With 24% of seats in Parliament, the Salafis have become the second political force in Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood. They counted, most of the time, on young candidates to persuade voters.
Ahmed Khalil, 33 years old, doctor of strategic planning, is one of their deputies. We meet at a hotel that the salafist party "al-Nour" has fully reserved for its members who live outside Cairo so they are not absent from sittings of Parliament. An interview to try to understand those Salafists who remained in the shade, away from politics for decades.
Before January 25, 2011, you were against the revolution. Suddenly, after the demonstrators have proved their insistence, you have changed your mind: is this what a kind of opportunism?
Our biggest problem with the people is that people heard many rumors about us but they really did not know us. Before January 25th, we had the reputation of being officers of state security or allied to the regime. People were listening that some Salafists say that we should not topple the regime. The Egyptians have put all Salafists in one basket. This is a big mistake. There were only 4 or 5 persons who called not to overthrow the regime. We also had problems with these people because they accused us of not being Salafists.
Another thing, if you recall, just before January 25th, a salafist, Sayed Belal, who belongs to our school (the Salafist school of Alexandria) was tortured and killed by the former regime and were accused of be the perpetrator of the bombing of the church of Alexandria. We were the target of state security as our sheikhs refused to cooperate with them. When this school has created its party "al-Nur," the people began to know our ideas. From day one, we were for peaceful demonstrations demanding rights. So this is not true that we are opportunistic.
For long time, you have repeated that "politics", elections and parliament are "HARAM" How do you explain your re-entry into politics?
We never said that politics is a sin. We say that democracy just allowing what God has forbidden is Haram as the change in quotas inheritance, extramarital relations or homosexuality .. etc..
We are with absolute freedom, but under Sharia. For us, freedom without limits is a sabotage. We are for the mechanisms of democracy, but we are against democracy which affects the principles of Islam. Regarding the elections, we said that the elections at the time of Mubarak had no interest, but after the revolution, when we found that the elections are free and fair we attended there.
How do you explain your score to Parliamentary elections?
Nine million Egyptians have voted for us. We had 112 seats. This answers those who say that we are not Egyptians or that we are extremists. It is illogical that all 9 million are Salafists. The Egyptian people has found that we are not lying, we are clear and serious.
There are accusations that you take advantage of illiteracy in Egypt by telling voters that the most important Salafist preachers like Mohammed Hassaan, support your party. What do you say?
First I call anyone who has evidence regarding these accusations to present it. I admit there were mistakes but it's lack of experience. But in the future when the political culture of the Egyptians will be improved, all these errors, committed by all political forces, will disappear.
To prove that we have not used illiteracy in Egypt, our party has not used the expensive advertising on television or in the streets, we made the simple advertising. Everyone wonders how a party born only four months ago could have this success: Our strength is that we are in the street, the odds of the people, for 30 years.
The Prophet Muhammad said: "You are all SPONSORS and you are responsible for the people you refer." But you refuse to communicate with the Christians who are a part of this society, how do you explain this paradox?
Our party is the clearwst in our relationship with the Christians. We have no problem with them. During the 18 days of the revolution, we were side-by-side with them with no dam. In Alexandria, who protected the churches during the 18 days of the revolution were the Salafists. Christians are our partners in the homeland. We will respect them as the Prophet ordered us to do.
But, you said that you will not submit your vows during Christmas?
It's true. You have to separate between the beliefs and rights. Pope Shenouda III has not visited Pope Benedict XVI when he was in Egypt and he explained it by the difference in beliefs. We call for coexistence, everyone believes in what he wants. Christians believe that Jesus is the son of God which is against our religion, how we can make our wishes?
Many of the Salafist preachers call to impose "Jezya" (sort of taxes on Christians), is it democratic?
It's not in our priorities. For questions concerning the jurisprudence, al-Azhar, which is the reference of all Muslims in Egypt, will be the judge.
Your political project seems very similar to that of the Saudis. Do you want to transform Egypt into another Saudi Arabia?
