Egyptian Islamist Groups gear up for parliamentary face-off
Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Sheikh Yusuf al-Badri, a well-known Islamic preacher and former member of the Egyptian People’s Assembly, launched a scathing verbal attack on the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Group and the Salafi movement, saying that these groups have the blood of many Egyptians on their hands.
In the first attack of its kind regarding the participation of religious groups in the scheduled November 28 Egyptian parliamentary elections, Al-Badri told Asharq Al-Awsat that the hands of these groups have been soiled by the blood of Egyptians during the violence witnessed in past decades, which claimed the lives of late President Anwar al-Sadat, and hundreds of officers, soldiers, and citizens in a number of cities, including Cairo and Asyut.
Al-Badri dismissed the ability of these groups to manage the affairs of the country during the upcoming stage. The 73-year Islamic preacher asked, “How will they hold the reins of the situation while their hands are soiled with the blood of the soldiers and officers in Asyut, and with the blood of the (late Egyptian President Anwar) al-Sadat? How are people going to forget this behaviour?” Al-Badri emphasized that: “The current hegemony of these groups over the Egyptian political scene, despite their “bloody history” is something that is laughable even to fools.”
Hard-line Islamist movements started emerging in various forms following the establishment of the Muslim Brotherhood Group in Egypt in 1928 until the emergence of small takfiri groups in the last decade. Ayman al-Zawahiri, current leader of Al-Qaeda, is considered one of the most prominent leaders of these groups, who have fled abroad from Egypt after the assassination of Al-Sadat.
The regime of former President Hosni Mubarak dealt with hard-line Islamist groups with an iron fist. After these movements committed violence against Christians, the police, and tourists (the most famous of these incidents was the Luxor’s incident in 1969), they were classified domestically and internationally as terrorists. This includes the Muslim Brotherhood Group, despite the fact that the ruling Mubarak’s party (currently dissolved) coordinated a few times secretly with the Muslim Brotherhood candidates in parliamentary elections.
After the fall of Mubarak’s rule in February 2011, the new rulers of Egypt allowed the hard-line religious movements to form parties. This has aroused the apprehensions of Egyptian and foreign sectors about the Islamists ascending to power, and dragging Egypt – the country that has been ruled by presidents from the army since 1952, and that is considered one of the pivotal countries in the Middle East region – into a future whose features are ambiguous.
This is the first time in the history of democracy in Egypt since the 1923 Constitution that religious movements have such momentum to the degree that it has become frightening to civil, left-wing, and liberal currents, in addition to Egyptian Christians, who represent some 10 percent of a population that slightly exceeds 80 million people. In 1938 the then majority party recognized the Muslim Brotherhood Group in exchange for its founder, Hasan al-Banna, not standing as a candidate.
However, when leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood entered Parliament during the Al-Sadat era, they immediately started implement a program – which was not completed – for “legislating Sharia – i.e. to make the laws compatible with Islamic sharia. In their media campaign for the parliamentary elections, the religious tendencies’ candidates say that their aim is “to implement sharia.”
For decades, Sheikh Al-Badri enjoyed high standing amongst supporters of the hard-line religious current. He shot to fame as an oppositionist in the 1987 Parliament, and was known for his judicial pursuit of writers, poets, and intellectuals. Al-Badri told Asharq Al-Awsat that his entry into parliament at that time was a mistake, because he considers that democracy in Egypt only “has brought ruin and destruction for some 90 years.”
Al-Badri fears that fighting between the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi groups is around the corner, and this he believes is because of lingering disputes between the movements, which Al-Badri expects to intensify at the upcoming elections or soon after. Al-Badri stated that currently there is a committee for coordinating between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi powers in order to avoid such clashes. The indications of that emerged at the “Islamic sharia Friday” demonstration at Al-Tahrir Square in July 2011.
Sheikh Al-Badri does not approve of partisan work or parliamentary representation. He says that his entry to Parliament representing South Cairo Constituency during the Mubarak era was the result of pressure by Muslim Brotherhood leaders. However, Al-Badri adds that after he became a candidate on an electoral list, the Muslim Brotherhood tried to sabotage his candidacy by Turing supports against him.
Since the fall of Mubarak, four parties that were created by violent movements have acquired the right to operate officially, while Egyptian satellite channels have hosted leading members of these once outlawed groups, who in past decades participated in the assassination of Al-Sadat, numerous Egyptians, and tourists. As far as common goals shared by these groups, the implementation of Islamic sharia law and establishing a “Caliphate” State are at the top of their demands. This has sparked fears amongst observers that these tendencies might turn against democracy if they ascended to power. This is particularly true after one of the parties has proved its religious hard-line attitude by hiding the faces of its female candidates – who wear niqabs – from election adverts, and replacing their faces by roses on the basis that “women’s photographs are obscene.”
Regarding the possibility of Islamists rejecting democracy if they win a majority in parliament, Al-Badri told Asharq Al-Awsat that: “If they do this, it will be better. However, Islam’s means are clean, and its aims are clean.” Al-Badri points out that Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, God’s prayer and peace be upon him, did not deceive the society, but he talked frankly from the beginning. Al-Badri explains: “God’s Messenger rather than suffering harm in Mecca for 10 years, could have gone to the rich to form a party with them and say to them we are Muslims, and go to the poor to form a party with them and say we are Muslims, then he could have gone to the polytheists and flatter their idols. He could have done this, but this method is wrong and invalid. He said to them from day one: You are infidels, and you are polytheists.”
Sheikh Al-Badri says that the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis follow the Machiavellian principle, “the end justifies the means.” He says that this Machiavellian way will not gain them anything: “They have entered the battle (political action) and now they practice it. They will keep hitting each other, and there will be rivers of blood, because the Salafis are fanatic about their opinion, and the Muslim Brotherhood is fanatic about its opinion. Each group of them will assault the other, and there will be a massacre.”
Al-Badri points out that the Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood practiced fighting and bloodshed in the past, “then these people would hold the reins with their hands soiled with the blood of soldiers and officers in Asyut and the blood of Al-Sadat. How can people forget this?”
Most of the armed religious groups, whose thousands of members were in Mubarak’s prisons, have agreed to reject violence since the end of the nineties in what is known as “The Revisions.” The Muslim Brotherhood Group does not admit its responsibility for accusations of assassination of Egyptians before and after 1952, including an attempt on the life of President Abdul-Nassir.
Regarding the on-going presence of the religious groups, Al-Badri stressed to Asharq Al-Awsat that there are no groups in Islam, “Islam has no groups. The fact that they are groups is the strongest proof that their work will bring in all evil.” Al-Badri pointed out that leading members of the Islamic Group were critical of his membership in the 1987 Parliament. “They used to say that I am a symbol of hypocrisy, because they used to describe the People’s Assembly as the land of hypocrisy,” while it is known that the hands of the group of one of those who have changed his opinion of parliament and parties “are soiled with the blood of Egyptians.”