Since the resignation of former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Egypt has experienced significant turmoil, from temporary rule by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to the military coup that led to the election of current president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Posts Tagged ‘Islamism’
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.
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.
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.
Shortly after the late Omar Suleiman, the Hosni Mubarak era head of Egypt’s military intelligence, had been appointed vice president in a belated attempt to appease Egyptian protesters, he gave an infamous interview to Christiane Amanpour, in which he declared that the Egyptian people were not ready for democracy. While his remarks were rightly dismissed at the time as a self-serving declaration intended to justify why the regime was not moving faster to respond to the demands of the protesters, it certainly invites one to ask why Egyptians have had such a difficult time building a viable democracy. A popular theory, invoked by many Egyptian liberal democrats and supported by the military’s ouster of Egypt’s first democratically elected President, Mohamed Morsi, is that there exists a fundamental incompatibility between Islamist politics and democracy, or at least between the Islamist politics of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and democratic politics. (Ironically, that was precisely one of Suleiman’s claims in that interview—that elections would only empower what he derisively called the “Islamic current.”)
In The Myth of Religious Violence, William Cavanaugh argues that the assumption that religion is inherently authoritarian, divisive, and predisposed to irrational violence is a myth. This myth has its origins in the so-called “Wars of Religion,” which, he states, did not precipitate the rise of the modern state as is commonly assumed. Rather, he argues that these wars served as a justification for the nascent nation-state, which then used them to assert its power over the church. The church, correspondingly, was either absorbed into the state or relegated to an essentially private realm. It was only through the creation of a distinct private sphere for religion that the divisive properties of religion could be kept at bay—or so it was claimed. The myth of religious violence, propagated by political theorists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, has been used to legitimize the state’s claim to a monopoly on violence, lawmaking, and public allegiance in the name of Western secular ideals.
For the past few years, much of the scholarly literature on Islamist movements has danced around the “participation/ moderation” idea: that participation in democratic politics tends to moderate the ideology and positions of Islamists. I choose my term deliberately. When I say “danced around” I do not mean that scholars have endorsed its automatic applicability; far from it. Most have eschewed the vague term “moderation,” but even those who have used it have tried to give it specificity. And they have noted that the “participation” in question has generally been in non-democratic systems, so that a generalization culled from scholarship on political party behavior in democratic electoral systems (one that has plenty of qualifications and exceptions attached) is unlikely to be transferable to elections in which the existing regime will not allow itself to lose.
The public protests and ouster of elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi by the Egyptian military followed by the appointment of interim President Adli Monsour left Egypt with continued protests, violence, and an uncertain future for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Islamist politics across the Middle East. The following roundup culls the various religious and political motivations and interests of multiple parties, both within and surrounding Egypt.
Taksim Meydanı. Partition Square. Although it has taken on potent new resonances in recent days, the name of Istanbul’s throbbing central plaza commemorates a now-forgotten history, the function of the site during the Ottoman period as a point of distribution and “partition” of water lines from the north of the city to other districts. Already long the favored site of demonstrations in Istanbul, Taksim is now the scene of the largest anti-government protests in Turkish Republican history. And the name of the square speaks volumes—what better word than “partition” to describe the increasingly politicized cleavages that have defined Turkish public life over the past decade, finally achieving international reverberation with the current protests?
On November 21st, a Egyptian-sponsored ceasefire between Israel and Hamas took effect, bringing an end to eight days of particularly fierce fighting between the two.
In the recent publication, Contextualising Jihadi Thought, editors Jeevan Deol and Zaheer Kazmi compile cross-disciplinary analysis on the concept of jihadism and its impact on Middle Eastern, South Asian, and European countries.
Mohamed Morsi was declared President of Egypt little more than two weeks ago. Challenger and former President Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafik, sent President Morsi a telegram congratulating him on his victory: “I am pleased to present to you my sincere congratulations for your victory in the presidential election, wishing you success in the difficult task that has been trusted to you by the great people of Egypt.”
As thousands celebrated the victory of the Freedom and Justice Party—part of the 84-year-old Muslim Brotherhood organization—in Tahrir Square, just a few blocks away a much more somber mood prevailed.
“Let me enjoy another bottle of beer,” said an old man as he plunked some coins on the counter at a local grocery store. “Soon the Jama’a (Muslim Brotherhood) will ban it.” The store owner, Mr. Ahmad, nodded. “Allah yastur al balad, [May god protect the country]—it will be like Sudan or Pakistan.” Clearly, anxiety and divisions still persist in Egypt. The pharmacists at the nearby El-Ezaby Pharmacy also looked disillusioned. This profession in Egypt is overwhelmingly dominated by the Coptic Christian community, who represent about 10 percent of Egypt’s 85 million people, but 90 percent of whom voted for Shafik according to exit polls.
The protests in the Middle East and North Africa, and the ensuing political changes, were intended to transcend the old military-Islamist dichotomy, which in Egypt was a legacy of the army-led Egyptian Revolution almost exactly 60 years ago. Yet following a long and contentious electoral season, Egyptians were again left with a choice between Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, and Ahmed Shafik, a military man and the last Prime Minister under Hosni Mubarak. Nevertheless, despite the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ heavy-handed actions and subsequent protests by Brotherhood supporters and other advocates for a civil and democratic state, Egypt has, for the first time, a democratically elected president.
