The Most Common Criticisms against Salafist Related to Arab Spring
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Prof. Mounir Mahmud Badwi
Political science dept. KSU

The latest developments of Arab spring phenomenon which many Arab countries, though politically, economically and socially different, are witnessing today, showed how influential Islamic power is salafists in all the Arab squares demanding change.
Undoubtedly, throwing off all the chains of the ex-political regimes` oppression has greatly helped salafists to powerfully participate in the political game. It is the participation that is marked with two things, the first is the big number of people sympathized with salfists along with their utter loyalty to their principles and values -however they didn’t have an organizational structure to work under- not to mention their complete consensus and full agreement on different issues.
The second oneis related to the kind and amount of criticism leveled at salafists by specific political powers regarding their future vision which goes around four issues: democracy, civil state, citizenship (how to deal with the others) and their personal conducts concerning specific events in which some of their members involved, including (destroying shrines, fueling sectarian strives, etc). These criticisms are getting increased because of its different sources and its relevancy to the Arab political and social change in the future.
In this regard, this report is aiming at putting these criticisms under the microscope with highlighting the response of the salafists, taking into consideration that the Arab spring Phenomenon didn’t take yet its final democratic shape of political and social change nor established its own mechanisms and institutions, which still need more time, efforts and complete awareness to the whole picture of the current stage and understanding of how internally and externally dangerous is failing to pass it, in addition to full preparedness and capacity to overcome this stages` problems.
Hence, there are three things have to be stressed:
The framework of this report is limited to specific time and place, since it’s not providing in-depth analysis for each case of salafisim and how it locally and regionally reacted with the Arab spring phenomenon. For such comprehensive analysis, it needs to be done through a research project and work team with more available sources. That’s why this report took only the Egyptian salafism as a study case which in fact is somehow similar to many other Arab cases, not to mention that the Egyptian case is a leading example which its effects go beyond home to give a general overview to the political, economic and social developments in the Arab world.

The report is addressing only the criticisms directed to Salafisits concerning Arab spring. This doesn’t mean denying the great achievements they made up to now, but it seeks defusing the growing tension that can hamper the democratic transition that all Arab communities are demanding.

Bearing in mind how important to recognize that the effect of the environment and surroundings on the conducts and situations of Salafists differ from a country to another.

Firstly: revolution, ousting the ruler and salafists` position.

A study carried out by the centre of “Aldeen wa Alhayah” titled “Egyptian salafisim… new stage” demonstrated that salafists fall into four categories in terms of practicing democracy. First, pro democracy group which seeks to get immersed in politics, for example Salafist Call in Alexandria with its different branches in governorates, which established AL- Nour party with its religious background. It also represented by the salafist movement in Cairo with Muhammad Abdulmaqsoud, Nash`at Ahmad and Fouzy Alsaeed as its leading figures. Another party is supported by this group is Alfadila, though they don’t take its leadership.

The second group is in between where as it stays away from participation but at the same time it doesn’t reject it, and sometimes encourages others to get engaged in. This group is led by Foundation of Ansar Alsunah Almuhamadiah and Sheikh Muhammad Hassan, and for this purpose they established the council of Scholars` consultancy which found it religiously acceptable to participate in politics as a means of empowering religion and spreading it within the community.

The third is called the silent group represented, for example by Sheikh Abu Ishaq Alhwini, while the fourth group is the cons of this process represented by a large number of Salafists.

Dr saad Al-deen Ibrahim, however, said that Islamists especially, Salafists, didn’t participate in the revolution, in addition they spent long time urging their members not to disobey the ruler, as they used to say “ unfair ruler is better than long term strife”. But, having the revolution succeeded, they turned to participate in politics in spite of their famous saying” damn for politics and politicians”

Ibrahim affirmed that he didn’t mean to deprive any individual of his right to enter politics, but as for salfists” they went so far trying to hijack the revolution” as it seemed clear with General Emad Khalil in the crisis of Qina, saying that the scene of Qardawi standing on the stage in A-ltahrir square after Mubark had stepped down, remembered him with Al-Khomeini in the Iranian revolution after he had come from Paris, mentioning that sure there is a difference between the two scenes, but this what he had felt at that time.

For Dr. Khalid Al-hroub, director of Arab media project in Cambridge University, England, he said in an interview with Alrabia News channel that Salafists in the entire Arab world are changing their minds according to the requirements of the current stage, indicating that:” They mightily strive to hijack the revolutions from its real owners”.
Salafists of Egypt for example, he said, spent long time forbidding disobeying the ruler but once the revolution had succeeded and the former president was thrown off the power, they changed their minds and turned to complete immersion in politics. The big problem as he sees is that Salafists refuse discussion with the other party, simply because they believe they are talking in the name of religion, so whoever has a different point of view from theirs is defying God. The Arab revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, etc, he added, are not ideologist at all but so traditional, which were outbroken by the peoples who got fed up from their miserable conditions they suffered from under the dictatorship regimes in the Arab World.

