Over two thousand years ago the great Greek historian Herodotus described Egypt in his memoirs as follows: “Concerning Egypt itself, I shall extend my remarks to a great length, because there is no country that posses so many wonders nor any that has such a number of works which defy description” then he added “They (Egyptians) are religious to excess, far beyond any other race of men”
Herodotus description of ancient Egypt couldn’t be more accurate and certainly still resembles the modern day Egypt especially when it concerns religion. In the land that invented Beer and created belly dancing, religion is and piety ironically plays a factor in almost every Egyptian’s life. Be that he is a Muslim, Christian, Jew or any other creed. The organized religion in Egypt dates back to the ancient Egyptian Sun-God Ra. Other Gods Osiris, Seth, Ptah were worshipped in Egypt till the dawn of Judaism, Christianity and finally Islam. It may be correct to mention that the ancient deities’ worship lasted for a period that exceeds the existence latter two religions combined. Hence the sense of religiousness and piety is deeply rooted in the Egyptian mentality and society.
At the same time, Religion has been exploited constantly by its preachers constantly for power, authority and sometimes money for the same period. This can be attributed to the first ancient secret society the Amon Ra monks and all the way to the Salafist Groups of Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau .
The modern Egyptians have been entangled in a web of Islamization procedures by two main forces the Salafis groups (Fundamentalist) and Muslim Brotherhood. The involvement of these two main groups in the Egyptian political and social life have shifted the momentum of the Egyptian age of modern enlightenment which started by Mohamed Ali Pasha reign (1805-1849) and ended by the abdication of King Farouk I in 1952 through a coup’ d’état Led by Gamal Abdel Nasser and his associates “Free officers” The 1952 Coup’ d’état marked the end of the Golden era of Liberalism and free thinking in the Egyptian society which started after the independence from British occupation in 1922 and ended in 1952.
The years that followed witnessed the sunset of the age of rationalism and secularism in the Egyptian society. They were replaced by the more tyrannical values led mainly by extreme leftists and communism ideals followed by a more lethal Islamism of the society on many degrees.
Gamal Abdel Nasser tried to instill some secular ideals in the society in a manner to battle his archrivals in power the Muslim Brotherhood. However, his oppressive methods of hunting down all liberal thoughts of all factions that opposed him sealed the death certificate of the enlightenment period and began a period of instability, wars and endless economic pressures on the country and society. That period witnessed the rise of the Islamists post the 1967 war as Nasserism seemed to appear as a failed ideology in the eyes of the Egyptians.
ISLAMIST FACTIONS IN EGYPT
1- Muslim Brotherhood:
Pre- January 25th Revolution
“Listen and obey” is the motto of the prominent Islamist group which was established in 1928 by Islamic Scholar Hassan El Banna. El Banna one of the most controversial figures in the modern Egyptian history. The man behind the politicization of religion in the region and his impact is still felt till this day. The Group since its inception has been in a collision course with the governing authority in Egypt. The collision initiated during King Fouad and King Farouk’s era, through the reign of Presidents of Gamal Abdel Nasser and Sadat and all the way to President Mubarak. The group founder El Banna was assassinated in 1949 in retaliation of his involvement in the assassination of Former Egyptian Prime Minister El Noqrashy as well as Judge El Khazendar among many others who also died in their bombings of Jewish and British owned stores and businesses in Cairo. These actions led to the banning of the Islamist group for the first time in history then another time during Nasser’s era when they attempted an assassination against the late president in 1954 which resulted in the banning and crackdown on the group activities and members in Egypt. During that period the brotherhood despite it’s relatively moderate ideology about Islam compared to Jihadists have managed to produce one of the most dangerous extremists in Islamic theology which is Sayed Qutb, The man who was sentenced to death by Gamal Abdel Nasser was the God father of modern terrorism .His book “Malameh fi El Tareek” or “Signs on the road” represented the Magnus Opus and bible of Jihadist and extremists for decades till this day. He was the first to call for violent change in society through force and eradicating the infidels and to pave the way for an Islamic puritan society according to his teachings that the likes of Ayman El Zawahiri and Osama Bin Laden followed later. The Quttbian followers among the brotherhood are still there despite many deny their existence and among them the General Guide of the Brotherhood Mohamed Badie.
