Scenes of disproportionate “extremism” and fanatical religious rhetoric continue to arise in numerous countries in the Arab world and this is something that has become a “scarecrow” that is frightening and terrifying the public.
Extremist groups are well aware that they stand to lose the most following the re-arrangement of the political scene in the wake of the popular uprisings, particularly as this new scene is giving rise to a new type of political discourse based on justice, equality, rights and duties, as well as a more tolerant, moderate, and rational framework. This is something that will cause extremist religious discourse to appear abnormal, frightened, and rejected. Therefore, these extremist groups have no opportunity to prove their position in the political arena except by “raising their voice” and issuing verbal threats, and this is what is happening in different forms in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and Syria.
However what is happening in Egypt remains the subject of grave concern because more than 100 days have elapsed since the revolution took place, whilst political changes continue to occur. Throughout all these changes, the extremists have continued to raise their voices, not because of the large number of people that ascribe to this view, but rather due to the extremist statements and rhetoric being put forward by such [religious] groups, which appear to be strange and abnormal in the eyes of the people.
The relationships between Muslims and Christians, between man and woman, as well as issues like politics, tourism, antiquities and literature are all now subject to review following the new [political] situation in the country. Issues such as what is prohibited, or what is considered heresy, are all now being reviewed and questioned and there is a new [political] state of affairs in this country, which is the home of the Al-Azhar University, the center of jurisprudence for the Islamic world. Certain [Salafist] groups have therefore chosen to flex their muscles, and this is something that could particularly be seen during the constitutional referendum, which the groups in question claimed as a victory for their operation and public discourse. One [Salafist] sheikh and symbol, in a recent public gathering, said that he considered the constitutional referendum result to be a clear message, describing the results as a “religious conquest at the ballot box.” He also called on whoever was unhappy with the constitutional referendum result to migrate to Australia or Canada, in a clear reference to Egypt’s Coptic community [who have large expatriate communities in both these countries]. This group’s most recent position was to threaten to assassinate Pope Shenouda III, the head of the Coptic Church, and invade Coptic churches in order to “liberate” Camilia Shehata, an Egyptian Copt who reportedly converted to Islam only to be forcibly detained by the Coptic Church.
Many [Salafist] symbols and figures believe this cause [freeing Camilia Shehata] to be their main concern and have begun to issue threats in this regard, believing that a “conspiracy” is being carried out. However Camilia has lately appeared on television saying that she is a practising Christian and that she never converted to any other religion. As a result, these people took to the streets, attacking a church in Cairo, killing 5 people and injuring 80 others.
A new tense situation is emerging where certain groups [Salafists] are well aware that they may be swept away in the new re-ordering of the political system since they do not enjoy strong public acceptance or presence due to their narrow implementation of Islamist ideology, and because their opinions and viewpoints are deemed odd and out of touch, particularly as the rest of the Islamic world and Islamic scholars have agreed upon different principles. In light of this new situation, these [Salafist] groups are almost solely concerned with raising their public awareness and media presence by achieving victories in certain battles over limited issues.
Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Libya, Syria and Bahrain all have similar groups that adhere to this particular form of extremism. In fact, it is a type of “ideology” that is difficult to reach an agreement with or discuss concepts such as freedom, civil society or equal rights. This is something that was proven over many rounds of dialogue and discourse [with these groups]. Therefore Arab societies must shoulder a public responsibility in order to end the exploitation of the emotions of people who are eager to acquire freedom, dignity, rights and justice in the name of religion. According to the discourse adopted by these extremists and hardliners, they “think” that they are speaking on behalf of God and they “know” what is best for the people, and this is a blatant falsehood.
Different [political] trends are trying to seize control of the political scene [following the uprisings], and the extremists are definitely striving towards this end. They did not contribute to changing the political scene, and it would be a shame if they reaped the fruits of this!