2013


2013-07-11

Defense analysis group says Saudi Arabia appears to be targeting regional rivals Iran and Israel with ballistic missiles from previously undisclosed desert base.

LONDON – Saudi Arabia appears to be targeting regional rivals Iran and Israel with ballistic missiles from a previously undisclosed desert base, a British-based defense analysis group said Thursday.

Satellite images show launch pads with some markings pointed towards potential Iranian targets and others towards possible locations in Israel, IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review said.

If confirmed, the base deep in the Saudi desert would be the third missile base identified in the oil-rich kingdom.

“Our assessment suggests that this base is either partly or fully operational, with the launch pads pointing in the directions of Israel and Iran respectively,” said Robert Munks, deputy editor of the review.

It could also function as a training and storage complex, IHS Jane’s said.

The launch pads are designed for Saudi Arabia’s lorry-launched DF-3 missiles, which are not self-guiding and need to be aligned before being fired, the Daily Telegraph newspaper said in a report on the base.

The Saudi facility has two launch pads, one on a bearing of 301 degrees aimed at Israel and the other at 10 degrees pointing towards Iran, the Jane’s report said.

“We cannot be certain that the missiles are pointed specifically at Tel Aviv and Tehran themselves, but if they were to be launched, you would expect them to be targeting major cities,” Munks said.

“We do not want to make too many inferences about the Saudi strategy, but clearly Saudi Arabia does not enjoy good relations with either Iran or Israel.”

Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim kingdom, has repeatedly voiced fears about the nuclear threat posed by Shiite-dominated Iran, while it has also denounced Israel’s atomic capacity.

Munks said a missile base like the apparently new Saudi one would also help Saudi Arabia if it suddenly sought to acquire nuclear weapons, as its former intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal suggested in 2011.

“For such short notice, the foundations for both nuclear-capable launch vehicles and for acquiring the warheads will need to have been laid in advance,” Munks said.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=60051.

8 July 2013

In implementation of the directives of The President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the team overseeing implementation of the UAE’s project to help Pakistan, have announced an initiative to distribute 2,400 tons of food among 30,000 families in camps for people displaced by floods and military operations in Pakistan.

The move comes to mark the occasion of the Holy Month of Ramadan. According to a statement made by the project team, the food assistance, worth over 1.5 million US dollars, will be distributed among displaced families in Jalozai Camp, which is considered the largest refugee camp in Pakistan and includes about 13,600 displaced families.

The team also stated that the distribution of food aid comes in implementation of the directives of the President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, to provide humanitarian and food aid for displaced Pakistanis to alleviate their suffering and difficult circumstances.

As part of the initiative, food parcels, each weighting 80 kilograms, will be distributed containing flour, rice, sugar, salt, lentils and tea, enough to sustain a single family for the whole month.

Source: Khaleej Times.

Link: http://www.khaleejtimes.com/nation/inside.asp?xfile=/data/community/2013/July/community_July17.xml&section=community.

2013-07-11

By Serene Assir – BEIRUT

Hardline Islamist factions are losing support following spate of abuses which have prompted civilians, mainstream rebel fighters alike to turn against them.

In the early days of the Syrian uprising, when opponents of the regime were desperate for assistance from any quarter, jihadist fighters were welcomed but a spate of abuses is fueling a backlash.

Things have changed.

“Out, out, out, the (Islamic) State (of Iraq and Syria) must get out,” protesters shouted at a rally in the northern town of Manbij this week, referring to an Al-Qaeda front group.

The video of the demonstration is one of many showing how civilians and mainstream rebel fighters alike are turning against the more hardline Islamist factions.

The rebel forces seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad are disparate but many espouse political Islam of one form or another.

There are two main Al-Qaeda linked factions, both with Iraqi origins, according to Washington — the Al-Nusra Front, which has operational independence, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a front for Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Numerous other smaller groups, many of them composed almost exclusively of foreign fighters, are also operating on the ground.

Unlike the mainstream rebel Free Syrian Army, which has received weapons from several Gulf Arab governments as well as promises of US arms, the jihadist groups rely on private donations.

