North Africa

Download the North Africa Daily News Summary for May 31, 2013.





Observers of the Arab Spring states have seen an alarming rise of the influence of Salafist groups since the toppling of the former regimes; their actions indicate opposition to liberal democracy.


Salafists have been more bold and impudent in advancing their agenda throughout North Africa in recent months. Their actions have defied the state and what they perceive as foreign influence or un-Islamic behavior.

In February of last year, Protests against the Tunisian government held in a poor district in Tunis escalated to violence against security forces, leading to the death of two Salafist demonstrators and the injury of four policemen. Larger scale protests occurred in November at Egypt’s Tahrir Square where thousands came together to demand that Sharia become the country’s governing law. In September, young Salafists also stormed the American Embassy in Cairo, tearing down the American flag and replacing it with an Islamic one. Investigators looking into the assassination of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens have found evidence of a militant Salafist group’s involvement. Other instances demonstrate the lengths to which some groups will go to show contempt with all things they consider un-Islamic. These include an attack on alcohol vendors in a Tunisian hotel last October and the destruction of several old Sufi graves and shrines in Libya last August.

The Salafist movement is not a monolith as evidenced by Egypt’s Salafist Al-Nour party’s internal bickering, but its ideologies have had a mobilizing effect that current North African governments are having a hard time controlling. Al-Nour and other Salafist groups have continued to stall the Egyptian constitution drafting process by threatening walkouts over the role of Sharia in the new laws. A different set of problems have arisen in Libya because of the prominence of private militia groups—some of which act to forward Salafist goals.

Addressing Salafism in Tunisia, political Islam expert Dr. Alia al-llani said “the Ennahda Movement [the ruling party] used to come up with excuses so as not to confront the Salafist current, and Ennahda head Rachid Ghannouchi said several times that the Salafist violations must be addressed patiently, even if the process takes many years. This encourage[s] the Salafists to [further] encroach on the state.” In a speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Hillary Clinton addressed U.S. interests in Arab Spring states. She said, “We have to stand with those who are working every day to strengthen democratic institutions, defend universal rights, and drive inclusive economic growth. That will produce more capable partners and more durable security over the long term.”

Salafist groups’ political attitudes generally are in favor of restricting minority and women’s rights and opposing movement towards moderate, liberal democracies because of their resistance to all things foreign or ‘un-Islamic.’ Some groups have been harming the already shaky stability of the states with violent protests which also undermines the goals laid out by Clinton.


[-] Because of its violent tendencies and anti-Western sentiment, the Salafist movement poses one of the greatest challenges to U.S. interests in North Africa. It is proving difficult to handle for many North African countries including Libya and Egypt. The level of influence Salafist groups have on these new governments may greatly affect the relations North African governments have with U.S. and other Western governments.



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