The Clash of Civil Religions in Post-Revolutionary Egypt

The Clash of Civil Religions in Post-Revolutionary Egypt

Bosmat Yefet (Ariel University, Israel)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0516-7.ch006
OnDemand PDF Download:
$30.00
List Price: $37.50

Abstract

The 2013 counter-revolution that led to the removal of President Mohammad Morsi and the election of former military chief, ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi, as president indicate that Egypt has chosen the unifying framework of Egyptian nationalism and rejected the Islamic one proposed by the Muslim Brothers. These dichotomous categories obscure more than they reveal, because Egyptian politics after the 2011 revolution is also polarized between different visions of the 'civil state'. The civil religion paradigm and the conception of the clash of civil religions as analytical models will be used to enhance our understanding of the relationships between the religious and the civil models and to identify certain characteristics of one of the most striking outcomes of this revolution: the clash between civil models and, more precisely, the clash of civil religions.
Chapter Preview
Top

Introduction

Nearly four years after the 25 January 2011 revolution that brought an abrupt end to Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule and one year after the June 2013 counter-revolution that led to the removal of President Mohammad Morsi, Egypt has chosen as its president the former military chief, ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi, who reflects in his policies the same regime that Egypt renounced in the 25 January 2011 revolution.

Apparently, the counter revolution and the election of al-Sisi indicate that Egypt has chosen the unifying framework of Egyptian nationalism and rejected the Islamic one proposed by the Muslim Brothers. Indeed, these dramatic events have brought to the surface the struggles over Egypt's authentic identity. Once again the question of the relation between state and religion has gained urgency. The uncompromising struggle waged by the national camp against the Muslim Brothers has left Egyptian politics polarized between these two influential forces that hold competing visions for the future of Egypt. Each one of these two forces – one holding the vision of a national civil state and the other a vision of an Islamic state - views the struggle as existential.

Despite the severity of this struggle, one needs to go beyond this dichotomy in order to avoid being misled by the highly visible dividing line between the Islamic and the civil state. This division is mainly political, but throughout the years these competing visions were not so distinct. Modern Egypt was hardly secular and the concept of absolute secularism has a marginal presence in the public. For Egyptians, secularism and the Muslim Brothers’ Islamism are not the only two options they have with which to organize their political life; the question is not whether religion must have a role in the political system but how this role should be managed and in what areas it should have influence (El-Houdaibi, 2012).

When analyzing Egyptian politics after the January 2011 revolution, these dichotomous categories of Islamic and civil state obscure more than they reveal. Egyptian politics is also polarized between different visions of the civil state, each one of which embodies a different concept regarding Egypt's cultural and political identity and which represents a different set of values and ethical principles. This struggle over defining authentic nationalism and Egypt's identity is not a new phenomenon nor is it solely a product of the revolution. Actually, it has been an inseparable part of Egyptian reality ever since the idea of Egyptian nationalism emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and it represents another phase in the struggle over Egyptian identity and its relation to Western spaces and models. The attempts by different rulers to promote their own interpretations of the national narrative and foundational myths as a means to solidify their own legitimacy have always met with difficulties, in the form of alternatives presented by society. Even when certain leaders, such as Gamal ‘Abd al- Nasser managed to gain a monopoly over cultural production and the determination of political and social identity – they too never succeeded in creating a consensus on these issues, mainly because the narratives they promoted never managed to meet the expectations of the various forces in Egyptian society. This struggle over Egypt's cultural and political orientation rose to prominence following the January 2011 revolution, which also allowed the various forces to freely express their conceptions on this issue and to compete freely among themselves.

The paradigm of civil religion and the notion of the clash of civil religions allows us to analyze the existence of different variants of civil religion in Egypt with their values, principles, and modes of construction, as well as to shed light on the complex relations they have with traditional religion, its institutions, and the political actors who claim to represent Islam.

In the first part of the paper, the analytical framework will be presented along with definitions of civil religion and its relationship with traditional religion. The second part will focus on analyzing the nature and values of the civil religion that crystallized since 1952 under the officers' regime and the influence of the January 2011 revolution on the emergence of the clash between two civil religions. In each of these periods, the discussion will concentrate on specific groups that used variants of civil religion in order to express and legitimize their political and ethical visions. This analysis will expand our discussion beyond the dichotomies of Islamism/secularism and failure/success toward a broader understanding of the January 2011 revolution as representing process and continuity.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book:
Reset