Salafis Rise After Mubarak’s Fall
One of the ironies of the concerns so many pundits had with the Egyptian revolution was their worries about the Muslim Brotherhood. Most of us who studied Egypt said not to worry–the Muslim Brotherhood is
- fairly moderate these days, and
- not as popular as many people think.
We expected they would try to work within the new political system. So far, that’s what is happening.
But as a recent New York Times report describes, the revolution has unleashed large numbers of Salafis, Muslims who adhere to what they believe to be the practices of the first three generations of Muslims.
But since Mubarak fell Feb. 11, many Salafists held for years without a legal basis have been released, here and across the country. In Dubanah al-Kabirah, they have returned home, and the most aggressive of them are seeking to impose their radical views with a boldness they would never have dared exhibit in Mubarak’s days.
There is nothing inherently wrong with Salafism, of course. But these narrow notions of Islamic practice often lead to intolerance. Much of the current Muslim-Christian violence has apparently been carried out by Salafis. Many of the “Vote Yes” campaigns in the recent referendum were organized by Salafis, and Salafis are said to be responsible for much of the violence carried out against “Vote No” campaigns.
Just as democracy sometimes brings into power governments we might disapprove of, so legal freedom can create spaces for legal but unsavory practices:
Not only were the imprisoned Salafists released to go about their business, villagers said, but the chastened local police force also no longer feels it has the authority to challenge them in the streets unless they clearly break the law.
“The police are the same people,” Abdusattar said, “but before, they could humiliate people, and now they don’t say anything to anybody.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge is that some Salafist groups preach that democracy is incompatible with Islam. Al Masry al Youm English reported that Salafis had been handing out pamphlets making this case in Cairo
According to one of the flyers, the values of democracy violate the law of God. Further, democracy “allows the people to govern themselves even if they are violating the rule of God.” The flyer, titled “Be a Salafi” called on citizens to reject all voices advocating for a civil state, as such a state would mean the separation of religion from general life and people being governed without the law of God.
Interestingly, some pro-democracy advocates would criminalize even this behavior:
Hassan Nafaa, a political science professor at Cairo University, said the content of these flyers “is expected from some Salafist groups, whose members reject anyone different to them.” He went on to say, “It is the state’s duty to criminalize such practices, which interfere with every citizen’s freedom of expression and belief. The fear is that such practices could influence those with limited intelligence, who could then be exploited in supporting and promoting these ideas.”