If this quote is accurate, it is a terrible indication of the divide between the Coptic Orthodox Church and members who wish a divorce for other than adultery:
Orthodox priest Abd al-Masih Basit told Al-Monitor that the church would not interfere in politics and would not take any actions against Christian parliamentary candidates on the Nour list, as some newspapers had reported it would. Yet, he added, “The Nour Party considers the Christians infidels, and therefore, any Christian who participates in the party is giving up his dignity. It is better for those who have a problem with the church regarding the personal status laws — and who view support for Nour as a solution to amending those laws through parliament — to abandon Christianity.”
The context for the article is that election law requires all political parties to field a limited number of Christian candidates. The Nour Party is Salafi, an ultraconservative form of Islam that is described in quote. The article surmises the only way for Nour to attract any Christians is to appeal to a very specific segment — if sharia law is applied to all, Islamic divorce is far easier than Christian.
Abd al-Masih Basit is a very influential theologian and apologist in the Coptic Orthodox Church. It will be necessary to confirm this quote with him before assuming it is true, but if so, it appears he has his priorities in the wrong order. The church desires to control legislation on personal and family affairs, and the constitution gives it the right to do so.
But it would be a shame if the church is willing to sacrifice the faith of its members to preserve its power.
From my recent article at Arab West Report, in the series on Egypt’s constitution. This text opens with a consideration of Salafi participation in both the 2012 and 2014 charters, and proceeds then to examine their chief triumph:
This article [219 in the 2012 constitution] was quickly scrapped by the new committee, but the [Salafi] Nūr Party representative continued to press. His lone leverage was in the desire of the transitional government to frame its discourse as anti-Muslim Brotherhood, in response to a popular revolution, rather than as anti-Islamist per se, and certainly not as anti-Islam. The presence of Nūr legitimized greatly.
For their troubles, they received a small reference in the preamble of the constitution. It was agreed upon at the very close of proceedings, and states:
‘We are drafting a Constitution that affirms that the principles of Islamic Sharī‘ah are the principal source of legislation, and that the reference for the interpretation of such principles lies in the body of the relevant Supreme Constitutional Court Rulings.’
But what does this mean for future legal interpretation? Is it only a means for them to save face, or will it have real impact on future constitutional rulings? A partial answer is to examine one of these relevant rulings, from 1996, and see what it says. Two girls were expelled from school for wearing the niqab, a garment that covers all but the eyes. The court ruled against them, as they appealed to sharia law and freedom of religion:
Sharī‘ah establishes the necessity of morality, the judge argued, even quoting the Qur’an. But sharī‘ah nowhere establishes that a woman must wear a niqab. On the contrary, and in dismissive wording, it compared such a woman as kept from interacting with society and going around as a covered ghost.
The constitutional guarantees of belief and individual freedom, the judge explained, are to follow and practice a religion in the manner the religion instructs. Since scholars differ about the nature of a woman’s dress, there is no firm principle on this matter in sharī‘ah. Therefore, the government is within its rights to establish a dress code as it sees fit, while staying within the principle of modesty as is clearly required by Islam.
Sharī‘ah, the judge wrote, is principally about truth and justice, and is naturally progressive to change with the time and place. This guarantees it flexibility and vitality, so as to guard its purposes (maqāsid) in preserving religion, life, reason, honor, and property. No one scholar’s view should be made holy over another’s, and even the Companions of the Prophet made their rulings based on the benefit of the people. There is no reason to either consider or cancel them, but to judge independently based on the benefit of today.
Salafis originally wanted to tie sharia interpretation to traditional rulings, not just purposes, as interpreted by senior scholars from the Azhar. These provisions were written into the 2012 constitution but lost in its 2014 amendments. Seeing such a ruling as this, it is clear they do not trust the court.
But maybe they got what they wanted, through the court, even in what evaded them in 2012:
In order to replace the sharī‘ah-escaping word ‘principles’, the Nūr Party sought to change it in Article 2 with the more strict ‘rulings’ (ahkām). They did not gain consensus, and even in Article 219 the words translated as ‘rulings’ do not reflect the strictures of the Arabic ahkām.
But the SCC states in its May 18 judgment that Article 2 is based on the ahkām of sharī‘ah, in its foundations and general principles, using language reminiscent of Article 219. Furthermore, these ahkām may not be violated where they are maqtū’ bi thubūtiha au bi dallālitiha. This phrase means that the rulings are clear and proven, either by the Qur’an directly (thubūt) or through jurisprudential reasoning (dallālah).
But this is not restricted only to hukm qata’i, where there is one accepted meaning only. It includes also hukm zanni, where many meanings and interpretations have been suggested. The point is that sharī‘ah encompasses the historic work of scholarship, and legislation must not transgress its bounds. Within this sharī‘ah heritage, no voice is sacred and new voices may emerge with the times. But as the parliament creates law, the judiciary judges within the hedge of sharī‘ah. This is not the language of a judge seeking to ignore it.
But perhaps this is all legal semantics, and what really matters is who is in charge. From the conclusion:
It may not be the language of the constitution that is of paramount importance, but who writes it. The 2012 constitution signaled a transition to a new Islamist order; the 2014 signaled a reversal. The reversal, however, includes preamble language authored by the Salafis, and the terms of debate bound by Article 2.
If correct, this interpretation suggests the forces of reversal remain in control, and less-than-Islamist rulings are likely to issue from the SCC. But it also suggests that Salafis have a place at the table, and may through this constitutional nod win either legislation or rulings that reflect conservative religion.
In this sense, does their defense of sharī‘ah mean also the defense of their existence? It is too early to tell, but it has resulted, at least, in a public constitutional reminder that sharī‘ah remains the basis of legislation.
That this reminder can be interpreted flexibly fits well the overall ambiguity of the political situation, Nūr included.
Please click here to read the full article at Arab West Report.
Having backed the popularly-led military overthrow of President Morsi, the party ensured at least its short- to mid-term survival, and did not go the way of the Brotherhood. But in doing so they have fractured their internal cohesion and invited the derision of many Islamists, their natural constituency. The results of their gamble remain to be witnessed, likely in upcoming parliamentary elections.