Since that date, the brotherhood managed to stay as the shadow players in the political scene and forged a deal in the 1970s to resume with their activities with late President Sadat on the condition that they would abide by the laws of the country. It wasn’t long before they broke the deal and found themselves in the collision with Sadat’s regime. After Sadat’s assassination by Jihadists, they try to forge another deal with Mubarak’s and managed to form an alliance with El Wafd party in 1984 which resulted in winning about 50 seats in parliament shared with El Wafd representatives. In 2005, a final deal with forged with Mubarak’s regime that resulted in winning 88 seats in the parliament but that deal broke in 2010 when the regime managed to run of Egypt’s most rigged elections ever. Despite all of the above the Brotherhood continued their cooperation with Mubarak’s regime even during the revolution and was among the first to declare that they are not participating in the January 25th revolution only to join it later after the initial success of the first wave led mainly by the Liberals and socialists activists. The Brotherhood has franchises that follow the same ideology in over 80 different countries and a very complicated web of contacts all over the world. It’s considered as the equivalent of a multinational corporation in the form of a religious group.
Post January 25th Revolution
You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time. – Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
The resounding success of the revolution led to achieving the first goal of the banned group which is restoring governmental and public recognition. Despite this recognition the banned group never registered the group as an NGO till the moment. However, Muslim Brotherhood forged a good cooperation with the Supreme council of Armed forces SCAF. A cooperation that led them to establish the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) which should have been unconstitutional under Egyptian law forbidding any form of religious party but they managed to find a loophole declaring that they are not a religious party but a party that has Islamic background ideology. That party and the earlier cooperation with SCAF led them to secure some of their long fought interests among which obtaining 44% of the Parliament seats and almost double that number in upper house.
The brotherhood became no longer the banned group but more of the lucky group and among the only few winners post of the revolution. However, the greed for power and lust for authority has dominated the actions of the members, they and their ally the Salafi party “El Nour” or “The Light” and hijacked 70 seats out of the 100 seats to form the committee for writing the constitution. This action among many others led to the alienation of the Egyptian populace and political spectrum from them with almost all liberal and socialists’ parties and powers boycotting the committee. Fortunately, the Supreme administrational court decreed that the committee was formed in an unconstitutional and revoked the formation proposed by the FJP party.
In the first days of the revolution Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Essam El Arian vowed on march 14th 2011 that they will only campaign for 35% of the parliament followed by an increase to 40% a few days later than 50%. Eventually they increased the percentage to cover 100% of the seats from which they won 44%. They also vowed never to present a Presidential candidate only to break that vow in April 2012 and announce Khairat El Shater as their candidate and FJP president Mohamed Morsi as a replacement candidate. El Shater who was accused and imprisoned during Mubarak’s era is the master financier of the rich organization. The organization is estimated to earn about 500,000 Million Egyptian pounds annually from its estimated 400,000 members who donate 8% of their earning to the brotherhood. Also the businessmen members of the Brotherhood donate a huge sums of their earnings that can reach up to 20 million EGP each. Furthermore, the group has international investments located mainly in Dubai, Turkey and Hong Kong amounting two Billion dollars that generate a sum of 500,000 Million annually for the group. Furthermore, international Islamic bank like the defunct Bahamas/Swiss based El Taqwa Bank owned by Swiss/Egyptian Businessman Youssef Nada was a continuous source of income till its bankruptcy. These numbers are sourced from Brotherhood chief financial expert Dr. Hussein Shehata in 2008.
The Brotherhood has infiltrated large sectors of society in recent years and now that is now manifested in the growing power of the 80 year old group in the Egyptian society. Regardless of what happens in the near future the brotherhood will remain a key player for at least the near future in the Egyptian politics despite its shattered image in the eyes of many Egyptians post the revolution. The party is now on a collision course with SCAF and almost all other non-Islamist powers. They have shown a real power-mongering and greedy attitude towards all parties. That attitude was prevalent particularly in the issues concerning the new constitution writing committee whom they took the lion share with their allies Salafi party El Nour. That resulted in the withdrawal of all other powers and boycotting the committee activities even by Al Azhar Islamic institution and the Coptic Church. Yet, the group relentless quest to establish hegemony over the political, economic and social life in Egypt is an ongoing process. The group are resilient into holding the position for presidency by nominating not one but 3 different candidates among them the relatively moderate Abou El Fottoh who can be the Trojan horse for Muslim Brotherhood to obtain the presidency seat.
