25 September 2011
As September passes, the expectations in Egypt are rising of the floodgates opening to a rush of nominations for parliamentary candidates for the next November’s elections. Amid the post-revolutionary turmoil still holding Egypt in its grip, the elections are seen by many to constitute the first step towards a more stable Egypt and setting the nation on the path to recovery.
The proponents of political Islam are losing no time electioneering. They seized the opportunity presented by the dawn prayers on the Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim feast that comes at the end of the holy month of Ramadan and which this year fell on 31 August, to launch their campaigns. The Salafi group issued a statement announcing the broad lines of their platform, which they circulated among worshippers. The flagrantly Islamist Hazem Abu-Ismail, who announced his intention to contest the presidential elections, gave an interview on the satellite channel Modern TV, while his supporters distributed leaflets citing his agenda during the Eid prayers. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) held a huge rally in the eastern Cairo district of Nasr City, during which they called upon Egyptians to vote Islamist, not secular, under the pretext that secular candidates did not uphold the sharia (Islamic legal code) of Allah—the only way that can lead to progress.
Key positions reserved for Muslims
The Salafi statement began with the words: “Who we are, and what we want.
“We are a group of the sons of this homeland,” the statement continued, “who have chosen Allah for their God and Islam for their religion.”
Although Salafis stress that non-Muslims are part and parcel of the community, they assert that it is inconceivable that non-Muslims should hold key State positions; “…these should be reserved for those who believe in Islam,” the statement read. It stressed that non-Muslims had the right to refer to their own legislation in family matters as long as there was no dispute involved. In case of dispute, however, non-Muslims should resort to the courts, which would pass judgment according to the law of Allah.
The Salafis declared that non-Muslims had the right to practise their rites inside their churches. They also had the right to consume what they believed is halal such as pork and alcohol, given that they did not trade them in markets or public outlets. They might trade or engage in all other activities sanctioned by Allah.
The statement confirmed that the Salafis aimed at reaching a fair judicial system based on the law of Allah and the Islamic penal system, the hudoud. The hudoud have always been a point of contention between Islamists and seculars, who believe that Islamic penalties such as stoning adulteresses to death or amputating the hands of thieves have been replaced by penalties more suited to modern times. The Salafi statement reads: “All this [Islamic judicial system] should not scare virtuous people; the sky and earth are based on the laws of Allah. When people started to conceive penalties opposed to the law of Allah; corruption, evil and injustice prevailed.”
Interest rates are renounced as usury in the statement, which stresses the need for an economic system that aims at achieving equality between various social levels, with no hegemony of capital and no poverty to weigh down the less privileged classes. Private ownership should be upheld, and the unrightful confiscation of lawfully-earned money should be banned.
The Salafis stressed that the military should defend “religion, the homeland and the worshippers”, and should see that Egypt honours its international commitments and agreements.
In the satellite town of 6 October, west of Cairo, the renowned Salafi Sheikh Mohamed Hassaan led some 10,000 worshippers in the Eid dawn prayers. He stressed the importance of preserving Egypt’s Islamic identity, saying that Egypt “has always been and will always be a Muslim State”.
Also during Eid prayers, supporters of Abu-Ismail, held an extensive publicity rally and circulated his platform. On satellite TV, Dr Abu-Ismail said the community was in need of halal beaches such as beaches for veiled women. He pointed out that he was the only presidential candidate calling for an Islamic State; other Islamic candidates, such as Mohamed Selim al-Awwa and Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh, wanted an Islamisation of the State rather than an Islamic State.
Dr Abu-Ismail referred to the World Bank’s regulations as “volumes of regulations that caused recession to the Egyptian economy”. Believing the current banking system had also contributed to destroying the Egyptian economy, Dr Abu-Ismail divulged his faith in the Malaysian economic model which, he said, considered bank interest as usury.
He called for an investigation of Hillary Clinton’s claim that USD165 million had been given in AID money to Egypt, claiming it was used to manipulate the country.
