3 April 2011
No one can argue against the fact that the Salafi Islamist movement has been increasingly gaining ground on the Egyptian scene since the 25 January revolution erupted. As to how benign this influence is, is a point of controversy. The recent incident in Qena, Upper Egypt, where they cut off the ear of the 45-year-old Copt and caused several injuries to him, while burning his flat and car, has Copts terrified of the potential harm Salafis can inflict.
Last month saw the publication of the first Salafi paper in Cairo following the 25 January revolution. The Islamic Enlightenment Centre, headed by Abu-Islam Ahmed Abdullah, has very recently issued a 24-page medium-sized weekly tabloid named Baladi (My country). The first issue of the newspaper carried no details regarding its license.
Vice and virtue
A quick review of the new tabloid reveals its outlook and frame of reference. In its first editorial, Editor-in-chief Abu-Islam, notorious for his outspoken contempt of Christianity and Christians, and his verbal attacks of the Church, wrote: “Our goal is to be the mouthpiece that advocates virtues, and the hand and tongue which ban vice.” This comes as an allusion to the Islamic principle that: “Whoever of you sees vice, they should change it by their hands or their tongue (meaning, verbally). “We aspire to be the shield which protects all Islamic movements,” he wrote.
The first issue of Baladi carried to its readers the ‘good news’ that the Islamic satellite TV channel al-Umma (The Nation) was being re-launched this month, after having been suspended by the Mubarak regime for airing seditious material. Al-Umma, the paper pledged, would be airing the sermons of Ahmed Deedat, an Islamic scholar of Indian South African descent who made it his business to attack Christianity.
“For God, Islam is the religion” is the title of a four-page feature by Mahmoud Qaoud in which he alleges that Pope Shenouda III and the Coptic businessman Naguib Sawiris have masterminded crimes committed against Muslims by thugs and bullies, in the name of national unity. The feature uses imaginary tales to flagrantly promote hatred and sectarianism.
The tabloid includes material with fiery headlines, including: “When the Church searches Police stations”, “The Vatican, the world patron of sexual deviance” and “Proselytising inside means of transportation”.
A page entitled “Finding the right path” cites stories of converts to Islam in Egypt and the whole world.
I admit to a sense of bewilderment and misgiving upon reading the first issue of Baladi. I ask the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces: does freedom mean the liberty to disseminate lies, hatred and sectarian sedition? It would not take many issues full of such material to set Egypt in its entirety on fire.