In the same vain as the so-called “man behind Omar Suleiman”, who rose to fame the day Mubarak declared he would step down, and “the man in the galabiya”, who was pictured amidst the chaos of a pitch invasion during a football match between Zamalek and Club Africain, a new image has caught the attention of many, published by Asharq al-Awsat and many other newspapers, on the day of Salafi protests in the Jordanian city of Zarqa. The figure in this picture deserves the title of “the man with the knife”, as he appeared speaking in public brandishing a large kitchen knife in his hand, and waving it.
The issue here is not the events themselves, namely the protests in the Jordanian city which resulted in injuries and arrests, as it is the right of the people to express their opinions, and air their grievances. However, the puzzling aspect is what this man was thinking, when addressing the people waving a knife. What kind of discourse or political theory supported requires him to brandish a kitchen weapon? This does not make sense unless his intended audience were sheep waiting to be slaughtered!
It is odd that there are scenes like this in the Salafist current, where strange ideas have appeared in more than one Arab country after the recent wave of revolutions and protests. These bizarre ideas and practices are not intended to be rational in any way and in fact people provoke people by their very nature because their purpose is simply to create chaos and intimidation.
Here we have a knife being waved in front of people, and there we see the demolition of shrines and attempts by some to impose their will by force, talking of the disadvantages of democracy, because it deems the people to be the source of legitimacy. In other words, all these acts are absurd. There is no political ideology, or a path towards the future, just the words of those like al-Zawahiri, who came out to give his opinion, of which no one cares.
We cannot deny that this trend exists in Arab societies, and did not happen overnight, in the sense that it is not a sudden phenomenon. On the contrary, various political forces should conduct in-depth studies to determine the reasons for the growth of this trend in the past decades. Was it an expression of community or cultural status, or has it emerged under implicit official auspices, to strike other currents or confuse society?
This trend came to prominence loudly after the recent protests and demonstrations, and is especially evident in the Egyptian scene. Here it has sparked fear and anxiety among other forces interested in witnessing a peaceful and smooth transition towards a democratic civil state, in a process that no one expects to be easy.
This fear or anxiety should not prompt demands for exceptional measures, such as detaining members of the Salafi current in prisons or detention centers where they cannot carry out their actions, for if you want a genuine civil democracy, everyone must be given their political opportunity provided they don’t resort to violence. It is society itself that holds parties and currents to account and corrects them via the ballot box, and it is not reasonable or likely that people will elect someone who waves a knife.
In other words, the forces that aspire to democracy and modernization, who abandon such “café theorizing” and instead take to the field, they are unable to determine or engineer the pitch before they go out to play. Rather they can only promise to play fair, theory against theory, policy against policy.