News / Africa

    Egypt's Salafists Raise Their Political Profile

    Separate elevators for men and women at the Towahid mosque in  Cairo,  April 5 2011
    Separate elevators for men and women at the Towahid mosque in Cairo, April 5 2011
    Elizabeth Arrott

    As Egypt prepares for its first elections since a popular uprising, many new actors have entered the political scene. Among them are Salafi Muslims, whose fundamentalism is seemingly at odds with both hopes for a democratic future and the country's long history of tolerance and pluralism.

    The mosque of Sheikh Shaaban Darwish sits side-by-side a Coptic church, not an unusual sight in Egypt where roughly ten percent of the people are Christian. But the Taawoun area of Giza is unmistakably Muslim, and conservative Muslim at that. The bearded men wear prayer caps, and the form-fitting clothes of women in wealthier neighborhoods give way to the flowing head-to-toe black of the niqab.

    Salafi Sheikh Shaaban Darwish at his office in Giza, Egypt, April 5, 2011
    Salafi Sheikh Shaaban Darwish at his office in Giza, Egypt, April 5, 2011

    The Salafi sheikh, whose Saudi headdress is a nod to prominent backers of puritan Islam, points to the proximity of the church as a sign of tolerance. He also welcomes the coming of democracy, just not the hypocritical, anti-Muslim kind he says is espoused by the West.

    Darwish says democracy has some of the advantages of Islam, but he argues Islam is "the authentic commodity", and democracy an "alternative." Islam, he says, allows for a democracy that convinces Muslims and others "that Islam is the end and not the means."

    Such beliefs are not surprising among a group that follows the ideas of the first three generations of Muslims some 1400 years ago. But as Salafis raise their political profile, they are also raising alarm among democracy advocates who sought to bring Muslims, Christians and secularists together on Tahrir Square.

    Activists look to recent incidents that seem to undermine their efforts at pluralism. In Fayoum, south of Cairo, one person died in a clash between Salafi Muslims and the Christian owner of a liquor store. In Qena, Salafists attacked a Coptic man they accused of renting an apartment to a prostitute. They cut off his ear.

    Darwish dismisses such incidents as the work of individuals and blames the media for making too much of them.

    Besides, he says, Salafi ideology doesn't count cutting off an ear among its punishments.

    In addition to fears of people coming under attack, some worry even Egypt's heritage would be in danger should Salafists have their way.

    Darwish says he distinguishes between monuments and idols, and that the pyramids, for example, are safe.

    He says Salafists wouldn't even physically destroy idols, as the Taliban did in Afghanistan. Rather, he says, they will "destroy them in people's minds, their culture and their hearts" through "right preaching."

    The former government often justified the heavy hand of its security by pointing to the threat of extremists stoking sectarian divides. Such fears were not lessened when the overwhelming approval of last month's referendum was tied in part to the slogan "Islam is the answer."

    Moreover, while much attention has been paid to upcoming presidential elections and the largely secular potential candidates, it is the parliamentary vote that will likely have a more deciding effect on the country's future. The next parliament will decide on a new constitution, and with it how secular or religious the new Egypt will be.

    Just how well Salafists might do is unclear. There are few reliable opinion polls, so it is hard to know how wide their appeal is after decades of repression. The more moderate Muslim Brotherhood, despite also being harassed, has a well-established social and political network and some believe the two could join forces to give Islamists a prominent position in the next parliament.

    But Mohamad Salah, the head of the London based el-Hayat newspaper and an observer of Islamic movements, thinks that unlikely.

    Salah says it would be difficult for the Brotherhood to associate itself with any movement seen as extremist. He argues it has spent a long time denouncing radicalism and opening up its base to present a more voter-friendly movement.

    He also does not believe Salafism is very widespread, although he points to changes in recent years that may have attracted some Egyptians.

    He says the increase of satellite channels - in particular Saudi religious ones - as well as the spread of poverty and what he calls ignorance have all boosted the fundamentalists' ranks.

    But those channels have brought something else - a greater window on the world.

    That awareness is on display upstairs from the Sheikh's office.

    Step out of the elevator - there are separate ones for men and women, with a recording of a travelers' prayer playing as the car ascends - and one enters a ceremony for women of the mosque. The celebrants have successfully memorized the Quran.

    There is singing and laughing and for entertainment, a dead-on parody of Moammar Gadhafi and his recent, rambling "zenga zenga" speech.

    These women are separate, but they are informed.

    It's that kind of information - what is happening both at home and abroad - that helped spread the pro-democracy movement across the region and, in Egypt, for now, helped put an end to repression.

    You May Like

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmarki
    X
    John Owens
    June 26, 2016 2:04 PM
    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora