Preferred Citation: Starrett, Gregory. Putting Islam to Work: Education, Politics, and Religious Transformation in Egypt. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1998 1998.



Utilitarian economists, skeletons of schoolmasters, Commissioners of Fact, genteel and used-up infidels, gabblers of many little dog's-eared creeds, the poor you will always have with you. Cultivate in them, while there is yet time, the utmost graces of the fancies and affections to adorn their lives so much in need of ornament; or, in the day of your triumph, when romance is utterly driven out of their souls, and they and a bare existence stand face to face, Reality will take a wolfish turn and make an end of you.

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.

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

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

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.

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

6. Al-Akhbar, 18 July 1993, p. 3.

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

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.”

9. Al-Ahram, 20 July 1993, p. 7.

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.

11. Al-Jumhuriyya, 20 July 1995, p. 5.

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

13. Hoffman, “Muslim Fundamentalists,” p. 220.

14. Al-Akhbar, 4 August 1993, p. 1.

15. Al-Akhbar, 20 July 1993, p. 4.

16. Al-Jumhuriyya, 20 July 1993, p. 5.

17. Al-Ahram, 20 July 1993, p. 1.

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.

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.

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

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

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

23. The Economist, 4 February 1995, p. 15.

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

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.

26. Al-Ahram, 20 July 1993, p. 10.

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

28. Al-Akhbar, 20 July 1993, p. 4.

29. Al-Wafd, 20 July 1993, p. 1.

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

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

32. Al-Akhbar, 20 July 1993, p. 1.

33. Al-Ahram, 3 August 1993, p. 18.

34. Al-Ahram, 3 August 1993, p. 18.

35. Al-Ahram, 3 August 1993, p. 18.

36. Al-Wafd, 4 August 1993, p. 9.

37. Al-Wafd, 26 July 1993, p. 8.

38. Reuters, 18 July 1995.

39. Reuters, 17 July 1995.

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).

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.

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).

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.

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.

45. Al-Jumhuriyya, 15 July 1993, p. 7.

46. Al-Akhbar, 15 July 1993.

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

48. Al-Akhbar, 9 July 1993, p. 1.

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

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

51. Al-Wafd, 2 August 1993, p. 8.

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

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

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.

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

56. Denis Sullivan, Private Voluntary Organizations, p. 25.

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.

58. Interview, 24 July 1993, pp. 65–66.

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

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

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

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.

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

64. The Economist, 4 July 1992, p. 38.

65. Al-Ahram, 26 July 1993, p. 1.

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

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

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.

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

70. Al-Jumhuriyya, 30 July 1993, p. 7.

71. Al-Jumhuriyya, 15 July 1993, p. 29.

8. Broken Boundaries and the Politics of Fear

Why open the eyes of the people? They will only be more difficult to rule.

All transitions are dangerous; and the most dangerous is the transition from the restraint of the family circle to the non-restraint of the world.

We will end where we began, with the drama of summer camps in Alexandria being stormed by the Egyptian state security forces. The raids are significant for more than just their illustration of the conflict between public and private sector religious interests, or because of their titillation value for journalists and academics covering the battles between governments and “Islamic fundamentalism” in the Middle East and elsewhere. Their central importance lies in their specific message to the Egyptian public: the implication that children are at risk from “extremism.” This is a substantially new claim, representing a shift in emphasis from the reigning paradigm of recent years that attributes “Islamic extremism” to social and economic forces affecting young adults, the shabab. The fear that children can fall prey to unsanctioned religious ideas reflects a partial recognition of how deep are the cultural and institutional roots of the Islamic Trend. Recent news reports claim that groups like the Gama‘a al-Islamiyya have moved beyond the indoctrination of children in private kindergartens, to use women and young people as couriers, messengers, arms buyers, lookouts, and bomb placers.[3] A pointed recognition of this change is seen in one of the first scenes in Egyptian actor ‘Adel Imam's popular 1994 anti-Islamist movie The Terrorist, which shows an outdoor school in an Upper Egyptian village, where the fanatic Shaykh Sayf (Sword) is delivering a harangue to twenty young boys and youth, telling them that watching television or reading the newspapers of the “infidel government” are innovations and transgressions that will lead to hell, that they should never greet or shake hands with Christians, or let their mothers or sisters go out of the house without their faces covered (advice reminiscent of that given to the boys in Alexandria). Art does imitate life, whether in the northern urban flat or the palm-roofed rural southern classroom. The current minister of education, Husayn Kamal Baha’ al-Din, worries publicly that Islamists have for years recruited “operatives within educational establishments to undertake to destroy the minds of students.” [4] The recognition that normal processes of cultural transmission might be at play in the Islamization of public and political culture is important because it appears to move discussion of the Trend's social origins away from the notion of a class pathology onto more subtle ground.

