In the midst of its scramble to inherit the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafi Nour Party of Egypt is dithering between the challenges of maintaining its ideological consistency and expanding its role.
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A number of activists in Egypt’s Delta province of al-Mansoura placed the Egyptian flag on the statue of the country’s late famed classical singer Umm Kolthoum on Friday, in a response to an earlier incident, when anonymous individuals covered the singer’s statue with a burqa.
Umm Kolthoum, who is known as the Star of the Orient, sang several songs for Egypt during her lifetime and had donated money during her to support the Egyptian army during former president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s reign.(...)
Last week, the culture ministry and the Egyptian Writers Union condemned covering Umm Kolthoum’s face with a black veil (...)
Both organizations had also condemned vandalizing the statue of the Arab World’s literary icon Taha Hussein, whose statue was beheaded earlier in the Upper Egyptian town of Minya.
The Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis give artists cause for concern. Their work reflects the country's uneasy mood and conflicts.
The Muslim women in Marwa Adel's photographs are shadows, repressed by custom, religion, marriage and regret. While nude, the figures are obscured by sepia scrims, scrawled upon with stifling words — as if their true selves may never be known.
Like their creator, a single mother edging at the bounds of artistic freedom in a patriarchal society, the images are at once vulnerable and defiant. A man from the Muslim Brotherhood, the nation's dominant political force, which is infusing Islam into a once-secular government, scolded her at a recent exhibition.
"He had a long beard and he stood up and told me, 'How could you do something like this? You are a Muslim.' He said women should be veiled and covered. His kind wants us to cover our minds, our issues. I told him, 'Don't worry about me. I know my God very well.'"
She touches a computer screen. A woman, face in hands, surrounded by cages, seeps to life. She touches the screen again. And again. (...)
"The ultraconservatives say I'm an atheist," she said, adding with a piercing dig at the opposite sex, "but if you argue with a man, you argue with God."
The political rise of the Brotherhood and more extremist Salafis scares Egyptian artists, writers, satirists and journalists. Brotherhood leaders engulfed by political unrest and economic turmoil have not, at least at this point, shifted significant attention toward galleries and museums.
The ArtTalks gallery in Cairo's Zamalek neighborhood is prone to works that touch upon the revolution: Wailing mothers holding the hearts of fallen sons; an imam and a priest, sitting side by side with pensive expressions; a family portrait as if painted from the 1940s — before a stricter Islam was imported from the Persian Gulf — with unveiled women and men in western suits. One of the most striking paintings is a half-male, half-female nude, kneeling, the face covered by a veil, the body part of a cross. The image crystallizes the crises of religion, civil rights and identity radiating through the Middle East.
A year ago, a SPIEGEL editor met a Salafist in Hanover. Following several meetings in Germany, he traveled with him to his new home in Egypt. He could not have anticipated the danger he would encounter there.
It's night in Alexandria, and I can hear the Salafist breathing in the dark. (....)His name is Dennis Rathkamp, and he is a 24-year-old auto mechanic who used to play guitar in his church confirmation class. He moved to Egypt a few weeks ago to learn how to become a good Muslim.
On this morning, (...) he drops to his knees and lowers his forehead to the floor. It's 6:30 a.m., time for early prayers. I hear Rathkamp moving his lips silently. He promised me he would try to be quiet while praying.
I(...)I am searching for an answer to the question of what drives the Salafists, a group of people who are feared in Germany. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany's domestic intelligence agency, estimates that 60 German Salafists emigrated to Egypt last year. Many chose the city of Alexandria as their new home, and they now live in the Mandara neighborhood in the north of the city.
Rathkamp says that he moved to Alexandria because he wants to learn the language of his prophet -- and because he could no longer endure the discrimination in Germany.
I met him when he was handing out Korans in the northern German city of Hanover last spring. I asked him if he would take me to his mosque, because I wanted to learn more about Islam. I accompanied him to Friday prayers many times after that. We drank tea together and had long conversations. Afterwards, he would drive me to the train station and give me pamphlets explaining women's role in Islam to take home to my girlfriend.
A New Life
Nothing to Hide
Rathkamp had questioned whether it was smart to let a journalist into their lives. They discussed the issue in prayer, and in the end Lau told Rathkamp that they had nothing to hide because, after all, they are not terrorists.(...)
The Salafists in Alexandria structure their days around the rhythm of their prayers. According to Rathkamp, the purpose of creation is for people to worship God.
At the end of the week, he plans to start taking Arabic at the Easy Language Center. Language schools in Alexandria have trained German Salafists in the past. Daniel Schneider studied there. He was a member of the Sauerland terrorist cell and was sentenced to 12 years in prison for planning attacks in Germany. Two Salafists from the western German city of Solingen, Robert B. and Christian E., also studied in Alexandria. They were arrested in England last year, and a court later convicted the two men for having bomb-making instructions in their luggage.
language school in Alexandria can be a place where students learn a language. But it can also be a place where they become radicalized, a guide for a journey into "holy war." (...)
The prosecutor general is summoning hardline Salafi preacher Ahmed Mohamed Abdallah, known as Abu Islam, who is charged with contempt of religion.
Naguib Gabriel, head of the Egyptian Federation for Human Rights, and activists had filed a complaint against Abu Islam, accusing him of calling Coptic women prostitutes.
The complaint also said the country’s Copts are bitter over the absence of justice regarding contempt of Christianity, as Abu Islam appeared in scenes humiliating Christ and the Virgin Mary.
It requested that the preacher be brought to a speedy trial so that Copts feel they are equal citizens, and that all religions are safeguarded.
Abu Islam is already on trial for tearing up a Bible during a protest outside the US Embassy in Cairo. He had been demonstrating against a short, amateur film made in the US that was widely seen as an insult to Prophet Mohamed.
Egyptian law forbids contempt of religion, and anyone convicted of such an act can face three years in prison. Several Copts in recent years have been brought to court on charges of contempt of religion.
Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm (Egypt independent)