Back in the Middle Ages, AKA, 1987, I had my first glimpse of the pyramids. The pyramids of Giza took my breath away, literally. This was after I have been through the Valley of the Kings and the Luxor ruins and um, the lightshows! Nothing came close to the pyramids of Giza. There they were hulking above the cityscape of Cairo shimmering in the heat and dust. Nothing prepared me for the sheer majesty of it all. I have been to Egypt few times since then and I still catch my breath at the site of those majestic edifices.
Back in 1987, I was travelling around Israel, occupied Palestine, Jordan and Egypt with my then girlfriend Leslie. She happens to be a Jewish woman with family ties in Tel Aviv. She was reconnecting. I was a vagabond, after being fired six times from various jobs in less than two years, trying to take in as viagra of life as I could. We went to various occupied towns in Palestine and felt the murmurings of the first Intifada. We took weird chances like rode a broken-down motorbike in and out of the occupied territories through various checkpoints, ran up Masada with some bothersome orthodox Jewish activists who wanted to pick a fight, and spent the whole night hanging out with radical Marxists of all things in Bethlehem. Admittedly things were not as dangerous as they are today (no Hamas, no Jihadists) nonetheless those were reckless actions.
We left Egypt and took a boat (Felucca) ride up from Aswan (yes the river flows north) all the way to Cairo. The Feluccas are very much like the large boats that used to ply up and down the Surma River in my childhood. We took a 30-mile camel ride to hang out with the Bedouins near the Kharga Oasis. But, mostly we took in the country from the boat and its vantage point for 30 odd days. Cairo was the terminating point. We got there in the afternoon in a late summer day. The skies were hazy and our run-down and cockroach infested hotel was near the Giza district. We got into a taxi for the short drive and half way through the ride I saw the pyramids. I had hard time believing that these are things that human beings made with their bare hands. I felt dizzy and short of breath. I can still feel the sensation of breathlessness from that very moment I saw these things.
But, this is not a happy travelogue! This is about the attempt to obliterate human history and heritage and yes, the pyramids. The Al-Nour Party (the Light Party) wants to destroy or deface the pyramids. The Al-Nour came from nowhere in Egyptian life and politics. Behind the name of light they are the Salafis of Egypt. To them the pyramids represent “idolatry”.
During the last election in Egypt Al-Nour gained about 25% of the vote. Coupled with the 45+ percent of the seats won by the Muslim Brotherhood, AKA, Freedom and Justice, the Salafis can have real sway with the Egyptians. The table below shows the results as of January 9th, 2012. This may change but the changes will probably be in the direction of Al-Nour and Muslim Brotherhood.
These parties can command all of the machineries of the government, maybe not the Army quite yet. So, when Al-Nour says they want to do something it is best to take notice. The Salafis do not need absolute power to be a threat to Egypt’s antiquities and historical heritage. They already won enough vote to be a major force in proposing, approving, and blocking legislation. That will help determine priorities in government, and also threatens a gravitational pull toward stricter enforcement of Sharia as the Muslim Brotherhood competes with them for legitimacy and popularity. It will be a race to the intolerant militancy very much like the Republicans in the US who are racing to the intolerant right.
During the first few days of the New Year, Abdel Moneim Al-Sahat got on national TV and said, “Naked images of the Pharaohs are heresy and the pyramids need to be destroyed or concealed”. By concealment he means to cover the Pyramids in wax so that there will be these huge blobs as opposed to the wonders that took my breath away. This is the same guy who wants to burn the books written by Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz because in his view the book Awlad Harretna (Children of the Alley) violates the principles of Islam and is therefore haram. I read that book and it is a beautiful and heartbreaking story, maybe one of the best of Naguib’s work.
This could be dismissed as the ranting of a mad man except for the little inconvenient fact of the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban. The seed for destruction of the Budhhas was planted by a madman equivalent of Abdel Moneim, a Taliban Commander named Abdul Waheed in the Hazarat province way back in 1996. In early 2001 some 400 religious scholars came out with a decree that the Buddhas are against Islam and must be destroyed. So, the Buddhas that have been there since before the days of the Prophet were destroyed using dynamite over several weeks starting on March 2, 2001.
