A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, April 1, 2011

Egypt: Resurgent Salafism and Cautious MB-Coptic Feelers

This is obviously both an exciting and a very delicate time in Egypt, and secularists and Islamists alike are staking out their positions prior to the fall elections. Egypt's new interim constitutional declaration retains the existing ban on political parties based on religion, sect, or ethnicity, but the Muslim Brotherhood expects to create a political party that will pass the test, and compete in the elections. The Brotherhood has also announced its intention to create a satellite channel and a newspaper. The less centrally organized, but even more conservative, Salafi movement has also been very active, and their growing influence has alarmed secular Muslims, Christians, and the mystical Sufi orders. A brief roundup of links, since there's been too much going on to comment individually.

The Brotherhood has been reaching out to the Coptic Church, apparently to appear mainstream. Brotherhood General Guide Muhammad Badie has asked for a meeting with Coptic Pope Shenouda III, whom he telephoned after one of the Pope's frequent medical visits to the United States. Shenouda downplayed the request.The Brotherhood also wants to meet with the Coptic Youth Movement.

Meanwhile, Salafi movement demonstrators clashed with villagers over closing liquor stores and coffeehouses. and also demanded the "freeing" of Camillia Shehata, a Coptic priest's wife they believe tried to convert to Islam, and who they charge is being held against her will by the Church. On the day before the Salafi protest on the Shehata affair last Tuesday, a wild rumor spread among Christian and secular Muslim women claiming that the Salafis were going to kidnap unveiled women and hold them hostage until Shehata was freed. The Salafis issued a strong denial (link is in Arabic), and the ruling Military Council met with Pope Shenouda, to reassure the church.

The Wafd and other secular parties are talking about forming a secular alliance to compete with the Brotherhood and Salafi movements in the Parliamentary elections, while Salafis and Sufis are also clashing, with Salafis attacking Sufi shrines, and the council of Sufi Orders threatening a "war" against the Salafis if they continue to demolish shrines. The Sufi (Islamic mystical) orders venerate local saints and the sheikhs of their order, while the Salafis equate saint veneration with idolatry.

All of this ferment also coincides with efforts to organize the long-discussed Wasat or Center Party, led by younger Islamists disillusioned with the Muslim Brotherhood, even as the Brotherhood itself is reportedly riven by internal divisions. I've always thought that those who assumed the Muslim Brotherhood was going to be the obvious winner of the revolution were buying into Mubarak-era propaganda, since with real political pluralism, a wide spectrum of religious and secular movements are likely to take the field. The fact that the Brotherhood now seems to be just one religious movement among many may be bearing that out, though don't count them out since they still have the best organizational infrastructure.

Clearly, a number of religious/secular, fundamentalist/mystical, and Muslim/Christian fault lines are under stress.

I'll be back later with a lengthy historical post before disappearing for the weekend.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

A year from now, when unemployment is high and prices are higher, we should expect to see attacks on "greedy Coptic merchants" emanating from some of the less scrupulous Islamist parties and media outlets.