Islamists against Islamists
20 - 26 October 2011
Egyptian Salafi demonstrators attend a rally in downtown Cairo`s Tahrir square on July 29, 2011. Tens of thousands packed Cairo`s Tahrir Square, with Islamist groups dominating the protest meant to show unity during a fragile transition from ousted president Hosni Mubarak`s regime.
The Islamists are not in an enviable position, writes Amani Maged
After the comfort of the embrace of the Democratic Alliance for Egypt, the largest electoral coalition so far, their spirit concord has begun to unravel. Whereas until just a week ago, the Muslim Brotherhood`s Freedom and Justice Party had succeeded to contain or, at least, postpone the historic animosity between it and the Salafis and had struck common cause with Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, the Islamists have begun to fall out, shattering their electoral understanding.
It all seemed to happen from one day to the next. When the Salafist Nour (Light) Party saw that it would come out of the party without prizes, which is to say that its candidates would not top the lists, it broke away from the coalition and formed a list of its own. As a result, the largest and most popular Salafist party now plans to contend 70 per cent of the seats that will be elected by proportional lists and, following talks with other parties, it will soon reveal the number of single-ticket seats it will contend.
In spite of the tender age of the Nour Party, which only emerged after the revolution from an ideological trend that shunned political involvement and largely regarded the electoral process as a heresy, its leader, Emad Abdel-Ghafour maintains that it is better prepared for the elections than most other parties. The party, he said, could rival parties that have existed for more 30 years. Moreover, in the space of a few days, it succeeded in luring two other Salafist parties, the Asala (Authenticity) and Fadila (Virtue) parties, away from the Democratic Coalition. These were soon followed by Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya`s Construction and Development Party, which also broke away from the coalition due to disputes over ranking in the lists, as well as the Islamic Action and Arab Unity Party. In the Islamist spectrum of the electoral map, therefore, the Muslim Brothers are on one side and all the other Islamists are on another.
As one contemplates this Muslim Brotherhood- Salafist divide, one can still hear the echoes of Islamist declarations of solidarity. It was not that long ago that the prominent Salafi leader Yasser Burhami said that Salafis should support Muslim Brotherhood candidates in the parliamentary elections. His opinion was quickly seconded by another major Salafi leader, Sheikh Mohamed Hassan, who announced on a satellite television programme that the Salafis would stand behind the Muslim Brotherhood in the forthcoming phase. The Muslim Brotherhood was the political force that was “the best equipped to participate in political life because of its lengthy experience in this field and, because of its background and its Islamic outlook, it is the closest to the ideas, views and principles of the Salafist movement which also seeks to serve Islam and the Muslim people,” he said.
Such statements were a marked departure from the historic antagonism that had prevailed between the Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood since this organisation was founded by Hassan Al-Banna. It is the Muslim Brotherhood`s belief that that change can only be accomplished by participating in all activities of society, including politics and the electoral process. This is why Muslim Brotherhood candidates have always run in elections from the local to the national level, whether for municipal councils, educational boards, syndicate boards and student federations or for the People`s Assembly and Shura Council.
The Salafist movement, on the other hand, believes that there is only one way to reform society. This is to proselytise and enjoin people to pray, give alms, perform the pilgrimage, fast and conform with the other Islamic duties and precepts. One could say that to them, urging men to grow their beards and women to wear the veil comes first and political involvement of any form comes a distant second.
Salafi leaders have been known to lash out at Muslim Brotherhood figures and individuals sympathetic with their ideas, such as Amr Khaled and Youssef El-Qaradawi. But nor have Salafis the wrath of Muslim Brotherhood leaders who have charged that Salafist forums and media outlets show little interest in or respect for the opinions of others.
In view of this historic animosity, it is perhaps not so surprising that, as the expert in Islamist movements Mohamed Zahran observed, when it resurfaced after a brief lull, tensions would erupt and the Islamists would rapidly re-coalesce into new alignments, not against liberals, leftists and other traditional adversaries of the Islamist movement, but against the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. As Zahran sees it, the Democratic Coalition began to unravel the moment that the Nour Party, which had politically matured somewhat, felt that it no longer needed the Muslim Brotherhood or its Freedom and Justice Party. So, when it met its latest disappointment in the context of the coalition, it reassessed its calculations, reordered its priorities and decided to wash its hands of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Salafi leaders for several months had praised as a source of inspiration worthy of emulation as the Salafis learned politics and which they had pledged to support to ensure that the Islamist cause prevailed over the secularists. Zahran further believes that the real reason why the Nour Party fled the coalition and why other Salafist parties followed suit was to found in the statement by Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie to the effect that the Freedom and Justice Party intended to field Coptic candidates in the forthcoming elections. As though this were not a sufficient departure from the Islamist frame of reference, from the Salafist perspective, there were also speculations that the Coptic thinker Rafiq Habib, vice-president of the Freedom and Justice Party, would enter the elections under the party banner. According to Zahran, this is when the Salafist parties, spearheaded by the Nour Party, began to consider creating a Salafist Islamist front opposed to the Democratic Coalition and to the Muslim Brotherhood, in particular.
