Egypt violence heightens concern about growing Salafi role
Salafis, who subscribe to a strict version of Islam, were blamed in weekend attacks against Christians in Cairo. Many Egyptians worry that extremists could play a greater role in post-Mubarak Egypt.
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Salafis, who have no organized group or structure, have long shunned politics in Egypt. But since the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak, whose secular regime repressed Islamists and extremists of all stripes, Salafis have begun to vocally enter the political fray. The strident sectarian rhetoric and recent attacks on Christians has many Egyptians worried that extremist forces could find a greater role in the new Egypt.
“They don’t want Christians in Egypt. They want an Islamic state,” said a woman who gave her name as Mona at a Christian protest Monday against the weekend violence. Next to her, a woman in a Muslim hijab who held a wooden cross joined the protest in solidarity as chants against Salafis filled the air. “We are afraid for what will happen to us in the future when people like that are allowed to attack us and to be part of the new government,” says Mona, holding an image of Jesus aloft.
What ended in fighting that killed 12 people in the Cairo district of Imbaba started Saturday when a group of Salafis gathered at St. Mina church, claiming that the church was holding a woman who had converted from Christianity to Islam, and demanding the church release her. Such claims of conversion and kidnapping have been a flash point for sectarian tension, with Salafis in particular seizing on them in the past year.
Salafi clerics express hatred toward Christians on TV
Salafism is an ultraconservative strain of Islam whose followers believe in emulating the first three generations of Muslims and reject any “innovation” of the religion that followed. Some wear traditional robes and grow long beards to emulate the prophet Muhammad and his companions.
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They practice what they believe to be the purest form of Islam, and are primarily concerned with living their lives according to such teaching, and not with politics, says Diaa Rashwan, an expert on Islamist groups at the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. He describes Egyptian Salafis as “in this middle place between jihadists like Osama bin Laden and political Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood.”