Because who wouldn’t want to live in a 7th-century hellhole?

(Pittsburgh Tribune-Review) — If a new political force here has its way, public stonings, whippings and the lopping-off of hands will become the law in the Land of the Pharaohs.

It all would help return Egypt to “an Islamic state (of) the Middle Ages,” in the words of one Salafist.

Even before President Hosni Mubarak fell from power on Feb. 11, many Western and Egyptian analysts worried that the world’s most populous Arab nation — and America’s most crucial Arab ally of three decades — might tumble into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood, founded in 1928 as the world’s first Islamist party, has long demanded religious rule in Egypt, inspiring similar movements across the Middle East.

Yet it isn’t the only Islamist faction grasping for power — or even the most radical. Several groups are arising, including at least one former terrorist organization.

Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya fought the Egyptian government in the 1980s and ’90s until most of its members were killed or imprisoned. Its bloodiest attack, in 1997, slaughtered 58 tourists and four Egyptians in Luxor, a major tourist attraction. Like the Brotherhood, it now has formed a political party to campaign in parliamentary elections set for this fall.

More troubling to outside observers, and to many Egyptians, are the Salafis.

Recognizable by their long beards and galabiyas, or ankle-length gowns, Salafis are widely accused of fomenting sectarian tension across Egypt.

Once devoted to proselytizing and known for shunning politics, Salafis have formed three political parties.

The word salaf means “ancestors” in Arabic, and Salafis try to emulate the first three generations of Muslim leaders dating to the seventh century. In many ways, they resemble the arch-fundamentalist Wahabis of Saudi Arabia.

They follow no centralized hierarchy; their religious philosophy can vary, as can their newfound political ideology. Yet, in interviews with the Tribune-Review, Salafis supporting different parties agreed on one thing: They want Egypt to be an Islamic state governed by Shariah, the Islamic legal system.

‘We want an Islamic state’

As Egyptians revolted in January, Youssef Sidhom, a respected figure of the Coptic Christian minority, advised young Copts to join Cairo’s Tahrir Square protests.

“It started out quite nobly, and we were confident at the time that Egypt (was) going through a historical transformation,” recalls Sidhom, editor-in-chief of Watani, a weekly newspaper covering Christian issues here. “It didn’t continue this way. Sorrowfully . . . there emerged the new Salafi groups.”

He blames Salafis for many “violent atrocities” against Copts. In one incident, a Salafist mob razed a Coptic church here and pledged to build a mosque in its place.

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