Salafists A Bigger Threat To Egypt Than The Muslim Brotherhood

Despite Egypt's banning of the Muslim Brotherhood today, Islamists remain strong thanks to existence of Saudi-backed Salafists.

Islamists assassinate Egypt Police Chief

Islamists likely backing the Muslim Brotherhood killed a police chief in Egypt last week. Salafists might make that problem worse. (Image Source:  Reuters)

Today, the courts in Egypt ordered a ban on the Muslim Brotherhood organization, as well as the seizure of its assets and property.  Along with the ban on the organization itself, the court ordered the ban on "any institution branching out of it or...receiving financial support from it," which likely includes the Freedom and Justice Party, which controlled the majority of the Egyptian Parliament before its dissolution last year.  While the Egyptian military's attack on the Muslim Brotherhood will likely force it underground and weaken it, the threat of Islamism remains in the form of Salafists backed by Saudi Arabia, if the situation in Tunisia is to be believed.

In Tunisia, Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood vein dominate the country's politics in the form of the Ennahda (Renaissance) Movement, though the Muslim Brotherhood itself is not particularly active in the country.  The Islamism practiced by Ennahda is more moderate in tone, and more accommodating to the modern, somewhat secular environment where Tunisia exists.  However, in recent months, Ennahda has come under fire for their handling of the ultra-conservative Salafists, primarily led by the banned organization Ansar al-Sharia.  Salafists have violently attacked several groups and figures in Tunisia, culminating in the assassinations of leading opposition figures, including Mohammed Brahmi.

Salafists preach a form of Islam similar to that preached in Saudi Arabia, with some localized exceptions in certain circumstances.  They wish to impose complete shari'ah law on the populace, though in the case of Egyptian Salafists, they are willing to let separate laws govern the country's Christian population.  Consequently, because of the similarities between the two forms of Islam, many prominent figures in Saudi Arabia have funded Salafist operations in countries where Islam is dominant.  Muddling matters further is the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood, while allowed to exist, is barely tolerated in Saudi Arabia, with one member of the royal family denouncing the organization at one point.

Many believe that Saudis back the Salafist al-Nour Party in Egypt, which became the second largest political party in parliament behind the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Freedom and Justice Party in parliamentary elections in 2011-12.  This backing may have been the reason that al-Nour supported the military coup that ousted President Mohammed Morsi on July 3 of this year, despite denouncing the violence that followed, in part because of Saudi Arabia's support for the Egyptian military.  With the imminent ban of the Freedom and Justice Party, the al-Nour Party would be in a prime position to become one of, if not the leading party in a subsequent parliament, and may inspire Muslim Brotherhood-inspired Islamists to become more extreme in order to gain legitimacy, and perhaps become more violent.