The natural consequence of this development will be to divide the Islamist vote. Nor will the Freedom and Justice Party be the only party adversely affected. As Zahran put it, the rifts that have been fracturing the Islamist camp will be detrimental to all factions, from the Muslim Brothers through the Salafis and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya to the Wasat (Centre) Party and the Islamist Action and Arab Unity Party. In order to avert this prospect, he adds, these parties urgently need to summon the resolve to set aside factional differences in the interest of promoting their collective Islamist project and, more practically, to develop modern organisational and coordinating mechanisms commensurate with the demands of the new experience they are engaged in.
Looking a little further ahead, the electoral rivalry between the Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood, if it continues, would certainly affect the shape of the forthcoming parliament. Will it wear the Brotherhood mantel or the Salafi turban? Or will the elections bring other surprises?
The Danger of Sectarian Strife in Egypt
Mehr News Agency
Sunday, October 23, 2011
TEHRAN, Oct. 23 (MNA) -- The recent clashes between Muslims and Christians in Egypt once again caused people to take to the streets, like what happened several months ago when demonstrations were held to protest against the autocratic rule of Hosni Mubarak. But this time, the people were not opposing a despot, they were chanting and fighting against each other. The election season is underway in Egypt, and the people are enthusiastically awaiting the birth of the promised democratic system, in which the generals leave the government and return to barracks. However, the recent sectarian clashes provided the military an opportunity to open up a new space for itself and use the situation as a pretext to hang on to power.
It should also be noted that some elements of the former regime played a significant role in fomenting the religious disputes, especially by goading extremist religious leaders to encourage people to get into clashes. The fact that low wages are paid to clerics in Egypt creates a good incentive for them to bow to the demands of rich Wahhabis and to get involved in pointless religious disputes. The Wahhabis are using the current turmoil to exacerbate the disputes and also to disseminate propaganda about an alleged Shia threat, which is mainly supposed to come from Iran.
The religious conflicts cannot be solved with military solutions, and the only option for the government is to raise the level of religious awareness among the people. In this way, Muslims and Christians will acquire the vigilance necessary to counter the extremist plots.
The young revolution in Egypt is facing numerous threats, and the military, backed by the United States and Israel, is looking for an opportunity to stabilize its shaky situation. Conflicts and disputes open the door for the U.S. and its allies to undermine the Egyptian revolution by claiming that human rights violations are occurring and freedom of religion is being restricted.
Sectarian strife in Egypt also provides the opportunity for other autocratic Arab rulers to prevent the contagious effects of the Egyptian revolution from reaching the masses of their countries.
Hojatollah Joodaki is a researcher and expert on the Middle East who formerly served as the cultural attache of the Iranian Embassy in Egypt.
(Description of Source: Tehran Mehr News Agency in English -- conservative news agency; run by the Islamic Propagation Office, which is affiliated with the conservative Qom seminary; www.mehrnews.com)
© Compiled and distributed by NTIS, US Dept. of Commerce. All rights reserved.
Specialist of Salafism Sees New Generations `Ready for Some Compromises`
Sunday, October 23, 2011
Commentary by Stephanie Le Bars: “A Salafization of Islam?”
It is a hybrid work (“Le Salafisme d`aujourd`hui. Mouvements sectaires en Occident (Salafism today. Sectarian movements in the West), Samir Amghar, Michalon, 238 pp, 18 euros) that researcher Samir Amghar proposes. Within the same framework this specialist of Salafism presents a didactic approach to the diverse branches of this literalist and ultraorthodox current of Islam and invites you take a lively dive into the Salafist circles established in the West. For this work, which was carried out mainly in France, Belgium, and Switzerland, the young man mixed with the Salafist circles, taking on the appearance - thick beard and qamis (“long shirt”) – of the subjects of his study. Their words are enlightening.
