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Egypt’s Salafists divided over Mursi, call for Islamic Sharia law | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – More than a year after entering the political sphere, participating in Egyptian elections, a large number of Salafists have announced their opposition to the positions taken by their political leadership. Egypt’s Salafists have begun to complain about the direction being taken by the al-Nour party leadership and its perceived lack of commitment to the Islamist ideology, as well as its failure to promote Islam and Salafist jurisprudential views in a clear and explicit manner. Egypt’s Salafists have also criticizing Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, as well as the al-Nour party’s leadership failure to take him to task.

A number of prominent Salafists have stated that they voted for Islamist President Mohammed Mursi and the Salafist al-Nour party in order to see the imposition of Islamic Sharia law in Egypt; however both Mursi and the al-Nour party seem to have backed off from this election pledge. The al-Nour party has witnessed significant internal splits as a result of its positions on a number of issues, with many believing that the party has backed off on its election pledges in order to appease the Egyptian president. A large number of the al-Nour party’s younger members resigned from the party in protest to the leadership’s perceived failures, and this is something that has threatened the forthcoming internal party elections.

The Salafists emerged as a strong popular and electoral force following the 25 January revolution, and they managed to win the second largest number of seats in Egypt’s parliament, after the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party. In addition to this, their backing of Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Mursi was vital in securing him the presidency, particularly during the presidential run-off vote.

Salafist clerics and youth have strongly criticized the Egyptian president for meeting with Egyptian actors and entertainers and his

encouragement of the Egyptian arts scene. Mursi met with a number of prominent Egyptian actors and musicians last week including Adel Imam, Mohamed Sobhy, Mohamed Mounir and Iman El-Bahr.

Commenting on this meeting, popular Egyptian cleric Wagdi Ghoneim described entertainers as “lewd and ungodly”, saying “it is not befitting for the president to meet with such people.” He added “in this case, is it right for homosexuals and drug addicts to ask to meet with the president, given that he is meeting with all parties?”

Ghoneim, speaking during a video record, addressed the Egyptian president, saying “I did not choose you to be the president of a civil state…but because you are a Muslim with a beard who has memorized the Quran and because of your slogan ‘Islam is the solution’.”

For his part, Sheikh Abdullah Badr said “we did not give our oath of allegiance to Mursi so that he can support the arts and creativity, but rather to support and spread the true religion of God throughout the earth.”

He added “it is a disaster for Mursi to move closer to the artists and creators because they are using him, whilst we are the ones who supported him.”

Speaking during a sermon on al-Hafiz TV, an Islamic satellite channel, Badr called on the Egyptian president to take a clear and explicit position and back those who voted for him.

During his meeting with artists and entertainment figures last week, the Egyptian president announced that “freedom of creativity and opinion is guaranteed for everybody” stressing his respect for the arts and artists.

Mursi has not only been criticized by Egypt’s Islamists for his position on the arts, but also after Cairo requested $4.8 billion from the International Monetary Fund [IMF], with interest rates of 1.1 percent. This is something that has angered many Egyptian Salafists, particularly as they reject “riba” [interest] as being contrary to Islamic Sharia law. The Salafists have said that Egypt’s position on this issue demonstrates the regime distancing itself from the principles of Islamic Sharia law.

In the wake of these controversies, and the perceived failure of the al-Nour party to take the Egyptian president to task, the al-Nour party Facebook group contained strong criticisms of the leadership’s performance.

Commenting on this issue, Salafist activist Yahya al-Shirbini asked “what role is the al-Nour party playing in terms of responding to the suspension of [military] officers due to their refusal to shave their beards? Where is its defense of Islamic Sharia law, or is this something that we only hear during the election period?”

For his part, Salafist activist Mohamed Rasem issued a public letter to the al-Nour party leadership calling on them to avoid politicking and focus on promoting the principles of Islam. Whilst another activist, Sharif Ibrahim – commenting on Mursi’s meeting with the artists – asked “why didn’t President Mursi meet with the bearded officers in the same manner that he met with the whores that represent the so-called arts?”

Salafists criticized President Mursi’s silence, as well as that of the al-Nour party, towards a film – mistakenly reported as being produced by Egyptian Christians abroad – which insults the Prophet Muhammad. The film “The innocence of Muslims” is actually produced by an Israeli -American film director who had since gone into hiding following attacks on the US embassies in Cairo and Benghazi in protest to the film. The US ambassador to Libya and three other embassy staff were killed in a rocket attack on their car after they rushed from a consular building which had been stormed by militants denouncing the US-made film. In neighbouring Egypt, demonstrators tore down an American flag and burned it during protests against the film. Salafist activists called on Mursi to ban the film.

Responding to the criticisms being exchanged between Egypt’s Islamists, Dr. Abdul Rahman al-Barr, a member of the Guide Bureau of the Muslim Brotherhood and Dean of Al-Azhar University’s Faculty of Theology and Dawa, told Asharq Al-Awsat “there is a difference between the president demonstrating communication and flexibility with regards to decision-making, delivering a message of truth and moderation, and abandoning the principles of Islamic Sharia law” stressing “this is something that has not happen whatsoever.”

Al-Bar added that anybody who says Islamists have abandoned their principles upon reaching power “has lost their senses.” He clarified that “the president is the president of all Egyptians, and wisdom requires that he meet with all [social] groups including those who may be practicing something wrong.”

In addition to this, there have been a large number of resignations from amongst the Salafist al-Nour party ranks in protest to perceived failures in its performance and operations. These resignations came after the beginning of the registration period for internal al-Nour party elections, with these being scheduled to take place on 15 September.

Dr. Ahmed Abdul Hamid, a member of the Central Election Commission of the al-Nour party, revealed that some party officials had resigned in protest to the results of the qualifying tests for administrative posts.

Al-Nour party spokesman, Yousri Hamad, said “there is a possibility that these internal elections will be postponed in order to decide any complaints.” He added “some people were prevented from entering the test halls, and these complaints were brought to the attention of the party chairman, and they were discussed at the meeting of the Higher Body two days ago, and there is a move to investigate the subjects of these complaints and postpone the internal elections.”

Al-Nour party chairman, Emad Eddin Abdul Ghafoor, issued a video message to the party dissidents, saying that he was monitoring and investigating this situation. He said “we are all in the same boat, we launched important work to serve our faith and state, and we will not dispense with the efforts of a single member of the party.”