Is There Any Chance Egyptian Salafists Are Open-Minded?

Here is an eye-opening account of the rise of Salafism in Egypt from Eric Trager:

I... asked the Salafists why hadn't they just joined the Muslim Brotherhood. "Because the Muslim Brotherhood is a group and tied to certain rules," said Ali Sharaf, a Nour party coordinator who was sitting nearby. "But I'm a Muslim and Islam is open to anything." 

Yet I'd already learned that the Salafists were not as open-minded as they claimed. At one of my polling place visits, a van full of women that had been brought to vote for Nour called me over to extol the Nour Party's virtues. "They are good people and serve the community," said Nour al-Hoda Desouki, excitedly holding a Nour party sample ballot. "We are a conservative people but we'll talk to you." But her good deed couldn't go unpunished. A Nour representative swiftly approached my translator and told us to stop talking to women. 

Still, I humored the Salafists. If they were truly "open to anything," would they support allowing Egyptian hotels to continue serving alcohol to tourists? "In my opinion, no," said Mehdi, the Nour activist handing out party programs by the polling station. "Because it's forbidden." 

"But the people who drink aren't Muslims," my translator, himself a committed Muslim, interjected. 

"They have to respect the country," Mehdi replied. "Like in Germany, people respect the country and have to speak German. You have to respect the country you're in, even if you disagree." 

Well, what would be your policy towards Christians? Would you force them to pay the jizya - the special tax that Muslim rulers historically imposed on non-Muslim minorities to pay for Islamic wars? "They already pay it through their taxes," Sherif, another local Nour coordinator, said. "Each society has its own revenue sources--in Islam, it's zakat for Muslims and jizya for non-Muslims. Even they have to serve in the community, whether they're Christians or Jews. They pay jizya because we offer security." 

Finally, I turned to foreign policy. What is your view of Camp David, I asked. "I heard about Camp David when I was a kid and I heard from people and our scholars that it is unjust for us," Sherif said. "But I never read it." (This Islamist apparently subscribed to the Herman Cain school of international relations.) "I don't want war with Israel," he continued. "So Israel must leave the part that it took from me." Which part? "Israel should withdraw from all of Palestine--not just the West Bank or Gaza." I gave him a confused look. "I never denied that some Jews lived there before." On that note, I said goodbye.


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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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