February 10, 2013


Violent tide of Salafism threatens the Arab spring : A series of repressive dictatorships have been brought down in north Africa, but the ensuing struggles for power have left a vacuum that has allowed the rise of an extremist movement that is gathering both force and supporters (Angelique Chrisafis, Patrick Kingsley and Peter Beaumont, 2/10/13, The Observer)

If it is difficult to describe what is happening, it is because of terminology.

Although many of those involved in violence and encouraging violence could accurately be called Salafis, they remain an absolute minority of a wider minority movement that has emerged as a small but potent political force across post-revolutionary North Africa.

Although the encouragement to violence from this minority has been most marked in Tunisia, it has not been absent in Egypt.

"We've already started to see real threats," said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Centre last week. "There are many instances in Egypt where Salafis have used the language of incitement against opponents.

"Last year, one Egyptian Salafi cleric, Wagdi Ghoneim, called for a jihad on protesters against President Mohamed Morsi, a demand he repeated this month. Another - Yasser el-Burhamy - reportedly banned Muslim taxi-drivers from taking Christian priests to church."

Yasser el-Shimy, Egypt analyst for the Crisis Group said: "All it takes is for one guy to take it upon himself to carry out a fatwa. But the prospects of that happening in Egypt are less - or certainly not more - than they are in Tunisia. In Egypt, there was a deeper integration of Salafis into the political process as soon as the revolution had taken place."

Most tellingly, two leading Egyptian Salafis last week condemned the death threats against ElBaradei and Sabbahi.

A spokesman for al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya - which only last week called for the crucifixion of masked Egyptian protesters known as the Black Bloc - "rejected" assassinations as a political tool, while the leader of the Nour party, Egypt's largest Salafi group, went further, criticising "all forms of violence".

Nader Bakkar, a spokesman for the Nour party, said: "The Salafis in Tunisia are not organised well and they don't have the scholars who can teach them how to deal peacefully with things that they don't like in their country. It gives you a clear vision that we will not see in Egypt what we saw happen in Tunisia."

Bakkar also argued that Shaaban, the cleric who issued the fatwa against ElBaradei and Sabbahi, had little currency in Egyptian Salafism.

"He doesn't have many followers," said Bakkar, who claimed that Shabaan came from a school of Salafism that had preached obedience to former dictator Hosni Mubarak, and whose reputation had therefore been ruined in the post-revolution period.

The main Salafist political parties, which are represented in parliament, have far more of a stake in democratic transition than in Tunisia and Libya.

The best way to think about these terms is that all Muslims are generally Islamist, wishing their states to be founded in and to follow traditions of Islamic culture, just as all Americans are Christianist, adherents to the explicitly Christian Founding.  Rather few Americans are outright Theocrats, just as the genuine Islamicists are only a fraction of most Islamic nations.  And the numbers of the latter will fall over time as Democratic Islam becomes more pervasive and successful.  Sadly the transition won't be seamless, but what transition ever is?

Posted by at February 10, 2013 10:55 AM

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