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Egypt 2011-2012: A Year of Revolutions: Egypt's Salafi Community

Despite the popular misunderstanding of outsiders, Egypt's Salafi community is not a monolith, nor do all Salafis tie themselves to a single ideology or movement. Instead, they are best defined as Sunni Muslims who seek to follow the example of "As-Salaf as-Saleh," a term used to describe the first three generations of Muslims. While some choose to interpret this literally - wearing traditional robes and keeping long beards with their mustaches shaved, others take a more flexible approach. In almost all cases however, the Salafi community holds in common a devotion to an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam, a dedication to social and economic justice and performing charitable works, and a focus on Daawa, the religious outreach that invites others to follow the call of God.

After the first round of parliamentary elections, it became clear that the Salafi movement was far more popular than many liberal Egyptian commentators ever imagined, and it was this emphasis on charitable works that led many of these commentators to accuse the Salafis, and the Salafi-linked Nour Party (Hizb il-Nour) of basically bribing the poor into voting for them, an accusation that shows far more about the bubble that many liberal Egyptians find themselves in than the actual reality behind the popularity of the Salafis and the Salafi-linked parties, who have been been preaching about the kind of economic justice issues that appeal to Egypt's impoverished majority long before the idea of free elections became a reality and for whom the community services they provide are a part of their longtime commitment to Daawa, rather than to electoral victories.