Military-Salafi Clashes in Egypt Injured hundreds, Kill 1 Soldier

The Egyptian military pushed back Friday against largely Salafi protesters, who insisted on attempting to get near to the Ministry of Defense in the al-Abbasiya district. When they tried to cut through the barbed wire keeping them off the MoD grounds, troops used water cannon and teargas to disperse them, and charged the crowd, pushing it back. Hundreds were left wounded, and at least one person, a soldier, was killed.

There were some April 6 Youth leftists at al-Abbasiya as well, but when the violence started, they withdrew to Tahrir Square.

I saw Maj. Gen. Mukhtar al-Mullah, speaking for the military, on Thursday warning them against this tactic, saying that if troops feel they are under attack, they have a right to defend themselves.

The rallies in front of the Ministry of Defense by Salafis or Saudi-style hard line Muslim fundamentalists were intended to overturn the decision of the administrative court that disqualified Hazim Salah Abu Ismail from running for president because his mother had, late in life, taken American citizenship. Abu Ismail drew special support from the Salafi Muslims, represented in parliament by the Nur Party.

The Arabic press suggests that the relatively secular officers are especially afraid of the Salafis. One commander was quoted as saying, “These people believe that if they kill a soldier, they are going to heaven. They brought knives. We had staves and tear gas grenades. What did you expect us to do?” Salafis are accused of throwing stones at the soldiers, and Egyptian t.v. showed video of wounded troops.

One report coming out Friday suggested that the military had arrested 50 armed men in a mosque, some of them with Molotov cocktails. This sort of scenario may help to explain the al-Abbasiya attack. Did they think the Salafis might try to launch a guerrilla action against the Ministry of Defense?

In the 1980s and 1990s, the Egyptian military suffered attacks by Muslim radicals, including the Gama’a al-Islamiyyah and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad of Ayman al-Zawahiri, which later became part of al-Qaeda.

From the way they speak, officers such as Maj.-Gen. al-Mullah seem to view the Salafis as in the same category as the radicals, and to fear that they will mount a terrorist strike on the Ministry of Defense.

Many officers in Egypt are relatively secular, and they may fear the Salafi movement at this time of instability. In that case, they’d be happy about the disqualification of Abu Ismail and especially unhappy about Salafi demos to reinstate him.

In contrast, many Egyptian activists believe that the military attacked the Salafis for no reason, to create turbulence in the country as a pretext for making a full-fledged military coup and for cancelling the upcoming presidential elections. The military says they are committed to holding the elections on schedule.

A big demonstration at Tahrir Square, joined by the New Left, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis, appears not to have been molested, and Maj. Gen. al-Mullah had, as I remember, encouraged people to demonstrate there instead.

Aljazeera English reports:

There was also a demonstration before the governor’s mansion at Suez and 7 persons were arrested there.

4 Responses

  1. In contrast, many Egyptian activists believe that the military attacked the Salafis for no reason

    Maybe.

    We’ve seen plenty of examples of security forces attacking protesters over the past year or so. In how many of those situations have more military personnel died then protesters, as happened here?

  2. Is the Salafi leadership leading the demos? Didn’t they just endorse the moderate Fotouh? Is there disunity amongst the Salafis?

  3. The case for linking the current Salafi movement in Egypt with al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and EIJ of the 80’s is tenuous at best. Those groups splintered from the Muslim Brotherhood, whereas the current Salafi movement appears to have evolved independently of the MB. The Nour Party’s leadership represents factions that were largely apolitical under the previous regime and didn’t play an active role in the Revolution.

    @Robert – What’s odd is that the Nour Party never officially endorsed Abou Ismail when he was in the race. The party’s rank-and-file supported him, but there seems to be some tension between Abou Ismail and the party’s leadership. They’ve been very careful in their public statements to keep their distance from Abou Ismail. It’s unclear why.

Comments are closed.