But here is an interesting excerpt about leadership in the Salafa Dawa, the socio-religious preaching association that gave rise to the Nour Party:
The movement’s controversial support for the military has also heightened internal divisions. The initial division that weakened the movement followed a disagreement between Emad Abdel Ghaffour, the former leader of the Nour Party, and Yasser Borhami, deputy head of the Salafi Dawa, that led to the former splitting off to form his own Watan Party in January 2013. Nour’s backing of the military and the crackdown on the Brotherhood deepened the rifts between those remaining in the party. A number of the original founders of the Salafi Dawa have stopped attending its meetings, such as Dr. Said Abdel-Azeem, who before June 30 had announced that he believed in “the legitimacy of President Mohammed Morsi.” Abdel-Azeem stayed the course after July 3 and appeared on the speakers’ podium at the Rabia al-Adawiya protest repeatedly; he has been against the Nour Party’s support of the military since the crisis between Nour and the Brotherhood began in January 2013. Dr. Mohammed Ismail al-Muqaddam has also been absent from the movement since July 3, declining to appear in public or speak about politics.
Even more illustrative of the fragmentation within the Salafi leadership is the sermon given by prominent Salafi figure Dr. Ahmed Farid at a mosque in the Amiriyya district of Alexandria on February 28, in which he called for “returning to our origin.” He added that “for 40 years, we have wanted to return to missionary work (al-dawa) and forget politics,” even though only a few days earlier he himself had participated in a political conference supporting the latest constitution. Even though a majority of the Salafi Dawa leadership is sympathetic to these dissenters, Borhami, the most powerful figure in the movement, continues his efforts to convince his followers that the political Salafi Dawa organization is emerging from the current crisis stronger than before. Borhami has sent his pupils and followers throughout Egypt’s provinces to rally Nour Party supporters and convince them of the wisdom of nominally condemning the use of violence against pro-Brotherhood protesters while tacitly accepting it by supporting the military regime, including Nour’s recent endorsement of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for president and calls for their followers to vote for him.
I have no evidence to the contrary, but I am curious how the author judges the majority to be sympathetic to dissenters. Is it an emotional sympathy, or something more? If more, might they be letting Borhami take the lead, watching to see what happens, but ready to let him take the fall if necessary?
Under this speculation, ‘if necessary’ could come from two directions. The first, as the author makes clear, is the possibility that Nour Party support for the transition may still not be enough to preserve their political presence. If they are denied a continuing place in politics under Article 74 of the new constitution, Borhami would be the one to hold accountable.
Less likely, but still the goal of many Brotherhood-sympathetic Islamists, is that the military overthrow of Morsi might still be reversed. If so, Borhami could be highlighted as the traitor while those keeping quiet now quickly seek to mend fences.
In any case, the interactions are fascinating. Read the full article linked above to get a good overview of the situation.
From my recent article at Arab West Report, continuing a series of interviews with members of the Committee of Fifty which wrote the constitution:
Seeking to represent all sectors of Egyptian society, the Egyptian Committee of Fifty to amend the constitution of 2012 was light on political parties. Only four seats were assigned, two for liberals and two for Islamists. This was in contrast to the Committee of One Hundred that wrote the 2012 constitution, which was heavily populated by political figures from the Islamist Freedom and Justice and Nour Parties.
After the fall of Morsi, however, few Islamists remained on the formal political scene. The Nour Party was the most prominent, representing the Salafi trend. One seat went to them, but who could represent the Brotherhood trend, with the Brotherhood boycotting the process? Announced as a representative of the Islamist trend was Kamal Hilbāwī, a former Brotherhood member who resigned in 2012 in protest of the group’s decision to field a candidate for president.
Helbawi was a member of the drafting subcommittee which was responsible to merge all articles into one contiguous text. To do so they changed articles according to language and syntax, but did not hesitate to also adapt the meanings.
But one of the most interesting points of his testimony concerns the negotiations with the Nour Party that resulted in the former Article 219, defining the principles of the sharia, moved in essence into the preamble and made subject to the Supreme Constitutional Court:
But in a compromise agreement the definition of the principles of sharī‘ah was moved to the preamble, with the term of reference being the collected rulings of the Supreme Constitutional Court. These are about 4-5 cases, he estimated, involving sharī‘ah interpretation issued by the highest court in the land since 1985. Having a definition makes sense, Hilbāwī believed, for someone might want to know what the principles of sharī‘ah are. These cases were entered into the official transcript of the constitutional proceedings, and the preamble of the constitution has equal weight with its articles, according to Article 227.
But reference to the rulings of the SCC raised the issue of why Article 219 was necessary in the first place, if the court already defined the principles of sharī‘ah. Perhaps the legislature did not adhere adequately to these rulings, but if the legal basis was there, what was the big deal? And in any case, if the language of 219 was in the SCC rulings, does this explain why the Nour Party was satisfied?
Hilbāwī dismissed the criticism by liberals of Article 219 that it would have opened up the entire corpus of sharī‘ah legal history to implementation in legislation or in court rulings. But in referring to the charge of Safwat al-Bayādī, confirmed in his testimony of the response of Sa’d al-Dīn al-Hilālī, that the testimony of Christians might not be given equal weight to Muslims, as was once in Islamic history, Hilbāwī said ‘perhaps’, in recognition of Hilālī’s rejection of 219 and his status as a very good scholar. There are still shaykhs in Egypt, mentioning Abū Islām and Mahmūd Shabān in particular, who advocate very retrograde rulings. But given the firm guarantees on equality present throughout the constitution, Hilbāwī does not expect any sharī‘ah-based impingement on general freedom.
The article also contains a first effort to understand what the religious language of sharia interpretation means. Please click here to read this and the whole article at Arab West Report.
Post-Morsi, some say, the Salafi Nour Party was pushed into a corner. Others say they played their cards perfectly. In any case they supported the 2014 constitution despite its removal of religious provisions they largely orchestrated only two years earlier. While the Muslim Brotherhood and most other non-Nour Salafis railed against what they called the ‘coup and its constitution’, the Nour Party nimbly tried to navigate the landscape.
So what did they do, and what was their rhetoric? In an interview with Arab West Report Sheikh Hamdi ‘Abd al-Fattah provided perspective from Maghagha, a city in the governorate of Minya.
The party held one large mass conference in Minya, in which Mohamed Ibrahim Mansour, Nour’s representative on the Committee of Fifty which wrote the constitution, joined Sheikh Sharif al-Hiwari from Alexandria, and the local deputy of the Endowments Ministry formed a panel. The party’s approach to the constitution was explained by Mansour and others; Mansour himself spoke for an hour and answered questions for an hour and a half more. Everything was done in full transparency, ‘Abd al-Fattah stated.
