Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1160, (15 - 21 August 2013)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1160, (15 - 21 August 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Wavering Salafis

Will Egypt’s Salafis follow the lead of Saudi clerics and line up behind the Muslim Brotherhood? Amany Maged seeks an answer

Al-Ahram Weekly

Many observers have found the Salafis’ positions on events following 30 June, their attitudes towards the Muslim Brotherhood and pro-Morsi protests in Rabaa Al-Adaweya and elsewhere, wavering, inconsistent and generally confusing. To some extent this is a result of the fact that the Salafis comprise numerous groups each of which has its own sheikh, unlike the Muslim Brothers who follow a single supreme guide and who, in spite of some dissent or ruptures, form an ideologically cohesive group.

Some Salafis are calling for an end to sit-ins at Rabaa Al-Adaweya in Nasr City and Nahda Square in front of Cairo University in Giza. Earlier this week Nour Party Vice President Bassam Al-Zarka urged the Muslim Brotherhood to call off the sit-ins “before it is too late”. He also urged the government and security officials not to resort to force before exhausting all possible peaceful means to disband the sit-ins in order to spare bloodshed on both sides.

Such is the position of the Nour Party, the political wing of the Alexandrian-based Salafist Calling. Another Salafist group stands firmly on the side of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Salafiya Jihadiya (Jihadist Salafi) group is a member of the National Alliance in Support of Legitimacy formed following General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s announcement of the new transitional roadmap on 3 July. The Salafiya Jihadiya has moved to the forefront of one of the pro-Morsi encampments as the Ministry of Interior prepares to break up the sit-ins. Together with Hazemoon, or followers of the recently arrested Hazem Saleh Abu Ismail, its members are at the forefront of the Nahda Square protests.

The Watan (Nation) Party also sides with the Muslim Brotherhood. Its leader Emad Abdel-Ghafour, who served as assistant to the former president, insists that General Al-Sisi’s intervention on 3 July was a military coup and has repeatedly demanded the restoration of “hijacked legitimacy”.

Some political analysts predict the position of the Salafist Calling and its political wing will change in the near future. They believe that this group of Salafis — the largest segment of the trend in Egypt — will eventually follow the cue of conservative religious leaders in Saudi Arabia who have issued statements calling the 30 June demonstrations and the military intervention on 3 July a “coup against legitimacy”. Mohamed Al-Arifi and Sheikh Saoud El-Sherim recently issued statements to this effect in front of the holy sanctuary in Mecca.

In a statement released via his Twitter account Al-Arifi wrote: “May God guide the soldiers and commanders of the Egyptian army and lead their hearts to truth and justice. May He preserve the lives of the Egyptian people and spare them from bloodshed and from the malice and envy of any enemy.” The well-known Saudi preacher condemned the incident at the Republic Guard Club when the army opened fire on pro-Morsi demonstrators. After citing a Quranic verse prohibiting murder, he said: “The Egyptian army is the strongest Arab army. The history of its battles and acts of heroism are studied in universities. May God protect it from recklessness and grant it leaders that will make it a blessing to Egyptians and a victor for our people.”

An unequivocally worded statement signed by 56 Saudi clerics described post-30 June events as a coup and the opposition as instruments used to give the coup the guise of legitimacy. The statement denounced the “deplorable alignment of the army and security forces with a minority of the people driven to support the coup under the influence of campaigns of media distortion or for sectarian or ideological motives with the purpose of imposing a new reality by force”.

The statement condemned “the coup” as a “sinful criminal act that we reject on the grounds that it is a flagrant revolt against a legitimate elected ruler and a clear transgression of the will of the people. We therefore declare that all measures that were enacted afterwards are invalid.” It accused “the alliance that emerged to overthrow legitimacy in Egypt” of “collaborating in evil and aggression that are prohibited under Islamic law” and alleged collusion between this alliance and “regional and international parties”.

“It is now apparent to everyone that there was a deliberate and systematic campaign to cause the Morsi government to fail by means of causing disturbances and obstructing the wheels of production,” the statement said. In the opinion of its authors, Western hands were behind this.

“The West, with its double standards, is pushing the region to chaos and laying the foundations for the culture of violence.”

The statement concluded by affirming support “for all who demand the return of the elected president Dr Mohamed Morsi”.

Among the signatories were Mohamed Al-Sahibani, professor of advanced studies in the department of Islamic jurisprudence in the Faculty of Islamic Law at the Islamic University; Khaled bin Abdel Rahman Al-Ojeimi, former professor at the University of Islamic Sciences; Hassan bin Saleh Al-Hamid, professor at the University of Al-Qasim; Badr bin Ibrahim Al-Rajihi, judge at the Supreme Court in Mecca and Abdallah bin Abdel-Aziz Al-Zayidi, associate professor at the College of Islamic Law.

 Sadaqa bin Yehia, political advisor to the Saudi monarch, member of the Saudi Shura Council and political science professor at King Abdel-Aziz University, also referred to events in Egypt on 3 July as a “fully fledged military coup” and stressed that the mistakes of Morsi and the office of the presidency were no grounds for such an act. Bin Yehia demanded Morsi’s release and his reinstatement in office, the release of all other politicians, and the creation of a committee representative of the entire Egyptian political spectrum to review and amend any contentious articles of the constitution.

Analysts who predict the Salafist Calling and the Nour Party will soon shift their position believe the change will largely be motivated by political considerations. Salafis in Egypt are manoeuvring to enhance their political leverage, as is the case with their counterparts in Yemen and Kuwait, while their representatives in Syria are still fighting to enter the political arena. Regardless of differences all Salafis, they argue, look to Riyadh as the undisputed leader of Salafist thought. Saudi Arabia is the home of the ultraconservative Wahhabi school of thought which has its origins in an alliance between the movement’s founder, Mohamed bin Abdel-Wahab, and Mohamed bin Saud, the founder of the Saudi state and dynasty. This alliance is what furnished the political and religious legitimacy of the Saudi Kingdom, the chief sponsor of Salafist Wahhabism.

Saudi princes readily defend Wahhabi ideas and principles in the face of criticism. The alliance between the Al Saud dynasty and the Wahhabi religious establishment has currently tightened in the interest of protecting the domestic front against challenges posed by the democratic uprisings of the Arab Spring.

But why has the largest bloc of Egyptian Salafis wavered until now? In the opinion of some analysts the Salafist Calling views itself as the heir to the Muslim Brotherhood following the latter’s fall from power. Through its political wing, the Nour Party, it chose to recognise the roadmap, albeit on the condition articles in the 2012 constitution pertaining to Islamic Law are retained in the amended version of this constitution. According to these analysts, if articles are changed in any way that the Salafist Calling/Nour Party disapproves of they will align their position with that of the Saudi clerics and draw closer to their historic rivals, the Muslim Brotherhood.


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