by J. Millard Burr

Cairo, 4 January 2012: The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party has won 41% of the seats in lower house elections. The ultraconservative Salafist Nour Party followed with 21%.

A 4 February 2009 cable (#202) from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, ("Salafism on the Rise in Egypt") sounded the warning that over the past two decades an "Increasing religious conservatism" had emerged in all parts of Egypt. The embassy was particularly impressed by a "striking increase" in Salafism, or the literal and strict interpretation of Islam and the consequent exclusion of the ideological and secular. It defined Salafism as "a fundamentalist Sunni movement that seeks to emulate the Islam practiced during the time of the Prophet Mohammed, and whose adherents disavow 'modern' activities such as politics." The movement endorsed the right to private property and countenanced economic competition as long as the public interest was not harmed. In its support of the strict application of Muslim law (the Sharia), it approved the implementation of the drastic Huddud (sing. hadd) punishments such as stoning and amputation.

The Embassy cable ennumerated several Salafi organizations, but it concluded that "there appeared to be no centralized leadership or infrastructure." Nonetheless, Embassy contacts maintained that Salafi preachers actually had "more influence with Egyptians than the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al-Mulimun)," an Islamist entity itself and an organization the Salafists criticized for its secular attitudes and its willingness to engage in politics. The Salafists had not bothered to field candidates in recent elections when the Ikhwan and other opposition groups sought to challenge the government's National Democratic Party (NDP). Although the military distrusted the Islamists in general, and the Ikhwan in particular, it found no reason to attack the Salafist infrastructure as long as it played a quiet game and eschewed politics. Still, while the Salafists seemed preoccupied with the promotion of their own narrow approach to Islam, they were making intelligent use of a dozen Salafi-themed satellite TV channels that broadcast from Egypt.

The Embassy acknowledged that while the Salafi seemed politically passive their rising popularity just might prefigure something quite unexpected. Some analysts felt that the Mubarak administration was in fact playing a very dangerous game. With the new millenium the Mubarak government had done little to impede the spread of Salafi theology, and while it was clear the Salafists were being used to deprive the politically active Muslim Brotherhood of its popular support, it was a dangerous move. As an embassy contact who had plowed the currents of modern Egyptian history warned, over the last half-century Salafism had very often served as "a bridge to extremism." President Anwar Sadat himself had opened a Pandora's box of violent Islamism that resulted in his assassination. And by encouraging the Salafists, it was argued that Mubarak was making the same mistake that Sadat made in the nineteen seventies, "when he encouraged the activities of Islamist groups as a counter-balance to the then-powerful leftist opposition."

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Charitable activity has been the essential ingredient in the growth of the Salafist movement, and Salafists have provided such social services as medical treatment, literacy classes, and religious education for low-income Egyptians. In providing a spectrum of social services they were simply replicating the path blazed over eight decades by the Muslim Brotherhood itself. Regarding the financing of the Salafist charities, the Embassy cable stated that the Ansar Al-Sunna and the Gameyya Al-Shareyya, the two largest Salafi organizations in Egypt, received substantial funds from Saudi Arabia, and from "wealthy Egyptians living in the Gulf." The cable noted that no less than Egypt's Minister of Awqaf (Islamic Endowments) Hamdy Zakzouk, had admitted to the press that both organizations plus the Al-Sunna Al-Mohammedeya, another Egypt-based Salafi organization, received "significant funding from Saudi Arabia."

AL-SUNNA AL-MOHAMMEDEYA SOCIETY. Of the three Salafist organizations the Embassy noted, the oldest was the Al-Sunna Al-Mohammedeya Society. Founded in 1926 by Sheikh Mohamed Hamed El-Fiqi, it predated the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood by two years. El-Fiqi was a 1916 graduate of Egypt's famed Al-Azhar institution, and he was called a student of the Islamist reformer Muhammed Abdu. Egyptian Analysts claim there has long existed a "linkage" between the Egyptian Salafi and the like-minded Saudi Arabian Wahhabi Salafists, and El Fiqi was its first link.

