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Egypt hardline Islamist party heals rift, for now

Published: Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012 5:30 a.m. CST

CAIRO – Leaders of Egypt's largest ultraconservative Islamist party have put aside their differences, settling – at least temporarily – a leadership dispute that threatened to break up the country's second-largest political bloc, spokesmen said Saturday.

The Al-Nour Party emerged from nowhere following Egypt's 2011 uprising to take 25 percent of the seats in last year's parliamentary elections, trailing only the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's best-organized political force. But a schism erupted last month after some of Al-Nour's political leaders tried to shake off the control of clerics.

At the heart of the feud is who should control the party, a dispute that is symptomatic of Islamist politics as the ultraconservative movement struggles to reconcile democratic maneuvering with religious ideology.

The issue has split Al-Nour into two rival camps, one of which is led by the party's founder and chief, Emad Abdel-Ghafour, who advocates separating the party from the movement's main clerical oversight board, the Salafi Call. Such a move would give Abdel-Ghafour and his political wing the ability to maneuver away from the edicts of the religious leaders.

The second camp opposes splitting the party from the sheiks, and is closely linked to a heavyweight Salafi cleric, Yasser Borhami. Several prominent party figures are in this camp, including former spokesman Nader Bakkar, who was removed from his post by Abdel-Ghafour.

As the internal party election began last month, the second camp put forward a rival candidate, Mustafa Khalifa, for the party's top job. Abdel-Ghafour responded by suspending voting and accusing his rivals of forgery to pack party posts with their loyalists. This left the party split between two leaders.

After a long meeting Friday night, Bakkar and spokesman Yousry Hammad of the original leadership said in separate statements that the party had mended the rifts and agreed to keep Abdel-Ghafour as leader.

Hammad said Abdel-Ghafour held talks with party members on both sides of the divide and that they managed to forge an agreement after a meeting with the body of clerics.

"Confidence was renewed in Abdel-Ghafour as party leader," Hammad wrote in a statement posted on his Facebook page. "An agreement was reached on all the problems that surfaced recently." A meeting of the party's general assembly is scheduled for Thursday to select new leaders.

Details of the agreement were not immediately available and it was not clear whether the issue of leadership has been settled for good. Hammad confirmed the statement to The Associated Press in a text message. But he insisted that Abdel-Ghafour will remain as party leader.

Bakkar didn't respond to phone calls. On his Twitter account, he wrote that Abdel-Ghafour will stay on as the head of Al-Nour and his challenger has agreed to step down. He also said he was reinstated as party spokesman, and said internal elections would take place as scheduled.

It was not immediately clear whether he agreed that Abdel-Ghafour would remain in his post.

Abdel-Ghafour is currently serving as an advisor to President Mohammed Morsi, of the Brotherhood.

The agreement between the rival camps came a day before a state committee was to mediate the dispute, in an apparent attempt to diffuse the threat to the party. The committee could have also ruled to suspend the party over the internal fighting.

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