But there are enough wealthy benefactors attracted to their fundamentalist vision to ensure a steady stream of weapons, as well as volunteer fighters from around the world, many of them seasoned in other conflicts.

That has helped them become a fighting force out of proportion to their numbers, and they have captured several population centers.

But their imposition of their extreme form of Islam has increasingly alienated civilians.

In Raqa, the only provincial capital in rebel hands, the Al-Nusra Front is accused of detaining dozens of men.

“My father has been held for a month by the Front. They think they’re Islamic… I want my father to be free,” weeps a little girl in one Raqa protest, footage of which was posted online.

“We reject this oppressive brand of Islam… We are Muslims. You’re just fakes,” a woman protester cried in another video from Raqa, demanding the release of the men held by Nusra.

Activists in the city also point to the disappearance of Abdallah al-Khalil, a veteran dissident and human rights activist.

“Khalil was about to open up council elections to the whole of Raqa. Al-Nusra was against the idea. He disappeared the next day,” an activist from Raqa said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

“Although their methods differ from the regime’s, they are just as brutal.

“As they get more powerful militarily, they do whatever it takes to stem the growth of freedom in liberated (rebel-held) areas. They want power, not democracy.”

Reports emerged on Wednesday that a Raqa-based activist who has documented the uprising against Assad since its early days has been detained by ISIS.

“The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria detained the media activist Mohammad Nour Matar on Tuesday evening outside its base… after he stood alongside a woman who tried to stage a sit-in,” Matar’s brother Amer said.

In Idlib province in the northwest, whose borders with Turkey have allowed foreign jihadists to join the fighting in numbers, dozens of mainstream rebels were killed in a battle with ISIS last week, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The fighting broke out after rebels protested against the detention by the jihadists of a 12-year-old boy accused of uttering a blasphemous phrase.

“The chief of the (Free Syrian Army-affiliated) Hamzah Assadullah Brigade and his brother were both killed” in the fighting, the Britain-based watchdog said.

“We haven’t seen many such battles, but it is clear the anger against the Islamic State and other jihadists is on the rise across Syria,” its director Rami Abdel Rahman.

The case echoed that of a 14-year-old boy executed by ISIS fighters in the main northern city of Aleppo who accused him of blasphemy for using a colloquial phrase.

Rahman said mainstream rebels appeared set for a new confrontation with their jihadist rivals in Idlib after ISIS demanded that all other groups surrender their weapons.

Nizar, an activist from the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, said: “Time is running out for all these (jihadist) groups.

“They use violence and religion to try control us and, although people are afraid to openly express their dissent, no one wants them.”

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=60033.

July 8, 2013

BEIRUT, Lebanon, July 8 (UPI) — Lebanon needs to take action to prevent Israel from siphoning off its offshore oil and natural gas reserves, the Lebanese energy minister said.

Lebanon has expressed frustration to the United Nations regarding the status of its maritime border with Israel. Shiite resistance movement Hezbollah last year warned Israel to stay away from Lebanon’s offshore reserves because of border issues.

Lebanon is eager to attract investors to its fledgling oil and natural gas sector. Israel, meanwhile, is looking to capitalize on the natural gas prospects from its offshore Leviathan and Tamar natural gas fields.

Lebanese Energy Minister Gebran Bassil said Israeli natural gas fields are situated within 5 miles of the maritime border.

“Theoretically this means that Israel now has the possibility to reach Lebanese oil and this is a new and dangerous development,” he was quoted Friday as saying by The Daily Star newspaper.

The Lebanese government has said parts of the Leviathan natural gas field offshore Israel are in its territorial waters.

There may be more than 400 million barrels of oil and 20 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in place off Lebanon. Beirut is working to coordinate an offshore oil and natural gas licensing round later this year.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Energy-Resources/2013/07/08/Lebanon-wards-Israel-off-energy-reserves/UPI-45071373282149/.

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Special to WorldTribune.com

ABU DHABI —Relieved over the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, the Persian Gulf states has been drafting a multi-billion-dollar package to rescue Egypt.

