Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Who's afraid of the Salafists?
The first conference of Al-Nour Party held in Alexandria shows that the Salafi movement will be a force to be reckoned with, even if it has a long way to go
Hossam Tammam, Monday 4 Jul 2011
Salafi supporters of Egyptian cleric Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman call for his release in front of the US embassy in Cairo (File Photo: Reuters)

The first Salafi conference held by Al-Nour Party in Alexandria deserves a closer look and a different reading of the state of Salafis beyond the blasé and sometimes alienating method by which the Egyptian media deals with the Salafi issue in general. Since the arrival of the Salafis on the political scene, the media machine has only dealt with them in a traditional manner —sometimes leaning towards incitement and shallow coverage without presenting the complex and complicated nature of the Salafi scene, to uncover the dormant potential of political growth within the trend. The Alexandria conference would have been an opportunity to find out other facets of the Salafi movement, but unfortunately the Egyptian media squandered the opportunity.

The first issue of note for observers is that the new Salafi party chose to hold its first broad conference in a public place instead of at one of the many mosques they own in Alexandria. There was a clear message they promoted and confirmed, namely a complete separation between the party, its activities, and the proselytisation movement it belongs to. The irony is that while Al-Nour Party was able to resolve this issue early on —even before it was born —the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party remain confused on the matter and unable to resolve it.

A second issue of note is the message of openness that the new Salafi party is keen on promoting, inviting the participation of all political factions and forces, as well as new parties or ones still under construction. They also invited Christians and a representative of Al-Seyouf Church in the district where the conference was held, as well as large numbers of foreign media and provided simultaneous translation into English with extensive explanation for foreign attendees.

Another remarkable step was inviting speech and hearing impaired people —a segment that all other political parties had ignored —and signing them up in the party and explaining the party programme to them. For the first time ever, there was sign language interpretation for all events at the conference and this segment was strongly present.

Things looked promising and demonstrated that this Salafi party is unlike anything we expected. While the content was important, it would be difficult to detail all the political speeches that were made, which were naturally heavy on religious rhetoric. It is noteworthy, however, that this is a Salafi group discussing the “Egyptian state” and holding extensive debate about Egypt and its future, which will never be a Taliban state or even like Saudi Arabia. Other models were promoted as inspiration, such as Turkey and Malaysia.

For the first time, Salafi youth discussed economic issues in detail and there was also debate about development and progress. This is a completely novel agenda that demonstrates that a segment of Salafis are about to make a big entrance onto the political scene. But this won’t be easy because of root and complex problems, some of them structural, which plague this endeavour. Observers can see the disparity that although the leadership has attracted a wide popular base and is informed politically (figures such as Emad Abdel-Ghaffour), it seems to be under pressure from an old guard whose ideas need to be modernised.

The Salafi base was built on proselytising rhetoric rooted in religious debate without much attention to politics. Anything relating to politics dates back to before the establishment of states and barely recognises their legitimacy, if at all. Any thoughts about politicians are based on the sultanate state that does not recognise the modern state, citizenship, or the separation of powers —nothing that we are living, or even contemporary political reality. Now, suddenly, they are delving into the issues of political parties, the state, parliamentary elections, Salafi representation in parliament or the presidency, and many other complex questions that they never cared for or were allowed to ponder under Mubarak’s authoritarian, tyrannical and oppressive regime, let alone consider exercising.

This base requires intense political investment to enable it to deal with the progressive ideas that the party’s leadership is proposing. This leads us to another point, namely that despite assurances that there is separation between preaching and politics, and that the leaders and founders of the proselytising school allow the party complete independence and freedom of action (unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, for example), I believe more is needed than a mere decision to separate proselytising and politics. The path of the movement and attention of Salafi proselytising leaders should converge onto the new problems facing the nascent Salafi political entity, which requires them to take the courageous decision of intellectual and political openness.

One must admit that currently the Salafis, especially the Wahabis among them, are not offering what is needed to establish a political project. Accordingly, their leaders should embrace intellectual openness to allow the political movement to acquaint itself with Islamic discourse and debate, to help it outline a new political vision. I believe that many Salafi leaders, especially Sheikh Mohamed Ismail Al-Moqaddem, the founder of the group, have enough energy and inner strength to sponsor such political and intellectual debate, to expand the realm of Salafi political thought.

