Salafists are not the Tea Party, they're Shas

Sheikh Yasser Burhami, one of Egypt's most influential SalafistsRabbi Ovida Youssef, spiritual head of Shas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This morning's WSJ makes the Salafist - Tea Party comparison:

Political analysts don't expect the Nour Party and their allies to win more than 5% to 10% of the incoming Parliament. By comparison, leaders of the Brotherhood-aligned Freedom and Justice Party have said they aim for about 35% of the incoming legislature.

But the Salafis' popularity could create a "tea-party effect" on the Brotherhood, said Shadi Hamid, an expert on Egypt at the Brooking's Institution Doha Center. Likening the Salafis to the American conservatives whose electoral gains have helped move the Republican Party to the right, Mr. Hamid said these Islamists have the potential to alter the political platform of the Brotherhood, which has been comparatively more moderate.

"It's very likely that Salafis will be the second-largest bloc in Parliament behind the Brotherhood," said Mr. Hamid. "Down the road, the Salafi competition could...drag the rest of the political spectrum rightwards."

As we await the results, what may be more important than the size of the Salafist presence in the next parliament is their results compared to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Salafists pose a problem for Egyptian society overall, but also pose a particular problem for the Brotherhood in two ways: first, they are competitors for "the Islamist vote" (whatever that is), but secondly and more importantly, they have an internal impact in a Brotherhood that is partly Salafist-oriented itself. Hence a big question is whether Salafists, who are more intellectually innovative than the Brotherhood has been in years (at least in that they produce a lot of cultural, theoretical and theological output whereas the Brothers largely stick to Hassan al-Banna) might not drag the Brotherhood their way — rather than the entire political spectrum.

If the Salafists remain under 10%, the Brothers can afford to make alliances with centrist forces knowing that the Salafists will have their back on social conservative issues. If they start to rival the Brotherhood itself, it becomes more complicated, especially if both the Brotherhood and Salafists do well, because it will freak out the rest of the political spectrum. But we should also remember that politically, the MB and the Salafists are different political animals. The MB have a political project, whereas good parts of the Salafist movement (which is diverse) might have more narrow interests related to the role of religion in public life, social mores, education and similar issues. They've shown in the past that they could be quietist about who holds power, and the Salafi movement has a strong tradition of defference to the rulers. They are not necessarily upstart radicals out to change the political system, which is how the Tea Party presents itself. They might be more like the Israeli party Shas, focusing on a narrow range of issues. It might not be getting funding for Yeshivas (or madrassas), but rather fighting the culture wars they've been fighting for decades: influencing education, state-backed religious and cultural production (al-Azhar, the Ministry of Awqaf, the Ministry of Culture, etc.), and laws having to do with women and family.