Egypt Arrests Al-Qa'ida Infiltrators Seeking To Revive Activities There



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Since then the resumption of an uneasy and informal truce has kept attacks by both sides to a minimum.

Hamas blamed

A small Salafist militant group, which did not agree to a ceasefire, has claimed responsibility for firing the latest rockets. Hamas, which governs Gaza, is said to have reined in most such groups.

One woman was taken to hospital after she was injured by Gaza rocket fire on Monday

Israel says it holds Hamas responsible for all attacks coming out of the Palestinian territory, even if other militant groups carry them out.

Reports said that the latest air strikes hit a training facility for al-Qassem Brigades, the military wing of Hamas.

A chicken farm near Deir al-Balah in central Gaza was also targeted as well as tunnels near the southern town of Rafah.

The Israelis charge that Grad rockets are smuggled into Gaza through tunnels under the border with Egypt along with other contraband.

Grad rockets have a longer range than the homemade rockets Gaza militants often fire at southern Israel.

[Description of Source: London BBC News Online in English -- Website of the publicly-funded BBC carrying up-to-the-minute UK and international news and breaking news, politics, and analysis; URL: http://news.bbc.co.uk]

Al-Ahram Weekly Profiles Egypt's Salafis

GMP20110513839001 Cairo Al-Ahram Weekly Online in English 12 May 11 - 18 May 11

[Article by Amani Maged: "Salafism: The unknown quantity." Subheading: "Sectarian incidents like the burning of churches in Imbaba have put the spotlight on Salafis. Who are they, and what do they espouse, asks Amani Maged."]

Who exactly are the Salafis? What kinds of them are there? What is their relationship to the government and what is their political future? Some have announced that they plan to establish political parties. How will recent events affect their popularity?



It appears that Salafis come in various shades. They do not rally behind a single leader, such as the Muslim Brotherhood or Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya. Rather, they have a collection of sheikhs, each of which has its own following, and they have their own associations.

The history of Salafism in Egypt dates to the height of the university student movements in the 1970s, which is when Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya first made its appearance. Although most of the members of this society signed up with the Muslim Brotherhood, a significant number moved in another direction. This applies in particular to the Islamist students in Alexandria University who were influenced by Salafi thought that hailed from Saudi Arabia and was transmitted primarily by Al-Azhar university professors. Instead of joining the Muslim Brotherhood after withdrawing from Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, such individuals, most known among who was Mohamed Ismail Al-Muqaddam, formed a kernel of Salafism that began to grow as more and more students were attracted to that school of thought.

The competition between Salafi youth and the Muslim Brothers to attract students and dominate mosques grew increasingly intense, culminating in the violent clash of 1980. Subsequently, the Salafis decided to operate more systematically. They created the "Salafist School", headed by Mohamed Abdel-Fattah (aka Abu Idris). Then, following several years of grassroots work, they changed its name to the Salafist Calling. By this time, their following grew to hundreds of thousands spread across the entire country, although they were better known as the Salafis of Alexandria, Egypt's northern port city being the starting point for some of the best known Salafi leaders, notably Mohamed Ismail Al-Muqaddam, Ahmed Farid, Said Abdel-Azim, Mohamed Abdel-Fattah, Yasser Brahimi, Ahmed Hatiba, Abdel-Moneim El-Shahat, Mahmoud Abdel-Hamid and Abu Idris.

While there are many shades of Salafism, for the most part they can be divided into two primary aspects: the ideological and the organisational. The former, according to Salah El-Adl, a professor at Al-Azhar University and specialist on Islamic movements and schools of thought, consists of three groups. One he terms the scholastic Salafis who, as noted above, founded the Salafist Calling in Alexandria in the 1970s and now number in the hundreds of thousands. With branches in virtually every governorate, they are headed by sheikhs who generally work closely together. Although they were opposed to the 25 January Revolution, they have since become increasingly active in the social and political domains. Prior to 25 January, they were prohibited from interacting with the public, and state security forces would round up hundreds of their activists. Now that they enjoy greater freedom, they have moved into the open, proselytising in the streets, holding conferences and occupying mosques, the most recent example of which occurred when Salafis moved to restore control of the Nour Mosque to the control of Sheikh Hafez Salama, leader of the popular resistance in the governorate of Suez.