There is promise in incorporating the Salafi phenomenon when building a modern Egyptian state, but the challenges are immense. Part of this is the responsibility of Salafis, but another part lies with other political players, such as secularists, in helping the group, bringing it closer to the spirit and reason of an all-inclusive Egyptian state.

The writer is an expert on Islamic movements.

The Turkish model
Everybody now seems to have something to say about Turkey
Mona Anis , Thursday 16 Jun 2011

It is impossible to have a political conversation these days – and politics is all Egyptians ever talk about – without the word Turkey cropping up within minutes. Turkey is the topic of interest: meetings are being held to discuss it, and writers, journalists, bloggers and even tweeters write incessantly about the lessons the Turkish model holds for Egypt at this crucial juncture while the country readies for a democratic transformation following the great uprising of 25 January.

Many of these speakers and writers, including the present one, have had the opportunity to visit Turkey over the last couple of months at the invitation of one or other Turkish institution, many of which are currently conducting a highly successful public diplomacy campaign.

Naturally, such visits increased on the eve of the Turkish elections, as many interested groups, including a group of "Young Revolutionaries," were invited to follow the Turkish democratic experiment at close range. This specific youth group was invitedby the Turkish Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research, and they toured Konya, Ankara and Istanbul, being received separately by Turkish President Abdullah Gül, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.

Not surprisingly, most delegates came back impressed, especially as this week's elections in Turkey ended in the third consecutive victory for the ruling Justice and Development Party, adding grist to the mill of comparisons. At the centre of the debate is the comparison between Turkey's Islamists and their Egyptian counterparts. But while the Turkish model may be of relevance to the Islamists of Egypt as regards gaining power, one should not overlook the fact that many differences exist in the respective social formations of Egypt and Turkey, as well as many differences between formative influences on the Islamist movements in each country.

Admittedly, there are some common features between the two countries. Both embarked on a modernisation project inspired by the French model at roughly the same time: Egypt under Muhammad Ali and Turkey under the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II. Both suffered the same disillusionment regarding this project, which sought to make of the two respective nations "part of Europe," in the famous words of Muhammad Ali's son the Khedive Ismail. However, Turkey, guarding the division between Europe and Asia, with the Bosphorus providing the only sea passage out of the Black Sea into the Mediterranean, had a legitimate claim to belonging to Europe, while Egypt had only the dreams of a ruler who was duly deposed by the European powers in 1879.

Besides, we should not forget that Turkey at the height of Ottoman power was an empire with vast territories, while Egypt's attempts to free itself from the Ottoman yoke ended with falling under British occupation in 1882. By the beginning of the 20th century, when Turkey was dubbed the “sick man of Europe,” it had lost much of its territory and had become increasingly dependent on the financial control of the European powers, but it still had a powerful army with an imperial history, which, despite the crippling defeat dealt to it in World War 1, was still able to lead the country into the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923.

Another important difference between Egypt and Turkey is that while the Islamist organisations in Turkey are a fairly recent phenomenon which started to gain political influence in the 1980s with Erbakan's Welfare Party (the predecessor of today's Justice and Development Party), the Muslim Brotherhood, the main Islamist organisation in Egypt, has been around for more than eight decades with many of its ideological precepts unchanged.

This is not to argue that the Muslim Brotherhood, seemingly the best-organised political force in Egypt now, is incapable of restructuring itself along similar lines to those followed by the Turkish Islamists. The point I am making relates to the history of both movements, not to the future development of the Brotherhood, which could benefit from the experience of both the Welfare and Justice and Development parties.

When I visited Istanbul ten years ago, I could feel the tension between those who wanted Turkey to remain totally westernised and the emerging Islamist forces. Last month, I was glad to see the city evidently more self-confident under the leadership of the Islamists, who seem to have allayed a great part of the secularists' fears regarding the path they are taking. I felt that the city was more elegant and vibrant than ever before, with a happy co-existence between secular and religious people; that old feeling of being in a place torn between two worlds had totally disappeared.

