Less than a month after the Muslim Brotherhood established the Freedom and Justice Party, Gamaa Islamiya and Gamaa Salafiya founded new political parties that will compete in the fall parliamentary elections.
The January 25th Revolution, which lead to the end of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's tenure, opened the door for Islamist groups to get involved in politics. Another Islamist-oriented group, led by three intellectuals, established the Wasat Party. Its origins began 15 years ago when a faction of the Muslim Brotherhood broke from the group with the intention of forming a political party.
Gamaa Islamiya announced June 20th the founding of the Construction and Development Party with plans to compete in the parliamentary elections.
The party's founding document stated it is a "political party that adopts peaceful methods of work, acknowledges the principles of pluralism and equality, equal opportunity and respect for the opinions of others, the convergence between society's communities, and the achievement of social peace and stability in the country."
The statement said, "The party is guided by the provisions of Islamic Sharia, which will ensure the preservation of the nation's identity, the rule of law, a secure and stable life for all citizens, and the establishment of balanced relations with the outside world."
Gamaa Islamiya is well known in Egypt and in the Middle East for its violent methods during the 1980s. The group co-operated with Islamic Jihad in the 1981 assassination of former President Anwar Sadat. Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al- Zawahiri was a leader of Islamic Jihad.
The group renounced violence in 1997 and published its stance in a number of books. The initiative discusses the legal rulings for jihad, the prohibition against killing civilians and the use of violence in all forms and for any reason.
Essam Derbala, a leader in Gamaa Islamiya, told Al-Shorfa that according to the rules of democracy, it is the right of any social movement to have a political party, including the Islamist movement. He said Communists, liberals and Islamists should not be prevented from exercising their right to political action.
He added, "The party is not an arena for discussions of faith. It is a platform for sharing ideas and offering visions to provide solutions to the problems facing the nation. The party is a human project (not a holy one), it can be right and wrong, and it accepts criticism and modification and improvement until it reaches the desired end."
Derbala said that the establishment of a political party confirms the group has chosen peaceful action that translates its ideas. He emphasised that the group's vision is that religion provides a comprehensive approach whereby worldly issues can be reformed through appropriate means, such as the establishment of political parties, as long as the means are legitimate.
Gamaa Salafiya announced on June 12th the establishment of the Nour Political Party which is the first Salafist political party in Egypt's history.
The party's platform states that it seeks "to establish a modern state that respects the rights of peaceful co-existence among the people, separate from the religious model which calls for leadership that claims a divine right to rule and monopolizes truth to itself, and also separate from the atheistic model which wants to sever the nation from its roots and its cultural identity."
Egypt has eight Salafist groups, most of which prefer religious proselytising and refuse to engage in politics or competition for power.
Dr. Mohamed Yousry, the official spokesman for the Nour party, said the party's participation in the parliamentary elections and the number of the candidates it will run has not been set. He said the party is still in the early stages forming committees and organising in the provinces.
Egyptian experts, however, questioned claims made by Islamist political groups about these new parties' concept of a secular state and their respect for the rules of democracy.
Abdul Rahim Ali, an expert on Islamist groups, told Al-Shorfa that Islamist parties in Egypt have a different definition of a secular state compared with liberal and leftist forces.
A secular state for non-Islamic forces in Egypt may mean a Copt taking the presidency, not mixing religion with politics, and the idea that all Egyptians are equal without regard to religion, colour or sex.
He said, "For the Salafists, the Gamaa Salafiya and others, the application of Islamic law is the priority above all, and it is the main objective behind the exercise of political power. Some Salafists never believed in democracy and political life from the beginning."