During the Egyptian parliamentary session that took place after the bloody Port Said events last month, which claimed dozens of lives, the Salafi MP Anwar al-Bulkimy stood up to speak in a quavering voice – almost at the point of tears – expressing his concerns over the recent incidents of strife in Egypt, inflicting scorn upon the Egyptian media and blaming it for what happened.
Yet barely a month passed after Anwar al-Bulkimy’s media-bashing, until the Egyptians saw the MP himself on television lying in a hospital bed with bandages covering his face. He was recounting, without hesitation, how he had been subjected to an attack from thugs armed with weapons, and how they beat him up – almost killing him, and also robbing him of 100,000 Egyptian Pounds. When a journalist asked him what he had intended to do with the money, Anwar al-Bulkimy replied quietly that the money was going to be spent to improve his constituency.
Of course, as is now well known, it was later proven that al-Bulkimy was not exposed to an attack as he told the media, but instead had undergone a plastic surgery procedure on his nose. Perhaps he found this to be an embarrassing affair, since he belongs to a religious movement that refuses to change “what God created”, according to its literature. The MP felt that he had to resort to lying, believing that the repercussions of this would be less severe than announcing that he wanted to improve the appearance of his face.
The MP’s lie was revealed and he was expelled from the Salafi al-Nour party. However, the repeated lapses and incidents of this kind involving members of the religious trends now emerging in post-revolutionary governments suggest the difficulty of using the umbrella of “piety” to cover all aspects of everyday life, especially when public opinion ends up being abused via the media.
[After the Egyptian revolution] Al-Bulkimy became a public figure often appearing in front of the people. He thought, perhaps, that his position as a representative of the Salafi trend would allow him to mobilize public opinion in parliament to ward off strife in Egypt, often issuing tearful statements and speeches! This is what he righteously believed his role was, yet in contrast he considered the act of openly declaring that he had undergone cosmetic surgery to be more heinous than publicly lying on television to those he was supposed to be representing.
The fact is that the story of MP al-Bulkimy may be the greatest lapse committed by an emerging religious public figure, unable to separate between piety and public life, and in great need of civil expertise rather than religious legitimacy. This internal clash perhaps seems understandable; the religious currents are no longer held captive by the mosques, they are no longer in the dark; fugitives of security control, and are no longer concentrated in the mountains or the caves, preparing to fight and die for their cause. These religious trends are now in the corridors of power, in front of the cameras and in front of large audiences.
In the case of MP al-Bulkimy’s lies, we find the very embodiment of such a clash.
The camera here provided another test of competence which al-Bulkimy failed; he was the camera’s victim this time, in the opposite manner to the era of militant Salafism.
Now there is a need for Salafism “Lite”, without the full-fat of piety, and without the weight of ideologies.