Even though many Western and Israeli freedomphobes have warned about a looming threat from Islamic extremists in Egypt, they overlook the fact that Egypt’s ultra-conservative Salafi Muslims were in the “pro-stability” camp, unwilling to challenge the Mubarak regime.
Hossam Tammam writes:
Salafis unanimously boycotted the revolution, claiming it was sedition. They accepted decades of injustice, but rejected the revolution. The revolution revealed an unintended alliance between the Mubarak regime and the Salafi movement. On the one hand, this movement is backed by elements in Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, its members are periodically subjected to harassment by the regime. However, the regime does not see this as completely eliminating its alliance with the movement, as long as the movement continues to support the regime politically.
One of the paradoxes of the Egyptian revolution is that a regime that had just recently banned Salafi TV channels and accused them of inciting sectarian conflict reversed its position and employed Salafi sheikhs in its war against the revolution. This time, Salafi sheikhs and figures, such as Mohammed Hassan, Mahmoud Al-Masri, Mostafa al-Adawi, appeared on state television and private channels close to the regime. They called for an end to protests, using arguments about security and the dangers of sedition. Some went as far as questioning the patriotism of those who instigated the revolution, arguing that it was an American-Zionist conspiracy or akin to the Iranian revolution. The manipulative statements of Iranian leaders in support of the Egyptian uprising further contributed to the Salafi counterattack.
The position of Salafis toward the Egyptian revolution comes as no surprise, especially as they have a history of supporting the regime. The famous Salafi edict to kill prominent reform advocate Mohammed ElBaradei is proof. The same sheikh issued an edict banning nominations against President Mubarak in the 2005 presidential elections on grounds that Mubarak was the commander of the faithful. What’s surprising, however, is the position of Salafis in Alexandria. This school is among the most independent from the regime and has sometimes even opposed it. Its members have been subjected to tight security measures and arrest campaigns. These campaigns peaked following the attack on the Two Saints Church in Alexandria on New Year ’s Eve. Hundreds of Salafis were arrested and one died as a result of torture. Despite this, the Salafs in Alexandria (and across various other governorates) opposed the revolution, going as far as closing down some mosques on the “Friday of Departure.” They stoked fears about the threat other political currents–a possible reference to ElBaradei’s National Association for Change–posed to the Islamic identity.
Salafis are the strongest source of religious support–direct and indirect–for the regime at the moment. But this means the future of the Salafi movement is on the line. On the one hand, the revolution’s triumph over the Salafi movement might lead Salafis to revise their positions. On the other hand, if the revolution is unable to achieve its democratic aspirations, the Salafi movement may reassert its old position with the backing of the regime.