Salafis and jihadists 'win' in Egypt

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The fallout from the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi is difficult to predict, but there seem to be two clear winners unless we see a dramatic change in the relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and their opponents, argues Emad Mostaque, strategist at Noah Capital Markets.

While secular opposition groups had gained ground due to the increasing anger against Morsi over the last year, it may well be the Salafis and jihadists who gain the most from these events.

The Salafi groups such as the prominent al-Nour party in Egypt gained much traction in the first set of parliamentary elections, surprising many pundits, due to their significant charitable and community endeavours and significant Gulf backing.

Their bloc (the Islamist bloc) picking up 28% of the 27 million votes, trailing only the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing (the Freedom and Justice Party), whose bloc (Democratic Alliance for Egypt) picked up 37% of the votes.

The Salafis have kept their heads down since then, not putting forward a presidential candidate and participating in recent events in association with the military.

Should the Muslim Brotherhood choose not to participate in upcoming elections, it would be reasonable to assume that the Salafis maintain their prior vote level and perhaps attract a third of the Muslim Brotherhood votes, with another third going to other parties and the final third not voting.

Under these assumptions the Salafis would garner 46% of the vote and, due to the somewhat complex nature of parliamentary seats being a mixture of list-based and single candidate and their strong organisation, almost certainly obtain the majority of seats in parliament.

This result would be positive for the economy as it would make UAE and Saudi Arabian aid far more likely, something that is urgent given Egypt’s need for almost $20bn of external funding (more if we see economic instability) and the decreasing likelihood of IMF aid at this point.

This result would be a surprise to many of the urban protesters who have taken to the street this week, but is reflective of the views of the majority of Egyptians, who are mostly rural.

The belief system of the Salafis is by any measure more conservative than the Muslim Brotherhood, who take from a diverse range of opinions in Islamic opinion whereas the Salafis believe that there is one straight path that was defined in the first three generations of Muslims, known as the Salaf.

The other winners from these events may well be, unfortunately, jihadist groups. Unless we see significant strides to mend relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, it is almost inevitable that, while the main group will remain peaceful, there will be splinter groups which won’t.

The Qutbist offshoots of the main Muslim Brotherhood ideology that advocated violence as a means to an end lost ground in the 1990s as Mubarak stood firm against them and the public disgust at attacks on tourists grew, particularly after the Luxor massacre in 1997.

With the Egyptian economy now at a parlous state and Islamists (for now) out of power, tourist attacks fit directly into the modus operandi of jihadist groups, namely to weaken countries by directly attacking the economy in an efficient manner.

This is what Al Qaeda did in 9/11, with the target being for the US to waste money rather than kill thousands – and with relatively easy weapon availability from Libya and a fragile tourist industry, we may well see attempts to undermine the economy and new regime.

This only requires a few attacks and not many people – far short of a civil war and similar in some ways to the Algerian insurgency, where the army moved in after a general strike by the Islamists after second round rules were changed around and the charismatic leader of the urban poor, Ali Belhadj, called for arms to be taken up if elections were tampered with.

Even at the height of the Algerian conflict, there were perhaps 40,000 to 50,000 members of the insurgents.

If no strong attempt at reconciliation is made, we can expect a campaign of peaceful, non-violent resistance from the Muslim Brotherhood and nationwide strikes, crippling the economy. Attempts to disperse these protests may well become violent, potentially throwing more fuel on the fire.

In a complex situation such as that in Egypt, unintended consequences are par for the course. For protesters hoping for a more liberal, open society or solid, peaceful economic recovery, some clear dangers are now emerging.