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State of Emergency
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7. State of Emergency

And in the state of emergency which is not the exception but the rule, every possibility is a fact.

The struggle for ideological authority on the part of the state and its religious establishment is part of a broader political conflict. Since Anwar Sadat's 1981 assassination Egypt has been ruled under an Emergency Law that allows for certain press restrictions, the banning of public political gatherings, and the detention without charge of people suspected of certain categories of crime, including subversion and political violence. Because the president was killed by members of an organization that preached that struggle against an unjust ruler is as important a part of Islam as prayer and fasting,[2] the state of emergency is generally associated with the government's fight against a range of Islamist opposition groups who vary widely in their size, their activities, and their strategies for changing Egyptian society. The Emergency Law, though, also shapes the political activities of liberal, leftist, feminist, human rights, and other groups as well. Repeated pleas to repeal them and return the country to a state of normality have been rejected on national security grounds, and some of the restrictions on the press have been tightened rather than relieved in the last several years.

The Islamic Trend, as I have labeled the wide range of cultural and social phenomena that include specifically political movements, is extremely complex. It ranges from the Islamization of the publishing industry and the increase in enrollment in Islamic studies programs, to the odious violence of terrorist organizations with scripture-based ideologies and the sophisticated legal maneuvering of Islamist lawyers within the court system. From the network of private businesses that are funded by and contribute to Islamic political and charitable activities to the quotidian spats and arguments that reveal just “how close religion is to the surface,” in the words of Andrea Rugh,[3] the Trend has moved beyond the level of a “movement” to become one of the most important contexts in which everyday life is lived. Along with its ubiquitous symbol of the veil, many aspects of the Trend have been described and analyzed in exhaustive detail over the past two decades, so no effort will be made here to sketch its historical roots or intellectual development.[4] Instead I shall examine a few small examples of the way the public economy of information—the part of culture most firmly grounded in the apprehensions and expectations generated by schooling—shapes representations of the political uses of Islam. The examples are chosen for what they reveal of the public (in its three senses—governmental, popular, and open) image of Islamicized political activity and the creation of what sociologist Armando Salvatore has recently called “Islamic publicness.”


Shortly before 8:00 on Sunday morning, 18 July 1993, residents of the Zeinhom District of Cairo, a working-class neighborhood south and east of the mosque of Sayyida Zeinab, were awakened by the sound of gunfire. The street was beginning to come to life on the first day of the workweek. Students were walking to summer trade school workshops, glass merchants and street peddlers were opening their shops, the guard at a charitable kindergarten was unlocking its front gate. The traffic of office minibuses and trucks and taxis was beginning to thicken. A dark taxi stopped in front of the Zeinhom morgue and half a dozen nervous shabab got out, pairing off into three groups in the street. They were dressed in new blue jeans and T-shirts with cheap rubber “kootchie” sandals, and each wore a black cloth band around his forehead. Underneath these clothes they wore polyester athletic warmup suits, or “trainings.” In their hands were automatic rifles and 9mm Helwan police-issue pistols with extra ammunition clips tucked in their pockets. Under their clothing at least two of them carried hand grenades, and one wore a dynamite belt.

According to one account they screamed “God is Great!” and cursed before opening fire on a police car pulling up in front of the morgue. Their shots hit the building, a number of cars and two bystanders leaving their homes for work. The confused and contradictory newspaper accounts that appeared the next day portray a bewildering set of subsequent events. Some eyewitnesses said the young men got back in their car and pursued the fleeing police car they had attacked. Others tell of them fleeing together on foot, chased by another patrol car, which exchanged fire with them and eventually wounded one of them before it was disabled. Some saw a Honda half-size pickup being used as a getaway car, others reported one of the young men loping down the street trying to convince bystanders he was a police officer in pursuit of terrorists, and that he needed to commandeer a taxi and give chase. During the course of their escape the young men continued to fire their weapons and threw or discarded at least four explosive devices, one toward the wall surrounding the kindergarten, and two at the Zeinhom Youth Center. These had not been armed, but one bomb exploded near the morgue, scattering fragments for fifty meters but fortunately injuring no one.

As the police entered the pursuit, so did the residents of the Zeinhom and Sayyida Zeinab neighborhoods. Drivers, painters, deliverymen, butchers, kiosk merchants, locksmiths, restaurant owners, private guards, mechanics, and auto-body repairmen followed the fleeing youth, armed with rocks, sticks, and butcher knives. One of the young fugitives, probably wounded by police fire, was hit by a passing car and fell behind a parked vehicle whence he shot at neighborhood residents surrounding him. When his gun jammed, the locals jumped on him and beat him nearly to death. When one of the other shabab ran out of ammunition he met a similar fate before he could reload. He was beaten unconscious with rocks and sticks, but when one of his colleagues wounded him in the process of firing on his captors, the crowd dragged the bleeding youth to safety behind the walls of the youth center so they could deliver him to the police.

Two of the young militants forced their way into a Fiat 128 taxicab and ordered the driver to head for a main highway that would whisk them behind Salah al-Din's twelfth-century Citadel and then northeastward out of the city. A butcher's meat delivery motorcycle and sidecar loaded with a dozen angry neighbors chased it for two and a half kilometers, until, a hundred meters before the onramp, the taxi crossed the path of a police patrol car. The taxi driver slowed the vehicle and rolled out of the door, yelling for help. When the patrol car stopped and the officers got out, the armed men turned their rifle fire from the escaping driver to the police captain and his sergeant, wounding both in the process of pumping thirty bullets into their vehicle. One of the young men escaped into the nearby Sayyida ‘Aisha Cemetery on foot, and the other ran under the highway overpass, where he unhooked his belt and desperately tried to remove his jeans in order to escape, disguised in the training suit he wore underneath. But another patrol car had arrived by this time, and while one officer laid down cover fire, wounding the young man, another ran behind and killed him with two bullets in the back.

In the end, the moving firefight between the police and the young men—the latter used almost two hundred fifty rounds of ammunition during the chase—resulted in the wounding of at least four civilians, including a middle-aged woman out buying bread for her daughters, a local merchant, a bus driver, and an office worker. A seventeen-year-old secondary school student was killed by a bullet shattering his spine, and a handful of police and military personnel were wounded, including police captain Ahmad al-Baltagi, who died that afternoon in Qasr al- ‘Aini Hospital of internal bleeding from the bullet that ruptured his left femoral artery. Of the two captured militants, one, Ragab ‘Abd al-Wakil, a thirty-one year old from Dayrut with a secondary school diploma in industrial sciences, died of his wounds after five hours in police custody. The other, twenty-one-year-old Mahmud Salah Fahmi, a secondary student from the village of al-Qawsiyya in Asyut Province, was immediately detained at the hospital and placed under interrogation by police detectives and security officials from the Office of the National Security Prosecutor. The young man shot to death under the Sayyida ‘Aisha Bridge was more of a mystery figure. He was carrying forged papers identifying him as a twenty-five-year-old from Sohag, attending the University of Asyut. But—like the accounts of the chase—different stories on different pages of even the same newspaper gave inconsistent information about his identity. The three government newspapers reported his name variously as Muhammad ‘Atif Kamil, Muhammad ‘Atif Kamil ‘Ali, Muhammad ‘Atif Sadiq, and Muhammad ‘Atif Kamil Mustafa. But the name that caused the most excitement was al-Akhbar's page one identification of the young man as twenty-three-year-old Mustafa ‘Awni Kamil, the holder of a diploma in agricultural sciences and a fugitive wanted for the assassination of a state security official in Asyut (a front- page photo caption in al-Ahram concurred with that identification).

A search of the corpse turned up a bomb detonator, four hundred fifty Egyptian pounds, and a wad of newspaper articles about the hanging of five Islamists convicted in the case of fourteen men known as “The Returnees from Afghanistan,” referring to Egyptian veterans of the anti-Soviet Muslim resistance forces of the 1980s. In January 1993 the group had launched a wave of attacks in Egypt, first against tourist buses at the Giza pyramids and then in front of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Later they placed a bomb under a police car, which killed a member of the Cairo bomb squad, and finally on 20 April they ambushed Dr. Safwa al-Sharif, Egypt's minister of information, as he returned to his home one afternoon, wounding him, his driver, and his bodyguard. Their nineteen-day trial—heard before a military rather than a civilian court, as has been the custom for recent cases of political violence—ended with a guilty verdict on 27 May. On 17 July, a day before the Zeinhom incident, the five were executed and their bodies were transferred from prison to the Zeinhom morgue for their families to retrieve.