Arab diplomatic sources said at least three of the six Gulf Cooperation Council states have been drafting an emergency rescue package for Egypt. The sources said the package would reflect the GCC endorsement of the coup against the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt.

“The Brotherhood regime was a source of great worry for most of the GCC states, and now there is a sense that Egypt needs to be helped economically in order to stabilize,” a source said.

On July 9, the United Arab Emirates sent a delegation to Cairo to discuss renewed cooperation with and aid to Egypt’s military-controlled regime. The sources said the UAE, one of the first GCC countries to welcome Morsi’s ouster, would seek guarantees from Egypt’s military to restrict the Brotherhood, accused of sending agents to the Gulf.

“The UAE stands by Egypt and its people in this crucial phase,” UAE National Security Adviser Haza Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who led the delegation, said. “It has confidence in the choices made by its people, as well as this people’s ability to overcome the current challenges.”

The sources said the impetus for a GCC aid package to Egypt has come from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. They said Kuwait was also prepared to contribute to any multi-billion-dollar rescue plan.

“The expectation is that any such plan would be based on the implementation of previous commitments,” the source said. “Most of the GCC states froze investments and aid commitments to Egypt within months of Morsi’s election.

The UAE, for example, pledged $3 billion to Egypt in 2011, in wake of the overthrow of then-President Hosni Mubarak. But Abu Dhabi did not honor its commitment amid concern over Brotherhood activities in the UAE. Over the last month, the UAE has prosecuted 94 MB members, many of them Egyptians, on charges of seeking to overthrow the emirates.

The sources said Saudi Arabia was expected to cover the brunt of any GCC package to Egypt. They said the Saudi royal family suspended at least half of its annual investments and aid to Cairo during the year-long regime of Morsi.

Saudi Finance Minister Ibrahim Assaf said Riyad has pledged $5 billion to Egypt, including grants and loans. Assad said the Saudi offer would include the export of $2 billion worth of crude oil and natural gas.

At this point, Qatar was not expected to join any GCC effort. Doha, which supported the Brotherhood, had pledged $4 billion to Morsi, most of which did not arrive to Egypt.

“Right now, Qatar is persona non grata with the Egyptian military,” the source said. “If anything, the Qataris might give to the Brotherhood rather than the government.”

Source: World Tribune.

Link: http://www.worldtribune.com/2013/07/10/three-gulf-states-pledge-billions-in-aid-for-post-morsi-egypt/.

July 10, 2013

The Egyptian authorities should not recklessly deny entry to Syrians and must provide anyone fleeing the conflict the opportunity to seek asylum, Amnesty International said today after reports that some 259 people were turned back at Cairo Airport on Monday.

“Given the scale of violence, bloodshed and human rights abuses currently taking place in Syria, it is unthinkable that Egypt should deny Syrians fleeing for their lives safety,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui , Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa program.

Syrian nationals arriving on Monday were denied entry to Egypt on the grounds that the passengers had not obtained the newly required visas or security permits. Previously, Syrian nationals did not require visas to enter Egypt.

While the Egyptian authorities can regulate entry to and stay in Egypt, they must do so in full respect of their international human rights and refugee law obligations.

Those sent back include: 95 passengers on a Syrian Airlines flight to Latakia, in Syria; 55 flew MEA back to Beirut; some 25 to Jordan, and six to Abu Dhabi.

Amnesty International understands that UNHCR did not have access to any of them at Cairo airport and it is not known what has happened to those returned to Syria.

Three other Syrians are also being held in limbo at Alexandria Airport, after they were denied re-entrance to Egypt despite having registered in the country with the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR.

A statement on the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website on Monday said that “the decision to impose an entrance visa on Syrian nationals is a decision based on the conditions that Egypt is currently passing through”.

“No one should be forced to return to Syria due to the serious risk of indiscriminate violence and persecution,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui. “We urge the authorities to ensure that Egypt continues to be a place of refuge for Syrians even at this turbulent time.”

