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Egypt, Islam, and Democracy

Egypt, Islam, and Democracy: Critical Essays

Saad Eddin Ibrahim
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 284
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  • Book Info
    Egypt, Islam, and Democracy
    Book Description:

    These essays by one of Egypt's most influential intellectuals provide a fascinating perspective on the political, religious, economic, and social issues of contemporary Egypt. Written over a period of fifteen years, the essays cover a range of topics including civil society and the prospects for democratization in Egypt and the region, the urban sociology of Cairo, the development of Egypt's landed bourgeoisie, structural adjustment and the processes of economic liberalization, and the complexities of ethnic conflicts and minorities in the Arab world. A number of essays address different aspects of Islamic activism in Egypt: the formation, membership, and activities of activist groups and their philosophies, political and social roles, and ideological relations with the West. Written at various points in the modern history of Islamic activism, democratic reform, and economic and social liberalization, these essays reflect the processes of change and continuity in the sociopolitical development of present-day Egypt, while a new postscript written by the author in 2001 brings the story into perspective at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-254-6
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-xii)

    Rereading the twelve essays that make up this volume, I was puzzled but pleasantly surprised. The essays were written separately and sporadically over a twenty-year period (1976–95), and I had not anticipated a publisher’s request to gather them into a book, nor had I imagined I would find many common threads running through them.

    As selected by the able editors of the American University in Cairo Press, the twelve essays come to read as a long, cohesive tale of Egypt’s national drama in the last quarter of the twentieth century. This cohesion could all be in the eye of...

  4. Chapter 1 Anatomy of Egypt’s Militant Islamic Groups Methodological Notes and Preliminary Findings 1980
    (pp. 1-38)

    Iran’s Islamic Revolution took the world by surprise. The Western media have subsequently been alarming their readers with warnings of Islamic “revival.” “resurgence,” “rumble,” and “anger.”¹ Strategists and political practitioners have joined in—invariably using the same or more academic-sounding jargon, such as the “arc of trouble” or the “crescent of crisis.”² The area referred to stretches from Morocco to Indonesia, where nearly 800 million Muslims live and in which some of the world’s most strategic raw materials and real estate are located. The rising attention and the West’s alarm are understandable and indeed quite justifiable. After all, most of...

  5. Chapter 2 An Islamic Alternative in Egypt The Muslim Brotherhood and Sadat 1981
    (pp. 39-58)

    The rising interest in Islamic militant movements in the West may be fully justified on grounds of ‘national interest.’ However, there is a creeping danger of ‘neo-Orientalism’ in the garb of Western social science. One possible outcome is the mystification of Islamic militancy by Western writers. Concepts of the ‘revival,’ ‘resurgence,’ and ‘return’ of Islam may be quite misleading. The tendency to lump together all Islamic movements in all countries of the so-called ‘crescent of crisis’ glosses over the historical specificities and the socioeconomic particulars of these countries. Premature generalization must also be guarded against. Five years ago, in cooperation...

  6. Chapter 3 Islamic Activism and Political Opposition in Egypt 1995
    (pp. 59-76)

    Islamic activism is currently an issue of great concern both within and outside the Muslim world. Unfortunately the term is overloaded with diverse, and often conflicting, meanings. The confusion is compounded by the inaccurate usage of interchangeable terms such as Islamic ‘fundamentalism,’ ‘militancy,’ ‘fanaticism,’ ‘extremism,’ and ‘violence.’ The Western mass media have used these terms as buzz words permeated by excessive fear-arousal. Certain dramatic events in Muslim countries—the Iranian Revolution (1979), the seizure of the Grand Mosque at Mecca (1979), the assassination of President Sadat (1981), the hostage-taking and suicide missions in Lebanon and Israel—have added to both...

  7. Chapter 4 The Changing Face of Egypt’s Islamic Activism 1995
    (pp. 77-90)

    Concepts and phrases such as ‘Islamic revival,’ ‘Islamic resurgence,’ ‘Islamic fundamentalism,’ ‘Islamic militancy,’ ‘political Islam’ and the like have had wide circulation in academia and in the mass media during the last two decades. Dramatic events in the Middle East such as the Iranian Revolution (1978–79), the assassination of Egypt’s President Sadat (1981), and the escalating violence in Algeria and Egypt (1992–94), have added to the growing interest and anxiety at home and abroad concerning the possible implications of the Islamic phenomenon.

    In this paper we have chosen the less value-loaded term of ‘Islamic activism’ to tackle the...

  8. Chapter 5 Islamic Activism and the Western Search for a New Enemy 1995
    (pp. 91-104)

    Until the summer of 1993, Arab-Muslim Third-Worlders used to lament the sensational Western media for its gross oversimplification and distortions of our complex realities at home. However, those of us who lived or were educated in the West, could blame such over-simplification on the inner dynamics and time imperatives of the Western electronic media industry.

