FaithWorld

Egypt’s Sufis see post-Mubarak Islamist threat, consider launching own movement

(Egyptians dance to the music of a Sufi singer as they celebrate the birthday of Sayida Zeinab, the granddaughter of Prophet Mohammad, near her shrine in Cairo July 7, 2010/Asmaa Waguih)

Down the narrow alleyways of Cairo’s Sayidda Zeinab neighbourhood, 100 men sway their heads and clap in rhythm as they invoke God’s name. “O how you have spread benevolence,” chant the men, some dressed in ankle-length galabeya robes, to celebrate the birth of Fatima al-Zahraa, the daughter of the Prophet Mohammed.

The men are followers of the centuries-old Azaimiya Sufi order who seek to come closer to God through mystical rites. Some of the country’s estimated 15 million Sufis say their traditions are now threatened by various groups of Islamists elbowing for influence after the overthrow of Egypt’s veteran leader Hosni Mubarak. Some Islamists, such as the ultra-conservative Salafists, see Sufi practices such as the veneration of shrines as heresy.

So as Sufis seek to defend traditions dating back centuries, what began as a loose religious identity could be gelling, gradually, into a political movement.

Alaa Abul Azaim, sheikh of the Azaimiya Sufi order, says moves by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi groups to enter formal politics endanger religious tolerance and oblige Sufis to do the same. “If the Salafists or Muslim Brotherhood rise to power, they could well cancel the Sufi sheikhdom, so there has to be a party for Sufis,” he said.

Muslim Brotherhood says it won’t force Islamic law on Egypt

(Mohamed Mursi, head of the Brotherhood's newly formed Justice and Freedom Party gestures during an interview with Reuters in Cairo, May 28, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

The Muslim Brotherhood wants a diverse parliament after elections in September and is not seeking to impose Islamic law on Egypt, the head of the group’s newly formed political party said in an interview. The Brotherhood, which has emerged as a powerful force after years of repression under ousted President Hosni Mubarak, has said it does not want a parliamentary majority, although rivals see it as well placed for a dominant position.

“We only use Islam as the basis of our party … which means that our general framework is Islamic sharia … We don’t issue religious rules in individual cases,” said Mohamed Mursi, head of the Brotherhood’s newly formed Justice and Freedom Party, which will contest the vote.

Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood member says he will seek presidency

(he new headquarter of the newly-formed Muslim Brotherhood Party during a news conference in Cairo, April 30, 2011. The Muslim Brotherhood said on Saturday it will contest up to half the parliamentary seats in elections scheduled for September/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

A senior member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said he would run for president as an independent, a move that could draw votes from backers of the Islamist group that has said it will not field a candidate. Secular groups and the West are concerned by how much power the Brotherhood may gain after the first elections since the toppling of president Hosni Mubarak. Decades of authoritarian rule has curbed the development of potential rivals.

Egypt’s biggest Islamist movement had sought to assuage fears by saying it would not seek the presidency in polls due by early next year; nor would it pursue a majority in September parliamentary polls, contesting only 50 percent of seats.

Egyptian Islamists won’t cap ambitions forever, Brotherhood leader says

brotherhood banner

(Egyptians walk under a banner by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood calling for a "yes" vote in a referendum on constitutional changes in Cairo March 18, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

The Muslim Brotherhood is not planning to seek power in Egypt’s elections this year but says it will not limit its political ambitions forever and wants secular parties to get organised to foster true competition.

“Everyone must act so we can reach the point where we become like the rest of the countries in the world, with three or four strong parties,” said Mohamed el-Beltagi, a Brotherhood leader.

Muslim Brotherhood treads cautiously in the new Egypt

cairo sunset

(A girl waves an Egyptian flag at sunset in Cairo February 14, 2011 /Suhaib Salem)

The Muslim Brotherhood is treading cautiously in the new Egypt, assuring the military government and fellow Egyptians that it does not want power and trying to dispel fears about its political strength. The target of decades of state oppression, the Brotherhood wants to preserve the freedoms it is enjoying under the new military-led administration that took power from Hosni Mubarak.