Since the late 1970s the dominant explanation for the rise of militant Islamic groups, and for the general religious rebirth in Egypt, has been that the economic and political policies of Anwar Sadat's infitah, the Open Door policy initiated in 1974, have resulted in a widening disparity between the wealthy and the poor in Egypt, together with the downward mobility of educated middle classes no longer able to support lifestyles consistent with their background and aspirations. Inflation, the breakdown of public facilities and services in rapidly growing cities, the overcrowding of universities and schools, and the overburdened healthcare, transportation, housing, and sanitation systems have, on this theory, contributed to a consciousness on the part of the people that the government is not doing its part to provide the nation with the necessities of life. All of this on the tail of the political and military humiliation of the 1967 war with Israel has precipitated a crisis of legitimacy and forced secularizing Egyptians to reconsider the course of the nation. There emerged a widespread dissatisfaction with the ruling establishment as well as with the entire series of Western political ideologies that have formed the basis for Egyptian government since the 1920s. The end result of this dissatisfaction has been a return to Islam, the traditional root of Arab and Muslim greatness. Following the anti-imperialist lead of Hasan al-Banna in the 1930s, Muslim intellectuals like Sayyid Qutb had by the mid-1960s provided an explanation for the ills of the nation: Egyptian society, not ruled by the dictates of the Islamic shari‘a, is not Muslim at all, but rather, jahili, in a state of moral ignorance comparable to that of pre-Islamic Arabia (a notion borrowed from the Pakistani activist Mawlana Abul-A‘la Mawdudi). The only solution is to alter or overthrow the existing system and replace it with one based on the principles of Islam.

This is the way many Egyptian intellectuals and journalists explain the rise of activist Islam, and as a result this is the explanation most widespread among the nation's educated community who read such theories in the popular press, if not in scholarly journals and government reports, and deploy them in cocktail conversations, interviews, and public statements. I once mentioned to Muhammad Sulayman, who had found socialism through reading the plays of Bertolt Brecht, that I found it curious that there were two or three muhaggabat working in the office of his leftist publishing house.

“Oh, they're not religious,” he replied.

“How so?” I asked, surprised that this most obvious mark of religiosity might not be religious after all.

“They wear the higab for economic reasons [min bab iqtisadi], not religious reasons [mish bab at-tadayyun],” he explained.



“Are you sure?”


Some secularist intellectuals, not content to let political economy bear the entire burden, link the Islamic revival not only with economic and social stresses, but with darker psychological and social pathologies such as prostitution and mental illness. A prominent Egyptian intellectual, Hani Sharif Mahmud, explained the prevalence of the higab this way:

Now, part of it [the return to the veil] is economic: you don't have to wear makeup, or go to the coiffure, which is expensive, and you don't have to change your dress so often. And there's also an element of feeling protected, of gaining a respectability that might be more important now than other things. You know, it's a well-known fact that even prostitutes dress in these things, because it makes it easier to escape from the police. Really! So much so, that when a girl from a traditional quarter suddenly puts on the veil, people will say, oh, so now she's going to a brothel!…The new Islamic Trend is not really genuine, most of it, because it's generated from frustrations.…This is why you have the Islamists so active in a situation [of high inflation and widespread corruption] like this, stressing honesty and so forth, it's because they want their piece of the pie, and politics has been discredited. The Islamic movement is just another kind of extremism, and it just takes different forms…[Islamists and Marxists] take old authors and read them and use them as the basis on which to argue for different things. Sometimes they're the same arguments in a Marxist or an Islamic debate, just using different authors and a different language. Extremism is the expression of frustrations from one sphere in the activities of another.[5]