The second group, which El-Adl calls the activist Salafis, also trace their beginnings to the 1970s, but to the populous Shubra district in Cairo. Their most prominent sheikh was Fawzi El-Said and other major leaders included Mohamed Abdel-Maqsoud, Sayed El-Arabi and Sheikh Nashaat Ibrahim. Like their Alexandrian counterparts, the activists subscribe to the belief that a ruler is heretic if he does not govern by God's decrees, a belief that they proclaim openly in their sermonising. Yet, while they also criticise the lack of the veil, bodily display and other such forms of corruption in society as manifestations of jahiliya, or the state of ignorance of divine guidance, they do not go so far as to condemn t hem as heresy. They also maintain that the slightest departure from the Sharia of Islam is bidaa -- an innovation, and hence heretical.

These Salafis had formerly refused to participate in democratic elections. Democracy and parliaments were heresies. They had long argued that parliamentary democracy differed from the Islamic concept of shura (consultation) because it did not take God's law as its authority. However, they have since backtracked and now approve of participation in the democratic process. In fact, they were particularly active in the run- up to the referendum on the constitutional amendments and they have announced that they would support the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya candidates who agree with their reformist vision. Moreover, some Salafis have decided to form political parties.

The third group consists of "jihadists", a term that is generally applied to radical Islamist groups that espouse violence as a means to bring about change. The jihadist Salafis take their inspiration from leaders of the first generations of Islam, or the "pious forefathers", for whom jihad -- holy war -- was a pillar of the creed. They hold that a pious Muslim is duty-bound to fight governments and rulers who do not apply Islamic law and the principle of the dominion of God, and who also ally with non-Muslim countries that make war on Muslim peoples and occupy Muslim territories. Sayed Qotb is regarded as the father of modern jihadist Salafi thought. The movement's most famous leaders are the billionaire founder of Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, who was recently assassinated by the United States, and the Egyptian physician Ayman El-Zawahri, and two of its most notorious ideological mentors are Abu Mohamed Al-Maqdisi and Abu Qatada Al-Filistini.

The organisational side of the Salafis also has several branches or institutions, most notably the Ansar Al-Sunna Al-Mohamediya Society (the Followers of the Sunna of the Prophet Mohamed), founded by Sheikh Mohamed Hamed El-Fiqi, an Al-Azhar scholar. The society advocates a staunch monotheism and strict adherence to the Sunna, as understood by the Companions of the Prophet, and to Quranic scripture. It is, therefore, opposed to practices that are based on superstition and calls for an all-embracing Islam the embraces both faith and society, and the mode of worship and the mode of rule.

A precursor of the Ansar Al-Sunna Al-Mohamediya is Al-Gamiya Al-Sharia for the cooperation between kuttab (religious elementary schools) workers, established by Sheikh Mahmoud Khattab El-Sobki in 1912. Still active in the social domain in Egypt, its aims are to teach and promote adherence to the Sunna. With branches throughout the country, it offers one of the most prominent and influential charity and philanthropic networks in Egypt. Its current director is Mahmoud El-Mokhtar Mohamed El-Mahdi, an Al-Azhar scholar. The society, together with its various mosques and religious academies, is registered with the Ministry of Social Affairs, operates in accordance with the law and is, therefore, accepted by national security.

The third organisational form of Salafism is Wahhabism. Originating in Saudi Arabia and first introduced into Egypt more than a quarter of a century ago, Wahhabism acquired increasing currency in Egypt with the return of Egyptian workers following the Gulf War in 1991.

Another major trend in Salafism is what we might call the independents that surfaced on religious satellite television stations. They are united solely by a common fondness for the teachings of one or another of several sheikhs who appear on these programmes, such as Sheikh Mohamed Hassan, Sheikh Mohamed Hussein Yaqoub, Sheikh Abu Ishaq El-Howeini, Al-Azhar professor of Islamic jurisprudence Osama Abdel-Azim and Sheikh Mustafa El-Adawi. According to the expert on political Islam, Sayed Abdel-Fattah El-Wagdi, adherents of this trend generally subscribe to the principle of reform from the bottom-up, which is to say changing the self first. Reform, in this case, means to purif y the faith of all innovation, and its advocates tend to engage in various forms of proselytising activities, such as teaching in mosques, producing cassette tapes and preaching on satellite television programmes.