Absolutely not. This is the result of thirty years in which the media have continued to bind us to Saudi model and some who have even linked to Somali and Afghani models. I am Egyptian, I live in Egypt. On the other hand, we have accepted the principles of democracy, so the next election, the people have the power to evict me from the parliament.
But this parliament will draft the Constitution, then you can do in a way that helps you keep your seats in next parliament ...
Even if we try to do that, there will be a referendum where the people may refuse the Egyptian Constitution.
I affirm that this group has no connection with us. We founded a party which has its official face book page that expressing its ideas. It's easy to create a FaceBook account and say what you want in it. We are responsible for what is said on our official page only.
The niqab is it for you an obligation in Islam? Are you going to impose it in Egypt?
We must differ from what is our own jurisprudence and what will be applied to the community. Our belief is that the niqab is compulsory. But, for the community, there are four schools of jurisprudence and it is for them to choose among these schools. We are not saying that the Niqab is obligatory for all Muslim.
And the Hijab?
Again, it's to al-Azhar to give the last word in matters of Jurisprudence.
What is your attitude towards women in general?
Many of the women's rights are violated in Egypt. We will work to get her all right. We must change the culture of the society not only the Salafists. Within Parliamengt, there are five women elected, four of them belong to the Islamic current.
Egypt spends unprecedented economic crisis. Tourism is the second source of income for the Egyptian state. This area helps to solve the unemployment problem in Egypt since 1 of 6 Egyptian work there. At the same time, you fight against the seaside tourism that attracts 50% of tourists ... What is your explanation?
First, I think the enemy of tourism in Egypt is not the Islamists, it is the bureaucracy. For example, we invited the organizer of the rally London-Cape, to pass by Egypt. This organizer has canceled the step of Egypt because he needed permission from 52 egyptian authorities.
Again we must differ between the prohibition of tourism and the prohibition of what is sin in tourism. Of course, we will not prohibit tourism. Instead, we will create other avenues for tourism, such as medical tourism, religious tourism, rallies tourism. Do not summarize the tourism in resorts. We will reform this kind of tourism to avoid nudity found on some beaches, we will dedicate beaches for families, others for women and third for men, and private beaches. All this without anyone losing their job. All these policies will be implemented gradually and without prejudicing the interests of the Egyptian people.
But, will you apply these policies on foreigners too?
Each country has such laws and customs that must be respected. And I do not think tourists come to do what they can do at home, they come to visit the country and know its people.
I don't want to reduce tourism in a swimsuit issue and to alcohol. Tourists do not come to that. they come to thousands of things that they are in Egypt.
In the traditions of Egyptian society, there are bars, cabarets ..., will you close these places? This does not affect personal freedom?
This is not our priority at the moment even if we oppose these traditions. He must first restore security and economic recovery. And to reassure everyone, we will not introduce drastic changes in Egyptian society in all areas.
Some Salafis called for burning the novels of Naguib Mahfouz. Are you against cultural creativity?
We are with absolute cultural creativity within the framework of Islamic principles. Those who called for this idea are wrong. We are against nude scenes, but we are supporting in sculpture, painting etc. ..
Are you for a secular or a religious state?
We reject the theocratic state.
A Christian can be elected president?
Again, this requires changing the culture of the society that refuses that a Christian be called governor. We must change the thinking of the society which refuses even the results of democracy.
What is your attitude with regard to export gas to Israel and the peace treaty with the Jewish state in general?
We are against the export of gas to Israel, it is unimaginable that they benefit from the gas when the Egyptians are fighting for a gas cylinder. Regarding the peace treaty, we do not know its details. We call to revise the treaty and modify the terms that do not go with the interests of the Egyptians.
What do you think of the accession to power of Islamists in Tunisia, Morocco, Libya and Egypt?
The Islamists have a huge chance to express themselves and show to the world that dictators have used terror as to have the support of the West and stay in power.
This article was written for the french magazine "Courrier de l'Atlas"