Concerning the supra-constitutional principles demanded by the liberals to secure the rights of every sector of the Egyptian community, Dr Abu-Ismail described them as “a dishonour”.
Interestingly, when items on Dr Abu-Ismail’s views and the Salafi platform were posted on news sites on the Internet, visitor comments displayed a sweeping 98 per cent support that insisted “Egypt is Islamic, no matter what the secularists or civil state advocates say.”
In this life and for evermore
The Jihadi al-Jamaa al-Islamiya did not wait for the Eid to announce its Construction and Development Party platform. The Cairo independent daily Al-Masry al-Youm published it on a full page a few days before the Eid. The platform displays a very strong focus on what it describes as the “Islamic identity of Egypt”, and promises to uphold it and protect it from attempts at obliteration or ‘westernisation’ as was carried out by the previous ruling regime in Egypt in its “insistence on secularising the country”.
The party declared that it aimed at pleasing Allah and achieving the good of the people by “securing their happiness in this life and the hereafter.” Modern Egypt, according to the party platform, must be based upon the rule of Allah as represented in sharia—including hudoud; foreigners, non-Muslims, and women would all be granted their sharia-implemented rights.
The legislative, executive, and judicial authorities in Egypt should be kept independent of one another, the economy should be based on a free market model but with the implementation of Islamic principles, the declaration read. Egypt’s external policy should take into consideration promoting cordial relations with the Nile Basin countries, and that the Palestinian cause is a pivotal one. Non-Muslims have a right to practice their religions, but the Church should be obligated to battle the “rising extremism among its children and some of its clergy”.
The declaration stressed that the party aims at building and developing the community on the faith, ethical, material, humane, political, cultural, and educational levels, to achieve social justice. Health, education, industrialisation, social services, and free trade should be promoted.
Last Monday, however, the party was denied licence by the Committee of Political Party Affairs on grounds that the party violated the law in that it was founded on a purely religious basis, as opposed to other Islamic parties which only used religion as a reference point. The matter has been referred to the administrative court on party affairs.
The MB Eid prayers included sermons that called upon worshippers to vote Islamist for the implementation of the law of Allah. The platform of the MB—the most politically savvy of the political Islam groups—recognises the principles of Islamic sharia as the main source of legislation, while non-Muslims have the right to have their own legislation applied in family issues. It calls for freedom, justice, equality and shura (consultation) as well as Islamic ethics and values, and ensures the rights of citizens to life, health, employment, education, housing and freedom of opinion and belief.
Rights activists widely denounced the Islamists’ exploitation of the Eid al-Fitr prayers to manipulate worshippers. Many said Islamists had resorted to their customary approach of fuelling up people’s religious sentiments and propagating hostile notions vis-à-vis secularism.
“What happened during Eid prayers is normal, coming from movements that have no qualms about exploiting religion to their own ends,” Hanna Greiss, founder member of the Hizb al-Tahaluf al-Shaabi (Public Alliance Party) told Watani. “The pedestals which should normally advocate love become centres from which they attack and accuse others,” Dr Greiss said. Yet he banks on the fact that Egyptians are sufficiently smart and shrewd to realise that these movements aim to rob them of their national will and political freedom under the slogan of religion. “Egyptians won’t be fooled for long; they will eventually realise these sermons are used to sow division rather than unity,” he said.
Medhat Qelada, head of Europe’s Copts Organisation, believes that the Military Council and al-Azhar should both step in and penalise those who exploit mosques to achieve purposes other than religion. Mr Qelada believes the presidential candidates who took part in such practices should be banned from running for the presidential elections, since they do not respect the law and discriminate between Egyptians basing on their religion.
According to the activist and strategic expert Emad Gad, the Military Council ought to take action against “these trespassers”, because the religious address they use is bound to threaten the nation’s unity and security. The conflict will not only be between Islamists and liberals, it will become a conflict among Islamic streams themselves. And this may compel Christians to create a front of their own, let alone the Sufis. In the end the price will be paid out of Egypt’s safety and stability.