Second: Salafists and problematic of democratic change
(Citizenship, democracy and civil state)
The opinions of Salafists on democracy, citizenship and civil state are not the same.

1-civil state:
Dr Yousry Hamad-official spokesman of “Al-Nour” party, affirmed that Salafists seek to restore the caliphate and that Egypt is not a civil state but Islamic one. As related to prescribed penalties in Islam, he said they should be applied but gradually.

Deputy chairman of the Salafist Call in Alexandria, Yasser Borhami, mentioned that the unconditional liberalism is opposing God and his law:” some liberal and secular parties want to apply things that go against the law of God and forgot that they themselves are slaves for God, so the unconditional liberalism that they are calling for is opposing God and his law.” He said.

Spokesman of Salafists front, Dr. Khalid Saeed, stressed that they are with the civil state if it means modernity, renaissance or it is the opposite of the military state, in other words they support any form of the state on condition that it doesn’t exclude religion.

On the other part, Dr Alaa Alaswani, affirmed that it is important to differentiate between the Islamic and the fascist party, warning against the danger of such fascist party on Egypt “ this fascist party uses the democracy as a ladder to seize power then throws off this ladder so as no other party can come to power”

From traditional sheikhs to new political players salafists, all have solid foundations come at the top of it their view regarding the “ civil state” where as they see that “the western modern civil states are based on three foundations: secularism, nationalism and democracy”

The modern civil state is a secular state:

For secularism, it means separating religion from life`s affairs and not committing to a religious faith or divine guidance, in other words religion shouldn’t do anything with life`s different affairs: politically, economically, socially or morally but people instead are responsible to run their own affairs according to material bases, their interests and attitudes. Such material perspective has been adopted by the west as a result for the European refusal for the dictatorship of the church in the medieval ages described by the westerns as ages of backwardness and deterioration. Hence it was necessary at that time to get rid of the church`s authority, making it with no influence outside its corners, while giving rein to science and scholars to achieve development and renaissance.

The church was a stumbling stone that had to be taken away so as to achieve human development, but this exclusion accompanied with a spirit of hostility for religion. This can be understood in the western context as the church exploited religion to turn people`s life to hellfire, and oppressed the scholars in the name of religion. It was better for westerns to resort to Islam instead of getting humanity stuck in the mud of atheist materialism that totally refuse any form of religion. On the other side, as it is known Islam is both religion and state and never throughout its history was against science or scholars, rather it led humanity one day to make great achievements in different fields of life that one cannot find any domain without Muslim scholars` contribution at the same time in which Europe was in deep sleep.

B- The civil modern state is a national state.

The modern civil state has no interest except in its country and citizens whom it seeks not only to be preferred to others but also supercilious. For this purpose, it does whatever possible without abiding by any principles, even if they are divine. Such extremist view of nationality has been held by people in the past, so as not to be subdued to the religious and political authority of the Patriarchs, and to remain loyal only to their own countries. That’s why peoples` life turned to be a conflict for taking precedence and control over others. As for Islam, it refuses superiority of a nation over another, or a specific race over another race, since its message is international one that goes beyond borders and races.

C- The civil modern state is democratic:

After the secularism had taken the state away from the divine guidance and after the nationalism turned the state to be supercilious, the democratic system came to achieve only the interests and desires of people. In the democratic system what is considered good is what only can serve the interests of people, and what is wrong is what only can harm the interests of people, and the interests of people is decided only according to the desires of people, what was rejected in the past can be accepted today and what is accepted today can be rejected tomorrow. In other words, there is no talk in the democratic system but about the interest that is decided only by a group of human beings.

On the contrary, the interest of people in Islam is achieved through the guidance of Gods` law which is a kind of code of ethics and acts of worships that never to be changed or replaced.

