In Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report, Saba Mahmood has produced a valuable account both of how the idea of separating religion from politics came to be central to the development of the “religiously neutral” state in Europe (beginning with the Thirty Years War in the seventeenth century and culminating in the new nations after the First World War) and of how that idea became politically important in the postcolonial Middle East. In particular, she describes how in constituting religious identities, the state in modern Egypt creates unexpected opportunities for political power and social confrontation among those who seek to regulate, as well as those who claim to represent, religious minorities. Her detailed analysis of the rich historical and ethnographic material she has assembled reinforces the conclusion that instead of regarding the secular state as the solution to discrimination against religious minorities, it must itself be understood as part of the problem. So I offer a few reflections prompted by her excellent study, first on liberal ideals that are commonly said to promote equal treatment for minorities, and then about the secular anxiety that preceded the 2013 coup against the elected president Mohamed Morsi.
Posts Tagged ‘Egypt’
The Rimini Meeting is run almost entirely by unpaid volunteers. Everything from the physical construction and take-down of the arena, to its cleaning staff, to the various literary, scientific and artistic exhibits, to food services, is the prerogative of around 4,000 unpaid volunteers who give up their vacation time and pay money (covering their own travel and lodging costs) to work at this event. […] I interviewed nearly 100 of these volunteers, including university students, factory workers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, doctors, housewives, and retirees. Among the questions I asked them was whether they would consider the Meeting a “religious” event. Nearly half of them immediately replied “no.” A handful replied “yes” right away, and the rest couched with “it depends.” But regardless of the initial answer, they all offered very much the same explanation.
Dominant accounts of the religion-modernity relationship, at least among sociologists of religion in the US, have tended to focus mainly on what falls into these categories of decline, capitulation, withdrawal, or confrontation. But the Rimini Meeting and its offshoots are among a host of new phenomena that really don’t fit into the above, and seem to warrant a different category.
At Jadaliyya, Anthony Shenoda reflects on the simultaneous visibility and invisibility of the Coptic Christian community in Egypt.
Mahmood Mamdami places the Egyptian revolution and other protest movements in the historical context of popular struggle in Africa.
What are the chances of successful democratic transitions in Tunisia and Egypt? I have just returned from both countries where many democratic activists shared notes with me about their situation, comparing it with the more than twenty successful and failed democratic transition attempts that I have observed throughout the world and written about.
I have been in Egypt since February 6, 2011, where I have been witnessing events, talking to friends, activists and non-activists, and to the public in Cairo’s streets—and it is not an exaggeration to say that every corner in Egypt talks politics today. . . . From my observations of events and numerous discussions with others, Egypt’s relationship with the U.S appears, in some ways, to be absent from most of the heated discussions going on today. But upon closer examination, this relationship has been present in the revolution, not only during and after the peak of events—from January 25 to February 11—but also, I would suggest, in the very anti-imperialist underpinnings of the revolution, a revolution that the mainstream American media has miscast as one generated purely internally.
A few days ago, the Al-Jazeera program Empire assembled a high-profile panel to discuss the future prospects of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. The 25-minute program is available online and worth watching for some background and a diverse array of views on this influential movement in Egypt and throughout the Middle East.
Michael Slackman has a fairly extensive article in The New York Times on the Muslim Brotherhood’s apparent consolidation of power in post-revolutionary Egypt, where, he writes, “religion has emerged as a powerful political force, following an uprising that was based on secular ideals. The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group once banned by the state, is at the forefront, transformed into a tacit partner with the military government that many fear will thwart fundamental changes.”
The youth-driven Revolution of 2011, with its call for freedom and justice, is inscribing a new feminism, with a fresh lexicon and syntax. The new feminism—which does not go by the name “feminism,” but by its spirit—redefines the words freedom, liberation, justice, dignity, democracy, equality, and rights. It creates its own syntax, which, the dictionary reminds us, is the “arrangement of words to show their connection and relation.” It announces itself from deep within the Revolution, which aims to resurrect the fundamental principles and rights of citizens and human beings that were wantonly trampled down by the Mubarak government. The new feminism might be called, simply, “freedom, equality and justice for all.” It asserts itself in actions, straight-forwardness, and courage.
In the SSRC’s Transformations of the Public Sphere essay forum, Seyla Benhabib considers the recent and ongoing uprisings in the Arab world as a novel hybridization of Muslim and modern politics, suggesting that it “is altogether possible that these young revolutionaries who stunned the world with their ingenuity, discipline, tenaciousness and courage will also teach us some new lessons about religion and the public square, democracy and faith . . . .”
Tuesday marked the first day of the 55th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women meeting. In addition to conversation about the annual and review themes, the question of women’s right and roles following revolutions in the Middle East has been a key topic of conversation. UN Women hosts a panel today (February 25th) titled, “Breaking New Ground: Arab Women and the Path to Democracy.” Find out how to attend or watch the webcast online here.