For Egypt’s Salafis, coup presents an unexpected dilemma

While apologizing to its former Brotherhood partners, Egypt’s Islamic right jumps on the revolutionary bandwagon

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Salafi members of parliament in Cairo, February 27, 2012 (photo credit: AP)
Salafi members of parliament in Cairo, February 27, 2012 (photo credit: AP)

Egypt’s Salafist movements, though taken by surprise by the coup in Egypt Wednesday, have quickly reorganized and jumped on the revolutionary bandwagon.

Two days ahead of last Sunday’s mass opposition demonstrations, the Salafi leader of the al-Watan party, Emad Abdel-Ghafour, predicted that June 30 would go by “unnoticed.”

“Although [the anti-Morsi group] Tamarod is a civilized and peaceful movement, it is not the conventional way to confirm or depose the president,” wrote Abdel-Ghafour, whose party was part of Morsi’s coalition and advised the president on social outreach.

But by late Wednesday night, when the military coup was complete, al-Watan had changed its tune, posting a mildly worded statement on its Facebook page calling for national unity regardless of sectarian differences.

“The general command of the armed forces must clarify the features of political and constitutional life in the coming period,” read the statement. “It must reject all forms of marginalization and targeting of one political group by another.”

The Salafis’ fear of political marginalization is well founded. As the communique was released, Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including president Mohammed Morsi, were being rounded up the army, placed under house arrest, or sent to Tora Prison. But as of Thursday evening, the Salafis seemed to have been receiving different, preferential treatment.

The powerful Salafi Nour party was invited to, and attended, the final meeting with the military command before the lapse of the military’s ultimatum. Ahmad Hamdi, secretary general of the Nour Party, came off as apologetic as he explained to his constituency through the Salafi media why he agreed to participate in that fateful meeting.

“We swear to God that we did not conduct any deal [with the army] and did not betray our religion or our brothers. We did not do this [participate in the meeting] for any other reason but to safeguard [Egyptian blood], Sharia, and to please God almighty,” he said.

Still, members of the hard-line movement were quick to defend themselves from charges of colluding in the overthrow of Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood affiliation makes him an ideological sibling.

“We did not participate in the coup,” declared Salafi preacher Ramadhan al-Najdi. “The coup just happened.”

It is too early to tell what effect the Salafi choice of realpolitik over direct confrontation with the military will have. Considering the swift crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood and its institutions on Wednesday and Thursday, the Salafis probably had little choice on the matter. Egypt’s new interim President Adly Mansour called for the inclusion of Islamists in the new Egypt during his confirmation speech Thursday. If genuine, it is likely an invitation to the Salafis.

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