From the government to the district level, such as in Maghagha and Beni Mazar, the Nour Party organized marches and had small four-to-five delegations circulate in the streets. Both were meant to give opportunity for people to speak face-to-face with party leaders and have their concerns answered.
For more details, and to discover the reasoning behind their controversial support, please click here to read the full article.
From The Immanent Frame, an article describing where democracy went wrong in Egypt, and doesn’t blame the Islamists. The author draws on James Madison’s assertion that factionalism cannot be destroyed without destroying freedom, and that the only path is to create democratic governmental mechanisms that prevent a certain faction from taking over the state.
This, unfortunately, never took place in Egypt. Non-Islamist political forces, for one reason or another, were never able to develop the kind of broad and cohesive coalitions that could have effectively represented them. After the constitutional crisis of the fall of 2012, moreover, they effectively threw in the towel, and formed the National Salvation Front.
The article states the NSF sought to undermine the government rather than seek to compete with it.
Even if it is true that the Muslim Brotherhood is essentially an anti-democratic movement, it could not have threatened an Egyptian democracy, at least as long as other Egyptian political movements played their role in such a democracy by organizing their supporters into cohesive parties that could effectively compete at the ballot box. Even if it took a couple of rounds of electoral losses before they successfully organized themselves, it would have been worth it to build a genuine democratic coalition.
The question the opposition might give in response is that the Brotherhood showed inclination not to reform the state and open up a democratic polity, but to inherit the Mubarak state and maintain its relative authoritarianism. The author admits the Brotherhood’s illiberal leanings, but finds it would not ultimately have mattered.
In short, so long as there is at least the credible prospect of a politically competitive system, there is no reason to believe that the principles underlying the median voter theorem would not have applied to restrain the Muslim Brotherhood until such time as the non-Islamist opposition could have organized itself more effectively. Ironically, then, it may very well be the case that the biggest problem facing Egyptian democracy is not that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is too committed to its own organization, as many Egyptian commentators have suggested, but rather that other Egyptian groups lack the internal discipline necessary to form an effective nationwide coalition.
This seems too rosy an application of Madison, but spot on concerning the fault of the opposition. But there is more strong critique to come.
Success at the ballot box is not mere “ballotocracy,” to be casually dismissed, as many Egyptian liberals have claimed. An inability to form an electoral majority signifies an inability to govern—at least in the absence of overwhelming force.
So what then? Here is the author’s hindsight analysis:
The fact that there is no credible liberal democratic political party does not mean, however, that Omar Suleiman was right. It only means that Egypt has not yet produced such a party. The existence of such a party is not, however, a precondition for a functioning electoral democracy; it is the product of the practice of democracy over multiple rounds and iterations.
It is too late now, unless it isn’t too late. This would be the claim of the liberals, that the democratic order is now coming under a strong and guiding hand. The author disagrees, and thinks they took the easy way out.
As a result of their short-sighted strategies, Egypt faces at least several years of renewed authoritarianism. Instead of attempting to exclude their competitors from politics, Egyptians need to embrace competitive politics and accept the substantial costs of building a competitive electoral system from the ground up, even if that requires letting your opponents win from time to time.
Ironically, his advice may have been heeded by an unintended audience. The Salafi Nour Party may have sensed what was coming, took their licks, and ensured their coming place in the order – democratic or otherwise.
If not democratic, Muslim governments have long had their ‘sultan’s sheikhs’, as the Nour Party is now derogatorily called by pro-Morsi Islamists. But if democratic, they stand ready to inherit the Islamist mantle. Perhaps they will lose elections to come, but by building up the polity, their bet is for the long haul.
Who knows the developing political orientation of the people, but if Gulf funding is any indicator, these Salafis may be the best students of Madison.
From my recent article in Arab West Report, continuing a series of interviews with members of the committee which wrote the constitution. Abadir is a founding member of the Free Egyptians Party, and was selected to participate as a stand-by member in case of possible resignations. But he was far more active than that:
Within his own subcommittee, Abādīr related he was free to influence the discussions, lobby, and explain his viewpoints. He never felt like a second class citizen. He was present at the internal voting of the subcommittee, and witness to the early contentious debates on Egypt’s identity issues.
‘Early’ debates, because midway through the process the reserve members were sent home. He complained to no avail, but provided insight as to the process of these contentious debates, which were eventually decided long after he left:
Abādīr explained that this liberal majority did not want Egypt defined in light of religion. They desired a civil state that had nothing to do with religion, dealing with citizens irrespective of their beliefs. They tried to insert this word ‘civil’ into Article 1, but met stiff resistance from the Azhar representatives and the Nour Party. Ten were in favor and only four against, but the word was removed. Later on it was attempted to be put into the preamble, but again the Azhar and Nour Party objected, so it was substituted for ‘civil government’, rather than a ‘civil state’. This was done in conjunction with removing language that placed Egypt as part of the Islamic ummah, which has ideas pointing toward a caliphate, and instead listing it as part of the Islamic ‘world’.
In Article 2 Abādīr stated his group wanted to make sharī‘ah ‘a’ source of legislation, removing the word ‘the’ that had been changed by President Sadat in 1980. ‘Everyone’, he said, thought this article should be phrased differently, but they decided to leave it unchanged. ‘Responsibly so,’ he commented, for in the charged atmosphere Egypt is in any adjustment would cause more trouble than it was worth.
So when the internal subcommittee vote proceeded, Abādīr expected it to pass unanimously among all fourteen members present. It did not. Zarqā’ of the Nour Party objected, and said he would support it only in conjunction with Article 219, which in the 2012 constitution provided a specific interpretation of the principles of sharī‘ah. This was somewhat out of order, Abādīr said, because their subcommittee was only tasked with discussing the first fifty or so articles of the 2012 text. But having brought it in, the committee immediately threw it out. Eventually the committee would semi-compromise in the preamble by leaving the interpretation of sharī‘ah bound by the collected rulings of the Supreme Constitutional Court. These, Abādīr said, rely on the sharī‘ah only where no scholars disagree, leaving the principles of sharī‘ah to equal the broad principles of humanity.
