Staunton, December 28 – In the carefully scripted events collectively known as the Russian presidential campaign, all of the candidates play a role either intended by Vladimir Putin or one he can easily exploit directly or indirectly to promote his own policies and, of course, his own power
Perhaps the clearest indication of that comes in the person of Ayna Gamzatova, the wife of Akhmad Abdullayev, the head of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Daghestan, who is running for president on what might seem the improbable platform of supporting Kremlin’s harsh approach to Wahhabism, the Russian term for Islamist radicalism.
Indeed, one Russian commentator, Vladislav Maltsev, argues “the nomination for president of Russia of the wife of the Daghestani mufti should be considered as a desire to publicly declare and support at the federal level a harshly anti-Wahhabi line” against those who would like to see a more cooperative approach (iarex.ru/articles/55010.html).
In short, what some may want to see as a distinctly Muslim candidacy possibly aimed against the center is in fact a nomination in support of Putin and his approach, one that many Muslims as well as others in fact oppose but that has significant support among the Muslims of Daghestan for good and understandable reasons.
Gamzatova and her husband, as supporters of the Sufi trend that dominates Islam in their North Caucasus republic, have been active opponents of Wahhabism or as it is sometimes called in Daghestan Salafi Islam for more than two decades, viewing it as a threat to their distinctive form of Islam.
She and those who support her position have had to fight not only the growing number of Salafis in Daghestan and across the North Caucasus, Maltsev says, but also many in Moscow and in the region who argue that the best way to deal with this new trend is to seek points of contact with it, a position both she and Putin reject.
As long ago as 2010, Gamzatova, when asked about the Salafis, responded, “When I am asked ‘why do you treat all Wahhabis as potential militants?’ I answer that the reason is because ‘they are potential militants.’” Putin and those who support him could not define their stance more clearly.
Again and again, she says, she has seen those some at the center and in the region would like to treat as just another group of Muslims as the source of attacks on the government and on the kind of Islam she, her husband and other Sufis have long defended as the true version at least for Daghestan.
To advance their position, Gamzatova and the Sufis earlier organized a political movement, People against Corruption, and recruited many from the force structures as candidates. But when it appeared the group was about to win half of the seats in the republic parliament, the Makhachkala authorities, backed by some in Moscow, sought to block it.
Now, she is pushing the same cause, Maltsev says, and thus her nomination “should be considered not in the context of clericalism or attempts of Muslims to create a competitor to Vladimir Putin but as a desire to publicly declare and support at the federal level the tough anti-Wahhabi line” Putin has pushed but that some in Moscow and Makhachkala have opposed.
Gamzatov is thus Putin’s candidate every bit as much as some of the others who are nominally running as his opponent.