Ghaffour: Small but loud minority hungry for terrorism
|Abdel Ghaffour - Saad al Katatni|
Salafis, who have attracted a great deal of attention in the world with their surprising success in the first democratically held elections in Egypt, disavow any affiliation with terrorism.
Abdel Ghaffour, leader of the Nour Party, which served in the elections as the umbrella party for Salafi groups, emphasizes that some small groups within Muslim and Christian communities alike want to rely on terror and intimidation. But he stresses that these are small groups who speak loudly, manipulating the public opinion as regards the Salafis.
A number of members of the Sufi orders and churches were assassinated in the final years of the Mubarak regime and in the aftermath of the Jan 25 revolution. The Salafi groups have been held responsible for these attacks even though they publically denounced the allegations and condemned the attacks. In the historic Egyptian elections last month, the Freedom and Justice Party, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, received 36.6 pct of the votes and the Salafi Bloc Nour Party attracted a great deal of attention with 24.4 pct of votes.
Ghaffour observes that the world press has focused its attention on the Salafi groups themselves and not the results of the democratic elections. The press warns that Egypt may fall under the control of Islamist and ultra-conservative groups. Ghaffour is concerned with a very negative perception of the Salafi movement in the Western press. He says they will have to work hard to change this perception and repair their image.
Ghaffour calls attention to some forward-thinking ideas from the Egyptian Salafis. For example, they have advocated for the creation of committees of Christian and Muslim wise men. He says they would seek to reduce tension via mutual visits to churches and mosques. Ghaffour sees Christians as part of the Egyptian society not a group to be exclude or marginalized.
Ghaffour is extremely uncomfortable with allegations that the Salafis are affiliated with al Quaeda, which has been active in Egypt. He says that the Salafis have nothing to do with terror and violence. Muhammad Habib -- who founded of the Nahda Party with Ibrahim Zafarani after leaving the Muslim Brotherhood -- concurs, saying the dominant perception in the Western media of Salafis as ultra-conservative is extremely unfair. Habib stresses that the Salafis in Egypt represent an intellectual movement and they should not be confused with terrorist movements.
Habib notes that, unlike in Saudi Arabia, all colors and groups including liberals, leftists and Christians can be represented socially and politically in Egypt, and the Egyptian Salafis should not be compared to the Wahhabi. Furthermore, the Salafis do not constitute a monolithic group. There are a diverse set of small and large groups that subscribe to the Salafi teachings. Experts note that there are more than 10 Salafi groups in Egypt and they worship in more than 5,000 mosques.
Ghaffour recalls that they attracted a great deal of support in the elections because of the failure of the other parties to carry out an influential election campaign. Nonetheless, he believes they owe their political success to hard work. Noting that they observe and honor the rule of law, he stated they would never pressure people on individual level to tell them what to do and how to behave.
The Salafi party has favored the creation of a national coalition government and even made a pact with the Freedom and Justice Party at the beginning of the election campaigns -- although they eventually had to leave the alliance because of the enormous diversity of views and their ultimately different political goals.
Ghaffour sees Egyptian politics as somewhat analogous to Turkish politics. Just like the Welfare Party in Turkey has been superseded by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), the Muslim Brotherhood has been surpassed by the National Outlook movement -- an Islamist oriented political movement in Turkey that first appeared on the political scene in early 1970s and has given birth to several political parties which inherited the similar ideology. In both cases the rigid, unchanging Islamist parties fell by the wayside as the parties with liberal economic values, combined with Islamic principles, succeeded to dominate the political sphere.
Habib also sees a need for modernizing; he believes the Salafi movement would begin to collapse unless it repositions itself in accordance with contemporary requirements.
Habib believes that, if they ever formed a coalition government, the Muslim Brotherhood would prefer a more liberal or leftist group and not the Salafis, although the Salafis would not necessarily be opposed to cooperation.
It is interesting to see how the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis have reacted after the army’s move to prevent the drafting of a new Egyptian constitution by its first ever democratic parliament. The Secretary General of the Freedom and Justice Party, Saad al Katatni, notes that they would not accept any military intervention to help draft the new constitution. Katatni said in a statement to the press that under the current constitution, the studies to enact a new constitution should be held by the People’s Assembly and Consultation Assembly.
In a recent statement, Supreme Military Council member Gen. Muhtar Mulla has argued that the Parliament that will emerge out of the elections would not represent all groups and, therefore, the military would recommend members for the 100 member commission which will carry out the constitutional drafting process.
With the exception of a few articles, Ghaffour would not raise any objection to the new constitution, but he is particularly interested to see a few provisions included, such as: Islam listed as the official religion, a clearly defined framework of operation for the army and a parliamentary or presidential organization of government.
The Salafis have not talked to the American authorities so far, but they would consider holding negotiations with the representatives from the US and other Western countries. They have already held talks with representatives from a number of Western countries including Turkey.
Ghaffour says that they do not see democracy as a tool to attain their goals; instead, they see it as the reflection of the popular choice. He believes that democracy would contribute a great deal to Egyptian development.
Habib, who sees Turkey as the country with the most similar government to Egypt, says the Salafis have been closely following Turkey’s democratic experience.
Ghaffour, whose wife is Turkish, says they hold a special place and affinity for Turkey in their hearts and that they cannot ignore the experiences of Turkey.