Egypt's Sisi turns Islam on the Islamists

May 10 2014, 06:32 IST
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SummarySisi takes aim at Islamist dogma, shows religious side

As the Egyptian state presses its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, the man expected to become president has deployed a new weapon in the battle with the Islamists: his own vision of Islam.

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former army chief who deposed the Brotherhood's Mohamed Mursi and is expected to be elected president later this month, has cast himself as a defender of religion and taken aim at the doctrinal foundations of Islamist groups the state is seeking to crush.

Striking a pious tone that sets him apart from former president Hosni Mubarak, Sisi also appears to be taking on the mantle of a religious reformer. He has blamed outdated "religious discourse" for holding back Egypt.

"I see that the religious discourse in the entire Islamic world has cost Islam its humanity," Sisi said in an interview televised on May 5. "This requires us, and for that matter all leaders, to review their positions."

With references to God and morality, Sisi may turn out to be the most outwardly pious of any of the military men to have governed Egypt since the republic was founded in 1953.

This does not mean he will inject more Islam into the government of a state whose laws and culture have long been shaped by religion. Sisi has said there is no such thing as a "religious state" - challenging a central Islamist concept.

But he seems certain to encourage the role played by religion in the public life of this conservative society.

And as the authorities try to curb Islamist influence by tightening control over mosques, Sisi's presidency could bring a sustained effort to reinforce state-backed, apolitical Islam, providing clerical cover for destroying his Islamist foes.

"He is trying to replace the Islamists and counter the Muslim Brotherhood's argument that he is anti-Islam," said Khalil al-Anani, an expert on Islamic movements based at Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

"There is a religious aspect to his character and at the same time it is a political tool to strengthen his popularity and legitimacy among conservative Egyptians," he said.

"He has some kind of religious vision for society."

Sisi has been compared with Anwar Sadat, the head of state known for his piety who was assassinated by Islamists in 1981. Like Sadat, Sisi has a mark on his forehead from years of pressing his head to the carpet in daily prayer. His wife wears an Islamic veil.

TURNING AGAINST THE BROTHERHOOD

Sisi's reputation for piety encouraged

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