Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Are Egypt’s Salafis a political dark horse? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The Egyptian Salafis nomination of the veteran Brotherhood figure Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh is not the first of their surprises; in fact the words “surprise” and “Salafis” in Egypt have become two sides of the same coin.

The Salafis surprised everyone by entering politics in the first place, bearing in mind that Salafism and politics are two incompatible lines that do not mix. In fact, the Salafis have memorized by heart the sayings of Sheikh Nasiruddin al-Albani, may god have mercy on him, who said “leave politics to the politicians”, along with his famous expression “refine and then educate”, claiming that people’s beliefs must be refined from myths and superstitions first, followed by a pure Sunna education.

The Salafis were confused by the Egyptian revolution because their mass support base no longer accepted the theory of their leaders about leaving politics to politicians, at a time when all segments of the Egyptian people were rising up against tyranny. At the beginning, the Salafi sheikhs themselves were confused, but they then decided to enter the revolution and escalate it, subsequently harvesting its fruits. The Salafis ultimately confused the revolution itself because they turned the electoral equation upside down, rebelling against the literature of their elders and influential figures who advocated distance from politics. When they entered the parliamentary elections circuit, the Salafi parliamentary bulldozer caused a surprise when it won 25 percent of the vote, surpassing veterans of Egyptian politics such as the Wafd Party and so on.

When the political parties brought the best of their men to compete for the presidency, people thought that the Salafis were mere “dervishes”, and that the utmost they could do was to nominate a turbaned sheikh who was only a master of intonation, and whose knowledge of politics was not far better than a Tanzanian tribesman’s knowledge of the streets of New York. The surprise was that the Salafis put forth the lawyer Hazem Salah Abu Ismail as a “technocrat” candidate, who has extensive experience in trade union work and legal practice.

In fact, the surprise surrounding the Salafi nomination of Abu Ismail can be divided into three parts, along the lines of a cluster bomb: the first part was that the Salafis had nominated a candidate who was once close to the inner circle of the Member Brotherhood, as his father was a prominent Brotherhood member and Abu Ismail himself, although not a Brotherhood affiliate, was once placed on its list of candidates for the Egyptian Bar Association elections. The second aspect was Abu Ismail’s pragmatic discourse regarding the complex issues of politics, art, tourism and so on. The third part of the surprise was the stance Abu Ismail adopted when he was excluded from the list of eligible presidential candidates, the escalation of his political reactions towards the ruling authority, and the stances adopted by his adherers in Abbasiya Square and near the vicinity of the Ministry of Defense. This all happened although the [religious] texts which the Salafis rely extensively upon necessitate complete obedience to the ruler (even if he lashes your back and confiscates your possessions). What happened to Abu Ismail did not constitute a lashing or confiscation of his property, but rather he was merely excluded from the presidential race on account of his mother’s nationality.

The biggest and the latest of all surprises, or as described by some as a “master stroke”, was when the Salafis then turned to nominate the Brotherhood’s former symbol Aboul Fotouh. With such a nomination, the Salafis have hit a number of birds with one stone: they have created a balance with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the strongest party in the political arena and is clearly seeking to monopolize power. Had the Salafis supported the new Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Mursi, this would have further consolidated the Brotherhood’s monopolization. Yet their nomination of Aboul Fotouh certainly lessens the Brotherhood’s grip on total domination, and paves the way for the Salafis to share the spoils if their candidate proves successful. Furthermore, such an act shows that the Salafis are potentially open towards any other party, contrary to the old stereotype of them being closed minded.

In short, the Egyptian Salafis have shown surprising political cunning that will ensure them an important place in the forthcoming political chess game.