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ICC Note:

Islamic fundamentalists groups, like the Salafis, are using Egypt’s newfound freedoms to mobilize political parties and impose Sharia (Islamic law). Christians have been attacked in recent weeks, and stores that are considered contrary to Sharia teachings, like liquor shops, have been vandalized. Some fear that if no actions by the Egyptian military are taken to hold these groups accountable, then Egypt could turn into the next Gaza.

4/5/2011 Egypt (Associated Press) – Islamic hard-liners, some of them heavily suppressed under three decades of Hosni Mubarak’s regime, are enthusiastically diving into Egypt’s new freedoms, forming political parties to enter upcoming elections and raising alarm that they will try to lead the country into fundamentalist rule.

Some militants, taking advantage of a security vacuum, aren’t waiting for the political process. They have attacked Christians and liquor stores, trying to impose their austere version of Islamic law in provincial towns.

The Islamists’ newfound energy prompted the ruling military to warn on Monday that Egypt “will not be turned into Gaza or Iran.”

Islamists could fare well in parliamentary elections scheduled for September, especially if the various groups run on a unified ticket. Their chances are boosted by the disarray among other groups. Traditional opposition parties were deeply restricted under Mubarak’s 29-year rule and have no popular base to speak of. The liberal youth groups behind the 18-day uprising that forced Mubarak to step down on Feb. 11 are still scrambling to organize before voting day.

The Islamists, furthermore, are well funded and organized. The most established fundamentalist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, has years of experience in contesting elections.

While the Brotherhood has long been Egypt’s best organized opposition movement, the Salafis are a new player in politics. Salafis are ultraconservatives, close to Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi interpretation of Islam and more radical than the Brotherhood. They seek to emulate the austerity of Islam’s early days and oppose a wide range of practices they view as “un-Islamic” — rejecting the treatment of non-Muslims as citizens with equal rights as well as all forms of Western cultural influence.

They are also blamed for attacks on Christians and others they don’t approve of. In one attack, a Christian man had an ear cut off for renting an apartment to a Muslim woman thought to be involved in prostitution; in another a Muslim was killed for allegedly practicing magic, which ultra-conservatives denounce, a security official said.

In the oasis province of Fayoum southwest of Cairo, Salafis have forced the closure of four cafes that serve alcohol. They also set fire to four Christian homes in a Fayoum village, prompting clashes with residents, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to share the information with the media.

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