ANSAR AL-SUNNA. (See Despite the Embassy differentiation of the two, today the Mohammedeya Society's aims differentiate little from those of the Ansar Al-Sunna, which is now the predominant Salafi organization in Egypt. Following in the path of El-Fiqi, the Ansar Al-Sunna is dedicated to a religious purity preached by Ibn Taymeyya, the 13th Century Islamist nonpareil. Specifically, the Ansar al-Sunna preaches a strict adherance to monotheism, the protection of the Sunna (the Muhammadan traditions), and the reestablishment of the Muslim Caliphate. It argues that no woman or Christian should be allowed to serve as President of Egypt. It directly opposes the many Egyptian Sufi brotherhoods -- especially the Sufi adherants found in Al Azhar.

The Ansar al-Sunna now counts at least 150 branches and controls more than 2000 mosques. Its leadership is divided among its various presidents including Sheikh Mohamed Hamed El-Fiky, Abdel Razek Afify, Abdel Rahman Al-Wakil, Rashad El-Shaf'ey, Mohamed Ali Abdel Rehim, and Safwat Nour Eddine. Among its noted scholars there are included Sheikh Abdel Razek Hamza, the former member of Grand Scholars in Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abul Wafa Darwaish, president of the society's branch in Sohag, Dr. Mohamed Khalil Harras, Professor in Al-Azhar and Om Al-Kora Universities, Sheikh Mohamed Abdel Wahab Al-Banna teacher in Mecca Haram, and Sheikh Abdel Zaher Abul Samah, Imam of the Grand Mosque and director of Dar El-Hadith philanthropic society in Mecca.

AL-GAMEYYA AL-SHAREYYA. The GS is the second largest Salafist movement after the Ansar Al-Sunna. It claims to be the oldest of the existing Salafist movements and a precursor of Al-Sunna Al-Muhammadeyya Society. It was established in 1912 by Sheikh Mahmoud Khattab Al-Sobky. Under Sheikh Sobky the movement eschewed politics, promoting instead an adherence to the Sunna. Like the Ansar al-Sunna, it has built-up one of the largest assistance programs in Egypt. In 2011 the organization's president was Mohamed Mokhta Mohamed El-Mahdy, an al-Azhar scholar.
(See salafists/salafi-violence-against-sufis)

AL-DA'WA AL-SALAFEYYA (Salafi Call Society). While the the Ansar al-Sunna spread throughout Cairo and Upper Egypt, in the nineteen seventies a fraternal organization holding much in common with the Ansar al-Sunna emerged in the northern Delta. Students with Salafi convictions -- mainly found in the faculty of medicine at Alexandria University -- broke with the dominant Muslim Brotherhood movement in 1977 and formed what was then called the "Salafist School." Its first leader (kayyem) was the youthful Mohamed Abdel Fattah (Abu Idris), born in Alexandria in 1954.

By nineteen eighty the organization had emerged among students as a strong but still minority competitor to the Muslim Brotherhood. Among the early movement leaders was Dr. Ahmed Farid, graduate of Alexandria University medical school, and Muhamad Ismael al-Mokaddem. In the early nineteen eighties there erupted a series of clashes involving the Salafist students and the powerful Ikhwan organization that then dominated Alexandria University. It was at that time the Salafist School assumed the name "Salafist Calling," (Al-Daiwa Al-Salafeyya); however, it is still generally known by the generic title, "Salafists of Alexandria." By mid-1985, the movement took on a new name, calling itself the Al-Da'wa Al-Salafeyya (the Salafi Call Society). It formed its own educational institution, the al-Furqan Institute, published its own magazine, the Sawt al-Da'wa (the Voice of the Call), and began the creation of a complex social-services network. One of its committees collected the annual Zakat (charitable donation), and other committees took charge of funding and administering orphanages and the support of widows. In addition, it offered free health clinics and provided food supplies to the needy. Despite the constant surveillance and restrictions imposed by the intelligence services, the Al-Da'wa Al-Salafeyya was able to establish an executive committee, a governorates committee, a youth committee, a social committee, and, finally, created its own general assembly, the Al Nour (the Light).