Based on Mahmud Salah Fahmi's statements to security officials, the young men captured and killed at Zeinhom were members of the military wing of the Jihad organization based in the southern province of Asyut, and were staging a revenge attack on the police and the medical facility, wearing black headbands to signal their state of mourning for the executed “Returnees.” They had arrived from Upper Egypt two days previously and surveyed the neighborhood at least three times before their attack, the last time on Saturday night, when they cruised through the area in a Honda pickup. The newspaper articles in the mysterious corpse's pocket had been part of an antiterrorism media blitz carried out in Cairo newspapers beginning the day before the execution. Full-page photo spreads of the blood-soaked bodies of victims, wounded and orphaned children, screaming mothers, and burning automobiles, had appeared under enormous headlines announcing “This Is Terrorism: Their Bullets Target Everyone!” [5] On the morning of the Zeinhom incident details of the Returnees' crimes, and of the conviction and sentencing, were accompanied by mugshots of the five newly executed men. The patriotic and religious rhetoric are impossible to separate:

In an application of God's Law and Revelation, punishment was carried out against five enemies of the people. They conspired in killing and sabotage. They shed the blood of the innocent. They corrupted and spoiled the very earth that God has promised as a safe haven. They wanted to frighten and alarm society and the national economy by trying to strike at tourism. They allowed what God forbade, and the court applied to them the Divine Ordinance of God and the ruling of the law.[6]

This Is Not a Demonstration

By now, events and their descriptions were leapfrogging rapidly over one another. The attackers at Zeinhom, carrying newspaper stories on the execution of the five Afghan veterans, were themselves described the following day in stories blanketing the daily papers. Their clothing, the events of the chase, and praise for the heroism of their working-class captors were mixed with forensic details from the crime lab investigators: the number of bullets dug out of Captain al-Baltagi's patrol car; the chemical constituents of the unexploded bombs. Capping the stories like dim illuminated borders were photographs: the shot-out patrol car window; the taxi used as a getaway car; faces of neighbors and pursuers; the wailing relatives of the wounded and dead gathered at the hospital; a magnificent view of the Muhammad ‘Ali mosque atop the Citadel, as a backdrop to the Sayyida ‘Aisha overpass, below which the mysterious corpse is being examined by relaxed traffic officers and a plainclothes crime lab investigator. Inset are a police academy photograph of al-Baltagi, a photo of his wounded sergeant in the hospital, and a closeup of the blood-streaked face of Muhammad Salama al-Sayyid Muhammad, the student killed on his way to school.[7] Several photos show closeups of the dead militant displayed like a trophy of the security apparatus. In some he is covered with newspapers. In others they have been pulled away from his body to show his open eyes and mouth, his belt undone, his “trainings” pulled up to reveal the blood caked on his chest.

What the residents of Zeinhom had experienced on Sunday, the rest of Cairo learned from Monday's papers, simultaneously with the funerals of the two “martyrs,” the term used to describe the victims killed in the attack. Just after noon prayers Captain al-Baltagi was given a state funeral ceremony at the Omar Makram mosque across the street from the Mugamma‘, the main government administrative building on Tahrir Square. The area was under heavy security provided both by the thin and weary conscripts of the Central Security forces, and by grave and muscular plainclothes security men gripping pistols and stubby machine guns. They kept pedestrians from getting too close to the street, and searched the bags of passersby. Listening attentively to walkie-talkies, they scanned the ground and surrounding buildings for threats to the safety of the dozen dignitaries attending the ceremony. These included the mufti in a blinding white robe and fez, the suited and sunglassed ministers of education and the interior, the first deputy foreign minister, the governor of Cairo, a general representing the president, and top officials of the Ministry of the Interior, which operates the national police, security, and prisons services. Much of the city was on alert during that week, and armored personnel carriers were parked—quite unusually—outside the national radio and television building on the Nile Corniche.

I happened to be in Cairo that week. Having come downtown on some errands at midday, I ran accidentally across the funeral and, not knowing at that point what was going on, I asked one of the plainclothesmen what the demonstration (mudhahira) was. “It's not a demonstration,” he said curtly. “What is it?” “Someone died,” he replied, turning his back to me and facing the crowd again. “Who?” “An officer.” “The terrorists shot him?” “Yeah.” Ranged along the sidewalk across the street from the mosque, children and young people carried banners: “Yes to Social Tranquility! No to Terrorism! No to Terrorism!” After prayers and speeches inside the mosque were completed, the police marching band struck up a funeral dirge from Chopin and led forty rows of police officers goose-stepping down the street, three abreast, followed by the somber walking dignitaries and then the body, draped in green cloth with gold Qur’anic verses, carried on the shoulders of marchers. Finally the children with their banners and tiny Egyptian flags followed. The procession of several hundred was led in patriotic chants by a man on top of a firetruck, and the whole cortege was guided down the street by a human barrier formed by the black-clad Central Security forces, who held hands along the sidewalk to separate marchers from the spectators. Journalists snapped pictures and television cameras rolled.

I assumed the procession would continue south and east toward the cemeteries on the eastern side of the city, but instead it stopped suddenly after a couple of blocks and the students with their banners, the dignitaries with their escorts, and the marchers themselves wandered back down the street toward Omar Makram. The mufti passed two feet behind me on his way to a waiting car, and the students headed for the bridge to take them back across the river to the Gezira Youth Center that had sent them there. The body of Ahmad al-Baltagi[8] itself was put on a truck and taken off to the family cemetery in the delta town of Mansura. The crowd of spectators, drawn from the busy workday pedestrian traffic in Tahrir and Qasr al-Dubara Squares, dissolved.

The next day the funeral itself and its accompanying mudhahira sha‘ biyya (popular demonstration) was splashed across the newspapers, with photos of the march and interviews with spectators, relatives, neighbors, and colleagues of the martyred captain, along with statements of his police superiors and Interior Ministry officials. Al-Baltagi, it turned out, was a heroic figure both personally and professionally. His mother's sister was quoted as saying that

he was at the height of his youth, and he regularly prayed and fasted, read the Qur’an aloud and prayed the dawn prayer before going off to work. He had high morals and treated all people alike—he was humble and never arrogant—his only aspiration was to work and serve his country. His supervisors at work knew him for his good morals and achievement, and after he graduated from police academy he decided to marry his work!

A neighbor testified that “his heart was like a child; he didn't know malice or hatred,” and then demanded rhetorically, “You tell me one religion or one people who are allowed to shed the blood of our youth and our children??!” Another affirmed that “his love of goodness was above all else, and he was a devoted son to his parents, postponing his own marriage after the death of his father five years ago, so as not to leave his mother after his older brother ‘Umar went off to Saudi Arabia.” [9] More to the point, the first deputy minister of the interior affirmed that al-Baltagi showed “the utmost courage and bravery; he sacrificed with his soul and never thought for a moment about his own life, but thought about Egypt as a country that had to be made safe, and even though he was far away from the weapons fire, he turned there in his car as soon as he heard the sound of bullets.” [10] As for the neighbors who had pursued and caught the militants,

they acted as one man in the utmost boldness and decency, undeterred by the bullets. What was seen [that day] among the sons of Egypt is not found in any other country in the world; what happened is not new to Egyptians, what is new is the anomalous and temporary negativism that has reared its head.…I say that one martyr or a thousand martyrs, we will never alter our will or our plans to confront those who forsake the law, no matter who they are![11]

The Sons of Egypt

Who the principals in this drama were was still somewhat unsettled, as the papers reported the day after the funeral that the mysterious corpse under the Sayyida ‘Aisha Bridge was not Mustafa ‘Awni after all. While still officially unidentified, it was suspected to be Muhammad ‘Abd al-‘Al, a student expelled from a military high school in Dayrut. Three others were still being sought in connection with the attack, all men in their twenties and thirties; two of them from Upper Egypt and all of them wanted on other charges. One of them, the fugitive Tal‘at Muhammad Yasin Hamam, already carried a death sentence in the case of the Returnees, which had triggered Zeinhom.

