Giving hope to persecuted Christians since 1995
Select Page

ICC Note:

Salafis, perhaps Egypt’s most fundamental Islamic sect, are demanding Sharia (Islamic law) and attacking non-Muslim groups who oppose it, including Christians. Unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafis have stayed clear of politics, but are believed by many to be responsible for the New Year’s Eve attack on a church in Alexandria that killed more than 25 worshippers.

By Ashraf El-Sherif

3/29/2011 Egypt (Al Masry Al Youm) – A Salafi fear industry has developed in the Egyptian media, especially after the group’s sudden emergence in the aftermath of the revolution — to the shock of many secular Egyptian elites. There are indeed legitimate fears about the religious intolerance that may spread as a result of Salafi activism. But to properly grasp the “Salafi phenomenon” requires an understanding of the new political context in which Egyptian Islamist groups are operating.

Salafis’ popularity in Egypt has been evident over the past decades. They are a fairly well-entrenched religious tendency that has been quite present on the Egyptian street. However, their potential for impact should not be exaggerated. In my view, Salafis are politically confined to “trouble-maker” status but nothing more. They lack the organization, political expertise and mindset to translate their doctrinal intransigence into meaningful political gains on the ground, even within the Islamist camp.

Salafis’ political potential should be assessed in terms of their doctrinal objectives and attitudes towards politics. Their primary mission is to monopolize the Islamic public sphere and disregard all religious authorities, save their own. Before the revolution, Salafis remained apolitical. They didn’t have political platforms and never concerned themselves with establishing an Islamic state, unlike the Muslim Brotherhood or Egypt’s various jihadist movements. Salafis have always believed in Islam as an all-encompassing system that includes public as well as private affairs. However, their high standards for what constitutes “Islamic” activism — the exclusive supremacy of sharia’ law and a favorable domestic and international balance of power — has kept them distant from politics. So, as long as these criteria were not fulfilled, Salafis would not engage in political activism. They distinguished themselves from the gradualist reformist approach of the Muslim Brotherhood, which they denounced as being religiously unorthodox and practically ineffective.

The Egyptian revolution has changed the Salafi approach to politics. Their primary objective is still control over the Islamic public sphere. But the revolution surpassed their expectations and even drew considerable participation of from the Salafi grassroots, in defiance of stern warnings from their clerics. This left Salafis in disarray. The sudden politicization of wide-segments of Egyptian society contravened their well-established belief that Salafis’ political moment had not yet come.

For the time being, topping the Salafi agenda is the expansion of their proselytizing activities. This explains the on-going campaign of mass  Salafi conventions organized by preachers nation-wide, after having been restricted to their stronghold in Alexandria for decades by Mubarak’s regime. When the Salafi understanding of Islam rises to the level of everyday common sense, this will be their biggest success.  In the lead up to the referendum, Salafis relentlessly pressured the Brotherhood into more confrontational profile. Their goal was to first unify the Islamist bloc and then impose their colors on it. Now, through their would-be political party, Salafis are expected to employ a strategy of mass populist mobilization through fiery propaganda. This threatens to re-invigorate identity politics and sectarian strife in Egypt.

[Full Story]