SPIEGEL Hangover: Egypt Faces a Hardline Islamic Future

Sobering up after the “Arab Spring” euphoria  isn’t easy for the amateur journaillie and wannabe revolutionaries from the derailed  Spiegel. Well, it took a while, and BS-propaganda ends when reality can no longer be denied.

In Egypt, like in most  Islamic hell-holes,   the Muslim Brotherhood has the upper hand and they will apply real Islam and real sharia, “gradually”. The leftist propaganda machine,  where cooperating progressives and Islamists frequently say Islam’s critics are mentally ill,  typically refuse to debate context and meaning of  Islamic religious texts and pursue  vilification and smear attacks on Islam-critics with fanatical zeal.

By Daniel Steinvorth/SPIEGEL

The Islamist Muslim Brotherhood led the way in the first round of parliamentary voting in Egypt. Second place went to the even more hardline Salafist party al-Nour. The group would like to see the introduction of an ultra-conservative brand of Sharia — and a ban on bikinis.

It’s a good thing that the visitor is a man. The sheikh doesn’t speak with women. But then again, the reporter is a foreigner, which is also worrisome. There are so many prejudices about Islam in the West, says Sheikh Fawzi al-Sayeed. But perhaps, he adds, this conversation will help to spread the truth.

Sayeed, 70, a serious-looking man with a full gray beard, is wearing sandals, a crochet cap and the traditional Egyptian garment called the Jellabiya. He invites his guest into the Al-Tawheed Mosque. It is 6:30 a.m., and those gathered inside have just completed their morning prayers. Now they are forming a half circle around their sheikh, who has taken a seat on a wooden chair in the middle of the room. The Al-Tawheed Mosque in the northern part of Cairo is a plain-looking building with no ornate columns or other decoration; no unnecessary details to distract the faithful from their devotion to God.

As he does every morning, Sayeed asks his followers to reaffirm their devotion to the “true faith.” He also asks them to film the interview that will follow the sermon with their mobile phones. It’s purely a precaution, says the sheikh. Sayeed, an electrical engineer by trade, is one of Egypt’s best-known Salafist imams. These days, it is not always easy to recognize the friends and the foes of Islam.

Since the Salafist Al-Nour Party, or “Party of Light,” came in second place in the first round of Egypt’s parliamentary elections, just behind the Muslim Brotherhood, the world has been looking to Cairo with concern. The two groups captured about 60 percent of those seats assigned on the basis of candidate lists assembled by the parties. One third of the seats are reserved for individual candidates. It is the first phase ofthe 2011-2012 parliamentary elections, with the second round beginning on Wednesday.

The election result confirms a clear trend, namely that wherever free elections have taken place in the Islamic Middle East in recent years, the religious parties have won: in the Gaza Strip in 2006, in Iraq in 2010, and in Turkey, Tunisia and Morocco in 2011.

Shocking Showing

But only in Egypt has such a radical group as the Salafists been able to establish itself as a party. This has serious implications, given that this is the most populous and culturally influential country in the Arab world; the revolutionary pulse that has been beating on Cairo’s Tahrir Square for the last 11 months can be felt as far away as Libya and Syria, Iran and the Gulf states.

The Salafists’ strong showing hasn’t just shocked many Egyptians, but especially the country’s revolutionary youth, liberals and leftists, Coptic Christians and moderate Muslims. It was, after all, the Salafists who had agitated against the Copts and boycotted the revolution, on the grounds that it was infiltrated with “whores and Zionists.” And it was also the Salafists who, until now, had rejected free elections as “un-Islamic.” And now they are coming into power as democrats?

The Al-Nour Party was formed in the spring as a melting pot of various conservative and formerly militant groups. Its members were not exactly known for their democratic ambitions, but rather for their close ties to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Since the establishment of the “Party of Light,” more than $100 million (€75 million) in campaign funds have allegedly made their way from the oil-rich, Wahhabite kingdom to the banks of the Nile.

The Salafists’ political ideas are as unadorned as their mosques. They are united by the desire to live their lives in accordance with the example set by the Prophet Muhammad and his companions almost 1,400 years ago. This extends to the Salafists’ rules on clothing and beards, which require a face veil for women and a full beard, generally without a moustache, for men.