The images at play in this print record of the incident and its aftermath are quite clear, however, in their sketch of the cracks in the social order and of the tensions surrounding changing patterns of power and wealth, education and migration in Egypt today. Research from around the Middle East on the armed manifestations of the Islamic Trend emphasize that it is a phenomenon of young people. Moreover, they are getting younger all the time. The average age of young Islamists arrested in police sweeps declined from twenty-seven in the 1970s to twenty-one by 1990; as in Pakistan and elsewhere, Islamist groups are recruiting more and more among high school students.[12] More specifically, the young men who bomb and shoot tourist buses, government ministers, and police tend also to be modern educated, with degrees and diplomas in technical subjects. In Egypt, many of them are from the largely agricultural regions of the south. Like the overwhelming majority of Egyptian youth, these would-be members of the overstaffed technical and administrative classes are disturbed by the moral degradation of society and by its scarcity of economic and political opportunity, and believe that a new social framework based on Islamic law is the best solution.[13]

This being so, the rhetoric of age, class, and regional origin suffuses coverage of the Zeinhom incident in complex ways. Youths strange to the neighborhood are reported lurking at night. The attack and subsequent pursuit pit these rootless students not only against the police, but against a neighborhood of working-class family men—butchers, mechanics, and bus drivers—that forcefully resists. And their resistance succeeds, despite the clean-cut militants' attempts at disguise: the jeans and T-shirts hiding warmup suits that hide the invisible spectres of white skullcaps, galabiyyas and beards of the newspaper cartoon's stereotyped Islamist fanatic. Even discarding the black headbands that mark their mourning, the militants cannot blend entirely into the crowd. When one of the armed men tries to convince skeptical neighbors that he is a plainclothes policeman, he is given away by the hand grenade tucked under his clothes. In his pocket is a telephone credit card for making international calls, unmasking an outside campaign of subversion. (For weeks afterward, young people around the city were subjected to popular scrutiny. In early August the owner of a kiosk in Tahrir Square reported to the police that two suspicious young men—one carrying a large leather valise—were hanging around a group of tourist buses. They were immediately arrested but the interrogation showed that the suitcase held nothing but clothes and that the men—one from Alexandria and the other from Holland—had simply been processing some papers at the Mugamma‘ administration building.[14])

The young Jihadists pose, moreover, a comprehensive threat. They target police but wound civilians as well; they attack symbols of state violence but end up killing their own (one of the casualties was a high school student, and eyewitnesses claim that one of the escaped militants tried to kill his captured colleague after failing to free him from the crowd). The shabab are consuming themselves alive. Furthermore, they disrupt—actually and symbolically—the connection between responsible adulthood and the innocence and dependency of childhood. Two of the wounded civilians, a driver and a housewife, were rushed to hospital without their children and pleaded with reporters for information about what had happened to them. The slain police captain was praised for his role as son and for having the pious and innocent heart of a child, without malice. Newspaper stories playing on the grief of his mother report a barber approaching her at the funeral and consoling her, “Don't cry, my mother—your son the hero isn't dead—for he's in the vastness of God and he will stay eternally in the hearts of all Egyptians. Don't cry, my mother, for all Egyptians are your sons!” [15] As if to underscore this sense of family, the minister of education announced that summer that the medical bills of the victims of terrorism, and the cost of their children's schooling—public or private, domestic or foreign—would be paid by the state.

The rhetorical power of the newspaper coverage of the Zeinhom attack and al-Baltagi's funeral lies in the creation of interlinked stories that mold its principal players into archetypes, and which manipulate the scale of kinship and national solidarity by representing collectives as individuals and individuals as selfless servants of the collective. The captain, married to his work, thinks of Egypt's security rather than himself, and sacrifices his life for the greater good. Meanwhile his neighbors in chasing down the Jihadists have acted as a single person in confronting the threat to their lives and the security of the nation. When the officer is slain by the enemies of the people, his mother becomes their mother in turn, as they march down the street calling for vengeance, shouting, “To the Paradise of the Everlasting, O martyr!” and “With our soul, with our blood, may we be a sacrifice for you, O Egypt!” [16] This is the heroism of the ordinary, in which the duty of each citizen is set in its place: officer, mechanic, student, son. But it is also “the Spirit of October,” in the words of one of the Zeinhom residents (referring to the patriotic spirit of the 1973 war). Suddenly the pious textbooks have come alive, their models inscribed in another form, with photographs of real but everyday people substituting for generic line drawings of imagined moral models.

A Thousand Martyrs

Even before General ‘Abd al-Rahim al-Nahhas's funeral promise to “make war on the terrorists even if a thousand martyrs fall,” state security forces had begun another roundup of suspected Islamist militants, arresting thirty on the day of the Zeinhom attack and thirteen more the day of the funeral. The afternoon of the attack a special force of state security agents flew to Asyut to carry out investigations and “tighten the noose around the criminals.” [17] The governorates of Minya, Asyut, and Sohag, some three hundred kilometers south of the capital, have been at the center of the latest round of antigovernment Islamist military activity, which is usually dated from the summer of 1992. The towns and villages of the area—Asyut itself, Mallawi, Dayrut, al-Qawsiyya, and others, appear repeatedly as the birthplaces and residences of arrested militants from the Jihad and al-Gama‘a (or al-Jama‘a) al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group) organizations. The leaders of southern groups are commonly university students, while those based in Cairo and the delta tend to be military officers, engineers, doctors, and other professionals.[18]

Whatever the case, the state has given many residents of Upper Egypt—“Sa‘idis”—ample rationalization for political discontent. The region is largely ignored by private and government investment (the northern coastal city of Alexandria reportedly received several times the government investment of the equally populous southern province of Minya in 1994),[19] so much of the attention regional cities get is from the security forces that occasionally sweep their residences—arresting a hundred suspected Islamists here, a few dozen there—and bulldoze the houses of suspect's families after taking family members, including children, hostage in lieu of their quarry. (The same tactic is used in other low-income areas as well, like Cairo's Imbaba neighborhood.) Police have prohibited farmers from using some of their land for planting, since escaping militants have hidden in sugarcane stands along the roads after attacks (the interior minister is currently appealing for night-vision and other high-tech transportation and communications equipment for security forces searching the country's mountains and dense agricultural fields for Islamist forces).[20] And in some areas like the lucrative tourist sites in Luxor further south, broad-based economic development is purposely stifled in favor of dependence on tourist revenue. Villagers are prohibited from setting up factories or workshops, and must build in mud brick to keep the area looking appropriately ancient, while international consulting firms advise the Ministry of Tourism on how to channel the flow of tourist cash to a small fraction of the populace.[21] Under such conditions attacks on Nile tourist boats might be less a response to xenophobia (although the behavior of many Western tourists is fundamentally shocking and inappropriate) than they are an attempt to drive the business away, simultaneously creating a public relations crisis and an economic crisis that some militants hope will bring the government down. Local Christians are popular class and ethnic scapegoats, and are often the target of violence as well.

Because of their experience dealing with Islamists locally, Cairo has regularly named its recent interior ministers—including former Asyut governor Hasan al-Alfi and his two immediate predecessors—from the south. But the conflict, as we saw above, is not regionally confined. In December 1992 the security forces staged one of their largest operations ever, dispatching between ten and twelve thousand troops to Cairo's poor Imbaba suburb and arresting six hundred suspected al-Gama‘a al- islamiyya members in a three-week operation. Nine hundred were rounded up around the country in a single week in February 1994, and every week during the summer of 1993 newspapers carried reports of suspects falling into the hands of the authorities in the neighborhood of the capital as well as the south.[22] During the summer of 1995 relations between Egypt and the Islamist state of the Sudan hit new lows after Egyptian president Husni Mubarak accused his southern neighbor of complicity in the Gama‘a al-Islamiyya's latest attempt to assassinate him while on a visit to Ethiopia on 26 June. Altogether, over the last three years over nine hundred people have died in battles between Islamist militants and Egyptian security forces. That number includes police officers, tourists, legislators, government ministers, officials, and intellectuals shot; Islamists shot in the street, in domestic raids, and in police custody, or hanged in prison after conviction; and hapless civilians caught in the crossfire.

This is a low-level insurgency, to be sure; nothing compared to recent carnage in Bosnia or Chechnya, Algeria or Iraq, Rwanda or Guatemala. Certainly not even terribly significant compared with Egypt's annual infant mortality rate, or the instant fatalities from 1994's oil fire on the Nile or the 1992 Cairo earthquake, both of which claimed hundreds of lives through various combinations of natural disaster and human error. Yet threats to life are always more spectacular and memorable when they are phrased in terms of threats to the social order, and the insurgency's fetishized body count is regularly exploited by the local and international press as an easy index of the conflict, focusing attention away from other issues. Other numerical indices of the insurgency are somewhat less often reported: the outlawed Egyptian Organization for Human Rights reports that ten thousand Egyptians are in jail as suspected “Islamic militants” (other reported numbers go as high as twenty thousand).[23] Most are held without charge under the 1981 Emergency Law, and many endure threats to their families and regular torture, including beatings, scalding showers, psychological pressure, and electric shock. Thirty- eight have been shot while in custody, and in police attacks, civilians—like the eight men killed by police at prayer time in an Aswan mosque in the summer of 1993—are not necessarily spared.[24] In return for the state's increasing savagery, ordinary citizens in many areas have turned against the ruling party, and militant groups increase the frequency of their own attacks, executing police by the roadside, killing officers who try to keep them from posting political signs, robbing banks and jewelry stores, killing Christian businessmen and government imams, even firing on the police escorts ferrying high school examination questions from Asyut to surrounding towns (a small sample from the first seven months of 1995).

One Hundred Percent Under Control

Just a few months after al-Gama‘a al-Islamiyya first began its attacks on the tourist industry in 1992, igniting its current war with the government, a senior security official said that they were obviously engaged in provocation, but “we will not be provoked. The problem is 100% under control.” [25] Several cultural strategies for combatting the Islamic Trend continue to be applied in tandem with police and military activities (although one appears no more efficient than the other). A day after the Zeinhom incident, as security forces flown in the day before were once again scouring Asyut for Islamist militants, the minister of religious endowments was meeting with a different group of shabab in the same city. He told them President Mubarak was doing everything in his power to provide them with job opportunities and a good life, and that most of the youth of the region reject terrorism and intellectual extremism out of hand. The governor of Asyut, seated near the minister, added that from now on youth centers, sporting clubs, and schools in all cities and villages in the governorate would distribute free sports clothing and equipment, as well as cultural and religious books and magazines, to young people.[26] The minister had been traveling that week with colleagues from al-Azhar and the Ministry of Youth and Sport, in the yearly summer Religious Awareness Caravan. In Minya on the day of the Zeinhom attack he told the audience that only ministry-certified preachers can deliver sermons in mosques, and plugged a new book prepared by the ministry that—with the input of al-Azhar—discussed the reasons why some young people held “mistaken and corrupted” religious ideas. Five million copies of the book Declaration to the People were to be distributed through youth centers throughout the nation, to occupy the minds of youth while the promised free sporting equipment occupied their bodies.

This well-publicized strategy of moderation, reason, and public dialogue is tempered both by the frequency of reports of mass arrests of suspected militants and also by reportage on public reactions to the violence. Press coverage of Captain al-Baltagi's funeral had quoted bystanders—from lawyers to barbers—calling for trials within twenty- four hours for arrested terrorists, and their public execution. Egyptians who had worked in Saudi Arabia said that public executions there kept the crime rate low. Reiterating General al-Nahhas's equation of Egypt and her people, one observer of the funeral demanded “the broadcast of executions on television screens, so that all the people and the servants of terrorism will know that in Egypt the state is strong and fears for the people and takes care of them and will never abandon them, and that the people will never abandon its leaders.” [27]

These calls for public execution communicate a real and widespread popular patriotism and a nearly universal Egyptian tough-on-crime attitude. But when set in the machinery of print they also speak as the voice of a political order declaring its own strength and announcing that any and all police action to deal with Islamist militancy is justifiable on the grounds of public assent. The state demonstrates its own restraint (largely for an external audience that perceives it as a “secular” entity rather than a Saudi-style Islamic government) by not holding public executions, despite the news that the funeral turned into “a shouting popular demonstration” calling for “execution in public squares [of]… the enemies of country and religion.” [28] News coverage of the funeral summarized the extent of this sentiment in a statistical idiom as fluid as it was familiar. Like the identity of al-Baltagi's dead assassin, the reported size of the funeral crowd mutated rapidly in published reports. My own head count—perhaps six hundred people in the procession and an equal number of observers—was confirmed by a photo caption in al-Wafd, the liberal opposition daily (“hundreds”). But the accompanying article counted five thousand people from every governorate in the country, with a thousand schoolchildren carrying banners.[29] Another paper reported two hundred students; a third, seven hundred.[30] The crowd as a whole swelled to “thousands,” [31] and then to “tens of thousands,” [32] with wide-angle photographs turning narrow streets into broad plazas, and low camera angles exaggerating the mass of bodies whose depth was invisible and therefore potentially endless. What was in fact a moderate sized and highly orchestrated event blossomed on paper into a massive and spontaneous eruption of popular will.

The Drop of a Gun

But Zeinhom's sequel, as it turned out, was to be even better than the original, reading like the script of an action movie ( “wa huna bada’at al-tafasil al-muthira” [and here the exciting details began… ], teased al-Ahram's police-blotter coverage).[33] Two weeks after the funeral, the real Mustafa ‘Awni Zaki—first thought to have been killed beneath the Sayyida ‘Aisha Bridge—was captured. He and a colleague, on their way to a meeting allegedly to plan another Cairo attack, got lost near a public park in the Amiriyya neighborhood on the northeast end of the city. They stopped to ask directions of Mahmud Ibrahim, a seventeen-year-old peddler, who became suspicious and tried to get rid of them when they pulled out a detailed street map of the neighborhood. But then a pistol unexpectedly dropped from the clothing of one of the fugitives onto the ground. The young peddler began shouting to the scores of people enjoying the park's cool evening weather, and suddenly a new neighborhood, primed by press coverage of terrorist incidents and alert to the power of Everyman, came alive with indignation as its blacksmiths, fruit vendors, and carpenters gave chase. The militants both ran, shooting into the crowd and wounding two people. They stopped a taxi and threatened the driver, but when he refused to let them in, the second militant shot him, and Mustafa ‘Awni jumped over the cab and rushed with his companion into a Suzuki pickup. The two quickly abandoned that vehicle, too, after ‘Awni shot and killed a civilian motorcyclist pursuing them. While his colleague escaped, he commandeered a bus, holding his gun to the driver's neck with an order to keep the doors closed. But the pursuing crowd grabbed onto the open window frames and began pulling themselves up, and when the gunman pointed his pistol at them the driver opened the door and men streamed onto the vehicle, grabbing ‘Awni and beating him badly. By the time he was handed to police and taken to the hospital his blood pressure had dropped so low he was put on intravenous fluids.

Celebratory newspaper photographs the day after showed ‘Awni dressed in jeans and a torn and bloody T-shirt with the word “SPORT” printed boldly across the front. He was blindfolded, his face smeared with blood. Another photograph displayed his impounded 9mm pistol and his forged identity papers. National security investigators fingered him as a leader of the Jihad's military wing and the “prime mover” behind the Zeinhom incident, wanted in addition for the deaths of eight police officers in Dayrut and a market sentry in a nearby village, and armed attacks on a tourist bus and the Nile Elite tourist steamer.[34] Six teams of security agents meanwhile combed the nearby ‘Ain Shams and Matariyya neighborhoods for the escaped militant. They arrested dozens of people, including the man ‘Awni identified as his arms dealer.

The same day ‘Awni was captured, a mentally unstable religious bookseller—upset that sewer workers showed up in front of his apartment to fix a backup—opened fire on neighbors and was wounded by police after a standoff. His neighbors broke through the police line and rushed up the stairs to the balcony where he fell, carrying his body through the streets before the police managed to get it back.[35] He reportedly sold books and collected donations at a mosque where members of ‘Awni's organization had been meeting, and then used the proceeds to buy guns for the market in Asyut.[36] Mosques, both public and private, have long been targets of Interior Ministry raids, since they offer convenient meeting places, fundraising platforms, and venues for discussion, mobilization, and instruction. The previous week, half a dozen mosques and apartments in the central delta province of Gharbiyya were raided by security forces looking for “extremist elements who infiltrated Ministry of Waqfs mosques with the intention of spreading their ideas among shabab…by holding lessons” after the evening prayers.[37] Police recovered dozens of weapons, including starting pistols modified to fire live ammunition, and arrested over a hundred people from three different underground organizations and eight different provinces.

