Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1121, 8-14 November
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1121, 8-14 November

Ahram Weekly

‘Sharia is not subject to compromise’

Safwat Abdel-Ghani, a member of the Shura Council of the Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya and political bureau head of the Salafist Al-Binaa wal-Tanmeya Party, describes the Salafist view of politics

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Al-Ahram Weekly

“Our stand on politics in the past had to do with the existing political realities at the time. We did not abstain from political activism on a religious basis; rather, the oppressive political conditions left us with hardly any choice. Before the 25 January Revolution, Egypt was ruled by a one-party system that had a monopoly over the political process through vote-rigging mechanisms. Religious-based parties, or parties with an Islamic point of reference, were banned by force of law and by the constitution. The other important reason was that joining the political process under such circumstances would have bestowed legitimacy on what we considered to be an illegitimate regime. These were the primary reasons behind the Salafis abstaining from political participation in the past.”
“The Islamists’ growing participation in politics, and particularly the participation of the Salafist-oriented parties, has had in my view a double effect. On the one hand, their participation has enriched the political landscape because the exclusion of any political grouping is not in the nation’s interest. Exclusion will not only hinder nation-building and the democratic transition process, but it could also lead excluded groups more towards radicalism and extremism. Integration and political participation, on the other hand, could initiate a process of moderation, and it also lends support to those among the Salafist rank and file who are calling for the reform of the intellectual structure of the Salafist current. Being part of the political game could at some stage lead to a revolution of ideas and new dynamics and mechanisms of change.”
“It is true that the Salafis joined the political protest without first revising their literature, which has been hostile to the idea of political participation. Joining the political process, however, was the only method through which such revisions could take place. We live in an ever-changing and dynamic political atmosphere that does not allow the Salafis the luxury of indulging in theoretical debates. In my view, being part of the political realities and helping to shape them is more important than such debates. There could also be confusion and opposition even within the movement itself, as has been the case with the Nour Party. The splits that have been witnessed recently in the party have shown the need to revise the approach to politics and the relationship between the religious and the political.”
“Part of the Nour Party’s dilemma is related to its organisational structure. The party’s membership is made up of Salafis nationwide, and many of them do not have an affiliation with the Al-Daawa Al-Salafiya. This has resulted in the party’s having a loose structure composed of several groups that have not necessarily subscribed to the Al-Daawa Al-Salafiya’s views and therefore have rejected the latter’s attempt to impose its hegemony on the Nour Party, since it is the strongest and most organised group of the Salafist groups. The higher commission of the Nour Party consists of 23 members, 15 of them from the Al-Daawa Al-Salafiya. The other important dilemma exposed by the recent crisis is the conflict between the religious and the political. This has been translated into a dispute between the old and the young within the rank and file of the party.”
“Clearly, the experience of the past few months has shown up the gap between the political and the religious. By being part of the political process, the Salafist parties have been obliged to open up to other political groups and to provide specific visions regarding controversial issues like the Copts, various freedoms, the place of the Sharia, and democracy and political pluralism. The need has arisen for a discourse that suits the new conditions. Political activism means working with other political forces and with state institutions, and the conclusion has been that what works in the political sphere does not necessarily suit the religious sphere. Politics requires flexibility. The debate now within the Salafist rank and file is on how to distinguish between the political and the religious within the Salafist realm. We cannot speak of separation here, because separation is not acceptable.”
“Regarding the debate on the implementation of the Sharia, in terms of grand vision this issue is not subject to negotiation or compromise. In other words, we will not accept that the new constitution states only that it adheres to the ‘principles of Sharia’. We also will not accept any dilution of the question of Sharia. When it comes to actual implementation, there could be some sort of understanding or compromise, however. A key challenge facing us is to prepare the society and to adopt a gradual approach based on an understanding of the realities of the time.”
“As a result of their brief experience of politics, I believe that a big chunk of the Salafist rank and file could indeed opt out of politics and shun any political actions altogether. I do not, however, agree with the view that part of the Salafis will join the Muslim Brotherhood. They will be close to them, but there will remain a gap between the two groups, while a third party will continue to be involved in politics in a relatively radical way.”
“I do not agree with the view that once the Islamists are in power, this will mark the beginning of the end of the political Islam project. I have a firm conviction that the Islamists will succeed in running state affairs, because they possess the vision and experience and the cadres and national projects to do so. Of course mistakes will be made, but it is premature to reach any final judgement on political Islam.”

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