The secularism has entered Egypt with the advent of Muhammad Ali. During the ruling of his sons, the democratic representative councils were established. The Egyptians adopted nationalism after the revolution of 1919, and the nation has tried different systems of rulings, but did it really has what it has been promised!?
Basirah Al-dawood discussed the issue of the Islamists’ declaration of the democracy as Kufr, where she said: the Islamist parties’ declaration of the democracy as kufr with all its forms, patterns and methods came as a result of the historical fact that the religious parties are fully convinced that the legislation is exclusive right to God. In this regard, they call for fighting against the rulers and non-Islamic political systems, as they believe, as a kind of jihad against infidels.
She said the Arab citizens have lived before the Arab revolutions a clear overlap ideology between takfiri and abolitionist thinking and repressive Arab policies allied with international strategies.The status of Arab citizens is similar to a ring of successive crises starting from the failure of all the Arab developmental and unity experiences to the so bad economic and social problems and their loss for of all their wars against Israel. This gave a wide space to all Islamists trends and parties to reshape themselves in terms of opposing the political systems. Thus they waged their political (and sometimes armed) war against these systems, and managed via religion to quickly reach their goals of interacting with the Arab peoples.
At the same time, all Arab left-wing and illuminating parties failed to face the suppression of the political systems and the attack of the religious parties, whether the extremist or moderate, on all liberal, national, secular and enlightenment ideologies, which have been declared as Kufr.The scene, consequently, became prepared for a political struggle against extremism and violence, especially after the gap has been widened between the individuals on the one hand and the political systems and its religious institutions on the other, due to the loss of the security and credibility.
All these and other factors were reasons for the outbreak of the revolutions in many Arab countries against the political systems which some of them have already collapsed and the rest seems to have the same fate.
At the current time, there is no longer real parties except the religious ones, which some of the Arab political regimes and the international powers may deal with them in order to push them to directly deal with the community with all its intellectual trends and different religious, ideological, ethnical sects, with the aim of weakening these parties and keeping them away from destabilizing the political system.
Will the Arab world see in the next historical stage another violent revolutionary confrontation among the members of the one community against the weapons of the extremist and moderate religious parties, which began to dominate the scene after the fall of the Arab political systems?

Third: Dealing with the other (Non-Muslims)

Dr. Osama Al-Qosi – Salafi scholar – said that he does not mind that a Coptic be a president of the state, When I didn’t mind that a Christian or even a woman be a president of the state, I thought of him as an employee for a period of 4 years or 8 years at most, that nothing required from him except being efficient and fair, since I don’t choose a caliph for Muslims who should be a Muslim or nominate a person for a post that requires specific religion like The pope or sheikh Al-azhar.. So all what is needed is the most efficient one regardless of his religion, color or race. And I repeat it again a fair Christian is better that unfair Muslim”
While Dr. Ngih Ibrahim, member of Shura Council of the Islamic group, emphasized that Algma`a doesn’t mind that a Coptic be a president of the state, according to the Egyptian Constitution, which does not differentiate between a Muslim and a Christian regarding that issue, Osama Hafez-Vice President of Shura Council – returned to say that Algm`aa refuses that a women or Coptic be a president of the state, Hafez added that, It is not logical that a Coptic person assumes the presidency in a country whose majority are Muslims.”
On the other hand, Sheikh Yasser Borhamme said that the efficiency and honesty are based on religion, so non-Muslims should not assume power, since who does not believe in religion cannot be held responsible for establishing it.As for the infidels, there are other roles to do, because giving the matter for unsuitable person means the loss of the whole country.
Daily Telegraph newspaper confirmed that the Christians of Egypt are subjected to an organized attacks, the newspaper quoted from the Church of MarMina priest that the Copts are facing an organized attack, and warned the religious authorities in the country against the threat of civil war. Priest sharobium Awad said: The plot is the only explanation to the violence actions that strained the relations between Muslims and Christians in recent weeks, emphasizing that five churches have been attacked in one night, in addition to many other attacks on churches since early 2011, stressing that there are some hidden hands behind these events, both from inside or outside of the country. According to the British newspaper, there is a group of Muslim Salafists, who believe in the terrorist ideologies, have led the attack on the Church of MarMina claiming that a woman who converted to Islam six years ago, was held in the Church. Sharobium emphasizes that after Isha` prayer, the Salafists and their followers started chanting against Copts in Imbaba district Go out from here, Islamic, Islamic, Islamic, We will redeem the crescent with our souls. The newspaper claimed that those Salafists, are belonging to the Islamic group responsible for terrorist attacks against tourists in the 1990s, and they are the most prominent group in the scene since the departure of President Mubarak.
For his part, Bishop of the Coptic Catholics in Ismailia, Makarios Tawfiq, expressed his concerns about the future, because they have no guarantees, considering that those who are excellent in using violence may lead us to regret the fall of the former regime and will increase internal conflicts day after another. Describing the feeling of the Christian minority in Egypt, after the sectarian violence taken place in Cairo that left 12 people killed and 200 wounded, the Religious Media Service of the Council of the Italian bishops, Makarios, said in an interview that: I think that behind these incidents between Muslims and Copts a fundamental Salafi group, and may also be the intelligence officers of the former president. He pointed out that the Salafists have invented false stories as a pretext to attack places of worship, houses and shops of Christians, and stealing and destroying them.
At the same time counselor Nagib Gabriel – the head of the Egyptian Federation for Human Rights – blamed Salafists for the responsibility of the events, confirming that it come among the continuous attacks against churches by the Salafists, saying that the Copts in Egypt have become more subjected to suffering and injustice after the revolution of January 25, demanding the oust of Gen. Mansour al-Issawi – Minister of Interior and Security Director of Giza. This came during a press conference held yesterday titled:the situation of the Copts in Egypt after the revolution of January 25. He also called on the military Council and the Egyptian government headed by Essam Sharaf to announce their positions about the situation of the Copts in Egypt, their sufferings and problems, and to indicate whether Christians are treated as first class or second class citizens. He also called for forming higher committee-to be headed by Deputy Prime Minister, the membership of the head of the Egyptian Federation for Human Rights and two personnel of the National Council for Human Rights and a member of the military council- for fact findings regarding all the attacks against Copts, monasteries and churches which complete its work within a month and submit it to the military Council to take the necessary actions.
On the other hand, Sheikh Abdel-Moneim El-Shahat – spokesman of the Salafist Group – stressed that the events of Imbaba do not express the Salafist thought which calls for cooperation to do good deeds, prevent evil, support the security and stability, do against all forms of sectarian disputes and quarrels which obstacle the efforts of development. He also said that the salafist group are not held accountable for the actions of coalition of the new Muslims that demands the return of Camellia Shehata.

