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

Kurdish President: More Needed to Defeat Islamic State

In interview with VOA's Persian Service, Massoud Barzani says peshmerga forces have not received weapons, logistical support needed to successfully fight IS in northern Iraq More

Sierra Leone's Stray Dog Population Doubles During Ebola Crisis

Many dog owners fear their pets could infect them with the virus and have abandoned them, leading to the increase and sparking fears of rabies More

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

New methods for mapping pain in the brain not only validate sufferers of chronic pain but might someday also lead to better treatment More

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

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Paini
X
Shelley Schlender
April 20, 2015 7:03 PM
Pain has a purpose - it can stop you from touching a flame or from walking on a broken leg. As an injury heals, the pain goes away. Usually. But worldwide, one out of every five people suffers from pain that lasts for months and years, leading to lost jobs, depression, and rising despair when medical interventions fail or health experts hint that a pain sufferer is making it up. From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Italy Rescues Migrants After Separate Deadly Capsize Incident

Italy continued its massive search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Monday for the capsized boat off the coast of Libya that was carrying hundreds of migrants, while at the same time rescuing Syrian migrants from another vessel off the coast of Sicily. Thirteen children were among the 98 Syrian migrants whose boat originated from Turkey on the perilous journey to Europe.
Video

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs