2d. Changing discourses of political Islam in post-revolutionary Egypt

Chair: TBC

Changing Conceptions of Freedom in Post-revolutionary Egypt
Hanane Benadi, The University of Manchester

Along with “the people want to overthrow the regime”, “bread, freedom and social justice” (`aīsh, hurriyya, ‘adāla igtimā‘iyya`) were the most important demands that united Egyptian protesters in their rejection of the Mubarak regime. Despite the sharply contrasting conceptions of freedom invoked by the various trajectories that constituted the ideological landscape of the revolution, the question of “what is the freedom that we are demanding?” remained un-raised throughout the eighteen days of protest, precisely to enable new forms of social and political solidarity to emerge and a shared common ground and moral stance to be forged. Yet, soon after the fall of the Mubarak regime in February 2011, freedom, along with the other demands of the revolution, began to gradually turn into a site of friction and struggle, not only among the different factions that put an end to the Mubarak regime, but also within them. Drawing on fourteen months of fieldwork in Egypt (11/2013-12/2014), this paper will explore the struggles around the rethinking of the concept of freedom by the new generation of Islamist activists in the aftermath of the July 3rd military coup. Through a close look at the activists’ reactions to the Rabia and Nahda massacres and continued state violence against demonstrators, I will show how alternative notions of freedom are being sought. Although freedom continues to be a central demand of the anti-regime protesters, the emerging visions of freedom, I argue, require religious justification in order to be worthy of dying for.

A Crack in the Gates of Ijtihad: The Islamic Counter Reformation and the Liberation of al-Azhar in Post Revolutionary Egypt
John Turner, Eastern Mediterranean University

The revolution in Egypt has gone full circle, with the return of military rule following the deposing of the Muslim Brotherhood’s democratically elected Mohammed Morsi. Despite the democratic deficit, the revolution has resulted in the loosening of the ties that bind al-Azhar to the Egyptian state. Co-option of the ulema by the state has been a common feature of preserving state legitimacy since the Abbasids. The ulema have remained weak in dealing with challenges of modernity by ending ijtihad to rely purely on the fiqh and taqlid for centuries that in part resulted in the rise of reform movements in the 19th century that sought to reassert the practice to deal with concerns the stagnant ulema could not. Following this long tradition of state oversight of the religious class, al-Azhar as a centre of Sunni Islamic knowledge has in effect been under government control since it was nationalised by al-Nasser in 1952. After the revolution al-Azhar has been granted greater independence which some scholars recognise as an opportunity to refresh their thinking in order to challenge reformative thought, of which the most powerful have become Salafi Jihadists who promote a kind of priesthood of the individual, who have the right and ability to assess how the Islamic world can and should deal with its challenges. This paper addresses the possibility of a resurgent ulema reasserting their place as effective leaders of the Muslim community in modern times by peaking behind the closed gates of ijtihad to counter the Islamic reformation.

Dealing with loss and injustice: Post-Morsi narratives in Muslim Brotherhood media between post-Islamism and radicalization
Robbert Woltering, University of Amsterdam (ACMES)

Memories of the Egyptian revolution are growing ever more dim. Egyptian politics seems further away than ever from achieving the goals of the revolution. Apart from the amorphous ‘revolutionary forces’ who bore the brunt of state oppression and violence during the 25 January uprising and the period immediately thereafter, there is one group that has suffered the greatest loss in recent Egyptian political history: the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). It controlled the presidency and the parliament, and had successfully fashioned a constitution to its liking. There was no party who could reasonably challenge its rule. A rebel movement and a military coup turned the tables in a matter of months, leaving thousands dead, the MB outlawed, and landing countless members in jail. The MBs politics during the Morsi-period has been a topic of much debate, also with respect to its presumed post-Islamist make-over (Bayat, Roy). A key question to consider after the coup is how the MB has reacted to the traumatic experience of being cast back into a state of oppression. Did this cause a hardening of its positions? What happened to its presumed post-Islamist trajectory? This paper offers an analysis of the MBs newspaper Al-Hurriya wa l-Adala in the period following the fall of Morsi until it was banned in late December 2013. In addition, the paper analyzes the movement’s English and Arabic websites in the same period. It will be argued that the analyses show a primacy of political over religious arguments along with a pragmatic positioning towards the West. This suggests that the MB, despite its rather illiberal performance during its short stint in power, and in the face of extreme conditions, can nonetheless be described as being part of the post-Islamist phenomenon.

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