Salafist Movement, Islamic Case in Egypt
Salafist Movement, Islamic Case in Egypt
Thursday, July 3,2008 07:49

Electronic forums on the cyberspace aren’t the only ones that created such a mushrooming presence of the traditional Salafist movement in Egypt , although they have opened doors which weren’t available a few years ago neither for it nor for others.

 They have allowed the web surfers to know what was impossible to be known before. This accordingly contributed not only in marketing the Salafist movement, but it has also contributed to defining the so called famous preachers belonging to this movement; like Mohamed Hassaan, Hussein Yacoub and others who are considered Salafists in the specific not general meaning of the word. The general meaning of this applies to late well-known preacher sheikh Muhammad Metwali Al-Sha"rawi.

Websites and electronic forums may be the ones who got some Egyptians to know for the first time that there is a difference between Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood. It is known whether this led these ones to realize the nature and dimensions of this difference. Some of the observers of the Salafist movement in Egypt noticed increasing hits in some of its websites and forums on the Internet in the recent weeks following the parliamentary elections in Kuwait held last May, 17. This movement achieved a huge victory.


Seeing them as indispensable basis for an all-out reform, this Salafist movement has focused on "reforming belief and worship" and " building the Muslim"s character ". Therefore, Egyptian Salafists haven"t gone through political battles. They have rather gone through cultural battles against artistic and literary creativeness and philosophical thought that they thought of – according to their understanding- as a rebellion against beliefs, a challenge to religious constants or a profanity to Divine Entity or the messenger-PBUH- and his Companions.


Some Salafists have exercised - in this context- heavy pressures to reduce the freedom of creative expression through suing a big number of writers and creators judicially. This actually caused a gloomy atmosphere especially after the famous lawsuit against Dr. Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid, that led to deeming him a disbeliever and separating between him and his wife because of some of his academic writings, making him leave the country.


This means that the Salafists" shunning direct political work did not prevent them from causing a deep impact on the society. However, some of them started to call for reconsidering this avoidance of directly engaging in politics. They called for studying running for elections because the voice of the Salafists may affect the future of Egypt . Some of them even said jokingly that any poll held among taxi drivers will prove that sheikhs are like Hussein Yacoub and Mohamed Hassaan are more famous than Muslim Brotherhood Chairman and chairmen of the Egyptian political parties.


This may true but it is true also that the Salafist movement in Egypt is old, and that its presence as an establishment may be dated back to a century ago. Avoiding direct political work may be the cause behind being less famous than the Muslim Brotherhood or violence groups that have been under the spotlight since late 1970s until mid 1990s.


Most observers of the Islamic scene in Egypt viewed the Salafists as if they were only preachers who have no effect outside the religious mission. Many thought, according to this view, that Salafists are in a state of stillness or they are "a landlocked sea" whose water stagnated, when compared with the surges clapping in the Muslim Brotherhood and violence groups topped by the Islamic Group and Jihad Organization. This common view overlooked the huge social role carried out by the Salafists, the role which was a main factor behind "the Islamization" of the Egyptian society and the domination of religious symbols, not least is the woman"s veil and face- veil. This view even overlooked the Salafist movement"s role in reducing the ceiling of the freedom of expression in artistic and literary creation, and imposing a social supervision that suffocated this freedom to the extent that the official censorship was dwarfed in front of it.

 The traditional Salafist movement in contemporary Egypt has a great history. It has permeated in Al-Azhar whose corners witnessed since the beginning of the 20th  century an intellectual conflict between it and the rational reformist movement spearheaded by imam Muhammad Abdou.

 The Salafists continued working as individuals and small groups until 1912 when some of them founded "Al-Gam"iya Al-Shar"iya", the first big organization reflecting them. It was followed by founding other societies and organizations topped by "Ansar Al-Sunnah Am-Muhammadiya in 1926, and the society of Tabligh and Da"wa (Mission and Call) which is considered an expansion of a broader activity in a number of Arab and Islamic countries.

 Unlike the Muslim Brotherhood  or violence groups, no clash has ever surfaced in the relation between the Salafist movement and the Egyptian regime. The regime has followed, since the monarchy and in the republican system until now, a policy of containing this movement and even exploiting when necessary. The regime in Egypt has never considered the Salafist movement a threat even in the era of late president Gamal Abd El Nasser who adopted a bones crushing policy against the Muslim Brotherhood. It can be said that the method adopted by Nasser in this battle was to assert that the regime offers the true version Islam, making it in need to use some salafist figures to assert this message.

 As for the decisions that included imposing restrictions on some Salafist societies, they were not directed against them in the first place. They were rather a kind of precautionary measures, a tend to curb the penetration of Muslim Brotherhood elements in some of these societies and their branches. This penetration have even increased since mid 1990s as a part of the Muslim Brotherhood"s preparation of candidates who can run for the parliamentary elections. The strong election performance of the Muslim Brotherhood candidates in 2005 elections that allowed it to achieve a breakthrough when more than 60 % of its candidates won, garnering 20 % of the parliament seats, this wasn"t a chance or a blow of a luck. It was rather due to a good selection of candidates who enjoy strong potentials for the race. Some of them managed to acquire these potentials or a part of them through making use of the wide capabilities of some salafist societies, particularly some branches of Al-Gam"iya Al-Shar"iya for the cooperation of the supporters of the Holy Book Mohammedan Sunna".


The CVs of 20 Muslim Brotherhood candidates who won seats in 2005 elections and are currently members of the Egyptian parliament, show that they have varying relations with branches of this society in their constituencies. Some of them preached and delivered sermons in its mosques, others supervised or took part in some of their social and charitable projects, and there were others who carried out roles in the Zakat committees affiliated to these societies.

 Due to the fact that activities of this society draw huge sections of the public, especially lower and middle sections in the social hierarchy, this provided a platform for the Muslim brotherhood elements to reinforce their election capabilities through forming blocs of voters in a way that was not mostly available for rivals.

 The Muslim brotherhood candidates have done this individually and quietly. They avoided any possible revealing of this although it surfaced and caused some skirmishes from time to time, especially when preparing for Lesser Bairam (Al-Fitr Feast) and Greater Bairam (Al-Adha Feast) prayers in some areas. Also emerged sometimes were clashes between students affiliated to both movements in some  universities, especially universities of Cairo and Alexandria which have a salafist presence that can in some of faculties allow them to rival the Muslim brotherhood which has become the biggest force in most Egyptian universities since the 1980s.

 Where there is no strong Salafist presence that can be rival to the Muslim Brotherhood, the relation takes one of two forms: Independence from each others (mostly) or cooperation in some activities (sometimes).

 However, if it is correct that the Salafist movement or at least a main section inside it, is in a transitional period towards a direct participation in the political work, this will likely have an impact on the Islamic movements landscape, and even in the nature of the Islamic case in Egypt .

 *Dr. Wahid Abdel Megid is the Deputy Chairman of Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies