Violent tide of Salafism threatens the Arab spring

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A series of repressive dictatorships have been brought down in north Africa, but the ensuing struggles for power have left a vacuum that has allowed the rise of an extremist movement that is gathering both force and supporters

Late last year, largely unnoticed in the west, Tunisia‘s president, Moncef Marzouki, gave an interview to Chatham House’s The World Today. Commenting on a recent attack by Salafists – ultra-conservative Sunnis – on the US embassy in Tunis, he remarked in an unguarded moment: “We didn’t realise how dangerous and violent these Salafists could be … They are a tiny minority within a tiny minority. They don’t represent society or the state. They cannot be a real danger to society or government, but they can be very harmful to the image of the government.”

It appears that Marzouki was wrong. Following the assassination of opposition leader Chokri Belaid last Wednesday – which plunged the country into its biggest crisis since the 2011 Jasmine Revolution – the destabilising threat of violent Islamist extremists has emerged as a pressing and dangerous issue.

Violent Salafists are one of two groups under suspicion for Belaid’s murder. The other is the shadowy, so-called neighbourhood protection group known as the Leagues of the Protection of the Revolution, a small contingent that claims to be against remnants of the old regime, but which is accused of using thugs to stir clashes at opposition rallies and trade union gatherings.

The left accuses these groups of affiliation with the ruling moderate Islamist party, Ennahda, and say it has failed to root out the violence. The party denies any link or control to the groups. But it is the rise of Salafist-associated political violence that is causing the most concern in the region. Banned in Tunisia under the 23-year regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, which ruthlessly cracked down on all forms of Islamism, Salafists in Tunisia have become increasingly vocal since the 2011 revolution.

Written By: Peter Beaumont, Patrick Kingsley and Angelique Chrisafis
continue to source article at guardian.co.uk

16 COMMENTS

  1. Sad! Salafism is not what the peoples of North Africa and the Middle East have been been struggling for, but of course that is neither here nor there to Salafists or any other kind of Muslim extremists. Yet again we see a group of people who understand their role in the nation according to some religious superstition rather than in terms of shared sovereignty of all citizens acting together to form a law-governed, democratic, secular society in which citizens’ rights to freedom of thought, expression, association, etc. are recognized and protected. There is hope yet that the Arab peoples will achieve these goals, but it may take longer than people in the recent uprisings thought, given that, as someone commented elsewhere, democracy takes a long time to mature.

  2. In reply to #1 by Garrick Worthing:

    Sad! Salafism is not what the peoples of North Africa and the Middle East have been been struggling for, but of course that is neither here nor there to Salafists or any other kind of Muslim extremists. Yet again we see a group of people who understand their role in the nation according to some religious superstition rather than in terms of shared sovereignty of all citizens acting together to form a law-governed, democratic, secular society in which citizens’ rights to freedom of thought, expression, association, etc. are recognized and protected. There is hope yet that the Arab peoples will achieve these goals, but it may take longer than people in the recent uprisings thought, given that, as someone commented elsewhere, democracy takes a long time to mature.

    Islam and Arab culture/mindset is completely misunderstood in the west. EVERY aspect of life is the “Will of Allah”, this life is merely a roadblock on the way to Paradise.

  3. In reply to #4 by Nodhimmi:

    In reply to #1 by Garrick Worthing:

    Sad! Salafism is not what the peoples of North Africa and the Middle East have been been struggling for, but of course that is neither here nor there to Salafists or any other kind of Muslim extremists. Yet again we see a group of people who understand their role in the nation according to some religious superstition rather than in terms of shared sovereignty of all citizens acting together to form a law-governed, democratic, secular society in which citizens’ rights to freedom of thought, expression, association, etc. are recognized and protected. There is hope yet that the Arab peoples will achieve these goals, but it may take longer than people in the recent uprisings thought, given that, as someone commented elsewhere, democracy takes a long time to mature.

    Islam and Arab culture/mindset is completely misunderstood in the west. EVERY aspect of life is the “Will of Allah”, this life is merely a roadblock on the way to Paradise.

    Your mind-reading skills are astonishing.

  4. The Salafis have always been prominent in the middle east and north Africa and well known for their lamentable politics. You’re talking about the kinds of people who believe that Saddam was a great man, and unfortunately, even your most devout “normal” sunni or shia muslim’s faith pales into comparison with these guys; they’re something else. They take worship and belief to scary levels. There is no talking to them, there’s no reasoning. If they ever get in power then fear will be the dominating emotion of the people.

  5. In reply to #4 by Nodhimmi:
    >

    Islam and Arab culture/mindset is completely misunderstood in the west. EVERY aspect of life is the “Will of Allah”, this life is merely a roadblock on the way to Paradise.

    Very true. Insha’allah they can change though.

  6. In reply to #1 by Garrick Worthing:

    Sad! Salafism is not what the peoples of North Africa and the Middle East have been been struggling for, but of course that is neither here nor there to Salafists or any other kind of Muslim extremists. Yet again we see a group of people who understand their role in the nation according to some religious superstition rather than in terms of shared sovereignty of all citizens acting together to form a law-governed, democratic, secular society in which citizens’ rights to freedom of thought, expression, association, etc. are recognized and protected. There is hope yet that the Arab peoples will achieve these goals, but it may take longer than people in the recent uprisings thought, given that, as someone commented elsewhere, democracy takes a long time to mature.

    Firstly, I bow to your superior knowledge apropos of Islam.

    My contention is indeed that democracy takes centuries to mature, and I’ve posted as much on this website. But whether or not it was me you picked up on I have no idea, and it doesn’t really matter, I’m just glad your’re disseminating the idea.

    S G

  7. Things like this scare me because it just seems as though it’d be easy for it to happen in the US. I periodically go looking around the internet for people I went to high school with (I’m an atheist because they taught me the Bible so well), and from what I read, some of them would more than welcome a “Christian theocracy”. That’s what they want and pray for. If a group could promise it to them, they would support it all the way. It’d be easy to let something like this slip in, and we’re deluding ourselves if we don’t believe that there are Christian extremist groups who believe in God and guns over all.

  8. As I’ve pointed out several times,these countries have very small middle classes and very ignorant masses, so I doubt very much that democracy can take root in them. From what I see, they are changing political dictatorships for religious dictatorships. I wish I were wrong.

  9. In reply to #12 by Stafford Gordon:

    My contention is indeed that democracy takes centuries to mature, and I’ve posted as much on this website. But whether or not it was me you picked up on I have no idea, and it doesn’t really matter, I’m just glad your’re disseminating the idea.

    S G

    Sorry, I cannot recall in whose post I read that point somewhere on this website, but it is good to know that we concur on it. It is after all one of the lessons taught by history.

  10. In reply to #4 by Nodhimmi:

    Islam and Arab culture/mindset is completely misunderstood in the west. EVERY aspect of life is the “Will of Allah”, this life is merely a roadblock on the way to Paradise.

    There is considerable variation among Muslims on the application of religious beliefs and political views, all of which would of course be seen by their respective proponents as expressions of the “will of God”. Islam is not a monolithic institution across the Arab world or even within each predominantly Muslim country. It is true that what in Western terms is a mediaeval culture prevails in large parts of the Arab world, but we must not give up hope of that culture ever changing for the better. Education or the lack of it is a big factor in this. Europe itself was dominated for centuries by just such a culture, and, although it took time, it has changed into one of the most politically enlightened parts of the world.

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