They Need to Get Rid of Some People

One measure of Egypt's current political dilemma is that, while the Interior Ministry and the state security prosecutor process arrestees through interrogation rooms, prisons, special courts, and the gallows, other parts of the legal system actively aid the partisans of the Islamist opposition. Egypt's Constitution declares that the Islamic shari‘a is the nation's main source of legislation. It should not be very surprising, then, when the courts issue rulings that appear to advance an Islamist cultural agenda. On 14 June 1995, an appeals court ruled that a controversial literary analysis of the Qur’an written by Cairo University professor Nasr Abu Zayd, implicitly questioned the book's divine origins, and therefore made Abu Zayd an apostate who could not legally be married to a Muslim woman under Egyptian personal status law. The court—acting on a two-year-old suit brought by Islamist lawyers—ruled that Abu Zayd should be separated from his wife. But once it issued its ruling, in effect declaring Abu Zayd an apostate in the eyes of the Egyptian state, former Parliament member Shaykh Yusuf al-Badri called on the state not only to remove him from his wife, but to execute him. Conversion from Islam to other religions has been construed as illegal by the courts, and according to some Muslims, the penalty for apostasy should be death. This notion was made famous, of course, by Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini's 1989 opinion that Anglo-Pakistani author Salman Rushdie was liable to execution for his alleged insults to Islam in his novel The Satanic Verses, and later by the 1992 assassination of Egyptian writer Farag Foda. One team of human rights lawyers seeking to appeal the Abu Zayd ruling withdrew after a month when al-Badri and one of the lawyers who had brought the original suit threatened to have them declared apostates as well.[38] Abu Zayd's colleagues at Cairo University feel the intellectual chill, and have coined a new term for it: cultural terrorism. A meeting of faculty in July to organize a defense of Abu Zayd was broken up by the University Club president, and other faculty at the university have been told by their department chairs to alter sensitive parts of the curriculum to avoid criticism by Islamists.[39]

Two years before this, in April 1993, Abu Zayd had been denied promotion to full professor because ‘Abd al-Subur Shahin, a colleague in the Arabic Language and Literature Department, and a member of the university's academic review committee, objected to portions of his work. In interviews with reporters, Abu Zayd suggested that the conflict would have remained restricted to the university except that Shahin denounced him from a mosque pulpit on 2 April, and by the following Friday mosques “all over the country” were repeating his charges. In terms eerily reminiscent of Sir Eldon Gorst, Abu Zayd explained that

such a situation could only have arisen within a context that involves the hammering home of a message by constant repetition before an illiterate audience, be that a real or cultural illiteracy. I would have liked to have been treated like the repentant terrorist who was given an opportunity to appear on television and talk to the nation. I would have liked to have been able to debate my views with whomever on television. But television has contrived to ignore my case. Yet, of course, the broadcast media open their doors wide to the discourse of all those who have declared me an apostate.[40]

By this he does not mean the same people whom the state so assiduously hunts down in Upper Egyptian sugarcane fields—these are usually denied even mention on television and radio—but rather “moderates” like the Muslim Brotherhood and conservative sympathizers within and without the state's own religious establishment. In other interviews he has pointed out that while the state has been depending on “moderate” Islamists for support in marginalizing militant groups, it is precisely these moderates, who prefer to work for change through the courts and the Parliament, who opposed his promotion and sought to end his marriage, both tactics aimed at intimidating intellectuals in ways more subtle than that chosen by writer Farag Foda's assassins in 1992. “Silencing is at the heart of my case,” Abu Zayd told interviewers. “Expelling someone from the university is a way of silencing him. Taking someone away from his specialization is a way of silencing him. Killing someone is a way of silencing him. They need to get rid of some people.” [41]

Too Many Secrets

Whether the “they” refers to the government specifically or to Islamists in general is as unclear in the context of the interview as it is in the context of the intellectual politics the state is trying so desperately to control. Declaration to the People, the book Muhammad ‘Ali Mahgub was publicizing the week Mustafa ‘Awni and his colleagues opened fire in Zeinhom, is only one of the literary projects the public sector has undertaken to wean Egyptians of intellectual dependence on freelance Islamist writers. The government and the ruling party have for more than a decade provided the marketplace with Islamic literature such as the NDP's weekly tabloid al-Liwa’ al-Islami (The Islamic Standard), al-Muslim al-Saghir (The Little Muslim), the children's monthly from the Ministry of Religious Endowments, and others.[42] Both these public sector productions emphasize the application of Islamic principles to daily life, and in an interesting reversal of standing broadcast policy—in which female television characters and newscasters are prohibited from covering their hair—such periodicals universally show women as muhaggabat in drawings and photographs. Each tries to outbid its private sector competitors with conservative cultural credentials while featuring the president and members of the religious establishment in the place of the private sector's glowing profiles of martyred Muslim Brotherhood leaders Hasan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb. Throughout the mid-1980s, the circulation figures for private sector religious periodicals in Egypt were fifty times those of public sector production, but their numbers remained relatively stable while the circulation of public sector religious titles increased by more than 300 percent. This has been part of a concentrated effort to adopt the language and tactics of the Islamist movement so as better to compete with them on their own ground.

But this policy, although well-coordinated through the NDP and across several ministries, is not monolithic. In a very different tactical move, the public sector General Egyptian Book Organization (GEBO) began in 1993 a new series of reprints of classic Islamic modernist texts, called the Muwajaha (Confrontation) series. Each book bore on its back the strongly-worded declaration that

The conspiracy of extremism and terror in Egypt has reached unprecedented proportions in the last year.…Egypt is now experiencing a human, cultural and civilizational tragedy and an economic and political catastrophe. Therefore, it has become necessary for Egyptian intellectuals and the institutions of civil society to rise and confront extremism and terror, to surround and contain them in preparation for their complete uprooting.[43]

The series contains classic works by Egyptian authors Taha Hussein, Qasim Amin, Shaykh Muhammad Abduh, and more recent intellectuals, all of whom have explored the meaning of Islam in the modern age. Soon after its first appearance the series was denounced by officials at al-Azhar and other Islamic institutions for reissuing volumes by Muslim scholars like ‘Ali ‘Abd al-Raziq, who proposed in 1925 that Egypt should become a secular state like Turkey. When first published, the book was condemned by al-Azhar, and ‘Abd al-Raziq was denounced as unfit to hold public position.[44] Ironically, at the same time that the minister of religious endowments was plugging Declaration to the People during the summer 1993 Religious Awareness Caravan, Dr. ‘Abd al-Subur Marzuq, the general superintendent of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, told a Caravan audience of Alexandria University students in mid-July that the “Confrontation” series was merely “the latest campaign of communism and secularism in their war against Islam and its enlightened thought.…This collection contains ludicrous and perverted books, and it [isn't] necessary to start printing them again, or having the state budget pay for them.” [45] At that very same meeting, the minister announced that Dr. Marzuq and the mufti had been named to a three- man commission responsible for planning the process of development and composition for new religious studies books for public schools.[46] The third member of the commission was to be Shaykh Muhammad al- Ghazali.

Shaykh al-Ghazali—a popular conservative ‘alim and teacher who had written a weekly column for the Muslim Brotherhood's weekly outlet al-Sha‘b in the late 1980s, and gained international stature as a teacher and media personality in Algeria—was in the news for other reasons in the summer of 1993. In June he had been called as a witness for the defense at the trial of writer Farag Foda's assassins (several of whom were themselves Islamist lawyers). He testified that Muslims who object to the application of Islamic law are apostates, and that the killers of apostates are merely carrying out the punishment set in place by the shari‘a itself, which the Constitution purportedly takes as the main source of legislation.[47] Despite the rapprochement between the government and the Muslim Brothers, the embarrassed Shaykh of al-Azhar and the minister of religious endowments were forced to repeat publicly that only the ruler and his law enforcement officials could take upon themselves the responsibility to investigate and declare apostasy or to carry out the death sentence.[48] “Playing around in the political sphere is far from the holiness of religion,” Mahgub told audiences during the days immediately before and after the Zeinhom attack; no one except the ruler is entitled to administer divine ordinances or to claim that homicide is religiously permissible. Nothing, he said, can excuse people setting themselves up as legislators and judges and executioners.[49] In July the state called ‘Atiyya Saqr, the head of the fatwa committee at al-Azhar, to testify at the Foda assassination trial in response to al-Ghazali and to the similar testimony of another expert witness, Dr. Mahmud Mazru‘a. But once the prosecution had rested its case, one of the defense attorneys dared the court to criminalize the defendants' own legal justification for killing apostates, lest it be forced to try the prominent scholars al-Ghazali and Mazru‘a as well. When the prosecutor entered into evidence volumes from the “Confrontation” book series, one of the defendants asked his lawyer to call witnesses to respond to them, as well as to enter into evidence volumes of Islamic jurisprudence.

Suddenly the case seemed to be less about a criminal prosecution than it was about the right to interpret and apply the principles of divine law in a society whose leaders proclaim that “our constitution is Islam.” [50] The defense claimed that the trial was about the cultural effects of Foda's anti-Islamist writings, which represented “atheism's struggle to obliterate the knowledge of religion and to guide our children with principles that leave them with no connection to us.” [51] That this is essentially the same charge Dr. Marzuq leveled at the General Egyptian Book Organization reveals the difficulty of disentangling the twisted strands of state cultural policy.