The Salafis have begun to play important roles in sectarian affairs. It is significant, for example, that the Higher Council of the Armed Forces asked the well-known Salafi Sheikh Mohamed Hassan to go to Atfeeh in order to help resolve the sectarian crisis that had erupted in that neighbourhood of Helwan last month. The highly influential sheikh has also participated in other mass action activities recently. Nor should we forget the part the Salafis played in the campaign in favour of a "yes" vote in the referendum on the constitutional amendments, which they cast as a means to protect the state and safeguard constitutional Article 2, regardless of the fact that this article had not even come up for discussion yet. In a sermon following the referendum, Sheikh Mohamed Hussein Yaqoub described results as a "victory in the raid of the ballot boxes".

There is a general tendency to confuse the whole of Salafism with Wahhabism. The Shia and Sufis in Egypt frequently accuse Salafis of obtaining financial support from Saudi Arabia. In fact, Wahhabism, which was founded by Sheikh Mohamed Abdel-Wahab in Saudi Arabia, is not the same as the Egyptian Salafist movement, even though some Wahhabists like to encourage the confusion between the two. Technically, Wahhabism goes no further than its founder but its followers have used the term "Salafism" to give the impression that they are spiritually connected to the pious forefathers and that they are the guardians of the Salafist creed. Ideologically, however, it cannot be denied that a portion of the Salafist creed has its roots in Wahhabist soil.

While one might find the main divisions and overlaps between the various Salafist branches and outlooks confusing, it is palpably clear that the Salafi genie has burst from the lantern that the security agencies had once kept tightly corked. Although the regime had used the Salafis in the 1980s and 1990s as a means to counter the Muslim Brotherhood, it succeeded in bringing them under control again. Then, however, it offered them outlets on satellite television, primarily in order to distract public attention from major political issues by focussing their attention on religiously lawful or proscribed food and clothing. Indeed, one recalls programmes in which viewers would phone in to ask a sheikh such questions as whether it was lawful to purchase a watermelon that had been cut open to reveal the colour of its flesh, or why it was forbidden to force feed ducks when a mother force feeds her children, or whether using beer yeast to make bread would induce intoxication. As the scholar of Salafist movements Ammar Ali Hassan put it, the Salafi emphasis on the formalities in religious observance became an obsession that left the Egyptian intellect in the lurch, making it all the easier for the "conversion of a Coptic woman" to become the gateway to sectarian strife and acts of sabotage.

Without a doubt, the Salafis and their influence on the public benefited from the vacuum created by the long absence of Al-Azhar as a social force and major shaper of public opinion. Although it is clear that Al-Azhar was not responsible for the Imbaba incident, Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb nevertheless felt it urgent to meet with Sheikh Mohamed Hassan on Tuesday in an attempt to promote Salafist ideological revisions, preparatory to a general conference that would include all Islamist movements in Egypt. The question remains as to how the Salafis' popularity will be affected by the recent events. Will these events enhance their prospects in the forthcoming elections or those of their rivals? Will their parties be able to compete or will they have to raise the white flag? Developments over the coming days will shed much light on such questions.

[Description of Source: Cairo Al-Ahram Weekly Online in English -- State-owned weekly; URL: http://www.ahram.org.eg/weekly]

BBCM: Egypt -- Post-Revolution Position of Salafists Viewed

GMP20110518950037 Caversham BBC Monitoring in English 18 May 11

[Background briefing by BBC Monitoring: "Non-Jihadist Salafism In Egypt After 'Revolution'"]

The relation of Egyptian non-Jihadist Salafist currents to politics has always been distant but the 25 January "revolution" allowed, or even forced, them to take sides; some were present in Al-Tahrir Square, others were defending the regime.

Most Salafist currents and many of the prominent Salafist preachers urged the Egyptians to vote yes in the referendum on the constitutional amendments on 19 March 2011. This, among other things, indicates non-Jihadist Salafism in Egypt is in the process of redefining its relation to politics.

