Sisi and the Salafis: Enlightenment by obfuscation

Sisi and the Salafis: Enlightenment by obfuscation
Comment: Despite President Sisi painting himself as a moderate in the West, his alliance with Salafi preachers and the security state make Egypt ripe for extremism and terror.
5 min read
25 Mar, 2015
Sisi has allied himself with Salafi leaders against 'moderate' Islamist groups [Anadolu]
One more time, and not the last time for sure, Egypt's president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, is showing a keener desire to sell himself to the West.

He is portraying himself as a figure of enlightenment and religious reform rather than actually seeking any real enlightened reform inside Egypt.

Sisi is no longer content to parrot Mubarak's logic - "It's either me or terrorism" - but is now also sending out soundbites to Western media to promote his model among Western societies that have become petrified by videos of severed heads.

Yet at home, Sisi's regime continues the process of transforming Egypt into a police state, using and abusing religious slogans when necessary.

Indeed, Sisi addresses religious emotions in his speeches meant for local consumption and uses al-Azhar and Salafi clerics to legitimise the murder and repression of his opponents.

The president continues to push criminal cases involving "contempt of religion" to show his zeal for the faith. Sisi meanwhile refuses to issue legislation or amendments that could translate constitutional texts supposedly protecting freedoms into practice.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Sisi felt the paper's editor had so much admiration for him that he responded with statements where he expressed his passionate love for the United States.

"We are keen on a strategic relationship with the US, above everything else. And we will never turn our backs on you - even if you turn your backs on us," Sisi said.

The president showed his "enlightened side" in the same interview. "Never does [Islam] dictate that [Muslims] have the right to dictate [their beliefs] on the whole world. Never does Islam say that only Muslims will go to paradise and others go to hell."

This reminded me of a wave of accusations of blasphemy against me in October 2011, led by senior Salafi clerics now allied to Sisi.
     I do not expect Salafi clerics who are run by state security officers to declare Sisi an apostate.

I had posted a few tweets that I later developed into a series of articles, in which I discussed the belief held by many Muslims that they monopolise heaven over others, even if others contributed more to the benefit of humanity and the world.

Heaven and hell 

What I had written was nothing new. It was raised by many books from our heritage before, and I quoted some in those articles.

I had hoped to start a serious debate and improve our attitude towards the world, in which we live as a burden, while many of us say and believe explicitly that the world was created by God to serve the Islamic nation, and that the world will all go to hell after this function is fulfilled.

Now that Sisi has said something similar, regarding the issue of the "Muslim monopoly over heaven", I do not expect Salafi clerics who are run by state security officers to declare Sisi an apostate or a mouthpiece of Satan.

Similarly, I do not expect the ultra-patriots who spent their lives cursing the US to object to Sisi's expressions of love for Washington.

Indeed, we know now, from experience, that loud voices of objection are not moved by a sincere belief in a cause or a principle, as much they are governed by interests, connections, and the ability of state security officers to spank a person on their backside.

In a different context, I would have respected Sisi's boldness in putting forward different religious ideas.

But I believe that political tyranny does not deal with freedom of thought, rationalism, and enlightenment - except as cards to play when it suits their needs, just like religion, patriotism, and women's rights.

For this reason, I place Sisi's remarks to The Wall Street Journal in the same category as pumpkins - an Egyptian way of saying it is "crooked". 

Nevertheless, I realise that many of Sisi's opponents will go too far in portraying them as serious, and take advantage of them to stoke the fire of terrorism, while many religious folk who support Sisi will ignore the remarks.

     I place Sisi's remarks to The Wall Street Journal in the same category as pumpkins... 'crooked'.

Jackboots and lies

Only those who believe enlightenment can come about through top-to-bottom decisions protected by jackboots will be happy with what Sisi said.

These same people believe freedom can be divisible and cut-to-fit for Sisi and his battle with the Muslim Brotherhood, but dismembered and discarded when it comes to supporters of freedom, who it is okay to throw into the dungeons for "threatening" Sisi and his regime.

It is self-evident that freedom of belief and thought is inextricably linked to comprehensive freedom of expression and an open political sphere, where people can test the validity of ideas by trial and error, and not by killing and imprisoning their advocates.

If everyone stops to examine the state of our stricken region, they will realise that the beheading-obsessed extremists are have their roots in many complex factors, but that they have found fertile ground to grow - especially in those countries where politics were killed and freedoms confiscated in the name of the homeland's interests.

Well, this is something that many seem to be in favour of repeating in Egypt - driven by hatred of the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Some of these people, now, are blinded by the illusion that comes with power, and advocate ideas that are no less backwards and intolerant than the ideas of extremist religious groups.

They, recklessly, are deepening the horrifying social rifts that started to rear their head since the incidents in al-Ittihadiya, forgetting that armed force cannot efface an idea from existence, no matter how strongly we loathe those who carry it.

They are ignoring the fact that handling political rivalry with opponents in such a decadent manner and with this much heavy-handedness will only create crueller and blunter forms of terrorism - and only produce more blood and tears.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

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