Source: Amnesty International USA.

Link: http://www.amnestyusa.org/news/news-item/egypt-turns-away-syrians.

Cairo, July 10 : Egypt’s interim President Adli Mansour appointed Tuesday ex-finance minister Hazem al-Beblawi as prime minister and leading figure of the National Salvation Front (NSF) Mohamed ElBaradei as vice president for foreign affairs in the transitional government.

Al-Beblawi served as the finance minister in the cabinet of former prime minister Essam Sharaf, who resigned in late November 2011.

ElBaradei, the leader of the NSF, who is in opposition to ousted president Mohamed Morsi’s administration, was the former head of the International Agency for Atomic Energy.

On Wednesday, the embattled Morsi was ousted by the army after millions of people took to the streets to protest against his ” poor performance” and “maladministration” since he took office a year ago. The armed forces then handed over power to Adli Mansour, the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, to run the country for a transitional period.

On late Saturday evening, Egypt’s newly-appointed presidential media adviser denied the appointment of ElBaradei as the country’s interim prime minister. Salafist al-Nour Party objected the appointment of ElBaradei due to his liberal affiliation.

Meantime, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, also rejected ElBaradei’s nomination.

Later on Tuesday, the armed forces in an audio speech aired on state TV, said “no faction should be deviated from the crisis track, because the nation’s destiny is more sacred than hindering the public interests, no matter what the excuses are.”

Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi stressed in the speech that the nation’s destiny wouldn’t be a field for conspiracies, or political maneuvers.

The death toll of Monday’s clashes between security forces and supporters of the deposed president rose to 51, while 435 were injured with birdshots and live bullets.

For its part, the FJP said the incident was a “human massacre” inflicted on peaceful citizens who protested against “a military coup,” which ousted the elected president last week, urging the people for “uprising.”

Egypt’s interim president Adli Mansour adopted a temporary constitutional declaration Monday, outlining a timetable for the transitional period which begins the day the charter was issued and lasts at least for six months until presidential elections are held.

In the military statement, al-Sisi reaffirmed that the legitimate interim president and representative for the highest judicial authority has issued a constitutional declaration with fixed timetable for the constitution rebuilding, in a way that guarantees and achieves the people’s will.

The caretaker president’s roadmap, outlined in his constitutional declaration, sends reassuring messages to the Egyptians and tends to set off the development with transparency, added the defense minister.

Source: New Kerala.

Link: http://www.newkerala.com/news/story/39581/egypts-caretaker-president-appoints-interim-pm-vice-president.html.

July 11, 2013

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s military-backed government tightened a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood on Wednesday, ordering the arrest of its revered leader in a bid to choke off the group’s campaign to reinstate President Mohammed Morsi one week after an army-led coup.

The Brotherhood denounced the warrants for the arrest of Mohammed Badie and nine other leading Islamists for inciting violence Monday that left dozens dead, saying “dictatorship is back” and vowing it will never work with the interim rulers.

Leaders of the Brotherhood are believed to be taking refuge somewhere near a continuing sit-in by its supporters at the Rabaah al-Adawiya Mosque in eastern Cairo, but it is not clear if Badie also is there.

The Brotherhood is outraged by the overthrow of Morsi, one of its own, and demands nothing less than his release from detention and his reinstatement as president. Security agencies have already jailed five leaders of the Brotherhood, including Badie’s powerful deputy, Khairat el-Shaiter, and shut down its media outlets.

The prosecutor general’s office said Badie, another deputy, Mahmoud Ezzat, senior member Mohammed El-Beltagy and popular preacher Safwat Hegazy are suspected of instigating the clashes with security forces outside a Republican Guard building near the mosque that killed 54 people — most of them Morsi supporters — in the worst bloodshed since he was ousted.

The Islamists have accused the troops of gunning down protesters, while the military blamed armed backers of Morsi for attempting to storm a military building. The warrants highlight the armed forces’ zero-tolerance policy toward the Brotherhood, which was banned under authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak.

