Egypt’s Salafis: ‘New Brothers’ walking a political minefield

(This article was first published by the European Council on Foreign Relations on its website)

One of the most intriguing turns of the post-uprising scene in Egypt has been the emergence of the Salafi movement – as a political force, as a rival to the Muslim Brotherhood, and most recently as an ally of the July 3 military regime. The Salafi Nour party’s general secretary Galal Murra appeared on television as one of the handful of pliant politicians flanking General Abdulfattah al-Sisi as he announced the removal of elected president Mohammed Morsi last year after mass protests against Brotherhood rule. Since then the party’s leadership has remained faithful to the new regime as its conflict with the Brotherhood intensified and a hysterical anti-Islamist atmosphere ensued. Continue reading Egypt’s Salafis: ‘New Brothers’ walking a political minefield

Saudi Arabia: cultivating sectarian spaces

(Part of a European Council on Foreign Relations report, ‘The Gulf and Sectarianism’, published November 2013)

Sectarianism has long underpinned Saudi Arabia’s domestic and foreign policy, and it has proved to be a particularly effective tool in the government’s management of the Arab Awakening, the movement of protest and revolt that began in Tunisia in December 2010. Saudi Arabia deployed a sectarian narrative to describe the 2011 uprising in Bahrain, calling it an Iranian-backed movement of Shia empowerment that aimed to disenfranchise Sunnis, the “rightful” Islamic centre of which Riyadh sees itself as champion. Saudi Arabia readily applied this framework to the conflict in Syria as it developed later that same year: the government characterised it as a battle in which a majority Sunni population has had to defend itself from an alignment of deviant Islamic schools and ideologies that aim to subjugate Sunnis – an easy sell considering that Shia powers and actors, specifically Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria’s own Alawi community, have been the most prominent supporters of President Bashar al-Assad. Continue reading Saudi Arabia: cultivating sectarian spaces

On Hazem Kandil’s View of The Brotherhood As Cult

Hazem Kandil, a political sociologist at the University of Cambridge, outlined in a lecture in Oxford last week his view of the movement as a politically naïve cult acting on an innovative understanding (discordant within the Islamic tradition) of religious determinism – the idea that God will confirm them in the rightness of their path and that faith is ultimately all that matters. In this he refocused attention on an important aspect of the Egyptian Brotherhood that is often overlooked by political analysts who are more interested in examining its success, its failures, its alliances and its intentions. The conclusion is generally avoided in media discourse that they don’t have much of an idea about what they want to do at all. Continue reading On Hazem Kandil’s View of The Brotherhood As Cult

A very Gulf coup

(From the latest issue of Turkish Review, Volume 3 Issue 5:

When Hosni Mubarak handed over power to his military peers in Egypt two years ago in the face of over two weeks of determined protests, the shock and fear in the Gulf was profound. As much as the US and Israel, if not more so, Saudi Arabia in particular had long bet on the strong arm of Mubarak’s police state, with the military in the background, to maintain the ‘stability’ that kept dangerous democratic forces in check Continue reading A very Gulf coup

Egypt: Sisi’s Staying Power and Revolution, Regime-Style

If there is any lesson to be drawn from the movement of uprisings unleashed in December 2010 it is that nothing is predictable. The Brotherhood is in a bad way, but neither it nor “political Islam” are spent forces (whether it’s in analysts’ and academics’ interests or not); Sisi and the military who continue to form the backbone of the Egyptian republic have won for now, but his continued domination is hardly set in stone. When Mubarak stepped down, the army behaved as saviours and guardians of the people’s will, but some six months later revolutionaries were insulting them on the streets and things just went downhill from there. Continue reading Egypt: Sisi’s Staying Power and Revolution, Regime-Style

On The Caliphate

The word caliphate, or khilafa in Islamic political theory, has been bandied around a lot over the past two years by opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood and sister movements of political Islam. Whether the Brotherhood would like to recreate this political institution or not is one issue, but the term itself needs some clarification since it is being misused, in often hysterical tones, to suggest a theocratic system along the lines of the Shi’ite innovation in Iran since 1979. Continue reading On The Caliphate

Sisi – Too sexy for his military fatigues (Get that man a presidency)


A forewarning about the extent of Idolization of Field Marshal Abdulfattah al-Sisi came to me on Wednesday night, after the Egyptian defence minister and supreme commander of Egypt’s armed forces issued his call for mass protests to give the military a mandate to confront violence on the streets of Egypt. A friend messaged me: “I’m in love with Sisi. What a strong guy! Eh dah! Finally someone I respect.” Continue reading Sisi – Too sexy for his military fatigues (Get that man a presidency)

Egypt’s Military State – Democracy in Stages

In 1952 the Egyptian military decided they had had enough of the monarchy and they quickly concluded they had had enough of party politics too. Mohammed Naguib became first president in 1953 after the monarchy was formally abolished and a republic declared, and the next year he was deposed by Nasser over his desire for the military to return to the barracks and return the country to civilian rule. Continue reading Egypt’s Military State – Democracy in Stages

High Drama on the Nile – Military vs Brotherhood Brinkmanship

For all the (misplaced) talk of mass Islamist violence and civil war over the past three weeks, it is the military junta (or military-security complex, or ‘deep state’, or government, if you will) that will be tempted more and more to use the tried and tested street violence of the Mubarak era – thuggery – to break up Brotherhood protests. The longer the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters camp out on the streets of the capital and elsewhere, the more the military may feel pressured to stop them. This is a game of nerves. Continue reading High Drama on the Nile – Military vs Brotherhood Brinkmanship