Friday,20 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1203, (26 June - 2 July 2014)
Friday,20 October, 2017
Issue 1203, (26 June - 2 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

No payback

It is a mistake to assume Salafis  are in harmony with the government, writes Amany Maged

eg46
eg46
Al-Ahram Weekly

The Salafist Calling is still waiting to reap the fruits for its support for the post-3 July interim process, writes Amany Maged. The leadership — though not younger members — pushed for the new constitution, urging a yes vote in the constitutional referendum. Posters and flyers were distributed, seminars and conferences organised, to promote the constitution. Logistical support was also provided for the presidential elections. The group’s media joined the campaign to drum-up voter turnout though it failed to convince large numbers of young Salafi youth who preferred to sit out the election.

The Salafist Calling, as the Egyptian saying goes, offered Saturday in order to get Sunday. Officials from the Nour Party did everything they could to support the process, maintain a calm and friendly relationship with ruling authorities and keep a strong foothold in the political sphere, only to be wrong-footed by a the Ministry of Awqaf (Religious Endowments) and by the legislative decree, issued by former president Adli Mansour days before leaving office, which limits access to mosque preaching to Al-Azhar graduates accredited by the ministry.

The vast majority of Salafi leaders are not Al-Azhar graduates. Many have already been prevented from occupying pulpits and Ministry of Awqaf officials are working around the clock to bar more, especially now Ramadan is approaching.

The government clearly feels no need to reward Salafi leaders for standing by the new authorities over the last twelve months. Ministry of Awqaf officials are zealously keeping them away from the pulpits that long served as a recruitment tool. The new law on mosque preachers, and the Ministry of Awqaf’s determination to implement it, has placed Salafi leaders in an embarrassing position in front of a young membership base that has repeatedly criticised the leadership’s willingness to help project an image of the post-3 July order as inclusive of the Islamist trend.

A young Salafi, speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly on condition of anonymity, said that while the Salafist Calling and Nour Party had sought to ensure the survival of political Islam following the elimination of the Muslim Brotherhood the authorities are now turning their attention towards marginalising other Islamists. After endlessly making concessions the Salafist trend finds itself besieged. The result, he said, is that most young Salafis are now opposed to their leadership.

The Ministry of Awqaf has been especially keen to enforce the ban on unauthorised preachers ahead of Ramadan, says Ahmed Abu Bakr, an expert on Islamist movements. During the holy month preaching reaches a peak. Following Taraweeh prayers, in particular, religious and political sermonising abounds. In order to prevent the Salafis from using the opportunity provided by Ramadan government authorities have seized control of mosque pulpits until alternative authorised preachers are available.

The ready submission of Salafi sheikhs to the ministerial decree is evidence of the lengths to which the Salafis will go in cooperating with the government, even when it runs against their convictions.

The closeness of parliamentary elections, Abu Bakr argues, informs the government’s decision to prevent Salafi leaders from accessing pulpits which they have used in the past to promote their candidates, rail against rivals, and sling mud at secularists.

“With the implementation of the decree the Salafis have lost an important part of their campaign platform and could sustain huge political losses,” he says.

Some Salafis are fighting to hold on to their podiums, appealing to Al-Azhar despite the institution’s long antipathy to the  Salafi outlook. Others have begun to deliver lessons in mosques after evening prayers.

Salafi leaders have lost not only their most important platform but also a large section of Salafi youth. Yet they are in no position to object to the government decree. Opposed in principle to any “defiance of the ruler”, they are ideologically committed to appeasing authority as the “lesser of two evils”.

The skirmishes will not only continue, they are likely to grow more intense as parliamentary elections draw closer and demands to apply the constitutional prohibition against religiously based political parties grow more strident. The Nour Party could yet find that, despite all its concessions, he has no ground left on which to stand.

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