Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 01/2012

Salafis and Sufis in Egypt

Jonathan Brown

December 2011

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


As expected, Egypt’s first parliamentary election after the overthrow of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak confirmed the popularity and organizational strength of the Muslim Brotherhood and Freedom and Justice Party, which won 77 of the 156 parliamentary seats contested in the first electoral round. Surprisingly, it also revealed the unexpected strength of the Salafi alliance, dominated by the al-Nour party, which secured 33 seats. Much to the discomfort of secular Egyptians and Western governments, Islamist parties now dominate the Egyptian political scene. The spectrum of political Islam in Egypt is no longer limited to the Muslim Brotherhood and the parties that derived from it, such as the Brotherhood’s official Freedom and Justice Party and the Wasat Party, a Brotherhood splinter group. Instead, it now includes several conservative Salafi parties, of which al-Nour is by far the most prominent, and two Sufi political parties, Tahrir Al-Misri and Sawt Al-Hurriyya, both of which fared badly in the first round of elections. Although these groups share a common foundation in Islam, there the similarity ends. These Islamically motivated organizations have different approaches and beliefs and are taking distinctly divergent positions. Despite internal tensions, the Salafi parties united for the elections in a parliamentary alliance. They have also been engaged in a tense association with the Muslim Brotherhood, as the two Islamist camps seek to pool common resources while pursuing their own agendas. Meanwhile, Sufi parties and Sufi state institutions have positioned themselves alongside both secular parties and the surviving organs of the Egyptian political establishment.