Unless the liberals and leftists powers stand their ground and unite against this endless ambition, the third Reich scenario in Germany is no longer an unlikely scenario in the upcoming years.
2- Salafis: (Islamist Fundamentalists)
Pre- January 25th revolution
The Salafi movement in Egypt is the Egyptian version of Wahhabi ultra-conservative radical movement in Saudi Arabia. The movement was established by Mohamed Abdel Wahhab ( 1703-1792) in the 18th century and was quelled by the Egyptian forces of Mohamed Ali Pasha in an expedition in the Arabian peninsula in the present day Saudi Arabia. The movement first traces in Egypt can be identified by the establishment of “El Gameia El Shaaria” or the “The legitimate association” 1912 for mainly charity reasons but it was the backdoor in later years and precisely after the 1970s oil-boom in the gulf for funding projects as a façade for the extremists to fund Salafi and Wahhabi doctrine teachings in Egypt.
The rise of the Salafis groups in Egypt started slowly in the early years of the 1930’s and they found their way through society through charity work and establishing clinics for the poor in rural and impoverished areas where the consecutive governments failed to live up to their duties.
For the past two decades Saudi Arabia along with several Persian Gulf countries have funded a lot of the Salafis groups . Saudi Arabia is believed to have spent an estimated amount of over 100 Billion dollars in the past 2 decades to spread to the Wahabi doctrine worldwide according to British TV presenter Antony Thomas. The funding is usually directed to schools, mosques and charity organizations worldwide. Also other nongovernmental organizations have spent billions others in the form of charity money usually sent to Salafi groups in Egypt especially “El Gamaia El Shaaria” and “Ahl El Sunna” or the “People of the Sunni” . That flow of money has helped the Salafi groups and their scholars to gain a strong ground in the Egyptian society particularly in impoverished areas within the country where social services were badly sought after. The launching of the two Salafi Satellite channels “Al Hikma” (Wisdom) and “ Al Nas” (People) have marked a shift in the Salafis strategy in reaching further masses with the Egyptian version of Tele-evangelists presenting the programs in these channels and preaching for a rigid intolerant version of Islam that hardly has nothing to do with the original message of Islam. In fact it has a lot to do with the Wahabi version of Mohamed Abd El Wahab. Surprisingly, the Egyptian government looked the other away from that sort of Wahhabi propagation in the society.
The Egyptian government and National Security Bureau have used Salafi Sheikhs and leaders for decades to curb the growing influence of Muslim Brotherhood. They relied on the Salafis continuos declarations and ideology of Salafis that practicing democracy is “Haram” (Forbidden) as they believed back democracy is an evil invention of the west. However, that resulted that Salafis has gained much further ground in the Egyptian society and once their leaders decided that it’s “Halal” or Permitted to practice democracy and elections as a mandatory practice after the revolution, the face of Egyptian politics have chhanged forever.
Post 25th of January Revolution
The Salafi groups in Egypt with their different factions from ultra-extremists to relatively moderate (Costa Salafis) have decided by some miracle that’s it’s no longer “Haram” or forbidden to practice politics and democracy and decided to establish several political parties. The most prominent of them is the Nour Party meaning “The light” which is an oxymoron judging by the amount of dark ideologies that this party adopts. The Nour capitalized on the Salafi group already widespread believes and utilized the religious rhetoric to the extreme during their elections campaign. They called their opponents infidels and crusaders to push their followers among them many overzealous and also illiterate people away from voting for their opponents. Yet all these infringements to the Egyptian law received the blessings of the government and SCAF.
They managed to hold about 27% of the Parliament seats thanks to overspending and the vicious smear campaign against their opponents. However, their performance in the parliament is still abysmal starting from calls to ban internet pornography as a priority that precedes any other economic all the way to moral scandals.