As I was preparing for the trip to Istanbul, I picked up a Globetrotter travel guide to the city purchased ten years earlier. In the short introduction on “government and economy in Turkey” I read the following: "Turkey's big problem is that there are too many political parties and too little power for any one party. In June 1999, a coalition government was formed… During this time, the only constant has been the Islamic fundamentalist Welfare Party, which now holds around 21 per cent of the seats in parliament. But with its anti-European and strong religious views, the Welfare Party has been unable to form a coalition. The army, in any case, firmly secular in outlook, will fight hard against a fundamentalist government."

So much for travel guides. I was very happy to find that the Islamists of Turkey, with their "zero conflict" strategy, had defied expectations of this kind, which have not been limited to travel guides. I would also like to see the Islamists in Egypt defy the expectations of their adversaries and emulate the Turkish model in this respect.

Catitan Sut:

Masir adalah bumi yang mampu mencambah beragam aliran pemikiran, sehingga dikatakan 'sekiranya kita ke Masir, kita akan menjumpai manusia yang berfikiran dan mempunyai minat yang sama dengan kita' walau seganjil manapun pemikiran dan minat kita itu.
Aliran salafi telah mendapat tempat yang agak awal dalam sejarah moden di Masir, antara tokoh awal aliran ini yang menonjol ialah Syaikh Sayyid Rashid Reda dan Syaikh Muhibbudin al-Khatib. Kepelbagaian yang terdapat di Masir yang mana berdirinya al-Azhar, institusi pengajian aliran tradisional yang paling established di dunia, yang mana juga terdapat sekelian banyak tariqah sufiyyah, aliran salafiyyah juga mendapat tempat dan dukungan tanpa banyak halangan. Sesuatu sifat yang hampir kita tidak terfikir akan boleh berlaku dalam masyarakat di negara salafi, umpama Saudi atau di negara Shiah, umpama Iran.
Kalau sebelum ini banyak daripada gerakan aliran keras, umpama Tanzim al-Jihad, mengaku berpegang kepada aqidah huraian aliran salafi, ada di kalangan mereka telah menyingkir sebahagian pimpinan Islam dan Gerakan Islam yang lain kerana keterlibatan mereka dalam proses politik semasa; sehingga ada di kalangan mereka yang menolak penglibatan dengan pihak berkuasa. Kini perkembangan di Masir ini menunjukkan suatu yang baru, suatu yang membatalkan sikap sebahagian mereka (pengikut Syaikh Omar Abdul Rahman) yang sebelum ini.
Suatu lagi pemerhatian yang menarik, ialah golongan yang menentang kerajaan secara menggunakan kekerasan ketika kerajaan menekan, sehingga mereka sanggup pula untuk masuk keluar penjara, rupa-rupanya akan bersikap 'civic' apabila terdapat ruang yang lega untuk mereka menyuarakan pandangan dan fahaman mereka. Mereka telah dijinakkan dengan kebebasan (They were tame by freedom), sedangkan mereka tidak dapat ditundukkan dengan hukuman dan deraan.
Maka suasana di Masir akan menjadi lebih berwarna, semoga Hizbu an-Nour kini akan berperanan sebagaimana patutnya dalam menyumbangkan tenaga untuk kebaikan Masir dan ummah seluruhnya. Semoga 'pembukaan ini' akan mematangkan semua pihak bukannya memalapkan kreativiti pemikiran mereka.
Bagaimana pula salafi di Malaysia ?, Yang jelasnya, sebahagiannya sudah membentuk 'Ulama Muda ' dalam UMNO; kini mereka telah bersuara dalam media utama negara. Mereka telah mengulangi fatwa yang demonstrasi (walaupun di negara demokrasi) adalah amalan khawarij. (umpamanya lihat buku kecil oleh Ustaz Rasul Dahari).
Bandingkan pula pendekatan politik di Turki oleh kumpulan yang dipengaruhi oleh pemikiran Badiuzzaman Said an-Nursi, yang masyhur dengan ungkapannnya "aku minta berlindung dengan Allah dari syaitan dan politik"

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