The Egyptian scene has caused us a lot of confusion! We don’t anymore recognize Islamists from liberals. We don’t anymore differentiate between the Orthodox Salafi and the Muslim Brotherhood as we used to understand them.
It seems we will spend some time learning the new Egypt, concepts and names. After less than one year of Arab revolutions, this is a quite positive outcome so far; people are engaged in an open discussion about democracy. Sometime to win election and like most politicians worldwide, candidates will say whatever to please voters.
Salafis in Egypt, like any other Muslim Salafis, are much concerned with social affairs according to the strict religious explanation. They are real “fundamentalists”, with all the meaning of the word. They just seek the fundamental religious principles as they see them. They place the woman among on top of their controversial priorities with all the slightest details of her life. However, despite their strictness, Egypt’s Salafis took everyone by surprise when they released the picture of a woman who is running as a candidate for their al-Nour party in the parliamentary elections.
Ensaf Khalil, a Salafi woman, ran for the elections and she used to put a picture of a flower instead of her own picture in her election campaign posters, in the street. But the Salafi clerics recently asked her to publish her picture. When she did so, her popularity tripled among the ordinary people, according to her. Remember, this is a revolution in thinking and behavior; Salafis are conservative Muslims who believe woman neither should run for public office nor advertise her photos.
Ahead of the second round of the elections this week, Sheikh Mohammed Abdul Nour, one of the clerics of Salafi al-Nour party, gave some sounding statements announcing that in case of their victory, they will not shut down banks or bans on beaches for men or women. He even assured liberals that he is not against them saying, they are a Muslim branch, similar to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis!
By doing so, the Salafis offered an Islamic rightist model, regarding the social issues in a society full of controversy that accompany the elections.
On the political part, Muslim Brotherhood and the Tunisian Ennahda are the extreme right. Rashed al-Gannouchy, head of Ennahda party, following the election victory, flew to Washington, not to Mecca. He even visited one of the closest American institutes to Israel, where he gave promises to assure them that Tunisia’s constitution and politics will not be against Israel. He expressed his support to Muslim’s right to change his religion if he wishes. He said that he was negotiating with secularists to join his government. When he was asked about Palestine and Israel, he underscored that the Palestinian issue was the last of his concerns, as he is more concerned with finding jobs for more than one million unemployed people in Tunisia.
Remember, the ousted Tunisian president Zain ElAbedine Bin Ali never dared to give such statements or promises along his presidency, and in the meantime nobody criticized the statements made by Ghannouchy who is longing to rule. Of course, I find it difficult to believe Gannouchy promises.
No doubt we are living a new era. Do the Salafis in Egypt believe in the rights of women to work and participate in the social life equal to men? Do they accept that the woman, instead of staying home cocking and raising kids, could run for elections. Do they mean it, approving banking system and not banning open beaches? Are Islamists priorities now focusing on securing employment to their people and not going to war to liberate Jerusalem?
Through my experience, I believe that the best thing is to wait and see. We might have misunderstood those fundamentalists who have been shunned from reaching power over their alleged extremism; or they might just turn out to be political wolves.
(The writer is the General Manager of Al Arabiya. The article was published in the London-based Asharq al-Awsat on Dec. 13, 2011 and was translated by Abeer Tayel.)