To what extent do current depictions of the Egyptian situation reproduce the simplistic narrative of the “Brotherhood” versus the “Army” as the only options worth discussing? How does this binary either illuminate Egypt’s cultural, political, and religious dynamics or obscure its more complex realities?
The New York Times reports on the atmosphere in Cairo today, after news came in that Mohamed Morsi is the winner of the presidential race in Egypt.
In a recent article, Lin Noueihed and Terek Amara discuss the racism and fear of harassment Tunisian Jews have experienced since the overthrow of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
The Tunisian uprisings of December 2010 are often depicted in negative terms, as lacking leadership, ideology, and political organization. Nahda (the Tunisian Islamist movement that, after decades of exile and repression, won 40 percent of the seats in the elections of October 2011) members are now accused of working to turn Tunisia into a “sharia state,” in which religious freedom, women’s rights, and freedom of expression would cease to exist. While the fears of individuals and groups who disagree with Islamists have to be taken seriously, discussion of current changes needs to be based on a real engagement, not on caricature.
The place of religion in the political order is arguably the most contentious issue in post-Mubarak Egypt. With Islamist-oriented parties controlling over 70 percent of seats in the new People’s Assembly and the constitution-writing process about to begin, liberals and leftists are apprehensive about the implications for Egyptian law and society, including the rights of Egypt’s millions of Coptic Christians.
David Rohde, in Reuters’ Analysis and Opinion blog, designates 2012 as the year of the Islamist and discusses the likelihood that Islamists will remain in power in Tunisia and Egypt.
The New York Review of Books’ blog recently posted a debate between women’s rights groups and Human Rights Watch entitled, Women and Islam: A Debate With Human Rights Watch.
The award-winning documentary radio program, America Abroad, has recently released a new documentary entitled, “The Rise of the Islamists.”
The New York City Police Department, and Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly in particular, is in hot water over a documentary-style film shown to officers as part of training.
America Abroad, the award-winning documentary radio program, has released a new documentary, “The Politics of Faith—The Role of Religion in Divided Societies.” Drawing from interviews with locals and experts, the documentary examines the religious undercurrents that are sharpening societal divides, from Egypt to China, from Russia to Malaysia.
The 9/11 debate was centered on a single issue: Islam. Osama Bin Laden was taken at his own words by the West: Al-Qaeda, even if its methods were supposedly not approved by most Muslims, was seen as the vanguard or at least a symptom of “Muslim wrath” against the West… Then came, just ten years after 9/11, the Arab Spring, in which Islam did not play a role, and the killing of Osama Bin Laden, whose death went almost unnoticed among Muslim public opinion. What about the “Muslim wrath”? Suddenly, the issue of Islam and jihad being at the core of the political mobilization in Muslim societies seemed to become, at least for a time, irrelevant. So what went wrong with the perception of the Western media, leaders, and public opinion? Was the West wrong about the role of Islam in shaping political mobilization in Muslim societies? Yes. The essentialist and culturalist approach, common to both the clash of and dialogue of civilizations theories, missed three elements: society, politics, and more astonishingly . . . religion.
Given the close relationship, globally, between religious political action and religious charities, it should come as no surprise that there is a long tradition of cooperation between Islamist political parties and Islamic charitable organizations in Turkey. While this relationship has been the subject of considerable discussion in analyses of Turkish domestic politics, less noticed has been the savvy cooperation between the Turkish government and Turkish Islamic organizations in implementing the country’s increasingly assertive foreign policy under the ruling AKP, or Justice and Development Party. Two recent crises, the “Mavi Marmara” incident in 2010 and Turkey’s on-going aid mission to Libya, highlight the ways in which this cooperation has allowed Turkey to assert itself regionally and are suggestive of the sophistication of its efforts to become, in Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s words, “a regional power and a global player.”
Andrew Sullivan discusses the difference between Christianity and “Chritianism” in light of the recent terrorist attack in Norway.
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.
Gilles Kepel writes on a past encounter with Samuel Huntington and current events in the Middle East.
Writing in what is quickly becoming one of the prime sources of English-language cultural and political commentary on recent events throughout the Middle East—Jadaliyya—Asef Bayat analyzes the relationship between Islamism and the revolution in Egypt. Bayat argues against the voices characterizing the revolution as Islamic in nature, finding their arguments as well as their historical comparisons with the Iranian revolution of 1979 ill-founded. There is little evidence of a strong Islamist influence on the uprising, nor can the Muslim Brotherhood be expected to emerge as dominant. Not only that, Bayat sees signs of “a deeper transformation.”
Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs, posts a helpful piece at his blog, The Rubin Report, elucidating the differences and the affinities between Islam and political Islamism, and examining some of the ways in which they’ve been either conflated or unduly separated.
