Hazem Abu-Ismail said that he is in the process of establishing a political party entitled “The Egyptian Nation.” Although it is true that this idea came after his failed candidacy, the name of the party he wishes to create is significant. The expression or the term “The Egyptian Nation” was coined in the early twentieth century by Ahmad Lutfi al-Sayyed, one of the founders of Egyptian liberalism and secularism.
Lutfi al-Sayyed used this term to counter another contemporaneous term among students of Islamic ideologist Jamal al-Din al-Afghani at the “Islamic University.” Lutfi al-Sayyed used to stress the importance of Egyptian nationalism in facing the Islamic University and Islamic Caliphate political trends, and the Ottomans in particular. Lutfi al-Sayyed was frequently accused of being an advocate and supporter of this trend.
It is surprising that one of the leaders of Salafism in Egypt today — an ideology which is fundamentally based on the establishment of an Islamic nation — is using the term coined by Lutfi al-Sayyed, “The Egyptian Nation,” to name a political party. We are currently in a state of political and intellectual confusion and excesses, which has led to the reformation of old terminology. In this regard, we remember the slogans of the Wafd Party — previously an Egyptian liberal party — during the recent Parliamentary elections. Some slogans that are closer to religious Salafism were raised, and the party’s leaders — in total disregard to the many battles of the party’s founders Saad Zaghloul and Mustafa al-Nahhas — said more than once that the Wafd Party was never a secular party. Certainly, we are witnessing a transitional phase.
Many of the old constants and ideas are on their way to extinction. It is enough that the Salafist brothers are today forming political parties and taking part in parliamentary life, given that they used to regard democracy as infidelity and a sign of intellectual and cultural invasion on the part of the West. Some used to say that “he who joins a party becomes a heretic.”
Transformation or evolution in and of itself is not negative. However in this case it indicates a lack of dynamism and signifies a desire to adjust to new realities out of opportunistic and pragmatic considerations. There may be some objective reasons behind this evolution, most important of which is that stagnation and maintaining a certain state amid an ever-changing reality may eventually lead to calcification, and possibly extinction. However, it is important that the evolution of these parties is based on right and convincing foundations.
The Salafists among us have gone public. They have moved from their traditional arena of mosques and social peripheries to public spaces. They participate and interact oppressively at times, and passively at others, which puts them at odds with the public and society. Examples include their sheikh’s comments about Naguib Mahfouz, one MP’s recital of the adhan (call to prayer) during a parliamentary session, and the Anwar al-Balkimy incident (where Salafist al-Balkimy was expelled from Parliament for attempting to cover up a nose job with a fabricated mugging story). In light of these incidents, society is discovering and getting acquainted with them. I also believe that they are discovering themselves, as well as some of their ideas and convictions. The Salafist engineer who misspoke about Naguib Mahfouz has never repeated his comments, and he realized the extent of his mistake and how much it provoked the feelings of others. This goes for the adhan-reciting lawmaker as well. As for al-Balkimy, his party took severe and strict measures against him.
I know that the Salafists in Egypt are not one solid bloc, nor are they one monolithic entity. They have their differences. Each group follows its own sheikh, and each group does what it deems most appropriate or beneficial for itself. However, they are — all of them — a typical case for those researching the extent of change and transformation in Egyptian society since January 25, 2011. The Salafists have interacted with the people for years, gaining loyalists, followers and supporters. However, they also have opponents. They would not hesitate to support any party or movement if it were to benefit them. Evidence of this is the adoption of the term “The Egyptian Nation,” which used to be the slogan of the liberals and secularists from the end of the nineteenth century until World War II.
Things in Egypt will not become balanced unless the other forces — particularly the civil and liberal forces — become active, eliminate their divisions, stop the elitist rhetoric of political and cultural salons, and head to wherever the citizens may be, in towns, villages, or slums. This has become necessary because if we clear the stage for one movement or faction, we will end up with political, cultural, and intellectual totalitarianism. This will eventually lead to dictatorship and corruption. We would return to square one, living in anticipation of a new revolution.
Today, the ball is in the court of the liberal movements. They should move closer to each other and open up, without apprehension or embarrassment. Hazem Abu-Ismail took the name of his party from Lutfi al-Sayyed, he who had translated Aristotle into Arabic. The Muslim Brotherhood took the name of their party from Rafa’ah al-Tahtawi, the founder of modern Arab culture and thought. So, what are we waiting for?