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Book review: Will Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists last?

A group of researchers examine Egypt's Salafist movement, its relation with Muslim Brotherhood and foundation for political action in the country

Mahmoud El-Wardani, Thursday 13 Jun 2013
Salafists future
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Wake' wa Mistakbal Al-Harakat Al-Salafeya fi Misr (Reality and Future of Salafists Movements in Egypt) edited by Ahmed Ban, Cairo: Nile Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, 2013. 247pp.

The Salafist phenomenon shocked many after Egypt's January 25 Revolution because a number of their leaders and sheikhs stood against the revolution, especially on the days before former president Hosni Mubarak was ousted. They called on people to not participate in protests, rendering it as "religiously forbidden" to disobey their leaders.
In this book, researchers shed light on the history and expansions of Salafist movements in Egypt, including the diversity of its thought and political tendencies, and highlight the "pain of political Salafism," as researcher and editor of the book Ahmed Ban says.

The introduction to the book, written by researcher and writer Ammar Ali Hassan, does not react to the studies published in the book, but rather tackles the relation between these movements and the Muslim Brotherhood, stressing that it has taken three forms.

First is synchronicity; many of the early Salafist preachers were not far from the Brotherhood in thought and organisation. However, they eventually split up, particularly after the revolution when each attempted to win elections by themselves. The Brotherhood deems Salafist groups as competitors, if not by far the greatest rivals. There is also the fear that the Salafist affiliation with the Gulf would turn them into political arms for these external forces, which is against the Brotherhood's favour. However, the Brotherhood never forgets its enormous win in the first parliamentary elections in 2011 despite their very brief political experience.

The second form is convergence, where both parties unite their economic program and aim to "Islamicise" society. Their perceptions of the world match to a great extent, especially after many of the Brotherhood adopted the Salafi thought of Sayed Qutb, which is highly influential now. However, such convergence is not devoid of the Brotherhood deception, owing to their lengthy experience with direct political work.

The last form is intersection, where each of the two groups seeks to reap what the society values as its own thought and experience to be able to sustain their control over the state, regardless of the criticism or opposition from the other, as Hassan explains.

Hassan describes how the leading Brotherhood figure, Khairat El-Shater, sustains a thick umbilical cord between the Brotherhood and the Salafists through the Organisation for Rights and Reform, which he hopes to organise part of the Salafist members as backing for the Brotherhood.

The studies included in the book were prepared by researchers who are not involved positively or negatively with the political Islam current. Therefore, it allows the reader to form their own point of view based on the facts, information and incidences registered in the work.

The first paper by Aly Abdel-Aal includes the fundamental thoughts and historical development of the Salafist Call. He points to its early start in Alexandria during the 1970s. A number of religious students, headed by Ismail El-Mokadem and Yasser Borhami who originally belonged to the Al-Gamaa Al-Islameya, played a major role in infiltrating the Islamic movement among the student movements.

The latter two refused to join the Brotherhood due to the influence of Salafist thought that reached them through books of Islamic heritage by Saudi Salafist sheikhs they met during their Haj and Omra trips. They were influenced by El-Mokadem's reading of historical figures in Salafism, particularly Ibn Taymeya and Mohamed Bin Abdel-Wahab (after whom the Wahabism is called).

Finally after much debate and dissidence, the Salafist Call was established in 1984. The group also started the Al-Forquan Institution for Preachers in Alexandria in 1986 as the first Salafist School to graduate preachers. They also published the "Preaching Voice" magazine, and eventually, the first general assembly for preachers started.

At the beginning, the security apparatus allowed the Salafist Call to spread, especially since they were apolitical as their ideology dictated, and considered them as a shield against the Brotherhood, who is actively political.

Yet, the board of trustees of the Salafist Call was not established until after the revolution. Its first meeting was held on 20 June 2011 to mark the new era for the call. There it shunned its anti-democracy statements and announced its intention to join the political space. The group also allowed its members for the first time to participate in student union elections.

When Al-Nour Party was established, the Salafist movement announced its official support. Other Salafist fronts also established parties, including Al-Asala and Al-Fadila and Al-Islah, who then formed the "For Egypt Coalition" that entered the parliamentary elections under Al-Nour Party logo.

The rest of the studies in the book vary in covering the various aspects of the phenomenon. Mostapha Zahran wrote about the Hazem Abu-Ismail movement, Samir El-Araby studied the challenges of the Salafist discourse, Mahmoud Abdo writes about the economic agenda of Salafist political parties, Salah-Eddin Hassan examines the relation between the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists. Maher Farghali analyses the Salafist currents after the revolution. 

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