Neo-Salafism - background

There are four neo-Salafist currents on the rise in Egypt: the Salafist Call (Al-Da'wah al-Salafiyah), the Movementist Salafism (Al-Salafiyah al-Harakiyah), the Madkhalist Salafism (Al-Salafiyah al-Madkhaliyah) and the independent Salafists.

An expert on Islamist movements, Husam Tammam, argues that the Salafist Call is "the most independent Salafist current in Egypt". "The Salafist Call's relation with the state has been strained most of the time," he says. (Al-Shuruq privately-owned daily newspaper, 5 March).

The Call has always sought to establish organizational forms that are not under state control because it considers the state and its institutions "un-Islamic". The Call is also against any involvement in politics.

Three of the most influential Salafist preachers belong loosely to the Call: Muhammad Hassan, Muhammad Husayn Yaqub and Abu-Ishak al-Huwayni. The group currently claims hundreds of thousands of followers.

With the exception of a few points, the doctrine of the second Salafi group, the Movementist Salafism, is almost identical to that of the Islamic Call. The most significant difference is that the Movementists are more aggressive in their practices. For example, they severely criticize other Salafist currents which they deem to be more lenient towards what they call "apostates" or "sinners" (Sharif Sulayman, Al-Muraqib website, 31 March 2011).

The Movementists' animosity towards the state is bigger than that of all of the other Salafist currents. In the aftermath of 11 September attacks, a number of the Movementists' leading figures said Al-Qa'idah's attacks were justified. Some of them even went as far as hailing Usamah Bin-Ladin. This led to a ruthless security crackdown, ending in the arrest of Shaykhs Nash'at Ibrahim and Fawzi al-Sa'id on charges of forming an illegal organization named Al-Wa'd (the Promise) (Al-Misri al-Yawm privately-owned daily newspaper, 5 July 2007).

Egyptian Madkhalist Salafism is an extension of the Saudi Madkhalism. The Madkhalists, who took their name from the Saudi Shaykh Rabi Bin-Hadi al-Madkhali, argue like many non-Jihadist Salafists that it is illegitimate to fight or oppose a Muslim ruler, and believe that a pious Muslim should recognize all of the state's institutions and practices without objection because Islam, for them, is embodied in the "rulers' orders and directions". This is why the Madkhalists severely attack all the other Salafist currents. They consider that the Islamic nation should be united under the state or the ruler. Hence, the formation of any other group or current is a kind of dissent, a divisive heresy which weakens the Islamic Group (Al-Jama'ah al-Islamiyah) (Islam online).

Finally, there are Salafist preachers who do not belong to an organized or even an unorganized group. Independent shaykhs have their own followers without any organizational or doctrinal links with other shaykhs. Independent Salafis do not involve themselves in politics. But some observers have said that some independent shaykhs express their political views in "secret meetings" where they voice their opinions regarding the current political problems and their solution (Sulayman, Al-Muraqib)

The most popular independent Salafists are Shaykh Usamah Abd-al-Azim, whose followers number more than 150,000, and Shaykh Mustafa al-Dabisi.

Rising tension

The police crackdown against the Islamic Call and the Al-Wa'd Organization in the aftermath of September 11 attacks ensured that Egyptian Salafism, already distant from politics, disengaged completely from any activity the state deemed as remotely political. This state of affairs lasted until 2010 when the Salafists returned to the scene with regular demonstrations calling for the release of the allegedly abducted Christian convert to Islam, Kamiliya Shihatah.

Kamiliya Shihatah is the wife of a priest from Al-Minya Governorate (Upper Egypt) who left her home on 18 July 2010. Her husband informed the police that she had been kidnapped by Islamists who forced her to convert to Islam. Copts staged angry demonstrations in churches in Al-Minya and Cairo calling for her return. The security bodies intervened and handed her over to the church.

Kamiliya's story triggered a wave of anger among the Salafist groups which organized a series of demonstrations calling for the return of the "abducted" woman. Salafist websites and Facebook groups campaigned widely against the state accusing it of being too afraid to stand up to the church and honour the constitution, which describes Egypt as an Islamic state (please see BBCM's "Backgrounder: Egypt church blast puts state on spotlight in Muslim-Copt tension" published on 4 January 2011). This was the first Salafist collective mobilization in a long time. One of the results of the tension between neo-Salafism and the Mubarak regime was that Salafist TV channels such as Al-Rahma and Al-Nas were banned.