Among the important figures now active in the Salafist Calling are Muqaddam, Farid and Fattah, plus Said Abdel-Azim, Yasser Brahimi, Ahmed Hatiba, Abdel-Moneim al-Shahat and Mahmoud Abdel-Hamid. Famous preachers include Mohamed Hassan, Mohamed Hussein Yakoub, and Abu Ishaq Al-Huweini belong this trend. Throughout its history the DS has been strongly influenced by Saudi Arabian Wahabbism. The SDS is particularly powerful in Alexandria and less so in ten northern governorates. Following the January 2011 Revolution Abdel Fatah was named SDS General President.

While Alexandria's Salafists rejected political participation the Salafist Calling members remained astute observers of domestic politics. Their approach, based on framing politics through an Islamist worldview, differed from the Ansar Al-Sunna in a few particlars, the most important being the conviction that a Muslim ruler who does not implement Sharia is an infidel. Not surprisingly, the Salafist Calling has refused to work with the state's official institutions, charging that they are un-Islamic. In return, the Alexandria Salafists have many critics, most whom considered them to be captive of the revolutionary Islamist writing of Sayyid Qutb -- an output that has influenced the thinking of modern Islamist revolutionaries from Palestinian Sheikh Abdallah Azzam through Osama Bin Laden to the Egyptian revolutionary Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The Salafist Calling's first open elections were held in June 2011, and Sheikh Abdul Fattah (Abu Idris) was elected President. Sheikh Yasser Borhamy was elected First Deputy, and Sheikh Saeed Abdul Azeem was Second Deputy. For undisclosed reasons its noted leaders Mohamed Ismael Al-Mokaddem, Ahmed Farid, and Ahmed Heteiba did not run for administrative offices.

ACTIVIST SALAFISTS. At approximately the same time that the Alexandria Salafist movement was born in the nineteen seventies, the so-called Activist Salafism movement was born in Shubra quarter, Cairo. In its aims and objectives Activist Salafism is almost identical with that of Alexandria Salafism. However, Activist Salafists are much more outspoken in their criticism of rulers they believe act un-Islamically. They too have rejected direct participation in politics, and they have not chosen to form an Association of like minded members, arguing that the Umma does not need further divisions within the Muslim community. Howevever, the movement cooperates with any Islamist group determined to create an Islamic nation and reestablish the Islamic Caliphate. Activist Salafists had been under close scrutiny following their support for 9/11 attacks and for Osama Bin Laden. They have publicly labeled the United States as a Great Devil (al-Taghout al-Akbar). They were also reported to have issued a fatwa stating that a Jihad against the United States is equivalent to Jihad against Israel.

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Prior to the monumental events of January 2011, the Ikhwan could be differentiated from the Salafists by its willingness to take advantage of the window of opportunity Mubarak had provided which allowed the Islamists to participate -- albeit minimally -- in Egyptian politics. Given the various problems suffered by some of the group's activists detained or emprisoned for subversive activity (Including Abu Idris), the Salafists had learned to maintain a very low profile. And their magazine (The Voice of the Calling) had learned its lesson after its publication was suspended and threatened with closure.

Prior to the Arab Spring the Salafist leadership had chosen to observe politics rather than take part. Nonetheless, prominent Ikhwan and Salafist leaders "routinely" denounced one another in the media, claiming that one or the other was an agent of the Egyptian Mukhabarat (security service). Despite appearances, the US Embassy reported that the, "More conservative Ikhwan were "allegedly more agnostic towards the Salafists," and it was asserted that some Ikhwan found no conflict between the two groups, "applauding all Muslims practicing their faiths."

Under the Mubarak regime the Ansar al-Sunna took no part in national elections, and thus it gave the military no reason to crack-down on their activity. This avoidance of politics freed the society from much of the grief the Muslim Brotherhood had suffered over its long history, and it allowed the Ansar al-Sunna to form an umbrella organization within which all Salafi entities were welcome.
(See the Ansar Al-Sunna internet site, As for the secular politicians, well in advance of the "Arab Spring" they understood that Egypt was becoming less tolerant: There was an increase in anti-Christian activity, and an "anti-Shi'a rhetoric" that had a "chilling effect on Egypt's cultural scene." A senior member of Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) predicted with some prescience that "the upsurge in Salafism, and in overall religiosity among Egyptians," would "necessarily have a political impact, on all political parties."