Other Egyptian leftists, shocked to find their daughters donning the higab, send them for psychiatric treatment,[6] and explain the defection of secularist intellectuals to the Islamic Trend as the result of “personal crisis.” In the movie The Terrorist, one of the characters, a worldly American University in Cairo student, explains to her family that extremists are “full of complexes, victims of repression,” a fine collegiate Freudianism that seems to accord with the title character's frustrated projection of lechery onto unveiled women, and to his subsequent reactionary violence. Diagnoses linking religion with personal trauma or mental illness appeared again when Hani Sharif Mahmud told me there had never been any religious activity in his own house when he was raising his two sons. His father, a landowner, had not been religious. “As for myself,” he said, “I was educated in a Lycée, a French secular school, and then received a Marxist education after that, so I learned very early the French tradition of “libre pensée.” I was very influenced, like my sons have been, by Bertrand Russell, and so on.” But then he paused and added quickly,

The only time there was anything religious with my sons was that for a time they were both having problems with manic depressive disorders, you know, and the one who had the manic stage, very suddenly took—this was at the time when his grandmother was dying—suddenly, without warning, became very religious, and took to reading from the Qur’an, just standing at the head of his grandmother's bed reading out of the Qur’an. But that was a very short time…a period of days, just days, then it was over.[7]

Religion and Social Class

These materialist explanations of the Islamic revival assume that beliefs and commitments are expressions either of psychopathology (William James's “medical materialism”) or of structural contradictions and the historical materialist dialectic that coaxes cognitive frameworks from the struggles between social classes. Religion is a translation of social dislocation, political conflict, and psychological trauma. Eric Davis, for example, has argued in one of the most sophisticated and convincing analyses of the Islamic Trend,

that ideology is a reflection of class interests in that Islamic radicals…come from a particular social class and…seek to acquire a greater share of society's material resources. Ideology can also be understood in terms of social strains as Islamic militants…seek refuge in Islam to soothe the alienation stemming from the status deprivation which they have experienced.[8]

Theoretically, this model relies both on the assumption that religion is a response to psychosocial stress, which it has the unique power to soothe, and that class background lends individuals certain cognitive predispositions more likely to be satisfied by one kind of ideological system than by another. The first idea derives of course from Marx, for whom religion was the spiritual aroma of an unjust social order, “an expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering.” [9] Real conflicts take imaginary form as religion, alienating human powers from the terrestrial to the cosmic plane. The second idea draws on Max Weber's subtle outline of the religious tendencies of the noble, peasant, bureaucratic, bourgeois, and intellectual classes in various world religions.[10] Davis writes, for example, that most members of radical groups “are recent immigrants to urban areas…[whose] occupations and educational backgrounds belie [sic] a traditional socialization in the countryside.” [11] Furthermore, these radicals, “whose contacts with Western culture are minimal at best,” [12] use Islam as “a way of reasserting the corporate unity of Egyptian society which [they] perceived to exist from the vantage point of their early socialization in the countryside.” Islamic ideology “does this using symbols which possess strong emotive power since they are the ones with which members of the lower middle class have been acquainted since early childhood and they evoke memories of a romanticized past in which life was integrated and devoid of conflict.” [13] Clearly the urban/rural dichotomy is being used as a master symbol of transition from tradition to modernity, with tradition and religion clustered in the remote Egyptian village, while the city represents an alienated West.

The difficulty with such an argument is that there is little evidence that the sociological makeup of Islamic political groups is different from that of other activist political organizations. The social profiles of members of Islamist groups is very similar to members of socialist and communist organizations, and such groups working on Egyptian university campuses in the 1970s competed for the allegiance of—and drew their membership from—precisely the same kinds of students (just as did their Iranian counterparts, where the competition could take the form of literal tugs-of-war over new Iranian arrivals at U.S. universities).[14] There appears to be no good reason to assume that Liberal, Marxist, and Nasserist symbols, unlike Islamic ones, “are equally inadequate in performing a cognitive function for the lower middle classes.” [15] In the case of Muhammad Sulayman, we have seen that socialist symbols can be extremely attractive to young mobile Egyptians, even those with extremely religious backgrounds. Wafa’i Isma‘il, on the other hand, was drawn to Islamic symbols precisely because of their broad appeal to youth of many backgrounds.