Similar ambiguities and contradictions are easy to find. In 1994, after allowing the Nasserist magazine Ruz al-Yusuf to publish excerpts from works censored by al-Azhar, President Mubarak announced at the annual Cairo Book Fair that he was releasing some controversial works that had been seized at the fair the previous year. “I am convinced,” said Ruz al-Yusuf's editor, “that this government's trend is secular.” [52] But at its party convention two years previously the ruling NDP had reinforced its stand that Egypt is an Islamic state committed to the norms of Islam, and underlining support for comprehensive religious education in the schools.[53] Cultural policy is oddly split, along with the conscience of the nation. The same government that declares Islam the religion of the state produces public sector beer and wine (but then bans their sale in several southern provinces to quiet Islamist opposition). Like Saudi Arabia and Iran (and, for that matter, China), Egypt has recently moved to ban satellite dishes “to preserve and protect the values, morals and traditions of society,” and in early July 1995 a court sentenced a movie theater owner to a short prison sentence for displaying a 1973 movie poster showing a woman's cleavage (this suit as well was brought by Yusuf al-Badri, among others). No one seems to be able accurately to identify, characterize, or predict the direction government policy will take with respect to the Islamization of public life.

What is clear is that civil society is increasingly a self-consciously Islamic space. In September 1992 the Egyptian Lawyers Syndicate—essentially a public sector union of legal professionals—was taken over by Islamist candidates in the elections for its executive committee. This followed Muslim Brotherhood victories in the board elections of the Cairo University Faculty Club (1990) and the Pharmacists (1990), Physicians (1988), and Engineers (1987) Syndicates.[54] Thousands of these professionals, along with accountants, teachers, social workers, students, and others, volunteer their time providing social, educational, and health services for the poor through private voluntary organizations operating in centers associated with private mosques. Increasingly common during the 1980s, this has been a response both to the impotence of the government to provide the volume and quality of services required by the country's growing population, and to a sense that the fortunate in the Muslim community should devote time and their income to alleviating the misery of the poor, the sick, and the needy.

The same increasingly applies to the business community as well. In 1989 Muslim Brotherhood candidates won several seats on the board of the Commerce Graduate's Association, and Islamic banks and investment companies have become part of the financial scene. Despite new regulations on such companies in the late 1980s, and the prosecution and subsequent collapse of some of them for fraudulent practices (e.g., the enormous Rayan company, which owned everything from financial services companies to restaurants and parking lots), networks of Islamist businesses are spreading with the aid of heavy capital investment from Egyptian professionals working abroad, as well as direct investment by foreign individuals, corporations, and governments. Safir Publishing Company, for example, recently began issuing a discount card good at participating businesses such as gift stores, doctor's offices, and others, testimony to the strength of private business networks.

Such formal networks are matched by an extraordinarily extensive system of informal economic networks and associations as well. Despite the fact that many educated people crave secure guaranteed jobs in the public sector, the wait for such employment is long and the pay low, so the majority of Cairenes who work in the public sector, as well as those who do not, have second and third jobs to make ends meet. Untaxed and unrecorded economic transactions from informal activities probably account for between a third and a half of the country's reported GNP, and the vast majority of remittances from abroad are through illegal channels. Diane Singerman suggests that there might be developing, in addition to the parallel economy, a “parallel polis” (a term coined by Czech dissident-turned-president Vaclav Havel) similar to that in 1980s Eastern Europe, an economic basis for an alternative to the state system of production, distribution, and political mobilization. With a stagnant formal economy, widespread corruption, and a sense of the ineffectiveness of repressive violence, elites in Egypt might well be losing faith in the legitimacy of the government and looking for other ways out of the political and economic crisis.[55] Even in lower-middle-class working neighborhoods, ordinary people who do not see themselves as belonging to an “Islamic movement” still believe in many of the elements of the Islamist platform, such as ending corruption and applying Islamic law. Political organizations or movements promising such changes have a potential for wide popular political support, as well as an immense potential economic base.

Perceiving the power of this alternative, the government has recently broadened its anti-Islamist political and police actions to include the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization with tens of thousands of members and perhaps a million supporters, which has for almost a generation enjoyed relatively little attention from security forces. Although it is an illegal organization, it has not been targeted like Jihad or al-Gama‘a al- islamiyya, which make strategic use of violence, or even some human rights and women's associations, which have seen their assets liquidated under the laws regulating private voluntary organizations.[56] Instead, it has fielded candidates for the People's Assembly through legal political parties; published and distributed books, magazines, and newspapers through the monopoly public sector distribution companies; set up youth, educational, social service, and medical service programs; and in general forged a rapprochement with the government and a symbiotic relationship with many sectors of civil society since the 1970s.

But in January 1995, and increasingly after the 26 June assassination attempt on President Mubarak in Addis Ababa, the Ministry of the Interior turned its attention anew to the Muslim Brotherhood. On 17 July it arrested seventeen Brotherhood leaders in sixteen different provinces, seizing computers, books, documents, and videotapes purportedly showing the organization in contact with the Sudanese National Islamic Front, which Egypt publicly implicated in the assassination try. Dozens of other Brotherhood members had been detained without charges since the beginning of the year, and the July arrestees included four former members of Parliament, the head of the information department at al- Azhar, teachers, bankers, civil servants, and local officials. Eight more were taken into custody the following week, and a few days after that another two hundred Brotherhood members were arrested in security sweeps of Alexandria and Minufiyya, most of them at what the government claimed were Brotherhood military training camps. The Brotherhood itself reported that they were in fact summer youth camps established by the Ministry of Youth and Sports. The young men were arrested after having been observed practicing kung fu and karate, which has often been interpreted as terrorist training and resulted in arrests elsewhere in the country.[57]

At the time, the Muslim Brotherhood accused the NDP of using the Addis Ababa incident as an excuse for a crackdown in preparation for discrediting the organization before the scheduled People's Assembly elections in November. The prediction was apparently accurate, as arrests continued through the fall, including not only Islamists but leftist and other intellectuals as well. Journalists, including the editors of the liberal opposition daily al-Wafd, and the Brotherhood/Labor Party's al- Sha‘b, have been alternately harassed, arrested, detained, and beaten. Three days before the 29 November voting, between one hundred forty (the government figure) and six hundred (the Brotherhood figure) Brotherhood members were arrested, and shortly before that, fifty-four were convicted in court and sentenced to prison for holding secret meetings and preparing antigovernment leaflets. The elections themselves, criticized by both local and foreign organizations for ballot-box stuffing and physical intimidation of voters, resulted in an overwhelming NDP victory. Some intellectuals are comparing recent waves of arrests and political repression with the paranoid atmosphere of the months leading up to Sadat's assassination in 1981.

At the same time that confidence in the government erodes, the Islamist opposition is seen as ever more ubiquitous and effective. “I don't trust the government,” Layla al-Shamsi's husband told me in 1993,

they keep too many secrets. And the only thing I read in the government papers, the only thing they're completely honest about, is the sports. For anything else, you've got to look at the opposition papers, which are really quite good, and about seventy-five percent true. Like the incident over on Salah Salem [street, referring to the Zeinhom incident]; do you remember that? They shot an officer, the fanatics did, because of the move of the terrorist trials from civil to military courts. That's what they told the officer before killing him. But did that appear in the government papers? Of course not. They hid the reason for the killing. The fanatics know more about the government and what it does than any of the rest of us; they pay attention. Like with [recently dismissed Defense Minister] Abu Ghazala: when photographs were produced in court showing him, I don't know, kissing the foot of some belly dancer. Where did they get those photos? Like I say, [the fanatics] know about everything that goes on.[58]

There Is No Terrorism in Egypt

And so it goes, week after week after week, month after month. The situation “100% under control” turns instead into a web of subterranean connections between bearded radicals and young men in jeans and t-shirts, between north and south, between central Cairo and its suburbs, between Egypt and the outside. (Iran, the papers quote from a German magazine, spent 186 million dollars to train terrorists around the world, including the Sudan, but at the same time, Shaykh ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Rahman, one of the leaders of the Gama‘a al-Islamiyya, was a paid CIA informer.[59]) Money mediates the transformation of books into guns and vice versa (with Afghani heroin occasionally making a reported appearance in the equation as well).[60] Parks, youth centers, and kindergartens become arenas of violence, sporting equipment turns deadly, martial arts migrate from the movie screen to the summer camp, buses and taxis, delivery trucks and motorcycles facilitate the speedy exchange of gunfire. Even state-run mosques are infiltrated by unofficial voices. There seems no safe haven, no respite, and no way to decide whom or what to believe. In Egypt's fifteen-year-long state of emergency, every possibility becomes a fact.

