Egypt: between Islamist protest and post-Islamism

Egypt: between Islamist protest and post-Islamism

The late 1970s saw the Camp David negotiations culminate in peace between Egypt and Israel. However, Sadat’s policies, both internal and external, are far from unanimous, and protests are increasing, particularly from the Islamists. This culminated in the assassination of the Egyptian president in October 1981, and the rise to power of Hosni Mubarak.

The radical Islamist protest

Part of Egyptian political Islam in the 1970s is strongly marked by the theses of Sayyid Qotb, a radical Muslim Brotherhood executed under Nasser in 1966. The Muslim Brotherhood has been banned since the 1950s, but they are still very active within the population and advocate a fight to the death (especially the qotbists) against the power in place, while breaking with the official Islam embodied by Al-Azhar. They are Sadat's main internal enemies, even if he tries to isolate them by supporting Islamic associations. The Islamists blame the president for peace with Israel and too much westernization of the country.

Radical groups are formed: first the Islamic Jihad, in 1979. Created by Colonel Abud al-Zumur, it has among its members a certain Ayman al-Zawahiri, future right-hand man of Osama bin Laden. It was Islamic Jihad that was behind the assassination of Sadat in October 1981, and the attempted uprising in Middle Egypt, in Assiut. The repression is fierce, and most of the members of this group leave Egypt to wage jihad in Afghanistan.

However, another radical movement is emerging from Islamic Jihad: the Gama’a Islamiyya. She appeared as early as 1982, claiming the influence of an Al-Azhar dissident, Omar Abdel-Rahman. We find him involved in the first attack on the World Trade Center, in 1993. The targets of the Gama’a Islamiyya are first of all the Egyptian officials, like the head of the Parliament Rifaat al-Mahgoub, assassinated in 1990; the other targets are foreign tourists, with the Luxor bombing (1997), and the Copts.

The Gama’a Islamiyya wants to undermine power by all means, but its violent methods prevent it from gaining the membership of the Egyptians. Mubarak’s crackdown further marginalizes them, and it seems that most of its members have joined Al-Qaida.

The legalist opposition of the Muslim Brotherhood

The Muslim Brotherhood association was officially dissolved in 1954, by order of Nasser, following an attack. However, it has a special, illegal but tolerated status with an authorized press. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Egyptian regime alternated between tolerance and repression against the Brothers, but in 1993 Mubarak chose everything repressive (not just against them, by the way).

During all these years, the Muslim Brotherhood has developed a solid network of associations, offering health, education and culture to an essentially poor population, which brings them real sympathy among the people.

At the political level, the situation is more complicated: in the 1980s, the Brothers joined the lists of other parties, such as the Labor Party. In the 1990s and 2000s, with the first past the post and a label of independents, they supported sanctions votes against Mubarak's PND.

The movement itself is evolving. If the starting point of the Muslim Brotherhood is rather heterogeneous, from the upper middle class to small artisans and civil servants, from the 1990s onwards we witness a certain gentrification. The Brothers no longer reject a certain pragmatism and legalism, and we see the youngest attempting - in vain - to create a political party (Wasat al-Jadid) in 1996, then 2004. The Brothers publish texts and campaign for a republican, democratic, constitutional, parliamentary system, but which also conforms to the principles of Islam. They are also in favor of civil rights for all Egyptian citizens, including women and Copts. In 2005, they want a restriction on the president's powers, empowerment of Al-Azhar and greater separation of powers. However, if the Muslim Brotherhood defends a political democracy, this is not the case at the social level: they refuse the freedom of individuals as individuals, and believe that politics must intervene in the moral behavior of the individual, including through censorship. The Brothers wish to shape an Islamic social order, to institutionalize hisba (the right and the duty for every Muslim to fight against evil by inciting good).

Since the 2000s, independent elected representatives have sat in Parliament (around twenty deputies). But in 2005, it was a real success, with 88 elected deputies, still under an independent label, while unofficially being well within the Muslim Brotherhood.

The conservative revolution, post-Islamism

Even though the Muslim Brotherhood is not in power, Egyptian civil society is becoming Islamized. Olivier Roy speaks of "post-Islamism" to designate this paradoxical situation of a failure to come to power, but of a success for the Islamization of society, and even of modernity. The concepts of Islamic feminism, Islamic ecology, Islamic anti-globalization, Islamic management (cf. P. Haenni, Market Islam: the other conservative revolution),…

There is then a certain depoliticization of Islam, in the liberal world trend of states' disengagement from privacy; one can speak of "Islamic neoliberalism", embodied by people like Husan Badrawi, a millionaire practicing ergetism. Schools, hospitals and public gardens are created. Television is not to be outdone with the appearance of preachers, like evangelicals in the United States. It is a rejection of violent Salafism and the valuing of an Islam that would promote personal development through Islamic, or "Islamized" values; individual success is thus seen as a sign from God. It must be the instrument of revenge against the West, while ending it with an assisted mentality and predestination with pessimistic tendencies.

The debate, however, remains difficult and limited in an Egypt ruled by the authoritarian Mubarak regime, which tends to track manifestations of political or social Islam. These post-Islamist attempts are mainly made by individuals (such as Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd ', who died in July 2010), not by parties, and their impact is still difficult to gauge at the end of the 2000s.

Bibliography

- H. Laurens, Peace and war in the Middle East. The Arab East and the world from 1945 to the present day, A. Colin, 2005.

- G. Kepel, The Prophet and the Pharaoh, The Discovery, 1984.

- N. Picaudou, Islam between religion and ideology (Essay on Muslim modernity), Gallimard, 2010.

- O. Carré, M. Seurat, The Muslim Brotherhood (1928-1982), L’Harmattan, 2005.

- O. Roy, The failure of political Islam, Esprit / Seuil, 1992.

- P. Haenni, Market Islam: the other conservative revolution, Threshold, 2005.


Video: Is There a Future for Political Islam in Egypt?