A few weeks after the ouster of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, the New York Times ran this headline: “Egyptian Liberals Embrace the Military, Brooking No Dissent.” The accompanying photograph showed a man with a full beard and shaved moustache in the Salafi style, a prominent prayer mark (a “raisin” in the Egyptian vernacular) on his forehead. Behind the man is a wallpaper of Muslim pilgrims circumambulating the Kaaba in Mecca. A framed portrait of then-general and coup master Abdel Fattah el-Sisi leans against beige tiles stickered with several Qur’anic verses. The headline limits the military’s support base to (secular) liberals, while the image shows us it actually extends beyond this narrow stratum.
Posts Tagged ‘Egypt’
Perhaps the most pertinent question to be asked of Egypt’s revolutionary/counter-revolutionary process in the past three years is this: how can we properly diagnose the persistent incongruity between the slogan of the 2011 revolution—“bread, freedom, and social justice”—and the failures of all political entities in Egypt to achieve them? These entities include the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), a transitional military regime that assumed power directly after the revolution (February 2011–June 2012); the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (June 2012–July 2013); and now, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s new presidency and the immediately preceding civilian regime installed under his military command (July 2013–May 2014). In other words, how and why has every organized entity in Egypt since January 2011 failed to meet the basic demands of the revolution?
Carl Becker was right in his assessment of great events: they have an ability to create a new normal language of profound significance. Each era has few words that epitomize its worldview. The Arab Spring has been a momentous event of profound significance, but the systematic hampering of ideas into pre-packaged catalogs of binary grouping, as reflected in Mohamad Elmasry’s comment on my reflection on Egypt, has been a major obstacle in revealing the creative ideas of this unique event. This response is to transcend the binary framework in both Dr. Elmasry’s readings of Egypt and the wider discourse regarding the Arab Spring.
My reflection concerns ideas, not groups. Elmasry’s version of the story is the opposite. This is the dividing line between our two viewpoints. Both could be right in their incommensurable paths. As such, there is a conceptual trap in responding to his binary framing of the story. Since his version is a litany of claims for and against the Muslim Brotherhood, a response to them will by default put me in the opposite camp, which I abstain to join.
What role do divine interventions play in Egypt’s current political climate? Is Abdel Fattah el-Sisi a Sufi? Is the Muslim Brotherhood anti-Sufi? To understand the interplay of religion and politics in Egypt today, it is not enough to pay attention to political parties, constitutions, and political slogans. We need to also look at how the invisible and the divine are invoked in the public sphere. The belief in divine interventions, divinely inspired dreams and visions, and direct contact with the prophet Muhammad and his saintly descendants is often associated with Sufism. In recent months, however, dreams and visions have also figured in the supposedly moderate, liberal, secular Sisi camp and in the supposedly Islamist Muslim Brotherhood camp.
The ouster of Mohamed Morsi involved a dispute over legitimacy—what gave the Egyptian president the right to remain in power? Despite the arguments of some commentators to the contrary, Morsi’s claim to legitimacy was based in democratic norms, not religious ones.
An earlier article, “Egypt and the elusiveness of shar’iyyah,” published at The Immanent Frame, contains several problematic assumptions, which lead the author, Mbaye Lo, to a series of equally problematic conclusions. Lo suggests that former Egyptian president Morsi claimed legitimacy on religious grounds rather than democratic grounds and that Islamists could not be trusted to respect Egypt’s democratic process. Lo also seems to uncritically accept claims made about the Muslim Brotherhood by some of Egypt’s political liberals.
Political legitimacy in the Arab world has often been derived from Islam. Both sharia (Islamic law) and shar’iyyah (legal, legality and legitimacy) derive from the same root word, prompting traditional Muslim scholars to argue that political legitimacy is only valid when legitimized by sharia. This explains why Mohamed Morsi’s supporters during the June 2013 conflict were identifying themselves as the camps of shar’iyyah and sharia.
The word shar’iyyah has a remarkable presence in Morsi’s public speeches. He was dedicated to its retention and faithful to its application through his last stand against the Tamarod movement that led the campaign to topple him on July 3, 2013. Shar’iyyah appears more than 70 times in Morsi’s final address to the Egyptian people, which has become known as khitabu al shar’iyyah, “the legitimacy speech.” The pro-Morsi movement opposing the current regime is known as the National Alliance for shar’iyyah. Morsi’s online legacy—whether defending him or mocking his deposed government—has also been constructed around shar’iyyah. Morsi’s critics have accused him of reducing democracy to a notion of legitimacy that relies on electoral procedures but does not necessarily guarantee a process of political pluralism.
In the following essay I would like to offer three observations about the use of religion in politics in Egypt in the aftermath of the ousting of president Mohamed Morsi, and about the Muslim Brotherhood (MB)—the oldest and most important Islamic organization in Egypt—particularly on how the group became targeted by the current military government in Egypt.
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.