This mixing of genres gives a pretty convincing result, despite some repetitions and questions left hanging in the air. For example, the subtitle of the book, “Mouvements sectaires en Occident,” which suggests a clear categorization of these groups, is not confirmed by the analysis of the author, who observes even “a certain decline in the sectarian logics.” While he recognizes among the faithful a detachment from the family environment and the feeling of belonging to a religious elite - classic signs of indoctrination - he also stresses that becoming a Salafist is a matter of “conscious choice.” He notes, moreover, a big turnover and shows that the new generations are, without watering down the doctrine, ready for some compromises with their social environment.
The sociological approach is enriched by the typology used by the author for the different forms of this practice of Islam, which worries the Western societies. But far from emphasizing the jihadist Salafism embodied by Al-Qa`ida, the researcher describes the diversity and antagonisms of these groups - from the quietist to the political via the revolutionary - and their political use by the powers-that-be in the Maghreb and the countries of the Gulf. And Samir Amghar wants to be reassuring: “The religious radicality and anti-Western curses of the militants act as an escape valve which diverts them from direct action.”
The Islam of the Origins
As far as the profile of the Salafists of the West is concerned, the author describes the faithful, often converts, who come from populations which have broken with society and which find their points of references among the scholars of Saudi Arabia and a theology spread on the Internet. Founded on the works of 18th-century theologians who strove to revive the Islam of the origins, it exalts the salaf al-salih, the pious ancestors or predecessors, “characterized by their exemplary piety and their military conquests.” It involves “purging the religious practice of its local particularisms and innovations which are said to have distorted the original Islam” is how Samir Amghar sums it up.
Beyond the way they dress, the researcher describes practices which are in permanent quest of purification and sanctification, practices which are valued in the neighborhoods. The faithful, for example, punctuate their sentences with religious expressions, eat their meals on the ground using three fingers of the right hand, and enter the bathroom left foot first while reciting a religious invocation....
The author notes also that Salafism corresponds “to the desire to reestablish a clear distinction between men and women, as the segregation of the sexes is a means of combating the degeneration of the Western societies.” A motivation put forward as much by women as men, the researcher assures.
More broadly, the globalization of Salafism, illuminated by this study, will not fail to pose questions to the Muslim world as a whole, a world confronted by a “Salafization” of religious behavior.
(Description of Source: Paris LeMonde.fr in French -- Website of Le Monde, leading center-left daily; URL: http://www.lemonde.fr)
© Compiled and distributed by NTIS, US Dept. of Commerce. All rights reserved.
Perspectives on the Islamist and Salafist Parties in Egypt: Similarities and Dissimilarities
By Hani Nasira
The Jamestown Foundation
October 21, 2011
As part of the growing political process that opened up after the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, there are now fourteen Islamist parties in Egypt, a dramatic change from less than a year ago, when all such parties were banned. These religious parties mushroomed after some were approved by the Committee of Political Parties and others after a decision was passed by the Administrative Court endorsing their establishment. 
Without a clear cut separation between the religious and the political, the Islamic movement in Egypt has recently tended towards political factionalism. Accusations and counter accusations have become common between various groups; the Fadhila Party, for instance, accused the Assla Party Chairman, Major General Adel Abdul Maqsood, of stealing 3500 records of party members when he left the party and adding them to the members` list of his own party. This accusation was rejected by Abdul Maqsood, saying the remaining Fadhila members are the ones who abandoned the party when they tried to hijack the party by merging it with non – Salafist parties to form a single political front. 
Many other Islamist parties withdrew from the Democratic Alliance (al-Tahalof al-Dimqurati) led by the Muslim Brotherhood`s new political formation, al-Hurriyya wa al-`Adala (the Freedom and Justice Party) when it became clear the Brothers wanted to monopolize the election lists for the Egyptian parliamentary elections scheduled for November 28, 2011 and the Shura Council election on January 22, 2012. The Nour Party withdrew from the group due to what is perceived as the alliance`s support of secularism.
The Salafist groups largely declared their opposition to the Egyptian Revolution, though some Brotherhood youths participated in the Revolution`s leadership. In spite of the fact Gama`a al-Islamiya (GI) distanced itself from the Revolution and did not attribute any of its struggles or achievements to itself, the Salafist groups have been among those most ready to exploit Egypt`s post-revolution politics and the least flexible in the face of what is sees as policies contradicting Salafist objectives, such as reevaluations of concepts such as citizenship and nationality. The Salafists have also accused the Revolutionary youth of being fanatics or even traitors.
The Salafist stand on the Coptic issue became evident in a series of violent incidents following the Revolution,
► On March 4, the Two Martyrs Church in the Giza Province village of Soul was torched by a Muslim mob. Local Copts remain angry after prosecutors declined to charge anyone in the attack (Ahram Online, April 13).