Some Salafists disagreed with liberal and even moderate Islamic forces that advocate women’s political participation, as they believe that it is not of woman`s right to participate in the political process.Unlike the Muslim Brotherhood group, which nominated many women on its lists in the previous elections, Salafists don’t see that. They claim that this is contrary to their nature as females, and also inconsistent with the right of her house, children, and original functions. However, other Salafists do not find it wrong as long as she is committed to religious regulations. Sheikh Said Abdel Azim for example, sees that women’s participation is required if it is religiously principled, citing the Hadith, “Verily, women are the twin halves of men.
When Abdel-Azim, was earlier asked about the participation of women in the political parties, he acknowledged that their participation “has already occurred in a disciplined way at the recent referendum on constitutional amendments. On the other hand, the issue of women’s dress remains one of the obstacles to their political participation. According to the Salafi approach, the Muslim women must abide by wearing Islamic dress and not to imitate the enemies of Islam who are unveiled. Thus, Salafists believe that it is obligatory on woman to cover her face (Niqab), however, they also believe this issue still a matter of dispute among Muslim scholars”.

Fifth:extremist views
Salafists are commonly criticized for their narrow mind view and extremist opinions; take for example the issue of demolition of shrines and declaring their opponents as disbelievers.

Demolition of shrines:
Dozens of salafist groups have attacked recently four historical tombs on the outskirts of Qalyoub and demolished them, clashing with the citizens who tried preventing them from demolishing a fifth tomb. They have already managed to demolish the tombs of Raddad, Abdel-Aal, Al-Ghareb, and the shrine of Jamal al-Din, and on their way to demolish the tomb of Abdel Rahman, which is the largest tomb in Qalyub, the citizens clashed with them, but the Salafists were armed with swords and clubs. Ahmed Hussein, head of the Nassir Party Committee in Qalyoub said that We were have been surprised to see Salafists carrying swords, knives and clubs, and going to demolish the tomb of Abdel Rahman, alleging that tomb is an idol which the citizens ask for achieving their hopes. When some of young people, he said, tried to stop them, they had a fight with them, but the people gathered and managed to prevent them from demolishing it.
For their part, salafists completely deny any involvement in these events, asserting thatthe shrines are kind of manifest polytheism, however the task of destroying them is restricted only to the ruler. They claim that there is an organized campaign launched against them by all Egyptian political forces, Coptic, Islamic and secular, as well as Al-Azhar, to get them out from the political scene, since they are competitive for the Muslim Brotherhood and the Copts are automatically afraid of their presence.
Conclusion: Remarks on Salafists
In the midst of the harsh criticism and the fierce attacks against the Salafists movement as a result of a number of events and situations in which they have participated after the revolution of the 25 January, a number of remarks have been noted by some intellectuals and writers, most notably:
1 – The national forces are afraid that the Islamists could assume power, and therefore excluding the rest of the other powers. So, the Islamists should assure other powers that they will not monopolize the political process.
2 – Egypt is a country with many political factions and has a long political history that is featured by diversity. So, consensus Policyshould be sought for not the policy of exclusion that is doomed to failure.

3 – Political Islam parties must realize that they are a part of the current Egyptian political life and one of its factions, and that they will not monopoly the political scene, as they also has no right to speak on behalf of the people.
4 – The leaders of Salafi groups should know that many citizens would like to know more about their ideas and opinions that may help to increase their popularity, but on the other hand, the actions of some Salafists in Egypt since February up till now, instill fear in the hearts of many people… So the leaders of the Salafist groups have a good opportunity to assess what has happened and to reintroduce themselves to the public in a new image.

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