The Islamic State of Iraq's operation against a Catholic church in central Baghdad in November 2010 and its threat to attack the Egyptian Coptic church unless it "releases the women who converted to Islam" was the turning point for the relationship between Salafists and the Egyptian state. Then came the attack on the Two Saints Church in Alexandria shortly after midnight of 31 December 2010. After the attack some 300 Salafists were detained, most of them Alexandria Salafists, namely from the Islamic Call current. Most of them were reported to have been tortured by the police. A Salafist activist, Al-Sayyid Bilal, was reportedly killed under torture (Ali Abd-al-Al, Save Egypt Front website). The Salafists did not respond to the crackdown.

Shaykh Yasir Burhami, a leading Islamic Call preacher, explained at the time why the Call did not mobilize against the clampdown: "The Islamic Call is part of a complex reality. There is a need to make accurate calculations. We should exert utmost effort to do what brings the good and evades the bad, but without doing anything rash or hasty."

Egyptian "revolution"



Husam Tammam says: "Most Salafists boycotted the revolution, or even worse, dubbed it as sedition." There is ample evidence showing that many of the prominent Salafist preachers attacked the revolution or at least refrained from participating in it.

The most important position against participation in the revolution came from Shaykh Yasir Burhami, a prominent preacher of the Islamic Call, who said: "On the basis of upholding our religion, and as we feel responsible for the fate of our country and its interests... we say that it is unacceptable to participate in the demonstrations." Afterwards Burhami changed his mind a little, saying "we believe that our opinion - that revolting against the ruler is illegitimate - is correct. But we give room to the possibility that it might be wrong." (Al-Safir daily newspaper, 3 May).

Other prominent shaykhs also gave fatwas against the revolution. Shaykh Mahmud al-Masri, a student of Shaykh Muhammad Hassan, went to the Al-Tahrir Square to urge those taking part in the sit-in to go home. Likewise, Shaykh Muhammad Husayn Yaqub, one of the most popular Salafist preachers, talked to the Egyptian state-owned TV condemning the revolution and describing the protestors as "igniters of sedition".

Some prominent shaykhs preferred to keep silent; for instance, Shaykh Abu-Ishak al-Huwayni, another prominent Salafist preacher, shut down his mobile telephone and refused to talk to the media. According to Al-Safir newspaper (3 May), the exception was a handful of preachers, mostly coming from the ranks of the Movementist Salafism, such as Shaykh Nash'at Ahmad and Shaykh Muhammad Abd-al-Maqsud. They supported the revolution and participated in the demonstrations. Shaykh Muhammad Hassan was also mentioned by the newspaper because he went to Al-Tahrir Square in the final days of the revolution after "attacking the demonstrations at the very beginning".

Referendum



Before 25 January, Salafist activities were restricted to preaching in mosques and on TV, and charity work; the only exception was the almost regular Kamiliya Shihatah demonstration. After 25 January the Salafists became proactive to the extent of getting involved in politics, which most of them previously saw as a domain relegated to the ruler.

Most of the organized Salafist currents and many of the prominent Salafist preachers urged the Egyptians to vote yes in the referendum on the constitutional amendments on 19 March 2011.

Some commentators said that the Salafists were part of a wider "yes-vote coalition" including the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the Muslim Brotherhood and the former ruling National Democratic Party. Sharif Abd-al-Aziz, a Salafist writer, said the referendum on the constitutional amendments united the Islamists of Egypt. "One of the greatest results of the revolution and its aftermath is that the Salafist current and the MB are now united after decades of hidden struggle and animosity," he said (Sharif Abd-al-Aziz; Islamic Diary website, 8 April).

The Islamic Call issued a statement urging people to vote yes. It argued that the constitutional amendments had several positive aspects, such as that "they did not touch the second article of the constitution which rules that Islamic Shari'ah is the principle source of legislation" (the Salafist Call website).
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