Despite their differences, one thing is certain, which is that the Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood are intent on more Sharia, more radicalism, and less freedom for all, wherever they gain influence.
For western lay people, it can be hard to distinguish one radical Muslim from another. What is the difference between Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood? Are they really all that different? And why do Western governments seem to favour and even partner with Brotherhood-backed groups, but denigrate Salafis?
The 2011 People’s Assembly elections in Egypt focused the world’s attention on the Salafis when they proved to be the ‘dark horse’ of that poll, winning 25% of the seats. This, together with the Muslim Brotherhood’s 47%, gave Islamists almost three quarters of the seats in the Assembly. How do these two powerful Islamic groups compare?
Today the Brotherhood and Salafis also figure prominently in reports from Syria. Both brands of Islamists field rebel forces in Syria, and Brotherhood leaders dominate the Syrian National Council, which has been recognized by the Arab League and some UN states as the legitimate representative of Syria.
Often the past Western politicians have made the mistake of dismissing the Salafis as marginal extremists, while being all too willing to lap up the Brotherhood’s propaganda about their democratic credentials. A good example was David Cameron’s statement in Parliament this past week concerning the Syrian National Council, as he sought to downplay any suggestion that the conflict in Syria had a religious basis:
“When I see the official Syrian opposition I do not see purely a religious grouping; I see a group of people who have declared that they are in favour of democracy, human rights and a future for minorities, including Christians, in Syria. That is the fact of the matter.”
As troubling as Cameron’s ignorance about Brotherhood ideology appears to be, even more disturgin is his intent to forward military support to rebel groups, at the very time that a report has come from Syrian refugees of genocidal measures being enacted by Islamist rebels against the Syrian Christian minority.
This past week evidence has also emerged that among the insurgents who attacked the American Embassy in Benghazi in September 2012 were Egyptians, captured on video saying that ‘Dr Morsi sent us’. Yet Dr Morsi, the Brotherhood President of Egypt, is claimed by the US as an ally, and Brotherhood operatives have had long-standing high-level access to and support from the US Government.