Salafist passivity changed in December 2010, when in anticipation of forthcoming elections the Ansar al-Sunna Sheikh Mahmoud Amer issued a fatwa on the association's official website that incited believers to "shed the blood" of noted Egyptian bureaucrat and putative anti-extablishment politician Mohammed El Baradei on the grounds "that he incited sedition". It was an indication that the Salafists still recognized, in the Islamist sense, the legitimacy of the Mubarak government. (El Baradei was later attacked during the March 19 Constitutional Referendum that saw Muslim, Christian and secular representatives come to a sharp confrontation.)

Salafis then were blamed for the destruction of several Sufi shrines in Alexandria and sites in other cities of the north. They were also responsible for attacks on Coptic churches in Alexandria (and lesser attacks on Christian churhes in Upper Egypt). In both cases the Ikhwan immediately condemned the attacks as any act that both endangered the unity of Muslims, and the Egyptian polity. The Secular Wafd party urged the Mubarak government in general and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to crackdown on Salafist organizations. Even Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, and considered the head of the International Muslim Brotherhood, declared that the rise of Salafism should be blamed on the role played by the moderate Islamic institution of Al-Azhar. Mubarak's intelligence services arrested a number of Salafists, but the response to attacks on Christians and Sufis was tepid at best.

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Given their history of accomodation with the military regimes it is not surprising that the Salafist leadership generally boycotted the demonstrations that erupted in January 2011. They saw in the incipient revolution only anarchy and disorder, and though they did not officially denounce the gatherings they certainly did not support them. Ironically, the Salafist TV network and its Nilesat satellite service was closed down when it was accused of abetting the violence even though in January the services had offered a platform to administration allies who appealed to the demonstrators to clear the streets. (See, Hosam Tammam, "Islamists and the Egyptian Revolution", 7 February 2011.)

But what was unexpected was the evolving position of Al Nour, the Al-Da'wa Al-Salafeyya's general assembly. The Al Nour had only recently come under strong attack by the government following the ugly attack on a Coptic cathedral in Alexandria on New Year's Eve. Hundreds of Salafists had been arrested. It seemed that the Salafists had re-learned a lesson not to trifle with the Mubarak government. When in late January 2011 an amorphous Tahrir Square movement achieved undreamed of success, the Salafist leadership in Alexandria and in more than ten governorates was still hesitant to participate. And in the first few days of the Egyptian Revolution the leaderhship launched an intimidation campaign warning its adherants against participating in the street gatherings.

Ironically, the Al-Da'wa Al-Salafeyya website (salafvoice) had rejected anti-government demonstrations just a few days before they began on 25 January. Later, Yasser Borhami, one of its most prominent clerics, issued a fatwa both prohibiting demonstrations and warning against participating in them. In addition, the influential Sheikh Sherif al-Hawari likewise rejected the pariticpation in demonstrations. Even after the demonstrations turned into a massive popular revolt the Salafi movement, both in Alexandria and throughout Egypt, hesitated. It did, however, issue a fatwa prohibiting exploitation and raising prices during the revolution. In response to the growing exploitation it urged the creation of groups to buy vegetables and other commodities at "the source" and then sell them to the needy at reduced prices. Overall, the Salafist inaction was seen by its enemies as the only religious pillar left standing in support of the Mubarak regime in its final days.

While the demostrations at Tahrir Square continued to build, the Salafist Call Society maintained a very low profile. Its leadership was convinced that if its leadership was seen at Tahrir -- and leaders made little to hide their telltale beards or distinctive Islamist garb -- the government reaction would have been much more destructive. The lesser known activists and intellectuals, including Emad Abdel Ghafour who served as head of Al Nour, the Salafist Call's political arm, made an appearance but did not lead protests. However, as the days passed the mood in Cairo began to change. And once a million protestors were seen in the streets of Alexandria the existing Salafist policy, which was characterized by a respect for the political status quo, likewise began to change. The Salafi leadership then finally approved a fatwa which allowed its followers to participate in the January 2011 revolution. Salafist reasoning was explained thusly: Opposing a Muslim ruler who rules by the Sharia, performs obligatory prayers, and who does not "show outright infidelity," is impermissible by way of the Ahl Al-Sunna, "even if he transgresses and creates injustices." However, if "negative aspects" predominate, and the people perceive them and understand that participation in elections can overcome the negative influence, 'then participation is permissible."(See

