While many Salafi Muslims in the Gaza Strip remain opposed to politics, some have recently been discussing the foundation of a political party, following developments in Egypt, writes Andreas Hackl in the Jerusalem Report (May 21).
With their purist Islamic practice, aspiring to follow the pattern of the original Muslim community, Palestinian Salafis—like their fellow believers everywhere—have mostly been limiting themselves to Islamic preaching and education. Recently, however, some of them have become impressed by developments among Salafis in Egypt and the rise of the al-Nour party, which now holds 111 seats out of 498 in the Egyptian parliament.
Since many Salafis from Gaza travel to Egypt for their studies, Palestinian and Egyptian Salafis are familiar with each other. In discussions about the possibility of launching a political party and fielding possible candidates, a local Salafi leader estimates that they might get 15 percent of the votes in such a scenario. However, they are aware that it is unlikely that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority would allow free rein to such a political movement. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas would most likely oppose Salafi political efforts. Still, a small number of Salafis have come to the conclusion that nothing in their faith prevents them from establishing a political party.
But a real challenge for them would be to convince the majority of Salafis to renounce their non-political stand, remarks Nathan Thrall (International Crisis Group). Hackl’s article also mentions the militant fringe of the Salafi movement. While jihadist Salafis are estimated to range from a few hundred to a few thousand activists in the Gaza Strip, there have been several instances of clashes between Hamas and such groups. The most recent one, in August 2009, was the crushing of the followers of Jund Ansar Allah, whose leader had attempted to declare Gaza an Islamic state.
(The Jerusalem Report, P.O. Box 1805, Jerusalem 91017, Israel)