“This just signals that dictatorship is back,” said Brotherhood spokesman Ahmed Aref. “We are returning to what is worse than Mubarak’s regime, which wouldn’t dare to issue an arrest warrant of the general leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

The Brotherhood’s refusal to work with the new interim leaders underscored the difficulties they face in trying to stabilize Egypt and bridge the deep fissures that have opened in the country during Morsi’s year in office.

Morsi has not been seen since the July 3 coup, but Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdel-Atti gave the first official word on him in days, saying he is in a safe place and is being treated in a “very dignified manner.” No charges have been leveled against him, Abdel-Atti said.

“For his own safety and for the safety of the country, it is better to keep him. … Otherwise, consequences will be dire,” he added. Badie had appeared at the Rabaa al-Adawiya rally Friday, a day after an earlier arrest warrant against him was issued, also accusing him of inciting violence. On Wednesday night, he delivered a message to the crowd through a senior Brotherhood leader, an indication that he didn’t want to make an appearance and endanger his security.

He spoke of Monday’s violence, calling the troops that carried it out “traitors.” “They didn’t just betray their people … their leader (Morsi), but they also betrayed God,” said Abdel-Rahman el-Bar, a Brotherhood leader, reading from Badie’s message.

He urged supporters to stay camped out in the sit-in and mosques, using the holy month of Ramadan to pray for Morsi’s deliverance. Badie also sought to dismiss accusations that his group used violence.

“The Muslim Brotherhood has struggled for Egypt’s freedom from occupation and oppression. It was and will remain faithful to its promises and peaceful in its positions,” the message said. On Friday, Badie had delivered a fiery speech at the rally in person, telling those in the crowd that they will bring Morsi back to the palace on their shoulders.

“We are his soldiers. We defend him with our lives,” Badie said before disappearing. Following the speech, thousands of Islamists marched and clashed with Morsi opponents in the heart of Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt, leaving more than 30 dead and 200 injured.

In one of the most dramatic instances of violence that day, two Morsi opponents were killed when they were pushed off a roof by supporters of the ousted president in the second-largest city of Alexandria. Hamada Badr was stabbed and thrown off the roof, his father said. According to amateur video accessed by The Associated Press, a second man was hurled to his death and Morsi supporters were seen beating his lifeless body. The video appeared consistent with AP’s reporting from the area.

Since then, both sides appeared to be running a campaign of fear. The military and supportive media have depicted the Brotherhood and its backers as promoting violence and endangering national security. The Brotherhood and pro-Morsi protesters have portrayed Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi as head of a “militia” that is seeking to annihilate Islamists, waging a fight akin to the civil war in Syria.

News of the arrest warrants did not surprise the protesters, who saw the move as an attempt to pressure the group’s leadership to end the demonstration. “We expected it,” said Ayman el-Ashmawi. “Even if they arrest the biggest number of Muslim Brotherhood members, we want to say that the Muslim Brotherhood will leave this square only over our dead bodies — or the return of Dr. Mohammed Morsi.”

Fathi Abdel-Wahab, a bearded protester in his 30s, said he and the others at the rally had legitimacy on their side. “We will sacrifice ourselves and we will continue because we have a clear cause. We will defend it peacefully. … We will never accept the military’s coup,” he said as he rested inside a tent near a group of people reciting verses from the Quran.

After a week of violence and mass demonstrations, Egyptians were hoping that Wednesday’s start of Ramadan would calm the streets. The sunrise-to-sunset fast cuts down on daytime activity, although there were fears of unrest at night.

Late Wednesday, gunmen in a pickup truck opened fire on the convoy of a top military commander, Gen. Ahmed Wasfi, in the Sinai town of Rafah, near the border with Gaza, drawing fire from the accompanying troops, security officials said. Wasfi escaped unharmed, but a 5-year-old girl was killed in the clashes, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. One gunman was arrested.

Meanwhile, more than 1,000 Morsi supporters protested late Wednesday outside the presidential palace, where his opponents have continued to hold their ground, even after his ouster. Under heavy military guard, the pro-Morsi demonstrators chanted against el-Sissi, the defense minister, shouting, “What el-Sissi? We stepped over bigger shots.” Some protesters formed a human chain to draw a line between them and the troops. After less than hour, they left the area peacefully.