Ironically, the politically astute Muslim Brotherhood itself was hardly in the front rank of the Tahrir demonstrators. The Ikhwan, now more than eighty years old, and with an extensive following among Egypt's 83 million people, was reduced to political nonexistence. Though their presence was noted in the television feed that circulated around the world, the Ikhwan, like the Salafists, waited and watched. The organization initiated no official effort to respond to the 25 January demonstration, or the demonstrations that continued into early February. The Ikhwan was finally seen to play an important role on 2 February, following the attacks by Mubarak's security forces that left a number of people dead in Tahrir Square. The organization decided to join the protesors, but when the Ikhwan decided to support the Revolution, its participation was "limited to individuals as regular people and was not by a central decision fostering the revolution and imposing the participation of all members." Finally, on 5 February the Ikhwan issued an official position, announcing it would take part in the national dialogue that was then occuring. Political analysts (and cynics) understood that the Ikwhan had acted in traditional fashion: In effect, it would remain neutral until a clear-cut denouement to the Arab Spring was reached. It would join the winning side when it was clear who the winner might be.

Similarly, Al Azhar, Egypt's most powerful religious institution, reacted very cautiously. Its belated and cautious announcements were seen as a reaction to, and not the direct participation in, the Revolution.

It still remains to be explained just who, or what organization, can be said to have spurred the 25 January 2011 demonstrations held in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Indeed, the genesis of the "Egyptian Spring" coincided with the celebration of National Police Day, and thus it hardly seemed a propitious moment to lead an anti-government demonstration. Nevertheless, after little more than two weeks, on 11 February the demonstrations achieved their purpose and President Hosni Mubarak's regime was deposed. In retrospect, what it can be said that Egypt's Salafist leadership played practically no role either in the leadership or the co-optation of that movement.

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In early April Sheikh Mohamed Hassan, perhaps the most prominent of Egypt's Salafist clerics, issued the surprise announcement that the Ansar al-Sunna Society was about to form a political party. Once founded, it would participate in the parliamentary elections that were then set to take place in September. The Sheikh acknowledged that Egypt was entering a crucial stage in its political history, but that he himself would not run for office. Hassan admitted that Salafists were "not as efficient with regards to political action as other groups that are experienced in this field, but they have entered via the door of promoting virtue and preventing vice, they have entered as part of legitimate politics." He added, "We do not say "no religion in politics; and no politics in religion" but rather we believe that religion rules over all parts of life." (Nabih Saleh, "Egypt's Salafist Ansar al-Sunna to form political group," Asharq Al-Awsat, Cairo, 07 April 2011.)

While it had seemed possible that the Al Nour might join the anti-establishment Democratic Alliance, the Ansar al-Sunna Association almost immediately declared that it would create the Al Nour political entity. It urged the creation of an alliance of all Islamist political groups vying for power in Egypt, and announced it would take part in the upcoming parliamentary elections then scheduled for September. A month later, Emad ad-Din Abd al-Ghofour, the Al Nour's president, requested official recognition, which was granted on 12 June 2011. By then, the Al Nour included individuals from the many likeminded Salafist organizations, and appeared to work closely, if silently, with members of the revolutionary al-Gammaa al-Islamiyya (which had formed its own Reconstruction and Development Party) and the relatively unknown Salafist al-Asala Party.

In effect, the Al Nour became the first Salafi political party to gain official recognition. It began life with the rather amorphous slogan: The only reform we desire is the reform we can achieve. As expected, it supported Article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution, which states that Islam is the religion of the state and the Islamic law is the main source of legislation. It called for a re-drafting of that constitution to include the specific reference to Islam as the State religion, and the Sharia (Islamic law) as the source of all jurisprudence. It acknowledged the preservation of private property, and it advocated a government role in the collection and distribution of charitable funds (Zakat and Waqf). In foreign relations, it promised Egypt would take an active role "in the Arab and Islamic worlds, as well as among the Nile Basin countries, particularly Sudan." Its logo is a stylized sun, and according to party leaders is meant to demonstrate that the party will bring clarity and light to Egyptian politics. It first took an organized part in street demonstrations on 29 July when members, many carrying placards demanding the implementation of the Sharia, appeared on the streets of Cairo.

