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Wednesday’s papers: Fears of Salafis and calls to divorce religion from politics

ICC Note:

“Most of Wednesday’s Egyptian dailies highlight fears of rising Islamist power following reports of Salafis using violence against those who do not observe the rules of Islamic Sharia Law,” Al Masry Al Youm reports. The Salafis biggest target has been Christians.

By Noha El-Hennawy

3/30/2011 Egypt (Al Masry Al Youm) – Most of Wednesday’s Egyptian dailies highlight fears of rising Islamist power following reports of Salafis using violence against those who do not observe the rules of Islamic Sharia Law.

The state-owned daily Rose al-Youssef leads with “A state of terror follows Salafi threats,” referring to warnings that went viral in cyberspace earlier this week. The warnings claimed that Salafis will attack women who do not wear the niqab. The paper says that school absence rates around the country have increased because of fears of sectarian violence, and adds that some Christian schools have closed.

The privately-owned daily Al-Shorouk focuses on fears of Christians in particular with a story headlined, “Copts fear rumors that Salafis will target Christian and non-veiled women, despite reassurances from religious leaders.” The story mentions an earlier statement by a Coptic politician who claimed that Salafi groups and former security officers were plotting to stage a demonstration against unveiled women. Although Salafi websites denied these rumors, many Coptic women opted not leave their homes yesterday. However, many unveiled Muslim and Christian women on Facebook expressed defiance against the possibility of Salafi attacks and insisted on leaving their homes.

The paper quotes Hossam Tamam, an expert on Islamist groups, as questioning the willingness of Salafi groups to engage in violent acts, arguing that Egypt has no well-structured Salafi groups and that Salafis are usually peaceful. Yet he warned that the current state of lawlessness might encourage them to actualize what is none as the Islamic “Hisbah.” According to some interpretations of this doctrine, Muslims may enforce the rulings of Islam by force if necessary.

Al-Shorouk also reports that many political forces are calling upon the military to put into effect a law that would forbid the use of religion in politics. The paper quotes several liberal and secular politicians as warning against the recurrence of religious propaganda in the upcoming parliamentary elections slated for September.

Most secularists were alarmed by religious interference in the 19 March referendum on constitutional amendments. Salafis had argued that voting “yes” was a religious obligation. Although the Muslim Brotherhood did not use religious slogans in favor of the amendments, the group’s leaflets calling for a “yes” vote were distributed outside mosques in several places on the day before the poll.

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