Members of El Nour party with surrounded by s scandals as in the case of representative El Balkimy who had a nose job operation and lied about it and filed a report that he was mugged then apologized for lying. One week later a bigger scandal to be found that he was married in secret to a belly dancer. Further scandals about the part of receiving about 300 Million Egyptian pounds funded from overseas sources through Salafi groups are still lingering.
However, there is still a good chunk of Egyptians who still believe they are puritans and they are men of God. The latest episode is the Salafi Presidential candidate Hazem Abou Ismail with extremist anti-American rhetoric whose deceased mother and sister were found to be carrying American nationalities side by side to his Egyptian one. Once proven his application for presidency will be rejected..Very few Salafis have common sense and wisdom not to provoke others and maintain an enlightened moderate stance like Sheikh Osama El Quosy who appears to be more moderate than Al Azhar clerics. But the large majority are still radical and posseses extreme views of the religion .The Salafis will still play a role in the Egyptian politics for years but inch by inch the halo around them will fade as their real face is uncovered to the common Egyptian.
3-Jihadists (Militant Islamists)
Pre January 25th revolution
The word “Jihad” resonates a bad sound in the ears of the western hemisphere due to its utilization by what’s known in the media as Jihadist in their holy war against the west and those whom they deem as infidels whether they are Muslims or any other religion.
The fact is that, the actual word means doing an effort to achieve a goal like studying for exams or creating a new project. The word now is reserved for Militant Islamists in the likes of the “Islamic Group in Egypt”, “Al Jihad group” and the notorious “Al Qaeda” There is no space enough to describe the atrocities and the killings performed by these groups from the assassination of late Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat, Speaker of the House Refaat El Hahgoub , prominent writer Farag Fouda all the way to the bombings in Cairo, Sinai, Luxor and dozens of other incidents that taken away the lives of thousands of Egyptians.
On international scale Al Qaeda is of course the household name of terror personified. Hundreds of these groups were arrested, imprisoned and many executed for their deeds but they found themselves a new place in the new Post revolution Egypt. They preceded that with what they called the “Revisions” of their Ideology and modus operandi a few years ago written by the founder of Al Jihad group Sheikh Sayed Imam which he denounced their formal terrorist activities and asked all his followers to start a new chapter with society. However, still the bulk of Egyptian society is weary from Jihadists due to the years of turmoil they caused to the Egyptian society and for which the former Mubarak’s regime stripped away a lot of freedoms under the pretext of fighting these terrorists.
Post 25th January Revolution
Many Jihadists found themselves released from prison even those who spent life-time sentences (Usually 25 years in Egypt) were out , Among them President Sadat’s assassin Aboud El Zomor and many others who wreaked havoc in the Egyptian nation in the past years. The shocking release of these highly dangerous elements provided a sign to Islamists that their activities are finally tolerated by the authorities.
Added to that hundreds of members of the Jihadist groups found their way back to Egypt from Albania, Afghanistan, Iran and others in the days that followed the Fall of Mubarak. This represents a clear and present danger to the Egyptian national security for these are highly battled hardened militants who can are unpredictable in their next course of action. The reason they were permitted to enter the country again after being banned for years remains an enigma in the eyes of many Egyptians. Some deemed it as a scare tactic from SCAF to curb the revolutionary powers that these will be the replacements in case we are gone.
In the parliamentary elections they collected a small number of seats in the parliament and they are still shunned by a big sector of society despite some of them like to appear in the media as more tolerant like Nageh Ibrahim but they all fail to convince anyone except the hardcore Islamists of their clear intentions.
The likeness that they play a stronger role in future remains reliant on the success of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis to grow in power even further. Statements from the likes of Khalid Al Islamboli’s (Sadat’s Assassin) brother Mohamed that a Taliban like system in Egypt will be the key to security proves once again that all the so called revisions in their ideologies were just a method for them to acquire a release from imprisonment. Given the chance most these militants will raise arms again against the Egyptian state and its people. The way to counter the negative effects for such groups will not be only counter-violence but awareness programs led by Al Azhar and other enlightened institutions in Egypt.