In Translation: Sheikh Yasser Borhami on Morsi and Shariʿa

In this week's In Translation article — provided by the hive mind at Industry Arabic, which you should immediately hire for all your translation purposes — we hear the views of Sheikh Yasser Borhami, who heads the Da'wa Salafiya movement of Alexandria and is in effect the spiritual head of the Nour Party.

Borhami and Da'wa Salafiya have emerged as the most important voices of the Salafi movement in Egypt, and the most willing to engage in electoral politics. Borhami is one of Egypt's most influential preachers, and his decision to back the Nour Party marked the first major foray by Salafists onto the national political scene. In a recent Brookings paper on the Egyptian Salafi movement, Stephane Lacroix writes:

The Nour Party was founded by an informal religious organization called the “Salafi Da‘wa” (al- Da‘wa al-Salafiyya), whose leadership is based in Alexandria. The origins of the Salafi Da‘wa date back to the late 1970s, when its founders – students at the faculty of medicine at Alexandria University – broke away from the Islamist student groups known as al-Gama‘at al-Islamiyya (“Islamic groups”). Among them was Yasir Burhami, currently the dominant figure in the organization. The Salafi Da‘wa’s stance against violence and refus- al to engage in formal politics made it relatively acceptable to the Mubarak regime. To be sure, the group did at times endure repression; its leaders were kept under close surveillance and were forbidden from traveling outside Alexandria. However, the Salafi Da‘wa often benefited from the covert support of the regime apparatus, which tried to use Salafis to undermine the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence. 

Borhami is not involved in the day to day running of the party, but exerts a dominant influence on its key decisions  — such as backing Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh rather than Mohammed Morsi in the first round of the presidential elections, insisting on a constitution that gives priority to Shariʿa, or refusing electoral alliances with secular parties. The interview that appears below made some noise because of Borhami's insistence on new wording for the future constitution's reference to Shariʿa, which would favor a Salafist interpretation of Shariʿa and its influence on shaping legislation. 

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Don't panic. Yet.

The official results of the first round of Egypt's parliamentary elections come out tonight, but a cursory look at initial results presented by parties and reported by the media paint a fairly clear picture: Islamists will be a majority in the next parliament, led by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, and Salafists have exceeded expectations to be, perhaps, the second party in Egypt.

This news has profoundly depressed most educated, middle class Cairenes I know who had hoped that the overthow of Hosni Mubarak would be followed by a relatively liberal democracy that would be inclusive of moderate Islamists. It is particularly distressing to non-Muslims, who will now fear the Islamization of public life that has taken place in the last two decades will now be accelerated, with full backing from parliament and government leaders in the next few years.

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Where's my country?

The Salafyo Costa (young, "moderate" Salafists, which seems a bit of a contradiction in terms, since Salafists are religious fundamentalists, aspiring to live as much as possible as the Prophet's companions) have put together a funny and popular online video.

"Where's my store?" tells the story of a "shop" that for many years was expropriated from its rightful owners by "a bad man and his sons." It's in Arabic, but even non-Arabic speakers should be able to appreciate the pretty hilarious opening scenes, in which various individuals representing different Egyptian groups -- Christians, Salafists, liberals, upper-class -- converging on the newly "liberated" store, all with ownership deed in hand. Of course, I couldn't help noticing that no women are shown claiming their stake. 

The Salafyo Costa take their name from a coffee chain (!) and make a point of how comfortable they are with modern consumerism and technology. I find them difficult to categorize, probably sui-generis among the larger Salafist scene, and interesting. Further on (at about minute 8) the movie mocks hysteria over Salafists themselves, with a host on a would-be Salafist cooking show saying he'll teach the audience how to make "potato-liberals" salad.  

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Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.