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Former Egyptian militants turn to politics

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The salafis were forced underground by the Mubarak police state. Since his fall, they've had almost unprecedented freedom. But finding their voice has been accompanied by sectarian violence between Coptic Christians and groups that claim allegiance to the salafist movement. For many Egyptians, that scattered fighting is raising concerns about Egypt's Islamists going forward.

The United States fears that the chaos of a country in transition could lead to an increase in Islamist militancy in Egypt, and that some of the emerging salafi groups might turn to violence.

Earlier this month, US Coordinator for Counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin was among representatives from 30 countries and organizations who attended the Global Counterterrorism Forum in Cairo. Mr. Benjamin also met with senior Egyptian officials in defense and security.

“Many countries are trying to build relations with the new Egyptian government right now – the new people running things – and say, we have similar interests and concerns in trying to keep the bad guys out," says a Western diplomat in Cairo, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A push for sharia

Gamaa Islamiya (GI) has not yet announced its party platform. But like half a dozen other salafist parties, it is urging governance by Islamic law, known as sharia.

“I don’t think anyone should be under the impression that [GI] has become moderate,” Dr. Hamid says. “No – this is going to be a very conservative anti-western, anti-secular, Islamist party. This will not be like the Muslim Brotherhood in that respect.” The GI insists that women's faces must be covered in public, and is generally less flexible than the Muslim Brotherhood on how Islam should be interpreted in the modern world.

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