Friday, March 30, 2012

Egypt: Salafist for President?

[Originally posted at NOW Lebanon, with my italics restored]

In one of today’s more underreported stories, the prominent Egyptian Salafist cleric Hazem Salah Abu Ismail received what the state newspaper Al Ahram described as a “hero’s reception” as he announced his official entrance into the country’s historic presidential race.

Much of the man’s popularity is doubtless attributable to his long-established opposition to Mubarak. As a lawyer, he took on the regime directly in several high-profile cases, including one challenging the sale of Nile water to Israel.

However, as a staunch Islamist officially endorsed by the Salafist Scholars Shura Council, Abu Ismail is also the natural choice for Egypt’s tens of millions of conservative Muslims.

With this combination of political and religious bona fides, Abu Ismail’s prospects are not to be laughed at. Sultan al-Qassemi, the celebrated Emirati blogger who takes a special interest in Egyptian politics, tweeted the following from Cairo earlier today:

“Sitting outside the mosque, people pouring in. I honestly don't think other presidential contenders stand a chance against Hazem Abou Ismail”

He continued:

“No other credible candidate has the power of the religious network that Abou Ismail has, nor, from the insane amount of posters, the funding”

So what? I hear you say. Don’t I know that Islamism is the new liberalism? That Salafism today is just halal secularism – or, effectively, Hillary Clinton minus the Zionism? Well, by all means let’s judge each case on its own merits, and it goes without saying that it’s up to Egyptians, and Egyptians only, to appoint their leaders. All I can say is that if I were an Egyptian who had demonstrated in Tahrir Square, I would have thought that the risk to my life had been undertaken for larger, not to say nobler, causes than“banning alcohol, imposing dress codes and segregating the sexes” . But maybe that’s just my elitist, Orientalist, colonialist, fascist imperialism talking.

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