By Rami Galal
On Sept. 19, a new Egyptian Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Sherif Ismail, was sworn in before President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Among the new ministers is the journalist Hilmi al-Namnam, who holds the culture portfolio. The appointment of Namnam, a secularist, has sparked controversy among Egyptian Salafis and aroused opposition in Saudi Arabia. Such Saudi writers and intellectuals as Jamal Khashoggi, editor-in-chief of Al-Arab News Channel, object to Namnam’s appointment because he opposes Wahhabi Salafism, the religiopoliticial movement that originated in the Nejd region of the Saudi kingdom.
Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab founded what became the Wahhabi movement in the 18th century. In 1744, Wahhab allied with Muhammad ibn Saud, emir of the Nejd and founder of the first Saudi state, to increase followers of the Quran, Sunnism and the words and actions of the Salaf, the first three generations of Muslims. In doing so, they sought to purify Islam of misguided practices negatively affecting the Islamic essence of unity and various forms of heresy.
Immediately after Namnam assumed the culture portfolio, a video of him from July 2013 went viral. In it, Namnam stated, “The political Islam current must leave the political game completely, especially the Salafist Nour Party, which is more dangerous than the Muslim Brotherhood.” He compared the Nour Party to a “whore who extorts her husband if he doesn’t fulfill her demands by escorting someone else.” Namnam also said, “We lie when we say Egypt is a naturally religious country. It is high time we said Egypt is a naturally secular state.”
The Nour Party came in second in the 2012 parliamentary elections. Among its positions at the time were prohibitions on electing women and Copts, saluting the flag and singing the national anthem. The party altered these platforms, however, after lending its stamp of approval in 2013 to the June 30 revolution, although most of its leading figures wavered over what course to take.
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