CAIRO — On Sept. 19, a new Egyptian Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Sherif Ismail, was sworn in before President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Among the new ministers is the journalist Hilmi al-Namnam, who holds the culture portfolio. The appointment of Namnam, a secularist, has sparked controversy among Egyptian Salafis and aroused opposition in Saudi Arabia. Such Saudi writers and intellectuals as Jamal Khashoggi, editor-in-chief of Al-Arab News Channel, object to Namnam’s appointment because he opposes Wahhabi Salafism, the religiopoliticial movement that originated in the Nejd region of the Saudi kingdom.
Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab founded what became the Wahhabi movement in the 18th century. In 1744, Wahhab allied with Muhammad ibn Saud, emir of the Nejd and founder of the first Saudi state, to increase followers of the Quran, Sunnism and the words and actions of the Salaf, the first three generations of Muslims. In doing so, they sought to purify Islam of misguided practices negatively affecting the Islamic essence of unity and various forms of heresy.