As Egypt's new parliament convenes, eyes on ultraconservative salafis
Salafis want to roll back the clock to their vision of sixth-century Islam. They captured a quarter of the votes, far more than many expected.
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During the rule of Mubarak, state security repressed salafis, along with members of the Brotherhood. Some followers were arrested, and leaders were monitored. Dr. Ashour says when he tried to meet influential salafi sheikh Abdel Moneim Shahat in Cairo in 2006, Mr. Shahat said state security would not permit him to leave Alexandria.Skip to next paragraph
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Many Egyptians are uneasy with the Nour party’s strong showing. Some who support the Brotherhood are uncomfortable with the more strict salafis, while many liberal Egyptians are downright scared that individual freedoms will be restricted.
Alcohol and bikinis
Some Western diplomats are also worried, although the US ambassador met with the party Sunday. Nour leaders appear to be keenly aware of how the party is perceived by foreign journalists and diplomats. Spokesman Mr. Nour is tired of the “alcohol and bikinis question,” as he puts it, after a parade of foreign journalists who have come through the party’s headquarters in a southern Cairo suburb to ask if the party will attempt to ban alcohol sales and regulate beachwear.
“We have different priorities than that. What we have to deal with now are the 40 million people who don’t have clean water to drink,” he says, adding that now is not the time for such discussions. When pressed over whether the party would eventually like to regulate such things, he repeatedly evades the question without denying or confirming it. “In public places, we must respect the will of the majority of the people. We must respect the culture that we have,” is the closest he would get to answering it.
That is a far cry from the rhetoric of Shahat, the religious leader in Alexandria who ran and lost as a Nour candidate in the elections. Most recently, Shahat said on a television program that Muslims should not offer greetings to Christians on Christian holidays. He has also criticized the deceased Nobel-prize-winning author Naguib Mahfouz for inciting promiscuity and prostitution.
To be sure, not all the party’s political rhetoric is religious. Like most other parties, Nour emphasized issues like unemployment, the need for better education and social services, and ending corruption. Some supporters said they voted for Nour because their candidates were honest, unlike the politicians of the Mubark era. But the issue of Islamic law, and Egypt’s identity as an Islamic country, is one that many respond to.
A coming indicator of how the party will engage will be the drafting of the constitution. The new parliament will appoint 100 people to write the document. Nour party officials have said that they would support amending the old constitution to say that the provisions of sharia, rather than the principles of sharia, are the main source of legislation. That would form a more literal connection between the constitution and sharia that would open the door for implementing more Islamist approaches to law, says Ashour.
But to be successful in such endeavors, the Nour party will need coalition partners. And so far, the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party has indicated it is not interested in forming an all-Islamist coalition with Nour.
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