Book review: The Salafist Call in revolution

Rasha Hanafy, Monday 18 Nov 2013

In 'The Islamists and the Spring of Revolutions', Nawaf El-Qodeimy tracks the evolution of Salafist thought since the Arab Spring

Book cover

Al-Islameyoun w rabiea al-sawrat, (The Islamists and the Spring of Revolutions), by Nawaf El-Qodeimy, Cairo and Beirut: Dar El-Tanweer publishing house, 2013. 103pp

The Islamists and the Spring of Revolutionsis original study dates from early 2013, prior to the removal of president Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood from power.

Nawaf El-Qodeimy, a journalist and researcher who represents Saudi's reformist current, points to the most consequential changes in contemporary Islamic thought, especially those following the Arab Spring and new political realities in some Arab countries.

El-Qodeimy believes that the Salafist trend is a clear example of the increasing integration of Al-Da'wa Al-Salafiyya (The Salafist Call) within the region's political structure. The author presents two case studies to support his contention: the Salafists in Saudi Arabia and those in post-revolution Egypt.

"It seems to me that among the most common impacts of the Arab Spring is the evolution of the Salafist current, as it is the most attached to the ideological and political changes taking place in those countries. In fact, these revolutions became a significant historical moment which helped the Salafists position themselves in a new political and ideological reality highly unusual for them, and which they had previously avoided and responded to with fatwas," El-Qodeimy states in his introduction.

El-Qodeimy suggests that in Saudi Arabia, prior to the Arab Spring, the Salafist discourse opposed democracy and civil protests.The movement's followers believed that protests were products of Western civilization and had nothing to do with Islamic political heritage. El-Qodeimy argues that the Salafists refused elections because they were based on creating equality between the educated and ignorant.

"Following the revolution, there has been an evolution in the Salafist thought, particularly when it comes to issues such as freedom and democracy. Many Salafist sheikhs welcomed the revolutions, considering them to be revolts against injustice, a way to liberate people from tyranny and a valid path that would eventually lead towards the application of Sharia or Islamic law," El-Qodeimy writes.

Several renowned Salafist sheikhs, such as Saudi Islamic scholar Safar El-Hawaly, began to call on Arab leaders to reconcile with their peoples and make comprehensive reforms that would establish political parties, trade unions, and free elections.

"I think most of the Saudi Salafist figures have shown remarkable development that deserves appreciation," El-Qodeimy asserts.

Two categories

Prior to the revolution, Salafists in Egypt were represented in two ways: through Salafist associations, and through leading figures of the Da'wa (the call). Among Egypt's many Salafist associations, the Da'wa of Alexandria is cited as most popular. Of the individual figures, Sheikh Hassan, Sheikh Hoeini, Yasser Borhami, and Mohamad Hussein Yaaqoub are among the most influential. El-Qodeimy remarks that almost all these figures were against the revolution, the protests that opposed the regime, the democratic system, elections, and political parties.

Following the revolution, El-Qodeimy writes that that these voices were divided over the issues of political parties and parliamentary elections.

"After the revolution, the Salafist current became present within the political space and was forced to accept legislative elections and political parties in order to come to power. Accordingly, they decided to change their rigid theories which used to reject this system. The Nour Party [the political arm of Al-Da'wa Al-Salifiyya] was therefore established to participate in the legislative branch. Whatever the reasons behind those decisions, they represent an evolution of a stance, and over a short period of time. This is what leads us to believe in their ability to evolve in thought and openness," El-Qodeimy asserts.

Published prior to Morsi's ouster, the book calls on "enlightened" members of the Islamist movement to adapt to the current realities. El-Qodeimy believes the concern of many intellectuals regarding the Salafists' rapid political success is without justification. He cites the evolution of the Salafist movement's rigid principles as evidence to this effect. El-Qodeimy pushes his argument to suggest that in the near future, Salafist political participation will be based on a social contract. Only time will tell whether or not El-Qodeimy's prediction comes true, especially considering Egypt's turbulent summer of political instability.

Originally published in French in Al-Ahram Hebdo.


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