Academic journal article Hemispheres

Salafism as a Tool of Post-Arab Spring Saudi Arabian Diplomacy

Academic journal article Hemispheres

Salafism as a Tool of Post-Arab Spring Saudi Arabian Diplomacy

Article excerpt

Being 'Haraki' or 'Taqlidi'? The intra-Salafist debate in Egypt

The post-Tahrir Square landscape has been reshaped again and again between the two parliamentary elections of 2011-2012 and 2015. As for the Salafists and their newly formed party Hizb al-Nour, the two elections produced quite different results as well. Previously, the party managed to gain 122 seats in parliament and this time it elected just eight of its candidates. Until now, there have been plenty of reports, all of them trying to explain the party's electoral defeat in terms of its inability to secure its conservative popular base or even expand it, by attracting former Brotherhood voters, whereas the Salafists themselves are blaming the supporters of former president Muhammad Morsi for distorting their public image. According to some allegations, the party has even received 60 million dollars from a foreign state (most probably Saudi Arabia, without naming it) to finance its campaign, by deceiving the poor and buying their votes. 1 In addition to these attempts to explain what went wrong with Hizb al-Nour, Salafists of the most 'quietist' fashion question the compatibility between traditional missionary work (al-Da'wa al-Salafiyya) and politics.

This last point has been dominant since the interwar period and it is not the first time that such a debate stemming from Salafi exposure to political realities arises.2 On the contrary, this debate seems to be inherent and it has always affected the transnational religious actor's utilization by a state actor such as Saudi Arabia, where Salafism is the o nly accepted ideology and the cornerstone of its diplomacy. Early Salafi brotherhoods in Egypt have tried many times to demonstrate the pious - reformist nature of their mission, as opposed to that of the rapidly politicized Muslim Brotherhood, despite the fact that even the Salafists themselves could not resist the adoption of the more attractive indoctrinational and charitable activities of the Islamists.3 However, any engagement with elections, demonstrations or armed revolts has been disregarded as 'heretical'.

In their charters they strictly described themselves as being Jama'iyyat Salafiyya, avoiding terms like Tandhim, Hizb or Jama'a, due to their disturbing political connotations. Being influenced by the methods of the Christian missions4, Muslim Brothers developed their own school, that of Ikhwanism or al-Islam al-Haraki (meaning the 'activist' Islam) and started exporting it in the early 1940s. Meanwhile the Salafists, being unable to attract diverse social groups outside the context of the mosque and the madrasa, ended up both socially and politically introverted.5 However, they were left to continue their preaching undisturbed by the authorities. In the aftermath of Sadat's ascent to power, conditions were favorable for the Salafists in order to renegotiate their presence, along with the Islamists' re -emergence in the universities. It is worth mentioning that, although Salafi students had the chance to merge with the Brotherhood after the latter's restoration back to political life, in the end they preferred to preserve their autonomy.6

This, of course, does not mean that these modern Sunni trends were completely separated from each other. There were mutual influences, as well as clashes occurring among their followers. During the period 1972-1977, they sowed their first seeds in society through which al-Da'wa al-Salafiyya (The Salafist Call) grew into a distinct association in 1984 - 1985. Since then, their ambivalent stance towards politics has been reflected in their relations with the Muslim Brotherhood during Hosni Mubarak's presidency. Despite the fact that they have always been defending their non - political preaching, nonetheless the debate between 'Taqlidis' (traditionalist quietists) and 'Harakis' (influenced by Ikhwanism) about the eventual political role of Salafism has never ceased. The establishment of the first Salafi party in 2011 was the greatest reminder of its existence. …

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