    But when a renowned American political scientist, Samuel Huntington, writes in the prestigious, sophisticatedForeign Affairs Journalabout “The Clash of Civilizations?”¹ in a manner not so different from that of the mass media, the matter becomes a cause for serious alarm. Huntington’s article borders...

  9. Chapter 6 Cairo: A Sociological Profile 1987
    (pp. 105-122)

    The history and sociology of Cairo are those of Egypt and, to some extent, those of the entire Arab region. Its size, splendor, power, and functions have been a reflection of this fact for the past eleven centuries. It is of little surprise, therefore, that the Egyptians themselves have used the same name for their country and their capital city, Misr, interchangeably, and the Arabs have admiringly dubbed this complex entity as ‘the Mother of the World’ (umm al-dunya).

    This equation does not merely relate to a concrete physical entity, but describes a state of mind and spirit. To the...

  10. Chapter 7 Egypt’s Landed Bourgeoisie 1994
    (pp. 123-150)

    This essay deals with a crucial but understudied socioeconomic formation in the evolution of modern Egypt: the big landowning bourgeois class. The main propositions explored in this essay are the following:

    1. Fertile land has been a scarce commodity, hence the most valuable asset, in the otherwise arid country of Egypt. Control and management of this asset have constituted much of the sociopolitical discourse in modern Egypt.

    2. The concept of landowning was initiated by the Egyptian state in the mid-nineteenth century, and the country’s modern class structure has been woven around it, as has its main social conflict.


  11. Chapter 8 Governance and Structural Adjustment The Egyptian Case 1994
    (pp. 151-204)

    “There is nothing more difficult to arrange, more doubtful of success, and more dangerous to carry through than initiating changes in a state’s constitution. The innovator makes enemies of all those who prosper under the older order, and only lukewarm support is forthcoming from those who would prosper under the new. Their support is lukewarm partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the existing laws on their side, and partly because men are generally incredulous, never really trusting new things unless they have tested them by experience. In consequence, whenever those who oppose changes can do so, they attack...

  12. Chapter 9 Management and Mismanagement of Diversity The Case of Ethnic Conflict and State-Building in The Arab World 1994
    (pp. 205-224)

    All the world’s armed conflicts since 1988, with the possible exception of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, have been over internal ethnic issues. In fact since 1945, ethnic conflicts have claimed some 16 million lives, several times those resulting from interstate wars. At present, ethnic conflicts span three old continents. Typical examples are those in Burma and Sri Lanka in Asia; Somalia, Sudan, and Rwanda in Africa; the former USSR and Yugoslavia in Europe.¹

    With only 8 percent of the world’s population, the Arab Middle East has suffered 25 percent of all the world’s armed conflicts since 1945.Most of these conflicts...

  13. Chapter 10 The Vindication of Sadat in the Arab World 1995
    (pp. 225-250)

    As much as the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was hailed in the West as a man of peace, he was condemned by many fellow Arabs as having betrayed their most sacred cause, “the liberation of Palestine.” From the moment his plane touched down at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport in November 1977 to the moment of his tragic death on 6 October 1981, Sadat was a pariah among fellow Arab heads of state. His country was ousted from official Arab gatherings, and the Arab League headquarters was moved from Cairo to Tunis.

    By 1987, ten years after his historic trip to...

  14. Chapter 11 PVOs and Grassroots Development in Egypt 1993
    (pp. 251-274)

    The widespread disappointment in the outcome of Third World development in the three decades from 1960 to 1990 has caused a soul-searching among theoreticians and practitioners alike. Similarly, ideological paradigms of socioeconomic engineering have been deeply questioned. While both the soul-searching and questioning continue, some provisional conclusions have emerged.

    Among these conclusions is the futility of ‘short cuts’ to development. Traditional cultures have displayed unexpected resilience. State-sponsored grand schemes of rapid societal change have produced modest results in the best of cases. In other cases, the results have been outright negative. For example, import-substitution strategies of industrialization, after initial success,...

  15. Chapter 12 Civil Society and Prospects of Democratization in the Arab World 1995
    (pp. 275-300)

    Much of the literature circulating in recent years on the prerequisites, requisites, and modalities of transition from nondemocratic to democratic rule1 finds a fertile ground for testing in the Arab world. While belonging to one general political-cultural area, the twenty-one Arab countries display a wide variety of cases in terms of variables associated with such transition—such as nature and evolution of the state,² political regimes, class structure, political culture, levels of socioeconomic development, and civil society.³ Yet, despite its particularities, the Arab world is evolving along the same broad trends and processes that have been at work elsewhere in...

  16. Revisiting Egypt, Islam, and Democracy A Note From Prison 2001
    (pp. 301-304)

    When this book first appeared in 1996, it contained twelve essays that had been written over a twenty-year span. Thus it may seem at first glance that these essays are too outdated to warrant a second printing without substantial alteration.

    Being in prison at the time of the request of the AUC Press to provide a postscript for a paperback reprint, I was as much flattered as frustrated: I have ample time to think and write but scarce or no sources to update and document. There is a ‘library’ of sorts in the Tora Farm Prison where I am currently...