The military-backed interim president, Adly Mansour, issued a fast-track timetable Monday for the transition. His declaration set out a seven-month timetable for elections but also a truncated, temporary constitution laying out the division of powers.

The accelerated process was meant, in part, to reassure the U.S. and other Western allies that Egypt is on a path toward democratic leadership. But it has faced opposition from the very groups that led the four days of mass protests that prompted the military to remove Morsi.

The top liberal political group, the National Salvation Front, expressed reservations over the plan, saying it was not consulted. The Front said the declaration “lacks significant clauses while others need change or removal,” but did not elaborate.

The secular, revolutionary youth movement Tamarod that organized the massive anti-Morsi demonstrations also criticized the plan, in part because it gives too much power to Mansour, including the authority to issue laws. A post-Morsi plan put forward by Tamarod called for a largely ceremonial interim president with most power in the hands of the prime minister.

At the heart of liberals’ objections is that they wanted to remove broadly worded articles that Morsi’s allies introduced into the constitution, giving Islamic laws a greater weight. They objected that at least one of those clauses remained in Mansour’s declaration. Other objections centered on powers of the interim president.

The only Islamist party that backed military’s ouster of Morsi has been vetoing any rewriting of the constitution. New Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi, who was appointed Tuesday by Mansour, is holding consultations on a Cabinet. In what is seen as an attempt at reconciliation, el-Beblawi has said he will offer the Brotherhood, which helped propel Morsi to the presidency, posts in his transitional government.

A Brotherhood spokesman who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for his security said the group will not take part in an interim Cabinet, and that talk of national reconciliation under the current circumstances is “irrelevant.”

The nascent government also will soon face demands that it tackle economic woes that mounted under Morsi, including fuel shortages, electricity cutoffs and inflation. Kuwait joined other Gulf nations in offering financial aid to the new leadership, saying it would give a package worth $4 billion. On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — both opponents of Morsi’s Brotherhood — promised the cash-strapped Egyptian government $8 billion in grants, loans and badly needed gas and oil.

The donations effectively step in for Morsi’s Gulf patron, Qatar, a close ally of the Brotherhood that gave his government several billion in aid during his year in office.

Associated Press Writer Tony G. Gabriel contributed to this report

July 09, 2013

CAIRO (AP) — An Islamist party that is a key member of the factions that backed the military’s ouster of President Mohammed Morsi threatened to break with the country’s new military-backed leadership after the killing of more than 50 Islamist protesters Sunday, trying to salvage its position in the face of criticism it had turned against its own movement.

Officials in the ultraconservative Salafi Al-Nour Party warned that some of its followers were abandoning the party and joining Morsi’s supporters in the street, from the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist allies.

Al-Nour leaders scrambled to try to find a way out of their corner. The group announced it was suspending cooperation with the interim leadership over its “road map” for the post-Morsi political system, denouncing the “massacre,” and demanded an immediate start to reconciliation efforts between Morsi and his opponents.

In a statement, it described interim president Adly Mansour as a “dictator and with bias to a certain ideological current that doesn’t have support in the Egyptian street,” in reference to secularists. It said the military-backed road map for a post-Morsi system had only increased violence and led to “rise of suppressive measures and exceptional actions” referring to the arrests of five senior Brotherhood figures and the shutting down of several Islamist TV networks.

“We are presenting an initiative based on forming a committee for national reconciliation to deal with the problem since it exploded between Mohammed Morsi and his opposition,” the party said. Speaking to Al-Jazeera TV, the party’s chief Younes Makhyoun raised the possibility of calling a referendum on Morsi. The idea was floated as a possible compromise before Morsi’s ouster on Wednesday and had no acceptance then among the president’s opponents — who are even less likely to accept it now.