But the earlier resistance to Article 219 prompted Zarqā’ to leave the committee entirely – on health grounds, as reported in the press. The Nour Party did not withdraw from the committee, but substituted Ibrahim Mansour in his place. But Abādīr had a different take on these ‘health’ reasons. He stated that Zarqā’ said when he saw us he felt he wanted to throw up, that we were nauseating, and these were the exact words of his declaration. He felt that we were insulting all his beliefs. Mansour, he said, was more diplomatic in his listening, though their opinions were the same.
But in his absence the subcommittee discussed Article 3. Previously this article gave Christians and Jews the right to refer to their own ‘sharī‘ah’ in matters of personal affairs, religious rites, and leadership selection. Abādīr said liberals wanted to change it to state ‘non-Muslims’, but the Azhar representatives would not accept this, as it would open up rights for religions not recognized in Islam. Though the internal vote was ten to three, above the target threshold of 75 percent, they failed.
Article 4 of the 2012 constitution dealt with the Azhar, which became Article 7 in the new charter. Here there was unanimity with the Azhar, for all wanted to remove the previous stipulation stating the opinion of the institution had to be taken in all matters of legislation that might concern sharī‘ah. Otherwise, Egypt might find itself in the Iranian model in which the mullahs have a say in every law.
In most of the other articles discussed in the subcommittee, Abādīr stated, there was general consensus. Only on these first four did contention arise, prompting Mūsa to take them away and basically ignore the work and the votes of the subcommittee.
Please click here to read the full article at Arab West Report.
From my recent article in Arab West Report, about warnings that Salafis, despite only having one member in the Committee of Fifty to amend the 2012 Constitution, were nonetheless exerting undue influence against a liberalizing majority. Some argued they were being placated on several issues so as to keep them involved in support of the overall roadmap:
Arab West Report does not here differ with Coptic Solidarity about the potential implications of furthering the role of sharī‘ah law in the Egyptian Constitution. Their concerns are valid and worthy for discussion. Their statement, however, allows an opportunity to provide context for this struggle.
The mobilization of Tamarrud against President Mursī culminated on June 30 in vast protests calling for early presidential elections. A significant percentage of protestors were motivated by sectarian tendencies reflected in his policies and the predominance of the Muslim Brotherhood in the administration of government. But many protestors also called for his removal due to the ineffectiveness of his government in terms of the economy, security, and general standard of living of the ordinary citizen. Finally, the decision to oust Mursī, taken on July 3, was supported also by the Nour Party, Egypt’s largest political representation of Salafīs.
It is not possible to gauge the level of ordinary Salafī support for the removal of Mursī. It is clear that many sided with the president through their participation in the sit-in protests dispersed violently on August 14. But many Salafīs also voiced consistent opposition to Mursī, though for reasons at times very different from those of their liberal and leftist allies of convenience.
Therefore, Arab West Report wishes to nuance the sentiment of Coptic Solidarity when it speaks of the “dreams of most Egyptians”. The Egyptians who bravely fought against Mursī were diverse.
Yes, diverse, though the Salafi presence was one of the less numerous participants. But their strength in the committee came from another source:
By including the Nour Party among the Azhar and Coptic Orthodox Church, the military was able to portray its action as one of national unity, to remove Mursī who had transgressed the popular will. Early overtures to the Muslim Brotherhood also contributed to this rhetoric, though whether offered sincerely or otherwise, failed to bring Mursī’s parent organization on board. But without the key role played by Nour, the military risked allowing an opposite rhetorical stratagem, that of portraying Mursī’s removal not only as a coup against democracy, but as a war against Islam. With the largest Salafī political party in cooperation, this latter accusation was severely muffled.
By acting either from brave conviction or political acumen, the Nour Party risked alienation from its key constituency that still hoped Mursī might provide the rule of sharī‘ah. As the crackdown ensued on the Muslim Brotherhood in general, non-Islamists might say that Nour’s survival as a political entity is reward enough for their participation. But as article after article is debated, Nour holds the threat of switching sides and mobilizing against a constitution free of sharī‘ah. In an already polarized environment, supporters of the new government are ill at ease risking further agitation against them, let alone igniting a voter base that may rise against the constitution in the upcoming referendum.
This, therefore, is the “intense pressure” to which Coptic Solidarity is worried the committee will succumb. It is an understandable fear. This close to a “window of opportunity” in which they can win every article demanded, will the chance be thrown away simply to placate the Salafīs?
Unfortunately, this idea that Salafi viewpoints should simply be outvoted recycles the logic of the earlier constitutional committee which exhibited Islamist numerical dominance. The failure of consensus was greatly criticized by liberals at the time. Now, it appears, some desire it.
Or, such language was simply a pressure technique of their own. If so, here is the final article excerpt, from the conclusion:
But AWR also recognizes that long term social peace depends on the ability of all Egyptian citizens to come together and decide their national charter. None must yield on principles, and Coptic Solidarity is right to advocate strongly.
As Salafīs advocate in return, it is good to take a step back to see the big picture. They also are part of the June 30 revolution. However much the Committee of Fifty represents the diverse institutions of Egypt and the participants in the overthrow of Mursī, it does not represent fully the diversity of political-religious thought. Fair enough, perhaps, as many Islamists rejected their place at the table. But unless a wide consensus of society is able to approve the final constitutional text, it will take its place in the line of charters drawn by an elite and swallowed by an unengaged people, even if they vote for it.
Salafīs should not be placated, but neither should they be alienated. Their pressure is valid.
Please click here to read the full article at Arab West Report.
Help Egypt rebuild her political institutions. Help her to do so wisely, and justly.
The law to set regulations for parliamentary elections meandered all week. A first draft was partially declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Amendments were made, but then bypassed the court lest it find further flaws, only postponing the crisis. Accusations of unfairness and gerrymandering abound; many in the opposition threaten a boycott.
And among the most unusual provisions is the fact the elections will be conducted over a four week period.
Added to the political controversies are feuds between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi Nour Party, and disputed attacks on a church in Fayoum. On all accounts the facts are unclear but acrimony appears from all sides. It was a quiet week in Egypt, but tensions simmer.
Lower the boil, God. What is this stalemate producing? Where are you bringing Egypt? Must one side eventually defeat the other completely? Is this preferable to honest compromise?