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Almost immediately following its founding, Al Nour was accused by its enemies of having received substantial funds from the Gulf nations. the Ansar al-Sunna was later reported to have received LE181.7 million ($30mn) from Qatar and LE114.5 million ($19mn) from Kuwait. And reportedly, the donations had received the approval of Egypt's former minister of social solidarity Ali Meslahi on February 12, 2011. Months later, when both domestic and international funding of Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) operating in Egypt was the subject of a Ministry of Justice investigation, the Ministry found that the two donations were indeed the largest received by any Egyptian NGO from a foreign source in 2010 and 2011. The Ansar al-Sunna immediately denied that any of the funds received from Kuwait and Qatar were used for political purposes. It argued that the funds were devoted to charitable projects known to the government's Ministry of International Cooperation. The Akhbar Al Yom newspaper then reported in November that the Ansar leadership had persistently denied that Gulf donations were used for political purposes. It insisted that the donations were spent in support of orphanages and mosques, but in fact there was really little accounting for the funds expended.

That such funds had indeed been transmitted was acknowledged in a report prepared by the Kuwait Ministry of Awkaf and Islamic Affairs. It noted that the funds had been passed to a Dr. Abdullah Shakir Al-Jendi, "professor of Islamic creed at the Open American University University of Madena." Although a relative unknown, he was called "the general chairman of the group Ansar al-Sunna in the Arab Republic of Egypt." Despite the claims of its enemies, an Al Nour party spokesman denied that funds were used for political purposes. He argued that had the funds been used politically the Al Nour would have placed candidates in many districts where it had failed to do so. The party admitted that its lack of organization in the capital reduced its chances in elections to Parliament, but that it expected (and received) an outstanding showing in Alexandria.

In July the ruling military council began to post on its Facebook site a number of warnings that Egypt was threatened by NGOs who received international funding and promoted a "foreign agenda." On 23 July the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces (SCAF) Facebook published a statement (number 69) that blamed certain interests for the increased "tension between military forces and the people". This would be followed by attacks on NGO offices later in the year during which documents, receipts, computers and cameras were taken. On 21 December of SCAF Facebook communiques numbers 91 and 92 which claimed that the SCAF had received intelligence of a "foreign-led plan to destabilise the country by escalating the protests and creating sit-ins on Tahrir Square." To that end some media reported that ten of the raided organisations "were paying illiterate people to go and protest."

Because the SCAF raids were chpsen with care, the NGOs complained that organizations that were involved in elections monitoring were an especial target and thus should be cause for "great concern." The military refuted that claim and stated instead that they had indentified organizations who had received illegal foreign funding and those who operated without a license (which is in fact not easily obtained from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

However not all organisations benefiting from foreign aid have been attacked. The Ansar Al-Sunna Foundation received funds in February 2011 of LE 296 million from both Kuwaiti and Qatari organizations with Islamic backgrounds. The sum is the largest fund received by Egyptian NGOs in 2010 and 2011, and had been was approved by the Egypt Minister of Social Solidarity. "To date there have been no reports of attacks on this foundation or similar organisations who have received financing from Arab or Islamic sources."

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The politically inexperienced Ansar al-Sunna would soon take charge as the Salafists organized for forthcoming elections. The umbrells Al Nour party, was then joined by a coalition of forces that included the Al-Asala (Originality) Party and the Islamic Group's Construction and Development Party.

When elections which would result in the creation of a new constitution were finally held, a coalition of secular parties received only about 15 percent of the vote. After run-offs, of the 168 contested seats the Islamists and Salafists secured 112 or 66.6%. As expected, the Muslim Brotherhood made a powerful showing, but the most surprising result was the success of the Al Nour. Its Salafi coalition for Egypt (at times labeled the Islamic Coalition), won a total of 34 seats, while the Ikhwan's Freedom and Justice Party (leader of the so-called Democratic coalition), won 76. The final count, to be determined by January 11, would not change much as the second round of voting was to be held in Governorates where the Islamist and Salafist presence was strong.