Since the 2011 fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak, Al-Nour emerged as the most powerful party among the Salafist, an Islamist movement that holds an even more conservative and strict interpretation in Islam than Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. It was the second biggest winner in 2011-2012 parliamentary elections and was initially a key ally to Morsi when he took office. But over the course of his administration, it broke with him, complaining that his Brotherhood was monopolizing power. The move caused a split in the party ranks, with a breakaway faction forming a new party to remain with the president.

Even more dramatic was its allying with the military in a loose coalition where it was a decidedly odd fit. Hours before ousting Morsi, the military chief met with his collection of backers: the liberal National Salvation Front, bitterly resented by many Islamists; the sheik of Al-Azhar and the Coptic pope, both of whom have had frictions with Salafis and other hard-liners; bitterly anti-Islamist youth activists — and al-Nour.

The other factions have been eager to keep Al-Nour on board to show Morsi’s ouster had backing among the Islamists. But there were quickly frictions among them. Over the weekend, the Salafis blocked an attempt to have top reform figure Mohamed ElBaradei of the Salvation Front appointed prime minister and balked at a close ally of his proposed as a compromise. The moves infuriated some liberal and secular activists who questioned why Islamists should have veto power.

Hamada Nassar, a leading figure from the Gamaa Islamiya — a former Islamic militant group that is now an ally of Morsi but is in close contact with the Salafi movement, said Al-Nour is facing a “deep internal crisis.”

“The generals needed a beard to join the beards of Al-Azhar’s grand imam and the Coptic pope for a cinematic move to tell the world this is a revolution not a coup and all Egypt’s political and religious spectrum is represented” Nassar said. “Now Al-Nour is in a trap … with the bloodbath, the constituencies of the party are fragmenting, allies are leaving because they have been disappointed more than once.”

One Al-Nour lawmaker said it’s unclear how long party leaders can keep their control, with some members breaking ranks to join the Brotherhood. The lawmaker spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the group’s internal situation.

The party appeared to have find some refuge in a strong position by Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb, head of Al-Azhar Mosque, who after Sunday’s killings said he would go into seclusion until “until everyone shoulders his responsibility to stop the bloodshed instead of dragging the country into civil war.” His protest aimed to push all sides into some sort of reconciliation — a theme Al-Nour was also hitting.

Unlike the Brotherhood, which more than 80 years old, highly disciplined and deeply versed in politics, the Salafi movement is more of an umbrella for various schools that differ in their views, spiritual leaders and methods. For nearly three decades, the Salafi school shunned politics, spreading its message through mosques, charity, and TV stations. It was not targeted in security crackdowns under Mubarak since it posed no political challenge to the ruling regime, unlike the Brotherhood and violent jihadist groups, some of which were offshoots of the Salafis.

Salafi men are known for their long beards, with the mustache shaved off — a style they say was worn by Muhammad — while the women wear the “niqab,” an enveloping black robe and veil that leaves only the eyes visible. They advocate strict segregation of the sexes and an unbendingly literal interpretation of the Quran, saying society should mirror the way the prophet ruled the early Muslims in the 7th Century. They say they want to turn Egypt into a pure Islamic society, implementing strict Shariah, or Islamic law.

They also reject democracy as a heresy, since it would supplant God’s law with man’s rulings — though they decided to set those concerns aside to enter post-Mubarak elections. But it is less cohesive than the Brotherhood, clumsier with politics and more vulnerable to splits. Early on, the Salafis were divided over whether to back Morsi or a more moderate Islamist in the presidential elections last year. Al-Nour was also tarnished by other foibles. One lawmaker was kicked out of parliament for lying about getting nose job surgery, claiming he had been beaten up by political rivals. Another lawmaker was caught fondling a woman on his lap in a parked car at night and was sentenced to a year in prison for public indecency.

The public display of divisions and bitter exchanges in the press hurt a movement that presents itself as having clear-cut, divinely dictated answers to the country’s problems. “What is more dangerous is loss of confidence and trust between the youth and sheikhs,” said Nassar from Gamaa Islamiya. “Now the youth are rebelling and this could have permanent effect and the confidence won’t be restored easily.”