The last few days have been mejnoon (crazy)! Today we were blessed with the opportunity to see the Great Pyramid of Giza and go inside! While no scarab beetles attacked us, I still had chills seeing and walking in something so massive and so old, as well as seeing graffiti from as far back as the ancient Greeks! Made with 2,300,00 blocks, it is the only pyramid in Egypt with the king’s burial chamber inside the pyramid, rather than under it. We were also able to visit Sakkara, home of King Djoser’s step pyramid (the first ever constructed in Egypt) and the infamous Bent Pyramid, built for King Sneferu. While the pyramid lives on as an eternal monument to his pyramid engineer’s failure, it has also managed to stay put since 2600 B.C., which is pretty impressive. There’s also a lovely, non-bent pyramid right next door. Getting to see such pristine and ancient artifacts is truly an honor and a privilege.
Another enlightening encounter with Egyptian society occurs at the pyramids: souvenir salesmen. Getting wooed, hassled, tricked, and persuaded to purchase trinkets and mementos was quite an experience. Some would even go as far as offering something as a gift and then expecting money or walking into your photo and expecting compensation. But these activities provide often the only (and small) source of income for many Egyptian men and their families. Combined with the dramatic drop in tourism, making a sale has become more imporantant then ever and it often necessary to simply survive.
With this fresh in our minds, it was an extraordinary honor to hear a lecture from Dr. Emad Abdel Gahfour. Dr. Emad is the current President of the Egyptian Salafi political party Al Nour. Al Nour party grew out of the Salafi Call movement in Alexandria, one of the largest Salafi groups in Egypt. Salafi usually is used to describe conservative Muslims who believe the exact example of the Prophet and Sunna (rather than only the principles) is true Islam. Truthfully, Salafism and Salafism in Egypt could each have their own books, so do some more research if you please. The Salafi Call had been promoting its vision of Islamic piety and social work (treating the sick, helping the poor) and largely avoiding political involvement since the mid-70s. Nevertheless, they, like many opposition and Islamist groups in Egypt before 2011, suffered varying levels of persecution under Sadat and Mubarak. According to Dr. Emad, the leadership of the Call was split about what course of action to take as the 2011 Revolution erupted across the country. Eventually, the Call decided to support the revolution and then decided that forming a political party would be the best way for their group to influence the public sphere.
Al-Nour organized rapidly and surprised many people by winning a quarter of the seats in the 2012 parliamentary elections. Dr. Emad believes this success led foreign governments to take the party more seriously and that the democratic institutions within the party administration have helped improved the image of Islamists. Like every other party, Dr. Emad stated the party’s goals as ending economic, security, and political corruption and abuses. He and the party also see an Egyptian society and law code based on Shar’ia (basically the Islamic way of doing things) as the most desirable outcome. Sadly, he was quite superficial about providing specifics about how they would like to ensure that laws were both Islamic and democratic, since a Salafi conception of Shar’ia is different than most Egyptian Muslims and certainly the sizable Christian population.
I also found Al-Nour’s decision to not field their own presidential candidate and endorse Abdel Moneim Abdul Futouh both wise and politically shrewd. By not fielding their own candidate, they avoid (or at least appear to avoid) the compromises and dirty world of scrambling for political power and portray an image of distant, pure group working only in the interest of Egypt. Additionally, I personally think Abdul Futouh has the revolutionary background and credentials to be a successful president. Additionally, he appeals to a wide range of Egyptians, secular to Salafi, which is very important at this point in Egyptian history. Aside from any genuine convictions, Al-Nour gains credibility and can portray the party more positively in Egypt and the international community by accepting a candidate much more liberal than themselves.