Friday, 8 April 2011

The MB remains the best organised of the opposition groups

Egypt is a very religiously observant country. But Egyptians practise their religion in different ways. There are different trends among the 90 per cent of the population who are Muslim which in recent days have clashed. Earlier in the year, there had been attacks on Christian churches. There have now been reports of the desecration of the shrines of Sufi saints, revered by millions in towns and the countryside. These Sufi practices, however, are regarded as un-Islamic and polytheistic by the more puritanical trend of Islamic thought now described as Salafist. Antagonism had long existed between the Sufi tariqas and the radical Salafists. But clashes between the groups, and fights among Muslims, had been rare.

The senior religious figure within the State structure, the Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, appealed for restraint. “Calls that the shrines of the saints are against Islam stir up sedition among Muslims,” he said.

The Salafists have exploited Koranic satellite TV stations, some funded by Saudis, to propagate their vision of an Islamic world. And they have been entering more into the political arena. Salafists were active before the referendum on constitutional changes in declaring that a yes vote was a vote for Islam. And a Salafist sheikh evoked a word from the Islamic conquests in the years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad by calling the victory in the vote a ghazwah.

The best organised of the groups representing the Islamist trend remain the Muslim Brothers. They have successfully mobilised voters for previous elections and are set to do well in the elections in September. But they will be competing as much against the Salafists as against those secular voices who believe in a true separation of religion and politics.

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

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