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Young men with downy beards, caps, kneelength a traditional Arab galabeyas and sandals sat chatting in a McDonalds' restaurant in Nasr City, a large middle class district in the eastern part of Cairo. Women wearing concealing black garments and veils over their faces scurried around the small dusty streets between their apartments and the neighborhood shops. They were not from here and they barely spoke any Arabic. Asking around revealed that every one of them came from Europe and most of them have North African roots.
In the neighborhood Egyptians, the European Salafists - Sunni religious fundamentalists - are outsiders. Ashraf, a 26-year-old Dutchman of Moroccan descent, came to Cairo a year ago. "To learn Arabic," he says, "the language of my religion." He had just visited the mosque, where many kindred spirits go to pray five times a day. A not-so-secret agent of the security service stood outside the mosque. The house of prayer is under surveillance. "We aren't hurting anyone," says Ashraf, whose apartment was recently searched. "We only come to study and pray."
Arabic language schools in Nasr City are doing good business. Young Salafists from Europe come to Egypt in great numbers to learn the language of the Koran, the holy book that Salafists believe can only be understood in the original language in which it was divinely revealed to (...)