Blood On Their Hands: Sectarianism in Egypt?

Egypt has a problem with those who use Islam as a tool for their own goals.

Egypt does not have a sectarian problem on the ground. It has a problem with those who use Islam as a tool for their own ends; I call them Islamists.

The biggest problem Egypt has with Islamists is that they have a very loud microphone. Whether it be through government officials from the Muslim Brotherhood, spokespersons of Islamist parties, or the multitude of Islamic preachers on television that have mushroomed since the 2011 Revolution, Egyptians can choose to ignore but certainly not avoid the discourse of these people and institutions on the role they believe Islam should play in the daily lives of the public.

Death of Shi'a Egyptians

Sunday, June 23 saw the barbaric and appalling murders of four Shi'a Egyptians, targeted specifically and only because of their faith; a faith, through the Fatamid dynasty, that founded Egypt’s most important Islamic institution, and one of the important and respected Islamic sites in the world: Al Azhar.

Yet, none of that irony matters to Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood or Salafis, because they have a socio-political agenda that is starting to bear them fruit, much to Egypt’s detriment. Not content with occupying the presidency or the now defunct parliament, they have clearly made it apparent that they want to expand their power through an Islamic discourse, beyond the presidential office and parliamentary seats, to the living rooms of Egyptians in order to direct their every thought and action. Sunday was not the first time sectarianism has surfaced in Egypt, but it has dramatically spiked over the past year. Sectarian violence was first directed at Egypt’s Coptic community, and now towards other Muslims who do not adhere to Islamists' strict brand of Sunni Islam.

It is bearing them fruit because they have been emboldened by their electoral success in the 2011 parliamentary elections and a presidential victory in June 2012, while also managing to dominate the constitutional drafting process that has left Egypt with a product that is far from revolutionary. With those victories, Islamists' sense of entitlement and conviction to spread their message of religious intolerance, coupled with their socio-political agenda, has become more and more evident with each passing month.

Attacks Are Not Surprising

The attack on Shi'as came as no surprise to those who follow and analyze the rhetoric of the Muslim Brotherhood government and other Islamists with a large support base. When members of parliament from the Salafist al-Nour Party make statements, such as “the Shi'a are more dangerous than naked women,” it becomes clear why their followers, hearing this from an elected government official, have no qualms with dragging dead bodies through the street.

Mohammed Ghoneim, head of the Shi'a current in Egypt, reiterated this argument on Monday in reaction to the four murders. He stated that President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood had made “political calculations” with more hard-line Islamist factions, such as the Salafis, in order to secure their loyalty ahead of mass anti-Morsi protests planned for June 30, the anniversary of the president’s election. Knowing that the president and his party need their support now more than ever, the barbaric murders last Sunday (allegedly led by Salafi preachers) showed they had no fear of repercussions despite Morsi condemning the murders.

The statement from the presidential office read: “The state will not be lenient with anyone who tampers with Egypt's security or the unity of its people.” Yet, this condemnation not only failed to specifically mention the importance of protecting the Shi'a community, it also came across as disingenuous when his party, government ministers, and Islamic preachers on television, are allowed to spread sectarian rhetoric and their message of religious intolerance almost daily without Morsi batting an eyelid. The Egyptian president's condemnation is not only too little too late, but it is also insignificant at best.

Sectarianism violence between the Sunni and Shi'a strands of Islam has dominated the Muslim and Arab world this century. Iraq, Pakistan, and more recently, Syria, have seen this ugly conflict spill over into a brutal bloodbath that appears to have no end. Beyond the blood, Syria continues to be the playground of geopolitical and ideological standpoints, with Russia, China, and Iran acting as the heavyweight counter-balance to the West and Gulf alliance.

Despite Egypt’s own long-standing feud with Iran that began with Anwar al-Sadat’s peace treaty with Israel in 1979, Egypt has never had a Sunni vs Shi'a dimension to its society, largely because the Shi'a population in Egypt is tiny. We have to thank the Muslim Brotherhood who have led by bad example, and every other Islamist politician or preacher with a 30 minute TV segment, for adding more blood and tension to an already fragile country

Sunday, June 30, when Egyptians plan to take to the streets to protest against Morsi on the first anniversary of his presidency, cannot come soon enough.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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