In other words, the Salafists’ aim is to return to the early days of Islam. But what is their program in Egypt?

“You see,” says Sheikh Fawzi, “the Islamic world still suffers from the great injustice that was done to the religion. And yet the solution is so easy: We must simply apply the Koran and Sharia to heal our country, just as it was commanded by God.” Of course, he adds, this includes stoning adulterers and cutting off the hands of thieves. The question as to whether these might not be barbaric practices is one the sheikh finds uncouth.

A Transitional Phenomenon

During the campaign, leading members of the Al-Nour Party seemed as if they came from a different era; it was a sharp contrast to Egypt’s liberal tradition. For instance, when party spokesman Abdul Munaim al-Shahat appeared on a TV talk show, he insisted that a divider be set up between himself and a female guest. In his most recent demand, he calls upon Egyptians to “destroy the temples!” He wants Egypt to finally put an end to the “idolatrous worship” of its pharaonic heritage. If Shahat had his way, sculptures, statues and portraits spanning 5,000 years of Egyptian history would be covered with a layer of chalk, and pharaonic street names would be Islamicized.

Another member of the party leadership is calling for a ban on alcohol, even for Christians and foreigners, who can drink alcohol without punishment in most Gulf countries. He also wants to close beaches where Western women show too much skin and ban the wearing of bikinis. As an alternative, he suggests offering foreign tourists camel treks and ski instruction on sand dunes.

Is it for this that the Egyptian youth took to the streets in late January? Is this why they overthrew autocratic former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak?

No, says Amr Iss al-Rigal. “But this is merely a transitional phenomenon. We had a feeling that the religious groups would triumph at first — because they, like the Salafists, have friends in the oil monarchies. And because they, like the Muslim Brothers, were long members of the opposition, which gave them time to organize.”

Rigal, 28, is standing on a busy street in Imbaba, a working-class neighborhood in Cairo. It is well after midnight, and he looks tired as he patiently endures the flurry of camera flashes coming from Egyptian journalists. A campaign banner bearing his likeness flutters above him, stretched between two trees. The words “Coalition of Revolutionary Youth” are written on the banner. The candidate poses for the photographers one more time. It is his last press event of the day. “The democrats will prevail in the long run,” says Rigal, with a defiant and self-confident smile.

Cause Worth Fighting For

The young lawyer is one of the heroes of the revolution. Everyone who fought on Tahrir Square knows him. In 2004, he joined a liberal party that challenged Mubarak in the 2005 presidential election, albeit unsuccessfully. In 2008, Rigal was among the protagonists of the “April 6 Youth Movement,” which played an important role in launching the revolution — with a Facebook group initially consisting of thousands, followed by tens and then hundreds of thousands of supporters.

Rigal and his friends were among the first to protest on Tahrir Square, where they persevered, ran from police, chanted slogans and sang songs. He will never forget the magic of those days, and the realization that freedom is a cause worth fighting for, says Rigal.

The former revolutionary has now turned into a candidate for parliament. And his prospects are good, even though he is campaigning directly against the Islamists in the poor Imbaba neighborhood. As the son of a bus driver, Rigal is familiar with the people who vote for the Islamists. And because his father was once a member of the radical group al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya, he also knows what makes the Islamists so successful. “They appeal to your religious feelings, to your conscience. They distribute meat and coal. But that isn’t a platform. You don’t create jobs just by being devout.” Rigal says that whenever he has told voters about their political rights, about their right to participate in the democratic process, to education and to healthcare, they have almost always reacted with astonishment and curiosity.

‘A Long Way from the Turkish Model’

The Turkish model? Why would they want that?

People like him, says Rigal, are even more suspect to the ruling military council than the Islamists. The army leadership could come to terms with the pragmatic and even increasingly opportunistic Muslim Brotherhood, as it has demonstrated time and again. The Salafists, says Rigal, did well under Mubarak, “because the threatening posture emanating from the militant groups enabled the regime to maintain its police apparatus and its emergency laws,” says Rigal. “The democracy movement, by comparison, is uncontrollable, which the generals hate.”

