CAIRO: Egypt’s Salafis, who have been the center of controversy lately, are slated to establish Al-Nahda, or the Renaissance Party, open for all Egyptians to join, according to Mamdouh Ismail, a lawyer and founder of the party.
“Until now we have collected more than 6,000 signatures to establish the party,” Ismail told Daily News Egypt, explaining that the name was chosen based on the purpose of the party which is to carry Egypt to a better stage.
Ismail said that Salafism is an ideology rather than a movement or a political group. “Before Jan. 25, 70 percent of the Salafis insisted on staying away from politics but now since Egypt is moving to a newer phase, 70 percent agrees with forming party and only 30 percent rejects the idea,” he explained.
According to a statement the party has 10 objectives, the most important of which include preserving the Arab and Islamic identity of Egypt, achieving social justice, developing education, maintaining customs and traditions, morality and cohesion, in addition to eradicating poverty and unemployment.
The party’s representative said that they are ready to cooperate with all the national powers for the advancement of the society, adding that women and Copts are welcome to join the party.
Ismail, however, said that female or Coptic leadership of the party will depend on the party’s members.
“These are just general words, but the reality will be different,” said Nabil Abdel Fattah, a political analyst at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, referring to the establishment of the Salafis’ political party.
“The outgoing regime has used Salafis to fight the Muslim Brotherhood, no one knew that they would have political aspirations as well.
“Salafis don’t want to be part of the current regimes, if they are calling for democracy now where were they at the time of the systematic violations in Egypt?” Abdel Fattah added.
On the other hand, Ali Abdel Al, a journalist who has written about and researched Salafi issues, explained that the move taken by the group – forming a party – is similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood as these groups seek legitimacy which was lacking under the ousted regime.
The Islamic groups’ move to form political parties is spreading fear of an Islamist takeover in Egypt.
Sheikh Abdel Moaty, a prominent Salafi, who disagrees with establishing Al-Nahda Party, said that to deal with Egyptian politics parties should not be established on a religious foundation. He said religious groups cannot form a party unless they abandon their ideologies.
Salafis follow a conservative interpretation of Islam, close to Saudi Arabia’s Wahabis’. They seek to emulate the practices of Islam’s early days and deem a lot of current practices as “un-Islamic.”
Salafis, Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood
The Salafi movement has steered clear of politics for various reasons in the past and did not take part in the protests that ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
The Salafi relationship with the former Mubarak regime was vague. Many observers and analysts said that the regime used the Salafis to counter the Muslim Brotherhood, which counted as Egypt’s largest opposition group at that time.
“Salafism is a pure ‘scholastic’ trend which focuses on the rules of Islamic jurisprudence as a whole and was not involved in politics before,” explained Anas Al-Qassas, a prominent Muslim Brotherhood member, who believes that the current political activism is new to the Salafi trend.
“There were some Salafis who [countered the Muslim Brotherhood] giving themselves religious justifications. But they were still a minority inside the Salafi current, even the list we know show big names inside the current as a whole. But now we treat all of them with tolerance as we did before the Nasser era. This is a main constituent in the moral structure of the Muslim Brotherhood,” Al-Qassas said.
Post-Mubarak, the Salafi movement’s ideology is growing stronger, spearheading many activities including political sessions in Alexandria before and after the referendum raising awareness among the youth about their political ideology.
For the first time in Egyptian history, one advertisement campaign, printed in the state-run Al-Ahram news paper on March 16, three days prior to the referendum on constitutional amendments, on behalf of the Sharia Association for Worker Cooperation through the Quran and Sunnah which holds the Salafis’ ideology, stated that the January 25 Revolution was a gift from Allah which needed to be protected.
The advert continued: “The entire leadership of the association considers it to be an Islamic duty that every Egyptian voice their agreement to the amendments as a first step towards the later formulation of a complete constitution. Gradual reform cannot be rejected by any sane person. We see giving up on this duty as a negative thing rejected by Islam.”
In return, different Islamic studies and political experts rejected the Salafis’ involvement in the Egyptian political sphere, claiming the movement lacks understanding of politics and are jumping on the January 25 Revolution bandwagon.
“The groups of Salafis we have are extremists, who are trying to steal the victory of the January 25 Revolution,” wrote Abdel Moety Bayoumy for Al-Shorouk newspaper.
Salafis in the news
Last week when a group of villagers stormed a bar in Kafr El-Basil, 30 km away from Fayoum, destroying the property that is known to serve alcohol, fingers were immediately pointed to Salafis, both by the bar’s owner as well as the media.
The owner retaliated by firing against the perpetrators, leaving one dead and 13 injured.
However, Mohamed Gomaa, who was wounded with a gun shot in his shoulder, insisted that none of the villagers belonged to a Salafi or any other Islamist group, but were rather residents who were discontented with having a bar in their village.
“We approached the owner a number of times and begged him to close down the bar … but he never listened to us,” he said.
“We filed a complaint to the police but they never came to shut it down instead he was given a license so after January 25 we felt that it’s our right as villagers to bring the bar down.
“However we neither belong to Salafis nor any Islamic group,” he added.
Gomaa said the bar owner called them Salafis so that the police arrest them since Islamic movements are a major concern post-Jan. 25.
Al-Akhbar also reported that a group of 50 Salafis stormed the bar, in a recent trend placing Salafis under the spotlight.
The media also recently reported that 350 Salafis surrounded a woman’s house in Sadat City in Menufiya, asking her to leave, accusing her of prostitution.
Salafis first made headlines prior to the January 25 Revolution, when Sayed Belal, a Salafi, was accused of being involved in the Alexandria Church bombing on New Year’s Eve and tortured to death by State Security.