Insight / Farrag Ismail: A Salafi tremor in Egypt—founding a party, recognizing a civil state and granting Copts the right to refer to their religion
Egypt’s Salafis founded a political party under the title Al Nour (Light) marking a drastic development in the Salafi doctrine, which does not acknowledge parties and does not believe in democracy in its modern concept. The Salafi doctrine also does not interfere in the ruling affairs and never allows disobedience to the ruler “in charge.”
During President Hosni Mubarak’s reign, the Salafis enjoyed freedom that was not given to other Islamists, only because of the above-mentioned principles. They even refused to take part in the controversial parliamentary election held in October 2010, which was dominated by wide-scale forgery organized by the then-ruling and now-ousted National Democratic Party, under the leadership of the party’s secretary of organizing Ahmed Ezz. Such vote rigging was the main motivation that helped in the toppling of the Mubarak regime by the January 25 revolution.
Liberals, leftists and immigrant Copts name the Salafis “Wahabis” after the Wahhabi invocation. There is a hidden purpose in giving them this name—namely linking them to Saudi Arabia. That’s why, more than once, they alleged that the Egyptian Salafis take the Saudi flag as their slogan during their protests and strikes, similar to what happened in the recent protests that took place in the southern governorate of Qena, where they demonstrated against the appointment of a Coptic governor.
Dr. Safwat Hegazy—who is considered as one of the most prominent leaders of the Salafi trend in Egypt after the January 25 revolution—argued that the green flag is not an imitation of Saudi Arabia, but it has always been the Muslims’ flag along the history. The flag carries the phrase “No other God but Allah and Mohammed is the Messenger of Allah.” It is then the flag of the Egyptian Salafis, similar to the Muslim Brotherhood Group who have their own flag.
Mr. Hegazy himself told Al Arabiya’s talk show Wageh al-Sahafa (Meet the Press), anchored by prominent journalist Dawood Al Shirian of Saudi Arabia, that the Egyptian Salafism is not related to the Saudi Salafism.
Founding Al Nour political party came to achieve many goals at the same time, especially in light of the controversial arguments dominating the political arena. The Egyptian Salafi trend was always introduced as being conservative and non-democratic and always willing to dissolve all political parties and unifying them into one-flagged party only within the framework of the Islamic Caliphate (state). This same trend now renovates and reintroduces itself in the form of a political party that competes with other parties within the context of the state’s civil constitution. This party might even reach presidency through the ballot boxes. Accordingly, it has to abide by the constitution, which regulates the society and its laws.
Until now I cannot figure out how would this step—carried out by the Egyptian Salafis—affect Salafism in general, but I regard it as a violent tremor that would amend a lot of Salafi concepts. It would affect Salafis who considered themselves as “jihadists” and used violence as their main means such as Al Qaeda and the Islamist groups in Egypt, Algeria, the Arabian Peninsula, the Arab Maghreb and North Africa. It would also affect “scientific” Salafis who depend on religious preaching and sticking to all rules and regulations laid by Almighty God and consider any disobedience to the ruler as corruption and chaos and, moreover, reject all modern concepts of democracy and elections.
What the Egyptian Salafis have done means that Salafism is not an unchangeable dogma that is derived from the ancient Islamic era, but they proved that Salafism is a changeable doctrine that could be developed according to modern times. Thus, there is no need to be afraid of the Salafis.
Announcing the creation of Al Nour Party couldn’t have been done without the approval of the Salafi leaders and clerics, including Dr. Yasser Burhamy, Dr. Mohammed Ismail Al Moqaddem—the founder of the Salafi school in Alexandria, which is the main base of the Egyptian Salafis—and Eng. Abdul Muniem Al Shahhat as well as the influential clerics as Mohammed Hassan, Abu Ishaaq Al Huwayni and Mohammed Hussein Yaqoub.
Adel Abdul Ghaffar, the acting deputy for the founders of al-Nour Party, highlighted the new party’s goals in a way that should be studied carefully. He never said the party would be committed to the Islamic sharia (law), but he said “the higher reference will be for the Islamic sharia.” This is exactly an imitation of the second article of the current constitution, which states that Islamic sharia is the main source of legislation. Also the phrase that says that Islam is the state’s official religion has a clear indication that the higher reference will be for Islamic sharia.
The Salafi Al Nour Party even excels over the current constitution in dealing with the civil state, by securing “a religious freedom for the Copts” and giving them “the right to refer to their religion” as well as establishing a modern state and rejecting the model of religious state (the Islamic Caliphate as defined by mass media.)
Coptic Pope Shenouda of Egypt’s Orthodox Church called for the controversial second article not to be cancelled, but to add the phrase “the followers of other divinely religions should refer to their doctrines.” Here comes the newly-born party not only completely agrees on this part but also acknowledges the right of Copts—in particular—to refer to their church, indicating that churches should not be placed under any special regulations other than the ones to which all the sacred places are controlled by.
In another article, Al Nour Party pointed out that Copts should enjoy all the rights enjoyed by the Muslims (indicating full equality in citizenship.) Furthermore, the party credited Al Azhar for its valuable role in leading Islam in Egypt. This is another turning point in the principles of Salafis, who were well-known for their opposition to Al Azhar teachings. Moreover, Al Nour Party calls for the independence of Al Azhar—away from the state—and the regain of all its financial resources, as well as calling for choosing the grand sheikh of Al Azhar through transparent and honest voting among the scholars and clerics of Al Azhar.
This means that they want a strong Al Azhar institution that would regain its past glories and effectiveness in Egypt and the whole Muslim world.
Isn’t the Salafi Al Nour Party a violent tremor?
(Farrag Ismail, Editorial Manager of AlArabiya.net, writes a regular column for Al Arabiya English. He can be reached at: email@example.com)