God, grant the people representatives; give them a working parliament. But may those who populate it come truly from the popular will. Minimize electoral machinery and manipulative campaigning. But have a groundwork laid now in which all can agree on the rules of the game. But God, it seems impossible. Rules were disregarded long ago.
So, perhaps, were sincere political relationships. Heal the rifts between Islamists, and furthermore between all political powers. Where these rifts are caused by transgression, may justice cleanse. Restore the reputation of anyone falsely tarnished; sully the reputation of anyone escaping accountability. Sort out the categories, God, but moreover, reconcile. Egypt needs all.
This includes her Muslims and Christians. God, return this village to its previous anonymity. If there is fanaticism driving events, rebuke its partisans. If there is exaggeration, rebuke as well. Help each to love his neighbor as himself, seeking first the interests of others. Establish humility, but give each his right. Spare the village from further troubles, and may similar happenings not repeat elsewhere.
God, coddle Egypt, if you must. Be a mother who calms a disquiet spirit and a flailing temper. Hold her until she can breathe again freely. But prepare her to roar, righteously. May that day come soon.
The popular image of Salafi Muslims in Egypt is of a lower-class, older generation, perhaps limited in educational achievement. This is not their fault, many might patronizingly sympathize, as President Mubarak is blamed for letting the school system rot to keep the population ignorant, poor, and non-threatening to his rule. It is commonly stated as well he allowed the Salafi trend to prosper at the expense of the Muslim Brotherhood, because their religious orientation preached obedience to the Muslim ruler, no matter his flaws.
However useful this description may be, it does not comprise the whole of Egyptian Salafism, and a clear example is Ahmad al-Qadri.
At the time of this interview Qadri was an advisor to the Salafi Nour Party in energy affairs. He is now the official English language spokesman for the Salafi Watan Party, which recently split away. These political developments can be read here, but this article is more a profile of him and his worldview.
Here, for example, he describes how he became a Salafi:
For Qadri, his grayness was exposed by life abroad. He studied for his PhD at Strathclyde University in the UK from 2006-2009, and immediately found the local Muslim community to be either black or white, secular or religious. The psychology of minority status pushed immigrant Muslims either to seek integration with the larger culture, or else to dive deeply into their own religious heritage. Glasgow as a city was about 17% Muslim – mostly Pakistani – while the university could be as much as 30%.
From the beginning Qadri was tested. The university committee to welcome new students served wine at their reception. Women freely extended their hands to greet him. Upon polite refusal – as an ordinary Egyptian Muslim, not as a fanatic – he was politely asked why, and what relation Islam had to such social awkwardness.
These experiences pushed him to read subjects he cared little about while growing up. His personal studies led him to the books and YouTube sermons of popular Egyptian Salafi scholars like Muhammad Hassān and Muhammad ‘Abd al-Maqsūd. By 2007 he started growing out his beard. He eventually became vice-president of the Muslim Students Association at his university, which was composed primarily of Salafi students from the Persian Gulf and North Africa.
Qadri differentiates between Islamist groups, especially highlighting mainstream Salafis perspective on jihadists:
Even so, Salafis should be differentiated from other Islamist groups, though all agree on the necessity of applying sharia law. The Muslim Brotherhood has a Salafi orientation, but desires to change society from the top. For this reason they seek political power. The problem will be, however, if they do not perform well society will reject them. This may cause the loss of the whole sharia project.
There are other Islamists who have sought to live according to sharia law in other ways – ways rejected by Salafis. Some, such as Takfir wa Hijrah (Excommunication and Exodus), curse society as non-Muslim and form isolated communities to themselves. Some such groups then move further along into advocating violence to overthrow the government and seize power. Such jihadis are also ‘Salafi’ in the manner of viewing Islam through the lens of the Qur’an and Hadith, but are rejected by the mainstream Salafi movement. Salafi leaders such as ‘Imād ‘Abd al-Ghaffūr and Yūsrī Hammād have traveled to Sinai where many extremist have taken refuge to convince tribal leaders and the youth the jihadi perspective is wrong. Jihadis themselves, however, cannot be talked to at all, as Qadri finds them unwilling to accept anyone as a Muslim except themselves.
His views on religious defamation and the freedom of conversion seem to bounce back and forth between liberal and conservative notions, but where liberal they are surprising and muddle the waters:
Additionally, Salafis support a law against denigration of religions which would apply equally to Christians and Jews. This law, however, would not prevent conversion from one religion to another, or to none at all. Nor would such a law apply to the conversation, or even the printing, of one religion respectfully describing the other. A Christian can freely communicate that for them, Islam is a false religion and Muhammad was a liar. Several years ago a highly visible convert to Christianity, Muhammad Hijāzī, created a stir in the media. Salafi groups raised no case against him.
In this area Qadri was more difficult to understand, for he stated as well that there should be censorship of thoughts that harm the Islamic religion to keep sectarian strife from society. He also defended the case brought against Nasr Abu Zayd, who was sued for his academic writings on Islam. The court referred the case to the Azhar, which ruled they proved him a non-Muslim. As such, he was ordered to divorce his wife, and he fled to the Netherlands for asylum leaving his wife behind.
In explanation, Qadri stated a Muslim is free to become a non-Muslim, but if so he forfeits his rights. A family should be protected from the shame of having their daughter be married to a non-Muslim at any point in her life. Furthermore, the apostate will lose his Islamic inheritance rights. Yet he is free to join another creed, and even free to publish his reasons why.
This privilege does not extend to non-monotheistic religions, however. A Muslim may become a Buddhist in his heart, but no community of Buddhists may build a temple in Egypt. The same applies to Shi’a Islam.
Finally, from the conclusion, asking rhetorically the common doubt toward all articulate Islamsts:
Qadri presents these opinions as shared by the Egyptian Salafi community, many of which are not young, know no English, and are far more comfortable conversing over ancient texts. Is this accurate? Or has Qadri learned the art of speaking to the West, having been tested in the hallowed halls of Scotland academia?
Perhaps there are generational gaps. Perhaps there are educational gaps. Among all peoples there are frauds and charlatans, politicians and propagandists. The testimony here is only that Qadri was a very nice, pleasant individual, who appeared to speak sincerely and passionately about his faith. Judgment on the Salafi movement can only be rendered upon how they benefit – or damage – Egypt, but in his demeanor it is hoped that the Salafi community will demonstrate Qadri to be a standard representative.
Please click here to read the full article on Arab West Report.