John Calvert, Professor of History at Creighton University and a specialist in political Islam, in hisforthcoming biography of Sayyid Qutb, “rescues Qutb from misrepresentation, tracing the evolution of his thought within the context of his time.” InSayyid Qutb and the Origins of Radical Islamism(2010), he does not look to absolve Qutb of his virulent rhetoric but pushes the reader to understand Qutb in his own setting and time and to delve deeper into the writing of the influential Islamist thinker. Qutb, who was executed in Egypt in 1966, has been studied extensively but Thomas Hegghammer from Harvard University states: “We are dealing with a rare book that is likely to become a classic in the field of political Islam.”
Nasr Abu Zayd, a liberal Egyptian Qur’anic scholar, died yesterday in a Cairo hospital. He had been living in exile in the Netherlands since 1995 after being declared an apostate and having his marriage annulled by an Egyptian court. In his work, Abu Zayd distinguished between the ‘Meccan verses’ and the ‘Medinan verses’ of the Qur’an. The ‘Medinan verses,’ he believed, should be read within their context and should not be used to establish an Islamic polity in the modern era; he argued against the atomistic approach to reading the Qur’an. Brian Whittaker draws on a 2008 interview he conducted with Abu Zayd to discuss modern interpretations of the Qur’an—as they relate to the Islamic polity—the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the drama of Abu Zayd’s exile.
In the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs, Marc Lynch reviews Paul Berman’s The Flight of the Intellectuals, taking the opportunity to discuss reactions to non-violent Islamism.
In his recently published The Flight of the Intellectuals (Melville House Publishing, 2010), Paul Berman, writer in residence at New York University, sets out, via a reading of the thought of Tariq Ramadan, to investigate how Western liberals—especially journalists and intellectuals—speak about Islamism and Muslim dissent. Berman takes issue with the favor that Ramadan receives (seemingly at the expense of figures such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Ibn Warraq) amongst Western intellectuals, and attempts to dislodge that favor by presenting Ramadan’s links to Islamist thinkers and groups, and, by extension, association with anti-Semitism, Nazism, and fascism. As Carlin Romano, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, notes, “If it’s dangerous to zap Islamism these days, it’s not easy being a Muslim reformist thinker, either.”
I grew up in Bombay (now Mumbai) in the 1950s and early 1960s. I spoke Tamil with my mother, a combination of English and Tamil with my siblings and my father, and various brands of Gujarati, Marathi and Hindi with friends, domestic helpers, neighbors, bureaucrats and shopkeepers. […]
As the citizens of this vast metropolis seek to restore some semblance of normalcy to their lives, it is important to probe the possible reasons for this horrific episode and explore its ramifications for the future of India’s plural, democratic and secular state. […]
Abdullahi An-Na‘im’s Islam and the Secular State has rightfully received a great deal of attention and commentary. A prominent Muslim scholar and human rights activist, he brings to bear an impressive scholarship and candor in addressing a pivotal and hotly contested issue in contemporary Islam. Although An-Na‘im wishes to present his views from within the Islamic tradition, he also states early on that his arguments are not exegetical in nature and therefore do not aim to interpret traditional Islamic sources such as Qur’an, hadith, tafsir, or legal theory (usul al-fiqh). Rather, An-Na‘im desires to provide an “interpretative framework” upon which more substantive arguments and analysis can be built in the future. This reliance on theory rather than on textual sources or theology is flawed if one expects to foster broad-based reform rather than be read and celebrated by a small elite Muslim and non-Muslim readership. […]
Islam and The Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari`a is avowedly didactic, aiming to persuade Muslims in public debate that constitutional rule of law, human rights and democratic citizenship in a secular state represent the only form of political regime consistent with Islam in the modern world. Despite lengthy and repetitious exposition of the notions of democratic constitutionalism, “civic reason,” citizenship and human rights, An-Na`im fails in his explicit purpose of justifying and legitimizing them in Islamic terms, which appear somewhat incidentally and do not carry the primary charge of justification. In this regard, his preaching can only have an effect on those already converted.
Few books in Islamic studies have been as eagerly awaited or intensely debated prior to publication as Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na`im’s Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari`a. Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory University, An-Na`im has for more than twenty years been a tireless proponent of a deeply religious but liberal-modernist reformation of Islamic politics and ethics. […]
The world will long remember Benazir Bhutto as a modern Muslim woman who served two terms as Pakistan’s first woman Prime Minister: bright, attractive, articulate, talented, courageous, charismatic, an astute politician and political leader who called for a secular democratic Pakistan. Benazir was all of these but – like her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and a number of other Pakistani political leaders – she also left a flawed political track record that both reflected and contributed to many of Pakistan’s problems. […]
Violence has been accepted, then, by jihadis, warriors defending Islam, as a necessary step in creating a purer Islamic society. They are motivated at least in part by Muslim teachings on tolerance, charity and service. Many Pakistanis, however, see violence legitimized by religion as signaling the demise of civil society, and it is hard to believe that violence, rooted in the fabric of society, can be uprooted without great turmoil and bloodshed. And this can only be accomplished by Pakistani leadership.