The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Salafists and satellite media in Egypt

There's a very interesting article at Arab Media and Society on Salafi satellite TV in Egypt, looking at Salafist satellite television stations, their popularity, and what impact they are having on society and politics. Its conclusion is that Salafist stations are not the cause of quietist apolitical views, and that the Muslim Brothers' experience since 2006 and the pushback from the state against their political success at the ballot box may be where to look. I'm no so sure about that, but this is very interesting venture into the world of non-jihadi Salafi media.

Since the Egyptian government does not allow the more politically-active Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin) to base their own satellite stations in the country, some critics claim that this is part of a strategy to cultivate Salafism as a counterweight to the Brotherhood. According to Egyptian novelist and cultural commentator Alaa Aswany, “the political quietism of the Salafis and their injunctions to always obey the ruler are too good an opportunity for established Arab rulers to pass up,” adding that Salafism is “a kind of Christmas present for the dictators because now they can rule with both the army and the religion.”

Yet outside of these dramatic claims – usually made by non-Islamists writing in opposition newspapers – there has been little in-depth study of the issue, and nothing in English. We attempt to rectify this situation by addressing two questions: To what extent, if any, is the popularity of Salafi television a reflection of the rise of a distinctly more puritanical form of Islamism in Egypt? And to what extent, if any, are these stations a tool in a competition between Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood? We base our study on extensive interviews with Egyptian and American experts, a survey of the available written Arabic language material and our personal viewing of the stations. Given our research limitations, we do not believe that the presence and popularity of Salafi television is causing Egyptians to become more conservative in their religious beliefs nor is it part of a government strategy of cultivating Salafism as a counterweight to the Muslim Brotherhood, as Aswany claims. Rather, its popularity is best viewed, mundanely, as reflecting a logical shift towards more puritanical interpretations of religion, across broad segments of society, in response to specific economic, cultural and political developments.

Via Arabic Media Shack, where I left a comment on the article.