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Salafis, who subscribe to a strict version of Islam, were blamed in weekend attacks against Christians in Cairo. Many Egyptians worry that extremists could play a greater role in post-Mubarak Egypt.

ICC Note:

Coptic Christians believe that Salafis, also known as Wahhabis, were responsible for the attack. Last weekend, 50,000 Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood members held a joint rally in Giza, chanting slogans of unity and support for an Islamic state. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party is the most organized and financed contender in Egypt’s September elections. Many predict that Islamists will win the majority seat in parliament, including presidential candidate and nationalist Amr Moussa. “Mr. Moussa… described a political landscape in which the Muslim Brotherhood, outlawed under Mr. Mubarak, is dominant. It is inevitable, he said, that parliamentary elections in September will usher in a legislature led by a bloc of Islamists, with the Brotherhood at the forefront,” reported The Wall Street Journal.

By Kristen Chick

5/10/2011 Egypt (Christian Science Monitor) – The deadly clashes between Muslims and Christians in Cairo this weekend have heightened already growing concern about the role of fundamentalist Muslims known as Salafis in post-revolution Egypt.

Salafis, who have no organized group or structure, have long shunned politics in Egypt. But since the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak, whose secular regime repressed Islamists and extremists of all stripes, Salafis have begun to vocally enter the political fray. The strident sectarian rhetoric and recent attacks on Christians has many Egyptians worried that extremist forces could find a greater role in the new Egypt.

“They don’t want Christians in Egypt. They want an Islamic state,” said a woman who gave her name as Mona at a Christian protest Monday against the weekend violence. Next to her, a woman in a Muslim hijab who held a wooden cross joined the protest in solidarity as chants against Salafis filled the air. “We are afraid for what will happen to us in the future when people like that are allowed to attack us and to be part of the new government,” says Mona, holding an image of Jesus aloft.

What ended in fighting that killed 12 people in the Cairo district of Imbaba started Saturday when a group of Salafis gathered at St. Mina church, claiming that the church was holding a woman who had converted from Christianity to Islam, and demanding the church release her. Such claims of conversion and kidnapping have been a flash point for sectarian tension, with Salafis in particular seizing on them in the past year.

Salafi clerics express hatred toward Christians on TV

Salafism is an ultraconservative strain of Islam whose followers believe in emulating the first three generations of Muslims and reject any “innovation” of the religion that followed. Some wear traditional robes and grow long beards to emulate the prophet Muhammad and his companions.

Though both groups want to see Islamic law imposed, Salafis consider the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood followers as “innovators.” Al Qaeda’s members follow a form of Salafism, but Egyptian Salafi clerics say that unlike the global terrorist group they have renounced violence. Yet Salafi clerics on television have railed hatefully against Christianity, and in March a Christian man in Qena said Salafists cut off his ear after accusing him of renting an apartment to a prostitute.

Growing political role for Salafis?

Many Salafist leaders were against participating in Egypt’s uprising, which toppled former President Hosni Mubarak, though younger followers participated anyway. Now, Dr. Rashwan says, Egyptian Salafist thought is now evolving as more embrace participation in politics after the revolution. Increased interaction with society may have a moderating effect on some, he says. “They will now try to integrate themselves into the political theater. It will take time, but we will have positive change inside Salafism.”

At a Salafist protest in support of Osama bin Laden Friday, a young Egyptian named Ahmed who described himself as a liberal Muslim stood watching as several hundred people chanted against the US and held signs that said, “We are all bin Laden.”

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