They tried other methods like anti-tank guns but finally resorted to dynamite to destroy the peerless Budhhas and the history and heritage that was part of the statues. The world stood by and debated. The debating society known as the UN passed resolutions and mullahs kept on destroying. If the mullahs were asked to build something with such grandeur I am not sure they would know where to even begin. On March 6, 2001, the Taliban leader (self-declared Amir-ul-Muminin) Mullah Mohammed Omar said, “Muslims should be proud of smashing idols. It has given praise to God that we have destroyed them.” Well, I am a Muslim and I am not proud of the destruction. Now, I am afraid that an even bigger evil is about to be perpetrated on humanity if we do not stop the whole line of exploration right on its tracks.
So, who or what is Al-Nour and who is behind them. As I said before, Al-Nour is the Salafi party in Egypt. Salafis want to go back to the purest (in their view) version of Islam. They believe that only the first three generations since Muhammad (PBUH) have practiced pure Islam. The first three Muslim generations are collectively referred to as “as-Salaf as-Saleh”, or The Pious Predecessors. Hence the name the Salafists. The principal tenet of Salafism is that the Islam that was preached by Muhammad (PBUH) and practiced by his Companions, as well as the second and third generations succeeding them, was pure, unadulterated, and, therefore, the ultimate authority for the interpretation of the two sources of revelation given to Muhammad, namely the Qur’an and the Sunnah. They want to make everything as Spartan and simple as those times, never mind that three of the four Caliphs were brutally murdered and we live in the days of internet and space travel.
The Al-Nour Party was formed in the spring 2011 as the liberal and secular revolution centred on Tahrir Square was beginning to rock the foundation of the Egyptian autocracy as well as the society. The party was formed as a melting pot of various militant and ultra conservative groups. These people thought the Muslim Brotherhood was corrupt and pliable by the secularists. But, the most amazing thing is that the Al-Nour party managed to field candidates in almost all the seats in the recent elections and won a good quarter of the seats. According a well sourced report by The Daily Telegraph, some $100 million has come into coffers of Al-Nour from the intolerant Wahhabite kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Have we not seen this movie before?
The Saudi kingdom gave billions of dollars to the Mujahidin in Afghanistan who then morphed into the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The atrocities in Afghanistan, the destruction of Bamiyan Budhhas, the constant and slow degrading of the Pakistani state and the subjugation of basic human rights in most of the Middle East and in South Asia has the stench of Saudi money associated with it. Whenever, we see the Wahhabite money we see great spectre of destruction and unmitigated bloodletting. Egypt is now the new hunting ground for the Wahhabite money and it’s evil.
Let us agree on one fact. In country after country the population went for the Islamists after the overthrow of the autocrat of the realm. Wherever free elections have taken place in the Islamic Middle East in recent years, the religious parties have won: in the Gaza Strip in 2006, in Iraq in 2010, and in Turkey, Tunisia and Morocco in 2011. This basically shows that populations after years of repression are going back to one sure stable beacon in their lives, the all-encompassing faith.
However, most of the population would not want to destroy their heritage and in Egypt’s case one of the largest sources of income. However, extreme madmen percolate in the midst of the discontent and the euphoria of new found freedom and power and focuses on symbolic trivialities at the behest of some rich ultra conservative denizens of the dark in the Wahhabite kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The Salafists want to do more than destroy the pyramids. They want to stop all education for girls, force women to wear full nikabs and they want all men to wear full beard without moustaches etc. As you can see they want to make sure the outward signs of piety are adhered to at all costs. However, there is so very little in terms actual plan to enhance the spirituality of the population under their rule.
In Afghanistan the Islamists have bankrupted the population in moral terms. Widows are not allowed or able to take care of their children because they are not allowed to do any form of legal work. So, the only path left them is to sell their bodies. Children begged for food on the streets of Kabul. They warlords fought over young boys! In Egypt where the society is far more advanced with higher levels of education in both men and women and great literary and intellectual tradition it maybe difficult for the extremists to enforce Taliban like destruction and paranoia.
The young people who started the Tahrir Square revolution earnestly believe that the tilt to the radical Islamists is a transitional phase in Egyptian life. One of the leaders of the Tahrir Square is Amr Iss al-Rigal says, “This is merely a transitional phenomenon. We had a feeling that the religious groups would triumph at first — because they, like the Salafists, have friends in the oil monarchies. And because they, like the Muslim Brothers, were long members of the opposition, which gave them time to organize.”
We hope for the sake of humanity that Amr is right about the transition. We should all give him all the help we can muster in order to stop the denizens of the Stone Age bomb us back to the Stone Age!
Kayes Ahmed lives in Boulder, Colorado, USA with his three dogs. He runs a small yet global apparel and design business based in Boulder.