Political analysts tend to think in terms of analogies. So the comparison between the surprising emergence of Nour with the Tea Party, the ultraconservative US movement, was inevitable. Nour (“light”), which is a coalition formed by several Salafist parties, became the biggest surprise in the first round of the Egyptian elections by getting 25% of the votes. It only trailed the powerful Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The comparison between the Tea Party and Nour is not only based on its conservative ideology, and grass-roots nature, but also on its possible effects on the Egyptian political map. As the arguments goes, Nour’s success would push the whole political spectrum towards the right, and especially the FJP, its main adversary in the Islamist camp.
Issander Amrani, analyst and blogger, contended in one of his posts that the best comparison for Nour is not with the American Tea Party but the Israeli ulstraorthodox Party Shas. According to Amrani, Nour will focus only in a narrow set of issues in the coming Parliament, such as influencing the educational system or those laws related with women’s rights. Therefore, like Shas, will have a limited impact on Egyptian politics.
From my point of view, neither approach is exactly correct. I disagree with Amrani on one important aspect: while Shas does not “share” almost any constituency with other parties, Nour does. For ultraorthodox Israeli Jews, Shas is the only game in town, which explains why it is the Israeli party with the most solid and predictable electoral performance. It is as strange for an ultraorthodox Jew to consider voting for a non-ultraorthodox party, as it is for a secular or even an orthodox Jew to consider casting a vote for Shas.
On the contrary, Nour and FJP may share a large part of the Egyptian electorate. Although it is true that there is a deep animosity between Brotherhood members and hard-core Salafists, there are many religious Egyptians who express positive attitudes towards both parties. In the last days, I spoke with many FJP voters, and most of them had a positive opinion about Nour, and some might even vote for them next time. So the Brotherhood party will have to worry about the competition by Nour.
However, it remains to be seen to what extent Nour’s success pushes the Brotherhood towards more radical positions. To start with, the leaders of the FJP know that there are some “external” constraints, namely the army and the US, that call for a moderate path.
Also, the Brotherhood, as a good “catch-all party”, may also share an important part of the electorate with the secular parties, since there are a lot of moderate Egyptians who are looking for a responsible party that can bring stability and economic growth to the country. Right now, as run-off elections showed, FJP occupies the center of Egyptian politics, and it might lose it if it swings too much on the right.
Therefore, I would conclude arguing that the main effect of Nour’s emergence as the second largest Egyptian political party will not be so much on the policies adopted by the future government, but on the nature of political discourse. Religion and the Quran will likely be the framework of reference in most political debates during the coming years. So we should get ready for arguments on interpretations of sacred texts to dominate the new Parliament.