But when a few hundred men gathered last week in a narrow, trash-strewn lot between the low cinderblock buildings of this village near Cairo, what they heard from the sheiks, known as Salafis, was a blistering populist attack on the condescension of the liberal Egyptian elite that resonated against other Islamists as well.
“They think that it is them, and only them, who represent and speak for us,” Sheik Shaaban Darwish said through scratchy speakers. “They didn’t come to our streets, didn’t live in our villages, didn’t walk in our hamlets, didn’t wear our clothes, didn’t eat our bread, didn’t drink our polluted water, didn’t live in the sewage we live in and didn’t experience the life of misery and hardship of the people.”
“Brothers,” he continued, “we, the Salafis, the founders of Al Nour Party, were part of the silent majority.”
Except the senior Nour Party official I met a few months ago, who very kindly drove me to Alexandria's train station, has a rather swanky BMW. And I bet Sheikh Mohammed Hassan or Sheikh Yasser Borhami don't live among the poor either.
The interesting thing about the Salafis is that they are more inclusive in some respects than Muslim Brothers, who have an in-group mentality, are difficult to join (and its members are mostly middle class or elite). At Egyptian universities, Salafi groups often formed among marginal people who feel ill at ease with the more urbane, middle class student population (this was particularly the case at Cairo University). The Egyptian uprising of 2011 has unleashed the rage of a highly stratified society where economic privilege is compounded by the lack of rule of law (just look at how the police talk to people who appear upper class — and connected — compared to those who look poor).
The sad thing is I have yet to see a response from the Egyptian elite that even begins to address this problem — among the liberals or Brothers at least.