The Nour Party, the political flagship of Egypt’s burgeoning Salafi movement, is in full damage control over scores of member defections to the new Watan Party. This is appropriate, as the damage is substantial.
The Nour Party lists why it is dismissive of its new rival, but Watan boasts impressive transfer:
According to Ahmed al-Qadri, the English language spokesman for the Watan Party and former vice-president of Nour’s energy committee, the resignations affect the great majority of leadership positions. Besides former party president Emad Abdel Ghaffour and spokesmen Mohamed Nour and Yousry Hammad, nineteen regional offices resigned collectively.
Furthermore, Qadri explained, every single member of Nour’s technical committees has resigned. Including the economic, political, agriculture, energy and other committees, these groups of experts facilitated the work of Nour’s members of parliament. Of Nour’s 107 MPs, 52 have joined Watan, along with sixteen current members of the Shura Council.
The problem is not over doctrine, but over the influence of religion over politics:
“Some people wanted to assign positions based on proximity to leading religious figures,” said Qadri. “One of Nour’s mistakes was that the Salafi Call had the right to interfere in the party and change job descriptions. We want to work to unite all Salafi schools but have a legitimate and independent political party.”
Some Salafis fear – and liberals hope – these divisions will damage the electoral campaign of Islamists. But Qadri sees it differently:
“If the main figures of a party make a mistake, it may cost them votes, but if we have variety in the Salafi trend then those votes can simply shift to another party,” he said.
“If you are only one party you will be too sluggish to promote yourself because there is no competition.”
And from the conclusion, he hinted that this multiplicity might actually distance religion from politics:
“You cannot simply say ‘sharia’ or ‘Islamic state’ because we all believe in this,” he said. “The Egyptian people have learned that no one will any longer give their vote to a flag, but only to those who offer them solutions.”
The coming elections will tell, but unity is always important. Just ask liberals worried over possible splits in the National Salvation Front.
Please click here to read the full article on EgyptSource.
Salafi politics has taken Egypt by storm. This has surprised many commentators who underestimated their base of thought and non-political nature. For others, it has been a validation of years of Salafi work in mosques and surrounding communities to preach Islam and help the poor.
As an aid to understanding this phenomenon, and in effort to understand it myself, this text will function as an inverted pyramid. It will start with broad strokes concerning the Salafi coalition in Egypt – the Nour Party, focus on one member in particular – the Asala Party, demonstrate their base in a typical neighborhood – Warraq, and then feature one member in particular – Essam al-Sharif. Appreciation is given for his help in gathering the story which follows.
For a historical background to Salafism in Egypt, click here for a previous post. Though lines overlap, Salafis can be distinguished from Muslim Brothers and Islamic revolutionaries based on methodology, rather than thought. All three groups desire some sort of an Islamic state in which sharia law is the basis of governance. After a history of struggle against the state, the Muslim Brotherhood foreswore violence and sought to transform society while seeking entrance into the political arena. Believing the Brotherhood to have betrayed the jihadist struggle, revolutionary groups such as al-Jama’a al-Islamiya continued to agitate against the state, seeking its overthrow.
Salafis, meanwhile, are understood to be quietist. They eschewed political participation, with some, perhaps many, declaring it to be heretical to Islamic law. At the same time their theology called for obedience to a Muslim ruler. Unlike many in the revolutionary groups, Salafis accepted the broad, liberal, and traditional interpretation of ‘Muslim ruler’, accepting Mubarak as having been given by God.
Therefore, while the state pounded revolutionary Islamic groups out of existence in the 1990s and early 2000s, and placed countless political obstacles and jail terms in the path of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mubarak generally allowed Salafis free reign to propagate their religious interpretations. While strict limits were enforced, Salafi preaching proliferated in the mosques of lower class areas as well as on popular satellite television channels. Rumors are rife concerning extensive financial support from conservative Gulf nations, but the result was the emergence – below the attention of middle class society and politics – of an authentic Egyptian Salafi movement.
Conventional wisdom states given their unique situation in the Egyptian scene, Salafis did not join the revolution of January 25. By and large this is true; many of their leaders declared such activity as religiously haram. Yet many Salafis did participate. This is the testimony of Hani Fawzi, a political activist from Helwan and party leader for the Salafi Asala Party in Nasr City, Cairo. He joined the demonstrations on January 28, as did a few of his favored Salafi sheikhs, such as Nashat Ahmad, Hassan Abu al-Ishbal, Fawzi al-Sayyid, and lastly Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud Afifi, who will be mentioned later.
Nevertheless, upon the success of the revolution and the opening of the political scene, most were surprised to see the enthusiastic participation of newly formed Salafi parties. This was accompanied by much internal discord. Some continued to criticize political participation, and those who formed parties witnessed several divisions and splits. In the end, two main groupings emerged.
The first and largest issued from Alexandria, understood to be the greatest base of Salafi strength. Leaders there created the Nour (Light) Party. Meanwhile in Cairo, the Asala (Origin) Party was formed. Other parties also emerged, but did not come to national prominence. Nour and Asala were not true rivals, however. One Salafi stated the reason to have more than one party was pragmatic. If any difficulties were encountered by one party – political, legal, administrative – the other one could assure representation.
Over the summer Egypt’s political powers negotiated alliances as the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party seized the place of initiative. They created the ‘Democratic Alliance’, seeking as broad a coalition as possible. The historic liberal party, the Wafd, joined them, as did the newly created Salafi entities. Newer liberal parties rejected the central place of the Brotherhood and doubted their democratic credentials. The Free Egyptians and the Social Democratic Party allied instead with the youth revolutionary parties, setting up a liberal vs. Islamist electoral battle.
Yet further splintering emerged. The revolutionary parties split from what became known as the Egyptian Bloc, largely over issues of representation and nomination of members. Meanwhile, the Wafd Party decided the Brotherhood-dominated Democratic Alliance did not fit with its liberal heritage, and decided to go it alone in elections.
The surprise came when the Salafis later split from the Brotherhood, although the reason is similar to that which dissolved the Egyptian Bloc. Egypt’s electoral system created a two-thirds ‘party list’ and a one-third ‘individual’ competition for seats. In the party list system, a slate of candidates would be presented, to be voted on as a whole. The number of candidates elected would correspond to the percentage of the vote captured by the list within a particular district. For individual seats, only one person could be nominated and receive support from the coalition.
