The spectacular sight of the demise of Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt has not pleased Lebanon’s Salafists. Despite the negative view some of the latter harbored toward the Brotherhood’s behavior, they nevertheless interpret recent events in Egypt as the result of a conspiracy targeting Islam and seeking to prevent it from ascending to power. This despite the fact that the entire world called upon the Islamists to accede to the necessity of integrating into the democratic process within their home countries.
One could argue that the Salafists have been greatly frustrated by observing what their leading sheikhs describe as “a military coup against Islamic rule in the land of al-Kinanah [a medieval Islamic designation for Egypt].” The frustration is all the greater because throughout their own growing presence within and influence upon the revolutions attending the Arab Spring, Salafists consciously sought to imitate the Brotherhood’s experience by unifying their ranks. They had hoped that by integrating within a single trend or body, they would be able to eventually produce an Islamic party or movement with substantial political weight at the national level in Lebanon. Lebanese Salafists only reached this conclusion after they came to realize that remaining fractious and divided among themselves would render them “easy prey” [for Lebanon’s other political parties].
At this point, the Association of Muslim Scholars first lit the fire. This was followed by the formation of the Sunni trend, which includes a number of Salafist sheikhs from various regions of Lebanon and is still in its early stages. Before any attempt to unify the Salafist ranks coalesced, however, an Islamic government in Egypt was subject to a severe setback by a popular and military backlash against it.
This grim reality has driven many Salafist sheikhs to reevaluate their positions. The key issue has been whether to abide by the conviction that it is necessary to exert every effort to enter the Islamic (and particularly the Salafist) arena in a political manner or whether it might be preferable to obtain greater guarantees from all parties regarding the results of the democratic game, on the theory that “a believer ought not be bit by the same dog twice.”
This does not negate the fears of some sheikhs affiliated with Salafist institutions that a grand decision has been made to isolate the Islamic role throughout the Arab world after the Islamic experience in government in Egypt had failed.
In this context, the founder of the Salafist trend in Lebanon, Sheikh Dai al-Islam al-Chahal, told As-Safir, “What has taken place in Egypt is embarking into uncharted territory. Some of the Brotherhood’s mistakes were exploited in order to pounce on Egypt’s identity as a major Arab and Islamic state. This is part of both an internal and foreign conspiracy.”
According to Chahal, “The project of political Islam has not collapsed, for it never truly began. But they spread rumors that the Brotherhood had come to power and inflated their actions in an attempt to overcome them, just as they did in Lebanon when they inflated Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir’s situation, so that they could strike him and, in doing so, strike the Sunnis to the core.”
According to Sheikh Raed Hlayhal, “What happened in Egypt is a crime in every sense of the word. It has convinced us to repudiate once more the false democracy that they are demanding Islamists integrate into.”
He continued, “What took place has demonstrated clearly that the war against Islam goes on in all its forms. Unfortunately, the people did not support the Islamic model. This shows that we still have a long way to go. This targeting [of Islam] will not deter us from pursuing the path to truth.”
Regarding the position of the Nour Party, Hlayhal asserted, “It is one segment among many. Its actions are the subject of clear and frank criticism on our part, but the vast majority of Islamists in Egypt are against this coup.” He noted, “Mohammed Morsi is not infallible, but the errors of a man who desires to do what is right cannot be compared to the errors of a man who is indifferent to what is right.”
Hlayhel stressed, “The Islamic project has not collapsed. This simply shows that the challenge continues. We have lost a battle, but this does not mean that we have lost the war.”
Hassan al-Shahal, the president of the Association of the Call to Justice, Faith and Righteousness, contended, “Egypt has witnessed a military coup. And that country does not need to return to the age of coups. We still believe that Morsi is the legitimate, elected president.” Shahal urged Egyptian Islamists that “if the military leadership insists on holding new elections … combine and agree upon a single Islamist candidate so that they can reclaim the presidency.”
Shahal noted, “The mistake Morsi made was partisanship in favor of the Brotherhood.” He pointed out, “If the Brotherhood had been open to the other Islamists and the Egyptian people of all sects and viewpoints, the result would have been better.”
Sheikh Safwan Zubi, president of the Association of Islamic Brotherhood, stated, “The removal of Morsi from office is a heavy blow to the Islamic project. Even worse than that, though, is the hatred, incitement and mobilization directed against religious [Muslims], sometimes simply for Islamic appearances, and even against Islam itself. Yet the responsibility for this does not lie exclusively with [Islam’s] enemies; rather, a significant portion of the responsibility for it lies with those who hastily made their way to power, then once they had arrived, rushed to cleanse the media, judicial and military establishments.”
He added, “This is similar to what we witnessed at the level of foreign relations, where most Arab and Islamic countries were antagonized, and this helped to create a bloc which actively sought to topple this newborn government. Still, I do not think that this will constitute a setback for the Islamic project. On the contrary, it will prompt rethinking, an affirmation of our course, reinvigoration in the sight and guidance of God. The important thing is that this must not drag the Islamic movements into a spate of violence motivated by rejection of democracy. That would fulfill the fondest hopes of the enemies of Islam. They would use it to defame the faith and as a means to eliminate the Islamists.”