Salafists raise fears by increasing presence on Egypt’s political stage

(Cairo) An administrative court will rule on April 27 in a lawsuit on whether the nation’s Salafists, a group of ultraorthodox Muslims, should be allowed to preach at the mosques. The lawsuit was filed by well-known lawyer Samir Sabri who says he is alarmed at the extent of Salafist presence at the mosques.  “They [the Salafists] use houses of Islamic prayer to increase their political outreach, especially in the Egyptian countryside,” Sabri said. “They also use the mosques to generate money for bankrolling their activities.”
The lawsuit and the expected ruling come as the Salafists gain new ground day after day, using the vacuum left on Egypt’s political and religious stage by the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

The Brotherhood saw its political heyday in mid-2012 when Morsi, a senior member of its command office, was elected president, fulfilling a decades-old dream of his movement which was founded in 1928.Nevertheless, when the people rose up against his government, only a year on his presidency because of its failure to address Egypt’s economic and political problems, Morsi’s followers turned violent.

Brotherhood militias staged attacks against state institutions, burned down dozens of churches and murdered a large number of policemen, precipitating a heavy-handed state crackdown.

The crackdown has almost totally eradicated the Brotherhood’s political presence on the streets, caused a huge number of its leaders to land in jail and sent other leaders to flee the country.

The Salafists are, meanwhile, using the political demise of the Brotherhood to increase their presence on the political stage.

They control a large number of mosques, especially in rural Egypt and increase their political appeal among poor Egyptians by giving them free food and medicine.

The Salafists are also preparinge to launch their own Tv channel in order to expand their outreach. The new channel will be used in explaining Salafist ideas and throw light on Salafist political ideology, according to Mahmud Abbas, a senior leader of the Salafist Call, the mother organization of Egypt’s Salafists.

Politically unknown before the 2011 revolution that ended the rule of autocrat Hosni Mubarak, the Salafists established their own political parties for the first time after the revolution.

Their principal party, al-Nour (Light in English), won a large number of seats in parliament in the first post-revolution parliamentary elections in 2012. The same party has 12 seats in the 596-seat parliament now.  The Salafists used to be part of the Brotherhood coalition when the latter Islamist movement ruled. However, when the clampdown on the Brotherhood started after Morsi’s ousting in mid-2013, the Salafists took a backseat and watched, fearing for the political gains they made since the 2011 uprising. After all, post-uprising freedoms gave the Salafists the chance to come out of the dark and found their political parties for the first time in their history.

The crackdown against the Brotherhood was also believed to be one against political Islam in Egypt as a whole, even as the Salafists and the Sufis, mystic Muslims, were exempted.

These two Islamist groups were exonerated and allowed to maintain presence on Egypt’s political, religious and social stages. Political observers say this is because the post-Morsi authorities were afraid that they would be accused of being hostile to the Islamic religion as a whole if they had launched an all-out crackdown on all Islamist movements.
But by turning a blind eye to the growing presence of the Salafists, Egyptian authorities are committing a mistake they may pay dearly for in the coming years, the same observers add.

Claiming to follow the purest version of the Islamic religion, the Salafists promote very strict teachings. They advise their followers not to say Merry Christmas to Christians; advocate polygamy; sanction the marriage of underage girls, and want women to be covered from crown to toe.

“They pose a real danger to Egypt at all levels,” said Ahmed Kerima, a professor of comparative religions at al-Azhar University, the academic arm of al-Azhar Mosque. “Salafist ideas are the ideological basis for all terrorist groups, including the most lethal currently on the international stage .”