Supporters of Hazem Salah abu Ismail, a Salafi presidential candidate, see sharia as the country’s — and the Muslim world’s — best hope.
|A supporter of Salafist presidential candidate Hazem Salah abu Ismail holds a poster of him in Cairo. (Khaled Elfiqi, European Pressphoto Agency / March 30, 2012)|
CAIRO — The men gathering outside the yellow mosque agreed: Adulterers should be stoned to death, the hands of thieves cut off.
“But not now,” said Kareem Atta, waiting in a cool breeze for the sheik’s car to roll up next to the Koran sellers. “Sharia law must be gradually put into place so it doesn’t shock the system. You can’t cut people’s hands off if you first don’t give them financial justice.”
The young students, engineers and laborers are followers of Hazem Salah abu Ismail, a lawyer and holy man whose poetic blend of populism and ultraconservative Salafi Islam has turned him into a leading presidential candidate. Posters with Ismail’s gray beard and boyish face seem to hang on every street and alley across this ancient city.
Ismail is at once provocative and soothing, in a breath switching from genial to fiery. He has suggested revoking Egypt‘speace treaty with Israel and holds up Iran as an exemplar of defiance against the U.S. His hard-line rhetoric has nudged American officials closer to the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood, a sign of Washington’s scrambling to keep pace with the tremors of the “Arab Spring.”
“I will never become a puppet for the U.S. or Israel or any Western power,” Ismail said in a recent speech. He added that the U.S. was funneling money to certain Egyptian candidates to “suit their interests” and he urged young Muslims to “spoil such a plot.”
Ismail’s candidacy, however, may be in jeopardy over an embarrassing link to America. His mother, Nawal Abdel Aziz Nour, who lived with his sister in the Los Angeles area, became a U.S. citizen before she died, according to California public records. That would make him ineligible to run. Ismail claims his mother held only a green card, not a U.S. passport. The election commission, which confirmed that Ismail’s mother held an American passport, is expected to decide on whether to disqualify him in coming days.