Friday, July 11, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Salafis go to parliament

One of the more fascinating aspects of the new Egyptian politics is the rise of the ultraconservative salafists, who want to restore Islam to the purity they believe existed in the first three generations of Islam.

Salafis go to parliament

A salafi in parliament- Dep.Speaker Ashraf Sabet Saad Eldin
A salafi in parliament- Dep.Speaker Ashraf Sabet Saad Eldin

One of the more fascinating aspects of the new Egyptian politics is the rise of the ultraconservative salafists,  who want to restore Islam to the purity they believe existed in the first three generations of Islam.

To Egyptians’ great surprise, the Salafist Nour party won 25 per cent of the seats in parliamentary elections.  Previously opposed to taking part in elections, the salafists figured out that in the new Egypt, the ballot was the way to power, and plunged right in. Their vote tallies benefited from a large social network linked to salafi preachers and  mosques, and also from voter perceptions that salafists would be more honest than the normal corrupt pols because they were pious.

Unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, whose party won 46 per cent of the vote, the salafists are very open, easy to access, and eager to meet liberals and moderates, and Westerners, too, perhaps in hope of converting them to the right path.  For now, at least, they seem ready to form alliances in parliament, where they have behaved quite pragmatically  so far (a far cry from the fire-breathing rhetoric spewed by radical salafi preachers on satellite TV channels funded by Qataris and Saudis, or the violent salafis who convulsed Egypt in the 1990s).   

I visited one Nour party member,  Ashraf Sabet,  now the deputy speaker of parliament, who discussed everything from why salafis think any interest on a loan above 1 per cent is usury,  to when and how young girls should be circumcised. He seemed convinced that this odious but widespread practice was a health issue, not a longstanding cultural practice banned by law. He was constantly looking at his I-pad, and was leaving soon for the Arab Emirates in an attempt to persuade some big investors not to pull their money out of Egypt.   

How this large parliamentary bloc will behave once it becomes clear that its puritanical religious precepts are not accepted by most Egyptians remains to be seen.

Trudy Rubin Inquirer Opinion Columnist
About this blog

Trudy Rubin’s Worldview column runs on Thursdays and Sundays. In 2009-2011 she has made four lengthy trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Over the past seven years, she visited Iraq eleven times, and also wrote from Iran, Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, China, and South Korea.

She is the author of Willful Blindness: the Bush Administration and Iraq, a book of her columns from 2002-2004. In 2001 she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in commentary and in 2008 she was awarded the Edward Weintal prize for international reporting. In 2010 she won the Arthur Ross award for international commentary from the Academy of American Diplomacy.

Reach Trudy at trubin@phillynews.com.

Trudy Rubin Inquirer Opinion Columnist
Also on Philly.com
Stay Connected