Fearful for their future, Egypt’s Sufis back Sisi’s re-election bid

A second presidential term would give Sisi time to try to eradicate terrorism, a major concern for Egypt’s Sufis.
Sunday 11/03/2018
Hoping for a brighter future. Egyptian Sufi Muslims participate in a ritualised “zikr” (religious invocation) in old Cairo, last March. (Reuters)
Hoping for a brighter future. Egyptian Sufi Muslims participate in a ritualised “zikr” (religious invocation) in old Cairo, last March. (Reuters)

CAIRO - Sufis organised a public rally in the southern city of Luxor to declare their support for the re-election of Egyptian President

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as part of their nationwide mobilisation to get out the vote for the March 26-28 polls.

“We have a plan to organise different events to back the president,” said Abdel Hadi al-Qasabi, leader of the Supreme Council for Sufi Orders, the government body responsible for regulating Sufi orders in Egypt. “Sisi is a man who has a wonderful track record in the presidency.”

With more than 15 million adherents, Egypt’s more than 75 Sufi orders have strongly backed Sisi since he became president in June 2014.

A second presidential term would give Sisi time to try to eradicate terrorism, a major concern for Egypt’s Sufis after an Islamic State (ISIS) attack on the Sufi’s al-Rawda mosque in the Sinai Peninsula resulted in the death of more than 300 people.

Egypt’s Sufis have witnessed something of a renaissance during Sisi’s presidency, particularly following the outlawing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has an ambivalent attitude towards Sufism. However, terror attacks targeting Sufis increased fears of Salafist jihadist groups as well as the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Both groups consider the mystical Sufis a bunch of heretics who deserve to be killed, at worst; marginalised, at best,” said Sameh Eid, a researcher in Islamist movements. “This is why the Sufis always have a strong aversion to the Brotherhood and the Salafist jihadist.”

When the 2011 uprising erupted, causing an unprecedented security vacuum, hundreds of Sufi mosques were destroyed by radicals.

Muslim Brotherhood followers and Salafist jihadists targeted mausoleums and graves of celebrated Sufis, considering their presence to be heresy. Sufis often construct elaborate burial sites and shrines for revered imams and sheikhs.

“The presence of a burial chamber inside Sufi mosques, radicals believe, contravenes the notion of the oneness of God,” Eid said.

During the 1-year rule of Muslim Brotherhood President Muhammad Morsi, Egypt’s Sufis saw their religious practices banned and their religious freedoms curtailed. That is why when the army-backed uprising against Morsi erupted in 2013, the Sufis were at the forefront calling for the downfall of the Islamist president.

Before the uprising, the Sufis founded their own political parties and ended their traditional non-political stance. The Egyptian Liberation Party, for example, bills itself explicitly as a Sufi party.

There are several Sufi members of parliament, including Qasabi, who has been campaigning for greater protection for Egypt’s Sufis.

“We will have other conferences in other cities to rally support for the president, the best one to lead Egypt at this stage,” Qasabi said.

Egypt’s Sufis have rarely backed an anti-establishment candidate, supporting Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak.

“The Sufis do not have any political ambitions. They do not call for the application of Islamic law like the Brotherhood does and none of them has been implicated in terrorist activities,” said Kamal Habib, an expert on Islamist jihadism and a former member of Egyptian Islamic Jihad. “They are also always ready to offer support to the regime in return for protection,” he said.

Apart from the public rallies, the Supreme Council for Sufi Orders, Qasabi said, would put up pro-Sisi election banners and distribute literature listing the incumbent president’s achievements.

“Sisi is the most suitable to lead Egypt in the coming four years, given the enormity of the challenges facing this country,” Qasabi said. “He succeeded in holding Egypt together and wants it to be a strong state, which is why we back him.”

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