November 16th, 2011
02:21 PM ET

Husain: The rise of intolerant Salafists in Egypt

Editor's Note: Ed Husain is a Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. You can follow him on twitter @ed_husain. 

By Ed

The following is a political ad released in Egypt in support of the Salafist political party Hizb al-Noor.

To view this video on, click here.

Products of Saudi Arabian Islam, protected and nurtured by Egypt’s former president Mubarak, Salafists are a rising force in Egypt: a country that is increasingly torn between the false political choice of secularism and Islam.

Initially opposed to the Egyptian revolution, Salafists have now created several political parties in an attempt to out-Islam other Islamists, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood. Salafists matter because they practice, preach, and seek to popularize a puritanical form of Islam that is alien to Egypt. Their entry into politics is part of their strategy to attempt to introduce their reading of shariah as state law.

The video above is a slick production of the campaign anthem of the largest Salafist political party, Hizb al-Noor, meaning “Party of Light.” Despite the beauty of shots of the countryside and everyday life in the three-minute clip being distributed on DVD across Egypt, it is telling that no women appear and imagery of  Egypt’s Copts is absent in this propaganda tool. The omission of Copts is important because Salafists have been accused repeatedly of whipping up anti-Christian sentiment in Egypt. Adhering to hard-line, literalist, and contested interpretations of Islam, no music is allowed, but acoustic humming is used to get around the self-imposed music ban.

The singing is harmless, to be fair, with patriotic high notes about building bridges to tomorrow’s Egypt, and raising up a new Egypt. As I’ve noted previously, not all Salafists are inherently problematic. But peaceful chanting and idyllic scenes cannot hide the underlying message that Hizb al-Noor’s platform is exclusionary and undemocratic.

In contrast to Salafists, we have a group of young men from the Muslim Brotherhood on Cairo’s metro herewho rhythmically clap in unison, while passengers look on terrified at chants like “Long live our faith, we will rule by the sword, the Quran, and the caliphate.” A year ago, such public swagger was impossible. Now, youth trained in secret summer camps of the Brotherhood sing in public about “destine us for martyrdom, oh God.”

I am sorry, liberal friends. I don’t see this as harmless spot of fun by young Egyptians. Yes, there is much patriotism in some of the songs, but the popular lyrics about “martyrdom,” “ruling by the sword,” “subjugation of other nations,” and installing a caliph “until the end of time” are tell-tale signs of extremism and thus deeply worrying. The Brotherhood’s relatively moderate leaders such as Khairat Al-Shater, held in awe by the youth, or Mohamed al-Beltagy, hero of Tahrir Square, have a moral duty to stamp out this mentality among their flock.

This rhetoric, unchallenged in the public domain, leads to legitimization and acceptance of such ideas as normal. Where the Brotherhood sings about martyrdom and the caliph, their jihadi cousins have, and will continue to commit to action. All the while, Salafists will inject Egypt’s public space with a Saudi form of rigid, outdated, and intolerant Islam.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Ed Husain.

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Topics: Egypt • Islam • Politics

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