Other work linking migration with politicization in Egypt indicates that, “with the exception of Cairo and Alexandria [urban/rural contrasts] are always overstated.” [16] The migration hypothesis does not do a very good job explaining the strength of Islamist groups in smaller cities like Asyut and Minya, along with the dozen other regional towns and villages where security forces have focused their attention. Furthermore, this model assumes that there is something like a unitary traditional socialization process and a “traditional consciousness,” [17] which are unique parts of the rural and not the urban environment. We should remember, though, that the Egyptian public school system gives both urban and rural children the opportunity for a “traditional” upbringing, presenting to growing citizens models of personal virtue, social cohesion, and political triumph that tie traditional Islamic symbols in a systematic way to the complexities of modern life. Although immense disparities remain, schooling can in fact flatten out some of the differences between the experiences of different social classes in a way that Weber—working with historical examples long predating mass schooling—could not foresee. In any case, if rural migration is part of the etiology of the Islamic Trend, it is precisely those individuals who have made use of that educational system—agronomists; university, commerce, and industrial arts students; lawyers and physicians, rather than farmers and day laborers—who are doing the migration. Their school background itself constitutes extensive contact with Western institutions, whose encounter might very well be shocking, not because of its contrast with rural life, but rather because of its internal contradictions.[18]

On another front, Davis's clear-eyed political economy perspective faults earlier approaches to the study of Islamic revival for their “emphasis on seeing change in the realm of ideas. This leads to a concentration on the thought of major Islamic thinkers and hence to an elitist bias.” [19] But with the development of mass literacy—not to mention the secondary orality of electronically mediated Islamic cultural production—matters of philosophy can hardly be considered merely elitist without making the mistake of depriving non-elites of specifically cultural concerns. One of the manifestations of Egypt's growing interest in religion is an extraordinary proliferation of widely affordable religious literature. This includes the production of low-cost editions of classic Islamic thought and reference books, like the Sahih of Muslim, one of Sunni Islam's six major hadith collections. In the late 1980s this eight- volume work was being reissued by Dar al-Ghad al-‘Arabi, under the supervision of al-Azhar. Each volume had been divided into five sections of approximately 190 pages, and every month one section, printed on newsprint with cheap paper covers, was sold at popular newsstands around Cairo at a cost of between two and three Egyptian pounds. Purchasers were informed on the back cover of each section that, once they completed their collection, the publisher would bind them at a cost of two pounds (in 1989, about eighty cents) per volume. I saw similar products awaiting attention at independent book binderies as well. Making such works available cheaply, by obviating a large initial investment, broadens the audience for theological learning and debate among nonspecialists. This is not even to mention the hundreds of “new Islamic books” (the term coined by Yves Gonzales-Quijano) that flood street markets, bookstores, and the annual Cairo Book Fair. Covering topics ranging from Israeli conspiracies to dream interpretation to the world of the jinn, from adab manuals for men, women, and children to treatises on the afterlife and the lives of the prophets, these cheap volumes muster evidence from the Qur’an, the hadiths, as well as politics, current events, history, and the sciences, to illuminate matters of popular concern. They are not necessarily—or even very often—the work of Azhari- trained religious scholars, but of physicians, professors, businessmen, activists, and professional writers.

Education and Authority

Such books, the market in intellectual goods of which they are a part, and the educational institutions that prepare people for their use are important elements of the cultural context in which ordinary educated Egyptians perceive their religious duties and fashion personal commitments. As a context, intellectual goods are important not merely in proportion to the number of people who actually consume them, but insofar as they provide a subject for talk and an opportunity for the crystallization of viewpoints within a public discourse whose boundaries are set by the kinds of products available on the market. Some time before the First World War, Weber warned specifically against focusing on cultural production as a causal agent:

[A] religious renascence [cannot] be generated by the need of authors to compose books, or by the far more effective need of clever publishers to sell such books. No matter how much the appearance of a widespread religious interest might be simulated, no new religion has ever resulted from the needs of intellectuals or from their chatter. The whirligig of fashion will presently remove this subject of conversation and journalism, which fashion has made popular.[20]