The government's vacillating and ambiguous support for and reaction against the Islamic Trend in its many manifestations, along with fluctuating press restrictions, the harassment of journalists and intellectuals, mass arrests, unemployment and economic crisis, the sudden international realignment of the region following the Second Gulf War, the disappearance of the Soviet Union, and the surprising Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, make anything possible. “Now, the government and the religious groupings have a single set of interests,” said the leftist journalist and poet Muhammad Sulayman in 1989, “which is to stay in power.”

America is on the side of the mutadayyinin [the religious ones] as well, because they perceive that they have more in common with them, and both will do anything to keep the communists out of power. Under Nasser, during that period, Egypt benefitted greatly from the Soviet Union. We got the High Dam, and there was no inflation, and things were going well. But Sadat kicked the Soviet Union out at the instigation of the CIA. They would do anything to keep out socialism.


You mean Egypt isn't a socialist country? What about the huge public sector?


(Laughing.) They're capitalist!


So what's the difference between the public and the private sector?


The private sector is succeeding! They have America on their side. Do you know that sixty percent of the private sector is under the control of the Muslim Brotherhood? I'm very angry with America. Very angry. The CIA is a party in Egypt. Not just a few here and there, but a party.[61]

Samia ‘Abd al-Rahman swore to me that Egyptians, Sudanese, and Iranians had nothing whatsoever to do with the terrorist bombings that struck Cairo in 1993. She explained that they could not possibly have any interest in carrying out these atrocities, since it could only hurt the cause of Islam. Look instead for an Israeli connection, she said. The Israeli intelligence service Mossad must have been the culprit, as they have no respect at all for human life, and will do anything to hurt Muslims. Others apparently agreed with her. The leftist weekly al-Ahali reportedly told its readers in late June 1993 that

rumors that 30 Israeli Uzi submachine guns were discovered in the possession of arrested militants and that a number of Israel's national carrier El Al and Alexandria-based Israeli Cultural Center employees have been arrested further fueled…conspiracy theories. And the former Israeli academic center chief also made a surprise visit to Cairo last week. Both stories were attributed to an unnamed Egyptian security official quoted in the London- based al-Wasat.[62]

The paper also reported that American national security agents had entered the country in May to give weapons and money to the Gama‘a al- Islamiyya in retribution for Egypt's arrest of a missionary who had salted copies of the Qur’an with Bible verses. (This is a particularly interesting hypothesis in that it allies Egyptian leftist thinking with that of Muslim Brother Sayyid Qutb, who viewed modern colonialism as a thinly disguised reprisal of the medieval Crusades to take back the Holy Land for Christianity. In 1989 a private sector Muslim periodical claimed that the Ministry of Religious Endowments had been working closely with the University of Chicago and the U.S. National Council of Churches, who had spent fifty million dollars over several years to meet with imams in Egypt and other Muslim countries “to steer [them] onto an unsound path.” [63]) After an August 1993 attempt on the life of the interior minister near the American University in Cairo, students began reporting that a bomb had been planted on campus at the same time, but that it was being hushed up by officials. Rumors circulated throughout 1992 and 1993 that (unidentified) Islamists were throwing acid on the exposed legs of (unspecified) women on the street (the version I heard), or more generally “at” (unspecified) unveiled women on the subway (the version that made it to some international press reports).[64]

Rumor upon rumor upon rumor in dizzying sequence crowd the information economy. Interior Minister Hasan al-Alfi's predecessor, it was said, was fired for counseling dialogue with the Islamist militants. His predecessor, Zaki Badr, was reportedly fired for counseling their extermination. Al-Alfi himself avoided the question by telling journalists that he leaves the talking to Waqfs and al-Azhar, and that he has different procedures for dealing with troublemakers.[65] The Mubarak government encourages religiousness, he said, and despite its bloody suppression of the Islamist groups in Upper Egypt, his ministry does not make war on Islam because “we are all Muslims.” [66] The Shaykh of al-Azhar publicly calls on religious scholars to listen without reservation to the concerns of young people and to respond to them as straightforwardly as possible, but the minister of religious endowments clarifies that there can be no dialogue with those who bear arms.[67] If the strategy for dealing with an Islamist threat to the ruling party is unclear, perhaps it is because the outline of the problem itself is in flux. The Shaykh of al-Azhar declared in the midst of the manhunt for Mustafa ‘Awni that “there is no terrorism in Egypt; what's happening is ordinary crime, and it needs to be approached with that understanding.” The minister of religious endowments agreed, declaring that “there is no battle between the extremists and the state, and there is not going to be a battle ever; the real battle is against killers and terrorists, in the protection of religious people.” [68]

Meanwhile, every publicized roundup of suspected Islamist militants, every story linking the Muslim Brotherhood with Sudan's NIF, every series of stories on the latest policeman killed by militants seems to be accompanied by the bright news of plans to establish new Islamic colleges and religion academies in the delta and Upper Egypt. Mosques are to become social and cultural centers, and soon every village in the country will boast a religious library and an institution for Qur’an memorization. Five thousand private mosques are to be drawn under the supervision of the Ministry of Religious Endowments, and soon all state children's services establishments will include religious instruction.[69]

Just as nineteenth-century Englishmen believed that if workingmen were instructed in the elements of political economy, they would understand the forces acting on them and become content thereby, so Egyptians—and, I think, Muslims more generally—believe that Islam is a more a matter of logic and of knowledge than of faith. Ideas have an inherent power to compel. The extremist, on the one hand, and the pervert, on the other, are simply ignorant, or in the possession of mistaken ideas. “When we improve a youth with enlightened Islamic ideas,” Dr. ‘Abd al-‘Adhim al-Mutany told a newspaper,

there cannot be an opportunity for any other ideas outside of them, or different from them, because the prophylactic mechanism [jihaz mana‘i] of the youth is strong and he can dismiss these ideas. If the youth's mind is empty of any Islamic culture then there is an atmosphere in which other ideas can proliferate. I think that extremism results from ignorance of religion. Its treatment is easy—directing [him] along the path of intellectual improvement with this culture and the correction of mistaken ideas.[70]

The more authentic Islamic culture there is in the public environment, the theory goes, the less likely it is that anyone can hold nonconformist ideas. But, as I hope I have been able to show, precisely the opposite is true: it is not the paucity of Islamic culture that accounts for the growth of the oppositional tendencies of the Islamic Trend, but rather its bounty. Each new attempt to correct mistaken ideas by furthering the penetration of Islamic discourse in public space creates an intensification of the conflict between parties seeking to control the discourse. In becoming hegemonic, Islam (like political economy, or evolutionary theory, or Marxism, or any of a half-dozen other comprehensive ideological systems) is forced by necessity not only to provoke limited counterlanguages, but to become itself the language in which cultural and political battles are fought by the vast majority of interested parties. That language, moreover, does not merely express social divisions, but by the logic of translation from its traditional technologies of reproduction to the technologies of the school (and, increasingly, the market), it creates new divisions, new complications and conflicts, new ambiguities. The economy of information, which is meant—like ritual—both to comfort and to induce directive anxiety in the population, instead produces an anxiety that is increasingly unfocused. Not knowing what is true, everything becomes true, every possibility becomes a fact. “There are so many contradictory messages these days, it's all a big confusion,” an Egyptian friend told me. “Even the terrorists just don't know whom to hate anymore.” [71]


1. Michael Taussig, The Nervous System (London: Routledge, 1992), p. 34. [BACK]

2. Nemat Guenena, Tandhim al-jihad: Hal Huwa al-badil al-islami fi Misr? (Cairo: Dar al-hurriyya, 1988). [BACK]

3. Andrea Rugh, “Reshaping Personal Relations in Egypt,” p. 152. [BACK]

4. For the classic description of the Muslim Brotherhood, see Richard Mitchell, The Society of the Muslim Brothers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969); also Gilles Kepel, Muslim Extremism in Egypt: The Prophet and Pharaoh (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986); Barbara Freyer Stowasser, The Islamic Impulse (Washington, D.C.: Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, 1987); Arlene Elowe McLeod, Accommodating Protest; Olivier Roy, The Failure of Political Islam; and volumes in Martin Marty and R. Scott Appleby's The Fundamentalisms Project series from University of Chicago Press. [BACK]

