The Salafis of Egypt are the Taiwanese version of the Salafis of Saudi, not Japanese or Chinese, but a Taiwanese copy that is desperately trying to resemble the original but will never eventually come anywhere near it. That is why it is bound to disappear fast, like any transient change that accompanies revolutions. They have started where the Salafis of Saudis have begun, and not where they have ended.
The Salafis of Saudi have gone through several stages of hardline ideology until they have reached their current form, which would not have been possible without certain milestones like the political conditions, the discovery of oil, the Muslim Brotherhood’s game in Saudi Arabia, and the Islamic Revolution, followed by the jihad in Afghanistan, then the Gulf War and the war on terror.
The Salafis of Egypt adopted the ideologies of their mentors and made big leaps that included armed conflicts, until they ended up only as long-bearded men who keep reiterating that statues, literature, and art are prohibited.
The Salafis of Egypt focus on the fatwas of Saudi sheikhs, which were not really purely religious ones, but were always issued for certain reasons and within certain contexts. These fatwas came as the product of a long partnership between religion and politics that was impossible to breach, and they were the reason those sheikhs remain in power.
At the time, there was no civilization and the desert was the stage of tribal conflicts. Sand dunes covered up everything new and religious wars unified opposing tribes and regions. All this provided a fertile soil for the clergy to impose their fatwas by force, and people had no choice but to comply. But how is this applicable in Egypt?
Even the Muslim Brotherhood could not find itself the proper environment that could accommodate its line of thought. Nobody supported them qw Saudis did in the 1970s, but like Prince Nayef bin Abdul Azziz said, “They bit the hand that was extended for them,” in reference to Saudi Arabia’s unlimited support for the Brotherhood while everyone else persecuted them, and how ungrateful they were later. For a long time they remained unable to find in Egypt this environment they sought, until they decided to shed their extremist discourse and declare that they do not want a religious state, that they will enter the parliament with a political and not a religious ideology, and that they will forge several alliances with liberals and seculars. The Saudi model is impossible to apply in any other Arab country, so the Salafis better not waste their time.
Don’t the Salafis of Egypt know that their Saudi mentors can change their minds if orders from above require it and that all constants can be variables with the change of circumstances? It was not like that before, but everything has changed and what was forbidden before is now sanctioned with a little religious twist.
The king decided to establish a co-ed university and the sheikhs who used to prohibit the mingling of the sexes supported this decision. The king decided to allow women into the Consultative Council and they praised his decision despite having said before that women’s participation in politics is a heresy and a Western practice. The king decides and the sheikh approves… the king decides and the sheikh sanctions… and so on. Even the most recent of their fatwas, issued this very year, have now changed, thus marking the emergence of a new religious era.
In the summer of every year, airports are full of people, and there is no way you can find an empty seat. It is a little migration Saudis do for two or three months. Saudis travel and leave their houses and neighborhoods empty … a depressing and painful spectacle.
No one wants to stay. Saudis are all over the streets of Paris and London and Arab capitals were also an outlet before the start of the Arab Spring. Why do they travel? Even the religious and conservative among them migrate in the summer and the winter and the spring and on every single occasion.
They want to see cinemas, theatres, art galleries, and book stores that provide all those intellectual taboos. They travel every year and examine each others’ faces, for they are deprived of seeing one another under covers and isolating walls. They travel to breathe a sigh of relief so that they can return and stay alive.
Sometimes I imagine that if we have freedom and if we bring on a cultural, social, and artistic renaissance, how difficult it would become to allow a group of intellectually immature people to trifle with that, no matter what the price would be.
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)