So far, signs are encouraging for the Brotherhood: an eight-man judicial council appointed to propose democratic changes to the constitution includes one of its members. But experts say the Islamists remain wary of the military. That partly explains why they have gone out of their way to say they are not seeking power — a reiteration of a position they have long espoused to avoid confrontation with the state.

Egypt opposition needs time, or Islamists will win – party

clean egypt

(Opposition supporters clean up Tahrir Square in Cairo, February 13, 2011/Dylan Martinez)

The Muslim Brotherhood will be the only group in Egypt ready for a parliamentary election unless others are given a year or more to recover from years of oppression, said a former Brotherhood politician seeking to found his own party.

Abou Elela Mady broke away from the Brotherhood in the 1990s. He tried four times to get approval for his Wasat Party (Center Party) under President Hosni Mubarak’s rule, but curbs on political life prevented him doing so.

Tide turns in favour of Egypt’s Brotherhood in revolt

brotherhood

(Essam El-Erian, spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood, at a news conference in Cairo February 6, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

The first time Essam el-Erian went to jail, he was 27. Last Sunday, he left prison for the eighth time at the age of 57. The medical doctor’s crime for each incarceration was belonging to the Muslim Botherhood, Egypt’s most influential and best-organised Islamist opposition movement and long feared by President Hosni Mubarak, Israel and the United States.

Egypt’s courts have repeatedly rebuffed the Brotherhood’s requests for recognition as a party on the grounds that the constitution bans parties based on religion.

International investors fear anti-market regime in Egypt

cairo bank

(People queue to make withdrawals outside Cairo Bank in downtown Cairo February 6, 2011/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

International investors fear protests against Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak could spill over to other Arab countries, leading to regimes more hostile to western investment practices in the region and the introduction of more Islamic economic rules. They also express concern about the future role of businesses run by Coptic Christians in Egypt.

“Egypt has long been one of the most tolerant countries toward multiple faiths (in the Muslim world),” said Donald Elefson, co-lead portfolio manager at Harding Loevner Funds, with $210 million under management. “The Coptic Christians are still very powerful, though they are a minority, and there are many large-scale businesses that are owned by Coptic families. The only risk for the business environment would be if Egypt becomes a sharia state.”

Egypt’s Islamists well placed for any post-Mubarak phase

cairo

(Anti-Mubarak protest at Tahrir Square in Cairo February 1, 2011/Suhaib Salem)

The Muslim Brotherhood, one of the Arab world’s oldest Islamist movements and Egypt’s largest opposition group, is well placed to play a prominent role as President Hosni Mubarak’s rule teeters on the brink of collapse.

The movement is active in the protest movement massing in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities on Tuesday in an attempt to persuade Mubarak that after 30 years it is time to go.

But decades of severe repression have taught the Brotherhood to move cautiously, and the movement is anxious to preserve the impression that the protesters are part of a broad-based movement of which the Islamists are just one part.

Guestview: Unrest in Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood

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(Protesters at a demonstration in Cairo January 29, 2011/Asmaa Waguih)

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone.  Jonathan Wright is a longtime Reuters correspondent in the Middle East who is now a translator and blogger based in Cairo.

By Jonathan Wright

As in the case of Tunisia, a succession of commentators have remarked on the small role the Muslim Brotherhood appears to have played in the unrest in Egypt. One of the latest I have seen came from Michael Collins Dunn, the editor of the Middle East Institute“Do you see any beards? Well, maybe a few beard-and-mustache looks of some young hipsters, but not the beard-without-mustache ‘uniform’ we associate with the Muslim Brothers,” he writes.

I think Dunn is mistaken here on several counts. For a start, Muslim Brothers come in many guises, and the ‘beard-without-mustache’ look is hardly a Brotherhood uniform. He may be confusing Muslim Brothers with salafis, while the two groups are quite distinct, though with some overlap. From my own experience on the streets (see my earlier reports on my blog), I believe people are underestimating the level of participation by members of the Brotherhood, though I will readily concede that they have not taken part at full strength and at a level which reflects their demographic weight.