In the Egyptian Bloc, youthful revolutionaries and established middle-class professionals vied for positioning at the top of the list, and for nomination in individual elections. When the youth felt they were being marginalized, they formed their own coalition. It should be mentioned additionally that leftist-liberal orientation played a role in their division, though it did not take down the alliance. The remaining Free Egyptian Party (right of center economically) and Social Democratic Party (left of center) held together in support of a liberal political system, and perhaps in opposition to Islamist trends.
The story is similar for the Democratic Alliance. The largely middle-class and politically established Muslim Brotherhood clashed with the lower-class and populist Salafis over representation in the coalition. It should be mentioned additionally that moderate-conservative orientation also played a role. Yet rather than this designation, it might be more true to label the conflict as pragmatic versus idealistic. In any case, the Salafi parties left and created a coalition under the name of their dominant partner, the Nour Party.
This coalition included the Reform and Development Party, created since the revolution by al-Jama’a al-Islamiya, the former Islamic revolutionaries. After being greatly weakened by the state, the group controversially foreswore violence in the late 1990s. Laboring internally over their identity and purpose, al-Jama’a maintained a base of support in Upper Egypt, and allied with the Salafis during the elections.
The other partner with Nour is the aforementioned Asala Party, to which the rest of this essay will turn. This largely geographical alliance – Alexandria, Cairo, Upper Egypt – gave the Salafis a national base of support, allowing each partner to draw from their positions of strength. The result has been a solid 25% of the national vote. The Muslim Brotherhood drew support from many Egyptians for its role as major opposition party to Mubarak, as well as a lack of alternatives, and not necessarily from its Islamist politics. Salafis, meanwhile, drew only from their base and their religious-identity based campaign strategy, suggesting their representation does indeed encompass one in four Egyptians.
Yet before moving on in complete acceptance of this fact, it is suspected by many the Salafis also received the benefit of official fraud. If this accusation is true, it does not necessarily imply their complicity. Rather, it is maintained the ‘old regime’ remnants in the state wish to prop up the Salafis for one of two reasons. First, given their political acquiescence to the stability of order, otherwise non-Salafi political apparatchiks and business interests believe they can rule through the Salafis and maintain a Mubarak-style regime. They would allow Salafis to institute a more conservative social order, but themselves exist outside of its reach. The assumed political naiveté of Salafis would also allow the same level of corruption in administration and policing.
The second reason proposed for state-sponsorship of the Salafis is that they are meant as a counter-balance to the Muslim Brotherhood. It is maintained the Brotherhood could not be denied leadership in the post-revolutionary order, but they are pragmatic enough to play political games. Mubarak scared the West by saying support me, or face the Brotherhood. Old regime members can now make back-door deals with the pro-business Brotherhood to say, support us, or face the Salafis. Meanwhile, to keep the Brotherhood honest, the old regime can threaten them with the populist Salafis, who can ‘out-Islam them’ if push comes to shove, especially if the state greases the wheels of low-level electoral fraud. Either way, it is a dangerous game, but many liberals believe it is being played, if only from sour grapes.
Shifting focus to the Asala Party in particular, it is interesting to note it was not the first Salafi Party formed in Cairo. This honor goes to the Fadila (Virtue) Party. According to reports, the co-founder of the Fadila Party, Khaled al-Said, had disagreements with elected chairman Adel Abdel Maqsoud Afifi, resulting in the parting of their ways. The latter then went on to found the Asala Party.
Afifi had been a general in the police force and the director of the Passports and Immigration Control section of the Interior Ministry. He is also noteworthy for being the brother of the celebrated Salafi television preacher Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud Afifi, who also served as a government chemist. His Egyptian ministry is based in Shubra, a neighborhood in the north of Cairo.
Afifi was elected president of the party, which he co-founded with Ehab Shiha, an engineer who owns a mid-level building company. Shiha is vice-president of the party, along with Mamdouh Ismail, a lawyer renowned for handing the defense of Islamist clients, especially from al-Jama’a al-Islamiya.
The Asala Party literature declares it to possess ‘a contemporary vision of original principles’. This vision consists of six founding principles which influence eight goals in particular.
Islamic sharia law is the principle source for legislation, which guarantees justice for all denominations of the people.
The national benefit will be promoted through the search for professionals of high capability and sincerity to work in government.
The Egyptian people have the right to personal freedom of expression, and the Egyptian citizens must have their respect and dignity protected.
The Egyptian people have the right to chose their representatives in both legislative councils and executive bodies.
Elected representatives are chosen by the people to express their viewpoints, not to be considered better than them.
The ruling authorities – president of the republic and the cabinet ministers – are employees who work for the good of the people, who have the right to question, hold accountable, and judge them if they perform poorly.
Intellectual, social, and moral development through purifying souls and the elevation of traditional values drawn from Islamic sharia law.
Complete economic renaissance in all sectors of the state resulting in an increase in GDP through ideal use of national resources.
Just distribution of wealth and lessening the class divisions to improve the social situation of the general Egyptian people.
Preserving the dignity of the Egyptian citizen, whether inside or outside of Egypt, without looking to his social position, as the simple citizen is the primary member of society.
Complete improvement in social services necessary for the public, including educational, health, and security.
Establishing the foundation of justice and equality between citizens in their rights and the rule of law, through implementing Article Two of the constitution to ensure the regulations of Islamic sharia are the true and veritable primary source of legislation.
Crafting strong relations with neighboring countries, especially of the Nile Basin to preserve the interests of Egypt both domestically and internationally.
The return of Egypt to her position of leadership in the region, in Africa, and among Islamic nations, as deserving of her history, civilization, and the potential of her great people.
The Asala Party then went about the work of building party infrastructure. They chose Essam al-Sharif as party secretary for Warraq, a neighborhood in north-west Cairo. Warraq is a mixed industrial-agricultural area, lower class, with Christians populating in general accordance to their national percentage. There are several churches, one of which is alleged to have received an appearance of the Virgin Mary in December 2009. The name of the area is derived from the Arabic for ‘maker of paper’. As such, it hosted papyrus manufacture from ancient days as well as the first modern printing press in Egypt. It is also well known for production of women’s Islamic dress.
