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Egypt: The Salafi Scarecrow - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Salafi groups have suddenly appeared on the political scene in Egypt following the 25 January revolution, utilizing repulsive and ugly rhetoric, which has filled Egyptian newspapers and media with stories and news of these groups, from an individual’s ear being cut off [by Salafists], to the “battle for the ballot boxes” on the day of the referendum [on the constitutional amendments]. We have seen Salafi groups celebrate victory after the constitutional amendments were passed following a “Yes” vote in the national referendum. We have also seen these same Salafi groups mock Liberalism, describing it as immoral and foolish. We have even seen them destroy religious shrines, for they consider Egypt’s Pharaonic monuments to be examples of idolatry, and they have also called anybody who disagrees with them to emigrate to the West. Indeed a recent Salafi speech in this regard cited Taliban ideology and the Taliban’s crime against the history of human civilization, namely its destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan.

These groups did not play any role in the events of the 25 January revolution, nor did they take part in any political discourse in this regard, with the exception of the former regime using them to harm the reputation of certain opposition figures, which resulted in some Salafist figures declaring opposition figures to be non-believers. Therefore the political scene has been surprised by the Salafi groups’ reappearance in this bold manner, as well as the media attention being paid to them.

The Salafi groups are not the only ones that have appeared on the scene in an attempt to capitalize on what is happening. This is because the driving force of the revolution, which prompted the events that led to the ouster of the former President, is unorganized, and did not imagine – in the beginning – that it would succeed to this extent. When the regime was toppled, the revolutionaries did not have an immediate plan of action to fill the vacuum, and so others have exploited the opportunity to do so.

Yet what distinguishes the Salafi groups is that they are the most provocative and divisive, and this has prompted some people to wonder about the significance of their sudden appearance, and whether it is part of a so-called counter- revolution in Egypt, or an attempt to stir up fear of the future.

These groups offer no rational political discourse, however they excel in provoking and intimidating people. No one believes that they can succeed in the forthcoming parliamentary elections, to achieve any significant presence. They have excelled in provoking the Grand Mufti of Egypt, who attacked them in a fiery Friday Sermon. Likewise, they have succeeded in intimidating Egypt’s Sufi trend, estimated at possessing 15 million adherents, by attacking their shrines, to the extent that one Sufi Sheikh called for the establishment of a Sufi Jihadist force to confront the Salafists.

The following question arises: are we facing a scenario whereby religion and politics will be mixed in an explosive cocktail, consuming everything and everyone, with rival parties and groups terrorizing the public, each wanting to impose its ideology upon society, each believing to have a divine mandate?

Nobody wants to see this scenario, because it is contrary to the fabric of society. However, there are those who think that everyone should come to the surface, even if they are provocative or intimidating, in order to bring everything to light before public opinion. This will help people distinguish between good and evil, and recognize the true ideology of some groups that were once hidden under the surface.

The beneficiary of the appearance of these Salafi groups may in fact be the Muslim Brotherhood, whose current discourse seems very moderate when compared to the Salafists. Yet even if the Muslim Brotherhood came into the light and operated openly, its internal differences would soon become clear, as there is a divide in the ideology of the Muslims Brotherhood youth, and the old traditional ideology. Without a doubt, the next period in Egypt’s political history will be one of anxiety, as the scene is filled with the visions of different political forces. The 25 January revolution was an explosion that sparked change, but the final settlement or form [of the country] will take time to clarify. Indeed this may take years, being established following the legislative and presidential elections.

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim is Asharq Al-Awsat's deputy editor-in-chief. He is based in London.

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