Speaking of reassurances that are lacking in substance, the spokesman for the Salafist al-Nur party says Egypt’s Copts have nothing to worry about.
There are two problems with his approach. First, he employs the common tactic of speaking in pleasant-sounding generalities, almost entirely avoiding specific tenets of Sharia. The Salafists’ general disposition toward Sharia law is well known, but even Essam Darballah resorts to another favorite tool of evasion also recently employed by State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland: the insistence that the notion that “interpretations may differ” with respect to Sharia means there is nothing to worry about.
The second problem is much harder to tap dance around: actions speak louder than verbal assurances. To review reporting posted here in recent months:
“Coptic leaders accuse the army of not protecting them against salafist attacks and cracking down more harshly on [Coptic] protests than others.”
“‘I am the enemy of democracy,’ Hesham al-Ashry said in an interview with Fox News in his Cairo tailor shop. The devout Muslim is a main organizer in a group called the Salafists, which is working to bring Shariah law to Egypt.”
“Salafist clerics, who gained political influence after the January 25 Revolution, have become emboldened, calling Copts Dhimmis who have to pay the jizya (tax paid by non-Muslims to the state) because they are not first class citizens and can never enjoy full citizenship rights, or obtain sensitive posts.”
“[Protesters], mostly observers of the conservative Islamic Salafist movement, threatened to bar Emad Mikhail, the new [Christian] governor, from entering the province. The previous governor, whom Mikhail will replace, was also Christian.”
As excuses and evasion are sure to continue, we can’t rule out hearing at some point that “Salafism is not a monolith and has been hijacked by a Tiny Minority of Extremists.”
Hardline Salafis, forecast to become powerbrokers in Egypt’s first post-uprising parliament, are seeking to allay fears in the minority Christian community of an Islamist-dominated assembly.
The Salafis, who mostly eschewed politics during Mubarak’s rule, are predicted to win second place after the more moderate Islamist Muslim Brotherhood in the first round of parliamentary elections.
The surprise showing by the fundamentalists comes at a time of heightened sectarian tensions followers of Salafi Islam have been blamed for stoking.
Salafis, who advocate a strict interpretation of Islamic law, were blamed for bloody clashes around a Cairo church in May that killed 15 people, and attacks on the shrines of Sufis, an esoteric brand of Islam.
A spokesman for the leading Salafi Al-Nur party said Thursday that neither Christians nor liberal Muslims have anything to fear from his group, which he says will focus on improving all Egyptians’ lives.
“We are talking about a state that was under Islamic law for 1,300 years,” said Mohammed Nour, explaining that the orthodox Coptic Christian community estimated today at eight million had thrived during this period.
“Touching one hair on a Copt’s head violates our programme,” he said.
Until they do anything that is seen as violating the dhimma protection racket.
“The results in these elections are the best response (to such fears), despite a campaign of fear-mongering and slander in the past 10 months. A large part of the public trusts us,” he said.
Essam Darballah, a leader of the formerly militant al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, said preliminary election results showed that political Islam, long marginalised by Mubarak, could no longer be suppressed.
“The results show people were unconvinced by the defamation campaign conducted by the liberals. They chose Islam,” said Darballah, whose movement’s political party joined a coalition with Al-Nur.
“It shows Islamic movements are here, and the people trust them,” he said.
Nour, the owner of a company that produces iPhone applications, says Egypt’s Salafi movement had lain dormant during three decades of Mubarak’s rule, which ended in February with a popular uprising.
“We were not present (during Mubarak’s era) because (politics) was not our way to bring about change, and the political situation was depressing and discouraging,” he said.
Islamist parties have circumvented a law that bans religious parties by not overtly espousing an Islamist state in their party programme.
Nour says the party will work to better standards of living in the country, where widespread complaints of poverty fuelled the revolt against Mubarak, rather than on implementing a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
“Egyptians agree that the reference is the Quran and Sunnah (prophetic sayings and traditions),” [how about the Copts? Aren’t they Egyptians?- ed.] he said, adding that “interpretations may differ” on how to apply Islamic law known as Sharia.
He dismissed fears raised in the media that they might try to ban alcohol.
“Maybe 20,000 out of 80 million Egyptians drink alcohol,” he said. “Forty million don’t have sanitary water. Do you think that, in parliament, I’ll busy myself with people who don’t have water, or people who get drunk?”
In saying this, he has called attention to a trend in more than one society where Sharia has experienced a resurgence: “moral” policing in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Aceh, to name a few, is a cheap and lazy way to for governments to look busy and piously effective. Such crackdowns are a path of least resistance to show the government is “working.”
Such priorities could illustrate how political involvement will force them to compromise, although Nour insists his party will hold fast to its “values.”
Prior to the elections, opponents of Salafis circulated an interview with one of the party’s most prominent candidates in which he said democracy was “blasphemy,” a remark Nour insists was taken out of context.
He says they seek a democracy and new constitution that recognises that sovereignty ultimately flows from God, not a “Greek philosophy” adopted in the West.
The issue of Islamic law spurred him and other Salafi parties to rally their forces for the election.
Darballah says that the country’s new constitution, to be written once parliamentary elections finish in March, should “preserve Islamic identity and preserve the rights of non-Muslims.”
Here, he expects listeners and readers to project their own ideas of non-Muslims’ rights onto what he has said, rather than questioning what his ideas are, and why.