The hypocrisy of Salafi politics

The hypocrisy of Salafi politics
Hardline conservatives once believed politics to be an affront to God. Now they fight to enter the parliaments they once condemned.
3 min read
21 May, 2014
Salafis utalise democratic tools to further exclusionist beliefs [Getty]

The emergence of Salafi political movements raises a fundamental question. How can one trust that Salafis have been persuaded to adopt the rules of politics when Salafi ideology views politics as the greatest corrupter of their beliefs and faith?


Democracy, to them, is a Western innovation predicated on the rule of the majority and not the rule of Islamic law. Accordingly, a constitution is a document assigning sovereignty to the people, when sovereignty belongs only to God - while political pluralism only opens the door to secular and leftist ideas. In short, Salafis, without exception, have historically forbidden political work. Some have gone as far as calling those involved in politics “infidels”.


However, their positions seem to have changed dramatically. Democracy has become a permissible way to impose Islamic law. Political parties, which at one time were forbidden, have become lawful and good. Elections, whose evils were seen as far greater than any benefits they might bring, have been transformed into a jihad in the name of God.


The power of the Arab Spring

     We have watched as Salafis – in the name of religion - entered the very parliaments they used to oppose – in the name of religion.


This sudden change of heart did not come about as a result of any far-ranging debate that led to a review of ideas or a reconsideration of convictions. It did not come about as a result of an evolution in the Salafi mindset. It was imposed by the Arab Spring, a powerful political moment that shook many convictions and led to fundamental reappraisals, not only for Salafis, but in the calculations of all those active in politics.


In the wake of this moment, we have watched as Salafis transformed themselves. They took a headlong dive into the political game, formed political parties, contested elections, and entered into alliances by making concessions and accepting trade-offs.


And throughout it all, Salafis of all hues used religious arguments to justify their political contortions.


Before the Arab Spring, most Salafi elders supported the despots, not only by refusing to denounce their oppression but by justifying their tyranny. Indeed, throughout their history, Salafis of all stripes never opened their mouths about their sultan except to swear allegiance, praise him or beg for his largesse. And at the height of the people’s revolution, some of these Salafi elders issued fatwas banning disobedience against the ruler, declaiming popular protests as a cause of sedition and one of the greatest evils.


However, as thrones shook, these same Salafi elders suddenly abandoned their fatwas. They joined the many hypocrites who rode the revolutionary waves, even outbidding the revolutionaries in their zeal. They issued new fatwas justifying demonstrations and protests and promoting themselves as defenders of the revolutions in the name of religion.


We have watched as Salafis – in the name of religion - entered the very parliaments they used to oppose – in the name of religion. We have watched as they concluded agreements in the name of politics and made concessions in their own self-interest.


This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Al Araby Al Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.