Salafis rising in Mideast politics

Salafis rising in Mideast politics

Salafis rising in Mideast politics

Tunisian Salafis demonstrate in front of the Tunisian national television building in Tunis in this photo. Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali says the biggest danger in the country is the conflict between reactionaries and secularists. REUTERS photo

Yemen’s Salafis have formed their first political party, urging recently elected President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to apply Islamic law to all areas of life and to reject interference by foreign powers.

The Salafis, considered hard-line Muslims even among fundamentalists, have traditionally shunned politics. But the success of the Salafi al-Nour party in Egypt, which won the second-highest number of seats in the first democratically elected parliament in decades, may have changed that. Salafis in Yemen said their new party would be called the Rashad Union.

“After months of studying and discussing the necessity for immersion in the political process, we have decided to found the Rashad Union,” they said in a statement, describing their political participation as a religious duty. Although parliamentary elections are not due to be held until 2014, the Rashad Union will be able to take part in a national dialogue. The dialogue was agreed to as part of a Gulf-brokered deal that allowed former president Ali Abdullah Saleh to leave office after a year of protests against his rule.

‘Revolution is now at a crossroads’

While Salafis are gaining pace in Yemen, Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali said the biggest danger in that country is the conflict between reactionaries and secularists, referring to Salafis. “There has been some resistance from those who would like to turn the clock back to a past heavily marked by corruption. … The whole system has not been overturned yet, and the Tunisian revolution is now at a crossroads,” Jebali, who is the number two leader of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, which won last year’s election, said in Germany after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on March 14.

 “The worst is to believe that freedom and democracy are not compatible with Islam,” he added. His comments came after the Tunisian president warned hard-line Muslims against using violence to impose their views on others.

President Moncef Marzouki did not specifically mention Salafis, but his remarks came at a ceremony honoring the national flag after an incident last week when a flag was torn down as leftists and Salafis clashed at a university. An Islamist student replaced the flag with one bearing the Muslim profession of faith.

“We will not tolerate those who impose their opinions through violence, treat others as unbelievers, or attack Tunisian citizens for their ideological or political choices, whatever they may be,” said Marzouki on March 12. Marzouki heads the Congress for the Republic party, a secular party and part of the new ruling coalition.

Meanwhile, Ekmeleddin İhsan-oğlu, secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said, “What happened in the Middle East was not an Arab Spring but an Arab Fall,” speaking in New York at a conference held at the International Peace Institute.

He added that it would take a long time to reach an “Arab Spring, after the Arab Fall and Arab Winter.”