5. Al-Jumhuriyya, 16 July 1993, pp. 1, 3; 18 July 1993, p. 5. Al-Wafd, 18 July 1993, p. 3. [BACK]

6. Al-Akhbar, 18 July 1993, p. 3. [BACK]

7. Al-Ahram, 19 July 1993, p. 1; al-Akhbar, 19 July 1993, p. 3. [BACK]

8. Newspapers consistently referred to the bodies of the dead martyrs as “mortal remains,” while the bodies of the dead or executed militants were referred to as “corpses” or “carcasses.” [BACK]

9. Al-Ahram, 20 July 1993, p. 7. [BACK]

10. Al-Jumhuriyya, 20 August 1993, p. 5. Accounts of the incident the previous day made it clear that his encounter with the escaping militants was a matter of chance. [BACK]

11. Al-Jumhuriyya, 20 July 1995, p. 5. [BACK]

12. Cassandra, “The Impending Crisis in Egypt,” p. 20; Olivier Roy, The Failure of Political Islam, pp. 86–87. [BACK]

13. Hoffman, “Muslim Fundamentalists,” p. 220. [BACK]

14. Al-Akhbar, 4 August 1993, p. 1. [BACK]

15. Al-Akhbar, 20 July 1993, p. 4. [BACK]

16. Al-Jumhuriyya, 20 July 1993, p. 5. [BACK]

17. Al-Ahram, 20 July 1993, p. 1. [BACK]

18. Mamoun Fandy, “Egypt's Islamic Group: Regional Revenge?” Middle East Journal 48, 4 (1994), p. 609. Fandy claims that al-Jama‘a al-Islamiyya is essentially a regional separatist organization resisting the extension of northern state power and privilege to the central and southern regions of the country. Their use of violence against police targets may be in part the result of a strongly developed regional tradition of blood vengeance. In an area where police and political authority often run along family lines, the killing of a police officer might be “merely” the result of vengeance between kinship groups. According to Reuters, for example, in July 1995 a police major general in Asyut was killed along with five others when police tried to intervene in an interfamily dispute. The fact that one of the families was led by an ex-army officer who had been dismissed for Islamist sympathies initially made the incident seem part of the battle between the government and the Islamists, an explanation that was quickly dropped. [BACK]

19. Karim el-Gawhary, “Report from a War Zone: Gama‘at vs. Government in Upper Egypt,” Middle East Report, nos. 194–195 (May–June/July–August 1995), p. 51. [BACK]

20. El-Gawhary, “Report from a War Zone,” p. 51; al-Ahram, 20 May 1996, p. 18. [BACK]

21. Timothy Mitchell, “Worlds Apart: An Egyptian Village and the International Tourism Industry,” Middle East Report, no. 196 (September–October 1995), p. 9. [BACK]

22. See The Economist, 19 December 1992, p. 41; 19 February 1994, p. 45. [BACK]

23. The Economist, 4 February 1995, p. 15. [BACK]

24. Ahmed Abdalla, “Egypt's Islamists and the State: From Complicity to Confrontation,” Middle East Report, no. 183 (July–August 1993), p. 29. [BACK]

25. An ex-general, ‘Abd al-Sattar Amin, who served as a military aide to the prime minister; quoted in The Economist, 31 October 1992, p. 42. [BACK]

26. Al-Ahram, 20 July 1993, p. 10. [BACK]

27. Al-Ahram, 20 July 1993, p. 7; al-Akhbar, 20 July 1993, p. 4. [BACK]

28. Al-Akhbar, 20 July 1993, p. 4. [BACK]

29. Al-Wafd, 20 July 1993, p. 1. [BACK]

30. Al-Ahram, 20 July 1993, p. 7; al-Akhbar, 20 July 1993, p. 4. [BACK]

31. Al-Akhbar, 20 July 1993, p. 4; al-Jumhuriyya, 20 July 1993, p. 5. [BACK]

32. Al-Akhbar, 20 July 1993, p. 1. [BACK]

33. Al-Ahram, 3 August 1993, p. 18. [BACK]

34. Al-Ahram, 3 August 1993, p. 18. [BACK]

35. Al-Ahram, 3 August 1993, p. 18. [BACK]

36. Al-Wafd, 4 August 1993, p. 9. [BACK]

37. Al-Wafd, 26 July 1993, p. 8. [BACK]

38. Reuters, 18 July 1995. [BACK]

39. Reuters, 17 July 1995. [BACK]

40. Amira Howeidy, Mona al-Nahhas and Mona Anis, “The Persecution of Abu Zeid,” al-Ahram Weekly, 22–28 June 1995; rpt., World Press Review 45 (October 1995). [BACK]

41. Ayman Bakr and Elliot Colla, “Silencing Is at the Heart of My Case,” interview with Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, Middle East Report, no. 185 (November–December 1993), p. 29. [BACK]

42. CAPMAS, Al-Ihsa’at al-thaqafiyya: Al-idha‘a wa al-sahafa (Cairo: CAPMAS, 1983, 1988); see also Al-Ihsa’at al-thaqafiyya: Al-Kutub wa al-maktabat (Cairo: CAPMAS, 1987). [BACK]

43. Quoted in Joel Beinin, “The Egyptian Regime and the Left: Between Islamism and Secularism,” Middle East Report, no. 185 (November–December 1993), p. 25. [BACK]

44. Albert Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798–1939 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 189. Nasr Abu Zayd claims that the GEBO removed a section from another book in the series—by Farah Anton—that called for a secular state in Egypt as well. Bakr and Colla, “Silencing,” p. 29. [BACK]

45. Al-Jumhuriyya, 15 July 1993, p. 7. [BACK]

46. Al-Akhbar, 15 July 1993. [BACK]

47. U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1994), p. 1171. [BACK]

48. Al-Akhbar, 9 July 1993, p. 1. [BACK]

49. Al-Jumhuriyya, 15 July 1993, p. 7; al-Wafd, 19 July 1993, p. 2; al-Akhbar, 19 July 1993, p. 6. [BACK]

50. Muhammad ‘Ali Mahgub, minister of religious endowments, quoted in al-Wafd, 31 July 1993, p. 2. [BACK]

51. Al-Wafd, 2 August 1993, p. 8. [BACK]

52. Quoted in The Economist, 19 February 1994, p. 45. [BACK]

53. Auda, “The “Normalization” of the Islamic Movement,” p. 394. [BACK]

54. Scott Mattoon, “Egypt: Islam by Profession,” The Middle East, no. 218 (December 1992). See also Auda, “The “Normalization” of the Islamic Movement,” p. 387. [BACK]

55. Singerman, Avenues of Participation, pp. 149–50, 237, 243. [BACK]

56. Denis Sullivan, Private Voluntary Organizations, p. 25. [BACK]

57. Reuters, 18, 25, 29 July 1995. In August 1993 eight young men were arrested in Minya after having been observed receiving karate and kung fu lessons in the hills above the town. Al-Ahram, 5 August 1993, p. 1. [BACK]

58. Interview, 24 July 1993, pp. 65–66. [BACK]

59. Al-Ahram, 4 August 1993, p. 1; al-Wafd, 14 July 1993, p. 1. [BACK]

60. Ruz al-Yusuf, 19 July 1993, p. 11. [BACK]

61. Muhammad Sulayman, interview, 8 August 1989, pp. 561–62. [BACK]

62. Middle East Times—Egypt, 29 June–5 July 1993, p. 1. For a review of conspiracy theories, see Nabil Abdel-Fattah, “Cairo Bombings: The Plot Thickens,” al-Ahram Weekly, 8–14 July 1993, p. 9. [BACK]

63. Liwa’ al-Islam, 3 August 1989, p. 49. [BACK]

64. The Economist, 4 July 1992, p. 38. [BACK]

65. Al-Ahram, 26 July 1993, p. 1. [BACK]

66. Faruq ‘Abd al-Majid, “The Police Guard the Application of the Law,” al-Ahram, 26 July 1993, p. 10. [BACK]

67. Al-Akhbar, 16 July 1993, p. 6; al-Wafd, 31 July 1993, p. 2. [BACK]

68. Shaykh Jad al-Haq ‘Ali Jad al-Haq, quoted in al-Wafd, 30 July 1993, p. 8; Muhammad ‘Ali Mahgub, quoted in al-Wafd, 31 July 1993, p. 8. [BACK]

69. Al-Wafd, 30 July 1993, p. 8; al-Wafd, 2 August 1993, p. 2; al-Ahram, 19 July 1993, p. 10. [BACK]

70. Al-Jumhuriyya, 30 July 1993, p. 7. [BACK]

71. Al-Jumhuriyya, 15 July 1993, p. 29. [BACK]

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