Sheikh Ali Wanis, an Egyptian parliament member and prominent figure in the Nour Party—the Salafi party which preaches a return to Islam's earliest practices based on Muhammad's practices—was recently caught in a "compromising position" with a female other than his legal spouse(s).
According to official reports, police found a parked car on a dark, farm road, and went to investigate it. They found a man, with the Salafi trademark beard, in an "indecent position" with a "young girl," who later was reported 19-years-old.
First, the Salafi MP told police that she was his fiancé; later he claimed the teenage girl was his niece. One video clip shows Wanis immediately after he was arrested by police, imploring one of the officers not to report him.
Now, however, that the police did expose him, and now that it has been shown that the girl is neither his fiancé nor his niece—Wanis' story has changed yet again: according to him, this was all a set up by the ruling military and its security apparatus, all meant to defame him and the Salafi Nour party (somewhat reminiscent of when another Salafi politician told police that his face was bandaged because he was injured in a carjacking—when in fact he had a cosmetic nose job).
Still trying to maintain his aura of piety, Wanis even quoted the Koran in a statement meant to exonerate him as falsely accused: "O you who believe! If a wicked person comes to you with any news, ascertain the truth, lest you harm people unwittingly, and afterwards become full of repentance for what you have done" (Koran 49:6).
And what did his "ultraconservative" and "upright" Salafi colleagues do—they who constantly preach "morality," the need for the hijab, and the segregation of the sexes"? Did they renounce him? Perhaps a bit of public whipping, to atone for his sins? Did they, in "righteous indignation," do what two Egyptian brothers recently did when they thought their sister was being "immoral"—slaughter her, the mother, and aunt?
Not at all. After Friday prayers, hundreds of protesting Salafis marched out in the street with Wanis, shouting anti-police slogans and conspiracy theories.
Just as Egyptian secularists have long argued, Islamists like the Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood hide behind a mantle of piety and morality—yet, when it comes to it, such piety and morality is apparently not something they strive to live by, but rather a weapon to use against non-Islamists, who are always portrayed as immoral and corrupt. Quick to grow beards and have a zibiba—the callous forehead mark produced by head-banging on the floor during Muslim prayers—Islamists like Wanis are more concerned with outer signs of morality, even as they engage in forbidden sexual relations, which are banned on pain of death by their own Sharia.
Yet there is more to it than this. Operating according to the Islamic notion of niyya, or "intention," no doubt the Salafis have concluded that, even if Wanis is guilty, admitting it only harms the Islamist movement's progress—hence, the best strategy is to deny it. After all, in the words of their prophet Muhammad, "War is deceit"—and the Islamists have certainly been treating the elections as war.
Speaking of equivocation and sex, immediately before this scandal, another prominent Egyptian Salafi, Osama al-Qusi, declared that it is permissible to view sex scenes in movies—"so long as the plot calls for it," concluding, in the words of Muhammad, that "deeds are judged according to intentions."
Sex scandals can strike any politician's career. What is important, here, however, is that a sex scandal has just struck the one political party whose only appeal is that it stands for morality, religion, and "family values." It has nothing else to offer—and now it doesn't even have this, as its thin veneer of piety continues to slip away.
Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum