by Khaled Abu Toameh
As the world focuses its attention on the trial of ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, extremist Islamic groups are working toward turning Egypt into an Islamic Republic.
If the Egyptian authorities do not move quickly to crush the extremists and regain control, the Sinai Peninsula could soon become a separate Islamic emirate run by Salafis, Hamas and Al-Qaeda.
The Facebook folks who triggered the anti-Mubarak revolution have been replaced by Salafis and Muslim Brotherhood supporters.
The young, liberal, secular and reform-minded youths who led the revolution against the Mubarak regime have failed to win the backing of many Egyptians, who clearly have more sympathy toward the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis.
Last week hundreds of thousands of supporters of a number of radical Islamic groups gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square in the biggest show of force since Mubarak stepped down earlier this year.
The demonstrators were supporters of the extremist Salafi group, which is calling for an Islamic state with Sharia law. The group has also established a party called Al-Nour, or "The Light," to contest the next elections in Egypt.
Aware of the possibility that the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafis would win, the Egyptian government has yet to set a date for new elections. But the government knows that it will not be able to postpone the elections for too long and will eventually be forced to succumb to the demands of the extremists.
The Salafis have become a major player in the Egyptian arena since the downfall of the Mubarak regime. Their supporters have been accused of targeting Churches and Christians, as well as secular, liberal-minded Egyptians.
What is most worrying, however, is the fact that the Salafis and their erstwhile rivals, the Muslim Brotherhood, have joined forces in a bid to form a united front against the secular movements in Egypt.
These two radical groups are now cooperating in the fight against a bill of constitutional principles that the ruling military council is planning to introduce ahead of the upcoming parliamentary election. The Islamic groups are opposed to the bill because it gives the armed forces the authority to play a political role in Egypt.
The differences between the Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood are not as significant as some Western experts on Islam have suggested. The Salafis' have always been unhappy with what they see as the Muslim Brotherhood's focus on politics rather than religion. The Muslim Brotherhood, for its part, has always maintained that the Salafis are obsessed with religious matters and fatwas, while displaying indifference to the government.
At the end of the day both parties want to see an Islamic regime in Egypt – one where democracy, moderation and pragmatism are non-existent.
Almost at the same time that the Salafis were demonstrating in Cairo, Muslim extremists attacked police stations and a gas pipe in Sinai, killing and wounding a number of Egyptian security officers.
Egypt's ruling military council has thus far been reluctant to confront the Islamic fundamentalist groups. Instead, Egyptian authorities are busy chasing journalists, human rights activists and peaceful demonstrators who are demanding reform and democracy.
Tahrir Square has already been occupied by the Islamic extremists.
It is only a matter of time before Egypt turns into an Islamic Republic that is aligned with Iran, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
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