We refuse to see authenticity [asala] through a backward look that glorifies [tuqadis] the past and rejects renewal [tajdid]. Not every thing in the past is glorious for it has some elements of backwardness [takhaluf]. On the other hand, we refuse to distort our national character in the name of material or behavioral imitation of other societies.
Anwar el-Sadat, The October Paper
Abu Hosni and his neighbors are especially critical of the modernity of upper-class Egyptians and their imitation of the Western lifestyle. It is important to remember that Sadat's definition of modernity was closely linked to the West. He was fascinated by Western technology, production, administration, and lifestyle (Ibrahim 1992: 116). He wanted Egypt to “catch up with” the West and if possible “to become part of it” (116). As argued in Chapter 1, Sadat tried to rebuild Cairo according to Western plans, using Los Angeles and Houston as models. This imitation of Western modernity and the close links with the United States, which continued after Sadat's death, are criticized by many and have been used by Islamic activists to mobilize the people against the Egyptian government. Nuha, the twenty-three-year-old woman factory worker mentioned earlier, explained the conflict between the government and religious groups:
The problem is that the government has strong relationships with the United States which hates Islam and Muslims and is trying to spread its ideas and practices, especially wearing short clothes, the domination of science, and the destruction of religion. My cousin, who is a Sunni, explained to me that Americans have many methods to achieve their purposes, especially through schools. They try to prove that science is better than religion by using the comparative method. They bring, for example, a candle and a lightbulb and ask which is better. The first represents religion and the second represents science. Of course, one will choose the second. They also compare two pictures, one of a man wearing a gallabiyya[a long loose gown that the Prophet used to wear] with a beard and a rotten look [mi‘affin)] while the second picture is of a handsome man who is shaved and looks very clean and tidy. Of course, anyone will choose the second. The whole idea is for science to replace religion and dominate the universe. Islam is compatible with science because one can find all answers in it if examined closely. Science should serve religion.
Abu Hosni and his neighbors are critical of a vision of modernity that completely accepts the Western model. They look at the West, especially the United States, in expressing their critique. Young men marvel at the
Interestingly enough, both Sadat in his attempts to modernize Cairo and create a modern nation and the people in their attempts to live with this modernity resorted to Islam to legitimize their projects. When his open-door policy and relationships with the Israelis faced resistance, Sadat resorted to Islam to legitimize his efforts. He emphasized that his rule was based on the “twin pillars of Imine (faith) and ’Ilm (science)” (Ahmed 1992: 217), and he presented himself as the modernizer, the Hero of Construction, and as the Believing Leader. He was often shown on TV praying, attending Friday khutba, and using his rosary to emphasize his religiosity. However, while Sadat's appeal to religion was a strategic choice to implement his policies, many people in al-Zawiya see religion as crucial to counter the disruption and negative changes that accompany the appropriation of modern technologies and discourses. Religion promises to provide the moral and spiritual resources that will enable people in al-Zawiya to reconcile their desire “to be rooted in a stable and coherent personal and social past” and the “growth that destroys both the physical and social landscapes” of their past (Berman 1988: 35).
The attraction of Nuha and her neighbors to a religious identity is part of making themselves subjects as well as objects of modernity. This