► Violent clashes between Copts and Muslims over another church burning on March 8-9 left at least ten dead and hundreds injured in the Moqattam district of eastern Cairo (Egypt.com News, March 9).
► In April, Salafists joined the Muslim Brothers in a two-day protest in Qena to oppose the appointment of a Coptic governor, General Emad Shehata Michael (Ahram Online, April 16; al-Masry al-Youm, April 18).
► In May, Salafists assaulted one church and torched another in a violent sectarian clash provoked by a local Muslim who claimed his Christian wife was being held inside the church after converting to Islam (al-Gomhurriya, May 9).
The Salafists` insistence on a national Islamic identity after the revolution and their animosity towards religious minorities are a basic and prominent element in the discourse of the Salafist political parties. In the 10,000 word manifesto of the Salafist Nour Party, the terms “non-Muslim” and “citizenship” were each mentioned only once, as was the term “civil state.” “Human Rights” was only mentioned within the context of the right to healthcare. “Democracy” was mentioned twice, but only within the context of Islamic terms of reference. 
The Salafist al-Asala (Authenticity) Party seems closer in its discourse to Sayid Qutb`s political thought than it is to the Salafist line of thought. The party emphasizes that their first principle is governance based on “the divine law (Shari`a) for its people and the enforcement of this law, as well as annulling all the other laws that are in contradictions with that of Allah, and never to accept man-made laws and only embrace the divine laws of Allah” (al-Masry al-Youm, October 16).
The Islamist parties and al-Haya`a al-Shari`a lil Islah are currently seeking to unite the efforts of the Islamists to endorse an Egyptian Islamic constitution.
In spite of all the apparent similarities among all these parties and their agreement to stifle democracy, citizenship and governance, one can notice three basic contradictions common to their manifestoes and practices:
1) The parties have allowed political competition to challenge their common Islamic purpose in establishing an Islamic state in post-revolutionary Egypt. This competition is manifested in elections, political conflict, the formation of alliances against other parties and the accusations and counter-accusations that dominate relations between the Salafist parties.
2) Egypt`s Salafist parties have incorporated nationalism into their political platforms, a deviation from usual Salafist practices. Salafist parties have regional and nationalistic ambitions such as forming an Islamic axis with Iran and Turkey to further the establishment of a revived Caliphate, as mentioned in the manifestos of the Bena`a wa`l-Tanmiyya (Building and Development) Party, the party of the al-Gama`a al-Islamiya.  Other Salafist parties have issued calls for an Arab unity axis or have issued similar nationalist calls.
3) Once the struggle for constitutional reforms began, the Islamist parties unanimously agreed on opposing and challenging the sectarian parties and civil organizations. To this end they decided to carry out a media and religious battle against them before the elections slated for November. On the other hand the Salafist parties completely identify themselves with the Army and its policies designed to open the political process (Ikhwan Online, October 12). The spiritual mentor of the Salafist school, Yasser Borhami, described the sectarian parties as “cartoon infidels that are not worthy of any alliance” (Elbadl.net, October 8).
The post-Revolution proliferation of Salafist political parties is actually impeding their progress towards establishing an Islamic state in Egypt. Political discord prevents the creation of an effective alliance and the parties` close identification with sectarian street violence is unlikely to enhance their appeal to more moderate Egyptian Muslims.
1. Among the Salafist parties to be recognized by the Party Committee in Egypt are al-Amal al-Islami (Islamic Action), al-Hurriyya wa al-`Adala (Freedom and Justice Party) the Wasat (Center) Party, al-Nour Party, Asala al-Salafi and the Bena`a and Tanmiya Party. The latter was approved by the Administrative Court after it was rejected by the Party Committee because its platform is based on religious beliefs. It was not clarified how this party differs from the other previously approved. The Salafi al-Fadhila Party is still waiting to be approved by the Committee, as is the Tawhid al-Arabi (Arab Union), an offshoot of al-Amal al-Islami. Other parties are still preparing their papers to be presented to the Committee include al-Salam and Tanmiya Party (led by some former jihadists), the Egyptian Tayyar Party, al-Wasatiya Party (led by Karam Zuhdi, the former Chairman of the Shura Council of the Jama`a Islamiya Party), the Masr al-Bena`a Party( led by Nidal Hamad) and the Nahda Islamic Party (led by Muhammad Habib, former Deputy Supreme Guide of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and Dr. Ibrahim al-Za`afarani, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood`s Shura Council.
3. Hani Nasira: “Islamists Contrasts, A Case of al- Nour Party,” al-Hayat, July 3, 2011.
4. For the Bena wa al-Tanmiyya Party manifesto