Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is the new Nasser, according to many Egyptians. The image of the military strong man currently leading Egypt is frequently put beside the picture of Gamal Abdel Nasser, who led a group of younger military officers in taking control of Egypt in 1952. The new government presents itself as saving Egypt from the religious fanaticism of the Muslim Brotherhood, just as Nasser liberated Egypt from imperialists and conservative forces. Since many secularists and self-identified liberals supported Sisi’s takeover of the government in July 2013, the subsequent political conflicts can appear to be a continuation of the battles between advocates of a secular modern polity and religious fundamentalists. However, viewing the current turmoil as being basically a conflict between religious and secular forces in the public arena can lead to conclusions that make real conflict resolutions more difficult. “Secular” versus “religious” is not the major battle. The goals of the protesters have been more basic: to gain control over their lives through improved economic opportunity and freedom from the surveillance and control of a dominating police state, whether that state is secular or religious.Read the rest of Not secularism vs. Islamism.
John O. Voll is Professor of Islamic History and past Associate Director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. He is a past president of the Middle East Studies Association and serves on numerous editorial boards, including the Oxford Islamic Studies Online. He is the author, co-author, or editor of a dozen books, including Islam & Democracy (with John Esposito), and more than one hundred articles on Islamic and world history.