Egyptians are waiting anxiously to see how the powerful Muslim Brothers and their “Freedom and Justice Party” will position themselves. Will they distance themselves from the Salafists and seek an alliance with liberal forces? Or will they join the Salafists to create an orthodox Islamic Egypt?

Christians, liberals and secularists aren’t the only ones tormented by the fear that Egypt could become an undemocratic country through democratic means. When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan traveled to Cairo in September, two months before the election began, the Muslim Brotherhood cheered his arrival. Then he gave a speech and said: “A secular nation respects all religions. Do not fear secularism.”

Suddenly the Muslim Brotherhood was no longer cheering, while the Salafists sharply criticized secularism, calling it the “work of the devil.” It appears that Egypt’s Islamists are still a long way from the Turkish model.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

More SPIEGEL Katzenyammer:

Surprise, surprise:

They never had a case anyhow:

Doubts Grow in Case Against Neo-Nazi Group

Prosecutors in Germany are worried the most serious charge against the sole surviving member of a murderous neo-Nazi group may collapse. Beate Zschäpe’s refusal to speak about the alleged crimes is complicating efforts to prove she was a part of a terrorist organization, sources say. That could leave her facing far less jail time if convicted.more…

“Moderate” Qaradawi:

Qaradawi and ‘moderation’

Edmund Standing, December 12th 2011, Harry’s Place

The Financial Times recently interviewed Youssef al-Qaradawi (you can read the full interview here).

We read that Qaradawi’s ‘advice to Islamist movements is to stick to a moderate, middle course and not seek to impose their will on society’.

He says he has counselled Egypt’s Nour party, the Salafi newcomer to the political scene whose strict religious strand is alarming liberals, to adopt “new thinking”. “I told our Salafi brothers … you are in your first political experience and have to deal with people with moderation, and I hope they will.”

He says of the Turkish government led by the AK Party that ‘it’s a model that Arab countries can benefit from’ and that he admires the way ‘they have won over secularism calmly’.

The kind of people who seem hellbent on viewing ‘moderate’ Islamists as actually being moderate will no doubt be impressed by all this. How wonderful, they will say, to see Qaradawi, an Islamist, encouraging ‘moderation’ and ‘new thinking’. How wonderful that Qaradawi sees Turkey as the model to follow.

Now – leaving aside the wiretapping of political opponents’ phones and the widespread imprisonment of journalists, the rise in anti-Semitism, the AKP’s attacks on Turkey’s alcohol and pork industries, as well as Erdogan’s refusal to accept that Hamas is a terrorist organisation and his quoting a rancid anti-Semite with approval at the World Economic Forum – Turkey may well seem relatively moderate right now. But so, apparently, does/did Tunisia to the fans of ‘moderate Islamism’.

The key really lies in recognising this appearance of moderation for what it actually is.

Appearing moderate is a key part of the approach taken by more intelligent Islamists. Even Islamist-enablers such as Alastair Crooke acknowledge that Islamists ‘manage the political process in a way that people don’t feel threatened’. Indeed, ‘managing the political process’ so as to implement Islamist ideology incrementally in order that ‘people don’t feel threatened’ is central to the Muslim Brotherhood’s approach.

A June 2011 Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood article states:

we must not impose Islamic shari’a, forcing the people to adopt something about which they are ignorant and with which they are unfamiliar […] There is no other way but gradual action, preparing the [people’s] souls and setting an example, so that faith will enter their hearts… Gradual action does not impose Islam at once, but rather step by step, in order to facilitate understanding, studying, acceptance, and submission.

The article quotes Muslim Brotherhood founder – and Nazi sympathiser – Hasan al-Banna as stating: ‘Those who wait patiently for the seed to sprout, the tree to grow, the fruit to ripen, and the harvest to arrive – their reward will be with Allah’.

It concludes by expressing the Muslim Brotherhood’s desire ‘to rally the Islamic streams in order to unite the Muslim word and effort, restore the caliphate, and prepare a practical plan to implement the law of Allah the Exalted’.

Not that any of this will make a blind bit of difference to the idiots who continue to hold up the likes of Qaradawi as ‘moderate’ and ‘progressive’, of course.