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Peter Riva

View from the Edge

Peter Riva of Gila has offered his many years of columns for this online newspaper. His writings have been published in East Coast newspapers, and he decided to share them with me and you, our readers.

Egypt, What You Are Not Being Told

by Peter Riva - Dec. 12, 2012

A strange thing happens when people rise up in revolt, seeking justice and truth: they find out what they did not know.

Many of those protesting in Tahrir Square, facing down Hosni Mubarak’s traditional dictatorial forces, were strict Islamists, so-called Salafi faithful, those who believe only in the word of God (Allah) as written in the Koran (Muslim Bible). As often happens with the most strict followers, their lives had been controlled by their teachers and scholars, who interpret daily life and values according to their readings and interpretations of the Koran. What they found in the commonality of opposition to absolute authority in Tahrir Square was shocking, faith-trembling, and certainly cause for abndoning teachers.

They have not lost their faith.  They have lost faith in their teachers, the narrow-minded dictatorial absolutism that they had been force-fed all their lives. The young Salafists have begun to question authority and discard many of the paths presented to them by the new Islamist government and leaders. They band together in coffee shops, much like Starbucks called Costa coffee shops, and have earned the nickname of Costa Salafists.

They still take a strict approach to Islam and the Koran; but the adaptation of those teachings to daily life and the truth of their fellow Egyptians of many faiths now cause them to no longer follow the rules as laid down by the Islamic leaders, especially those of the current President Morsi. Who’s leading the new demonstrations in Tahrir Square? You guessed it, the Costa Salafists, shoulder to shoulder with less-strict Islamisists, Coptic Christians and people of no faith. They share a common goal, borne out of the revelations of their Arab Spring uprising: what they had been told was a pack of lies. The hatred for anyone non-Salafist they had been taught evaporated, changed into respect or at least open tolerance. They want a new beginning, and, in the process, they have learned something their teachers forbade: the non-faithful, their comrades on the barricades, were not the enemy; blind authority is the real enemy. In short, their revolution is now targeting the controllers of the mind.

To understand the importance of this, there are a few things you need to know. Firstly, Egypt is the most populous state in all of the Arab countries. But more importantly, Egypt is the location of the principal universities and learning centers for all of Islam. The El Ansar School is perhaps the equivalent of Yale Divinity when it comes to Muslim learning. All Muslim religion and teachings are influenced in the learning centers in Cairo, Alexandria and regionally in Egypt. What happens in Egypt will color, change and liberate much of the thinking throughout the Muslim world, all the way to Malaysia (the world’s most populous Muslim state). The revolution in Egypt is going to shape the whole Muslim world.

Part of the importance of these events, all this rending of dictum and loosening of tongues, is happening in the open, in full view of fellow Muslims across the globe. It was the young who led the revolution in Egypt; and, in a religious culture known throughout Arab countries as demanding strict deference to their seniors, these young have broken that mold. It may be the traditional “white beards,” the Muslim Brotherhood, who are assuming power; but their hold on the reins is tenuous in the eyes of the young. Membership of the Muslim Brotherhood is falling, especially by age (youth). These young men and women fought for mental and physical freedom, and they are not about to give it up. They are rejecting ages-old culture, while holding on to their faith, and the leaders are coming to understand that the ways of old may have little place in the new Arab world.

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