One example of an Al Nour candidate who made a good showing was Sheikh Mohammed El Taweel, a noted Salafi preacher. Taweel had established a chapter of the Ansar Al-Sunna charity at Damietta north of Cairo in 1972, and afterward sponsored the construction of more than seventy mosques, all dominated by Salafi preachers. Despite his initial success, Taweel was defeated in the run-offs by an Ikhwan opponent who was much more politically prepared and organized than he was. It likely will not happen again.

In sum, the election demonstrated that the real competition in Egypt was between the experienced Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party which captured 40 percent of the vote, and the parvenu Salafists Al Nour, which made adroit use of their mosques and charities to get out the vote. What can be said for sure is that Egyptian politics is now dominated by the Islamists.

There is absolutely no indication, let alone guarantee, that the Salafists and the Ikhwan will serve together harmoniously. Nor will the Salafists co-exist easily with the Christian and secular elements. Most importantly, they were determined to play an important role in shaping the nation's future and in particular in the writing of its constitution. In November the Al Nour joined with other politicl parties to protest the military move to appoint 80 out of 100 members of the constitutional committee. The parties decried the military move to retain many of its perquisites including immunity from parliamentary oversight. The Salafists in particular rejected the use of the wording "civil state" found within the proposed constitution because it would imply the creation of a secular state in which religion and state were separated. Lest there be any doubt where the Al Nour stands, on 5 January 2012 a party spokesmen made it clear that that a Coptic Christian could never become president of Egypt. Nor could a woman.

When the counting was finished in January 2012 the Islamist parties had won a majority of seats in the lower house of Egypt's post-revolution parliament. The Al Nour, which came in an unexpected second in the parliamentary elections, was already throwing its weight around, reiterating its demand that under no condition should the parliament accept or the constitution make reference to a civil state. Only a nation bound by Islamic principals and governed by the Sharia would do. There still remains to be seen what surprises will result from elecions to the People's Assembly, which will be held in a few weeks. But few expect the unexpected.

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For certain, the recent elections have destroyed the status quo. A new Egyptian polity is being born, and the theocratic reality is slowly emerging as the military observes from the shadows. While it seems that the military's power is slipping ineluctably, people with long memories remember the same thing was being said before the military took power in 1954. is being born, and , at least for the time being. A new Egypt is born, and the reality is now religious and not military. The Muslim Brotherhood is determined to limit the military's role in shaping the constitution, and it visualizes a future wherein the security services, including the military's Mukhabarat, will finally be shackled. It does seem, however, that the fear that the Ikhwan and the Salafis will join forces after the voting is finally completed in January is much overblown. Tension exists between the two elements, just as it does between the Islamist parties and the SCAF, and between them and the liberal parties. The military will not roll over, and it will certainly not be overthrown easily. It will choose its allies carefully -- and an alliance with the Ikhwan is not out of the question. Some argue that if the Ikhwan cannot form a coalition with the liberals in the parliament, its Freedom and Justice Party may be forced to ally with the Nour. But after eighty years in the wilderness, power sharing seems a long shot indeed.

In the end, the Salafist movement remains the great question mark. Its unexpected power at the ballot box has led some overservers to worry that the Sunni world's most populous nation might eventually metamorphose into an Islamist theocracy similar to Shia Iran. For the present that outcome seems quite unlikely. Still, the future is quite opaque as the Salafists have only now begun to mobilize at the grass roots. And while it is not likely that the Muslim Brotherhood will now make common cause with the Al Nour, in the Arab World stranger things have happened. In the end, if the military can be minimized, and that is a big if, the near term battle for control of government should be an all-Islamist affair.

In the 1990s, J. Millard Burr worked as logistics coordinator for the ongoing Sudan relief program of the U.S. Agency for International Development and is a former State Department official. He is a Fellow at the Economic Warfare Institute and has authored with Robert Collins, "Alms for Jihad" and "Revolutionary Sudan," among many other publications.

This article appeared January 14, 2012 as a publication of the Economic Warfare Institute of the American Center for Democracy, which is based in New York City. It is archived at

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