During elections, Warraq constituted a district along with the neighboring areas of Awseem and Manashi. The district was allotted ten seats for party-list competition. The Muslim Brotherhood backed Freedom and Justice Party captured 40% of the vote, while the Nour Party alliance received 30%, capturing three seats. Two of these three – Adel Azayzi and Abu Khadra – are from the Nour Party proper, while the third – Nazzar Ghurab – represented the Reform and Development Party of al-Jama’a al-Islamiya. The Asala Party did not field a candidate in this district, but campaigned for its partners all the same.
The campaign for individual candidates followed national law to vote for one seat for ‘professionals’, and another for ‘workers/farmers’. This peculiarity is a holdover from Nasser-era elections designed to assure better representation for the working class in his socialist system. Over a hundred candidates campaigned, but only a few had enough prominence to secure victory.
One major issue for parties was the dominance of Mubarak’s National Party in all constituencies of Egypt. This did not concern the professionals’ seat, in which Mahmoud Amer of the Freedom and Justice Party defeated Emad al-Halabi from Nour in the run-off election. This was a friendly competition in which the two candidates shook hands after the final result was declared. On the street however, the FJP candidate received the vote of a Salafi partisan, angering some within Asala. Many commentators expect a replication in the years to come. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis are ideologically similar, yet competition often brings out the worst in men, even among friends.
Yet the problems of candidacy with the old regime National Party complicated the workers’/farmers’ election. Newer parties were under pressure not to nominate any Mubarak era figures, but this eliminated so many potential candidates. In the end, both the FJP and the Nour Party selected individuals, but their applications were rejected legally for not meeting worker/farmer qualifications. As such, Islamist forces failed to feature a candidate for this Warraq slot.
Even so, they represented a major voting constituency, desired by other candidates. In the initial election neither the FJP nor the Salafis endorsed a candidate. The run-off resulted in the easy victory of Mustafa Sulman, an independent candidate, over Yusuf Khalid of the Egyptian Bloc. Sharif explained both candidates had ties to the National Party, though neither occupied significant leadership. To play in politics under Mubarak meant getting your hands dirty in the party; Sharif believed Khalid’s hands were dirtier. Islamists threw their weight behind Sulman in the run-off, which was decisive.
One of the more prominent campaign tactics of the Nour Party coalition was widely criticized by other parties. Outside the party headquarters of Asala a pickup truck would arrive several times weekly, stocked with gas bottles. These are needed by the majority of residents as the state does not provide independent gas lines into each home. Due to a purported shortage in supply the black market drove up rates, yet the Asala Party sold each at the designated government price. It was assumed there was either money from the Gulf funding this program, or else government corruption to facilitate it.
Sharif explained there was indeed corruption, but that the Asala Party was combating it. The offices of the local governor would authorize certain people as agents, sell them bottles for 3LE ($0.50 US), and allow them to resell at 5LE ($0.80 US). Instead, due to shortages, bottles were being sold for as much as 20-25LE ($3.25 – $4 US). In many parts of Egypt there were protests over these shortages, with the poor bearing the brunt of others’ profit.
The Nour Party coalition went to the governor and threatened to bring him up on charges of corruption if this process did not cease. They then arranged directly with the agent at the point of loading, paying him his due price, and directing the pick-up truck to party neighborhoods in each district. There, to gathered crowds, party coordinators would sell the bottles at price, plus 1LE markup for transportation. According to Sharif, there was neither profit nor expense for the party. There was, however, great popular acclaim. When one recipient entered the party offices and asked who to vote for, Sharif stated (at least in the presence of the author), ‘Whoever you want.’ Upon insistence, he said the Nour Party is good. Asked about the Brotherhood, he said they were good also.
This program could have been done by any party, Sharif explained, but the success of the Salafis stems from their connection to the people. Sharif is a son of Warraq; he is a local businessman who owns a coffee bean shop. He is not wealthy, but is able to travel to Sudan on business to import supplies. Furthermore, he works for the Asala Party on a volunteer basis. He believes in his principles, and sacrifices for them.
As an example of sacrifice, connection to the people, but not fanaticism to the party, Sharif offered his intervention on behalf of his Christian neighbor. Shadia Bushra is a 45 year old widow, living in an apartment complex owned by her extended family. When her aunt decided to move to a more affluent quarter, she attempted to sell the building. Shadia, however, refused to leave. She was paying 10LE ($1.80 US) monthly rent for years, and a now grandfathered housing law dictated the freezing of the original rental contract. If Shadia moved she would have to find a new apartment at current market prices, which would overwhelm her and her three children. Shadia earned around 300LE ($55 US) per month working in a local nursery, and received a 120LE ($20 US) monthly stipend from the government as a widow.
Shadia’s aunt could have sold the building without forcing the move, but this would have resulted in a lower sale price, as the new owner would be legally obligated to honor the original rental agreement. Shadia, however, had long lost the original contract, and her aunt decided to take her to court.
Having been neighbors for many years, Sharif helped Shadia when the priest in the local church took the side of the wealthy relatives. He went with her multiple times to the court, and bore witness she was a long standing resident of the apartment. The judge ruled in her favor, and she is now the sole resident in an empty apartment building.
Shadia asked Sherif if he would have helped her had the litigant been a Muslim. Sherif answered he only became involved because she bore the side of right, and was acting on behalf of a neighbor. Shadia wound up voting for the Freedom and Justice Party of the Muslim Brotherhood, following the general word on the street. She gave no indication Sherif influenced her to vote in any direction.
Egypt is learning the ways of democracy, yet within a historic struggle for power. Part of the acclaim of Islamist parties is they represent a departure from the ways of corruption in the former regime, bound, as they are, by the moral strictures of Islam. Whether they will prove incorruptible is subject to much doubt, and though Sharif’s explanation of the gas bottle campaigning is reasonable, it also seems to skirt the line of the acceptable.
Yet Sharif displays a magnanimity and sincerity bearing well on his party. Its principles and goals may be another matter, requiring further analysis. Whether or not an open-minded, reasonable personality like Sharif is representative of his party is yet another question. To what degree are Salafis other-rejecting extremists, and to what degree are they simply portrayed this way in liberal propaganda, which has rarely descended to learn from or benefit the street?
Answers to these questions will require the wisdom of the years to come, yet requires immediate action in electoral decisions. Salafis are part and parcel of Egypt; their place is demanded in representation. How Egyptians decide – or are manipulated – is subject to debate; this small window into their world is offered simply as a means to understanding.