But this confidence in the limited appeal of intellectual chatter made more sense in an era before radio and television broadcasts, before the political projects of decolonization and school-based nationalist mobilization, before the market-driven successes of Scientology, est, and the New Age in the West. It makes less sense now, particularly in the Egyptian context, where both the fact and its opposition increasingly participate in what Weber called “the struggle of priests against indifference… and against the danger that the zeal of the membership would stagnate,” [21] a struggle that reaches to the heart of both the school and the market. Since Islam is not a new religion but rather an elaborate set of contexts—political and economic, historical and institutional, intellectual, social and personal—in which new discourses are apprehended, evaluated, and employed, both “proletarian intellectualism” and “the need of literary, academic, [and] cafe-society intellectuals to include religious feelings…among their topics for discussion” [22] are in fact important sources and constituents of broad-based public religious interest and activity.[23]

The standard theory of social action, in which individuals and groups respond to social stress by taking refuge in religion, implies that, were the stress relieved, they would return to the status quo ante, rather like the mercury in a barometer responding to changes in atmospheric pressure (Davis and others, in fact, use terms like pressurized to describe the crisis of the petite bourgeoisie).[24] As part of the Egyptian government's own folk theory of the etiology of Islamism, this barometric metaphor results in an enormous volume of talk about job creation, family planning, housing construction, slum clearance, and recreational opportunities for bored and idle youth, in addition to police and educational strategies. If things get better, the theory runs, people will either accept official interpretations of Islamic law, abandoning their false and mistaken ideas, or they will cease to care about religion quite so much, relieved of the need to seek refuge in its symbols of comfort or of resistance.

But in thereby treating culture as a dependent variable, the barometric approach ignores the institutional frameworks and social processes through which culture is created and transmitted. Like other institutions, religious and educational ones fill not only a social need, but a social space. They take on a very real life of their own with interests, dynamics, and potentials that are only incompletely determined by the intersection of forces that brought them about. The development of educational facilities is a prime case in point. Popular schools were first established in Europe to foster basic skills and basic piety among the working classes. And while they still fulfill similar functions on a wider scale, they have now become traditional institutions whose presence is taken for granted. It is almost impossible, now, to think about childhood without thinking of the school. It is simply what children do, and at higher levels, as we have seen in Egypt, the school has come to play an indispensable role as a status-granting institution as well. Older marks of social status such as aristocratic standing or wealth become nearly irrelevant if not coupled with long-term schooling, and in fact to “be educated” is a prime constituent of status itself, regardless of the actual skills, dispositions, or material rewards it has fostered.

Important social movements like the crusade for popular schooling or the Islamic Trend do not leave either their participants or their observers unchanged, and never leave the social environment unchanged. They either succeed in transforming various aspects of social reality in which the next generation of actors must live, or merely strew it with the litter of bygone upheavals in the form of a literature that can be rediscovered later and reinterpreted in new contexts. The barometric theory of political action does not acknowledge that, after the mercury rises, a new equilibrium point is created such that relief of the initial pressure will not result in its return to its old starting point. History may repeat itself, but such repetition is not cyclical. Underlying the oscillation of the economy and the rise and fall of political movements is a cultural, social, and infrastructural background that is cumulative rather than substitutive. New generations of Egyptians confronting the choice between ideological allegiances will always perceive the choice differently, because of the specific historical point at which they enter the system. Therefore, the explanations that we offer for their choices must also change, taking into account the new conditions in which human beings live. This most basic conundrum of human life is of course the theoretical core of both sociology and anthropology: that, in Max Weber's words, society is “an immense cosmos into which the individual is born, and which presents itself to him…as an unalterable order of things in which he must live.” [25] Or, in the more powerful imagery of Marx, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.” [26]

In Egypt, the religious environment of the 1920s or the 1950s was not the same as that of the 1970s, and neither is comparable to that of the 1990s. One of the reasons for this is that compulsory formal religious education reaches so many more people than it ever has before, and that Islamic publications, broadcasts, lectures, public meetings, and other institutions are becoming an inescapable part of public culture, generating their own controversies, reactions, and imitations. The spread of literacy together with the functionalization of the religious tradition has created a new Islam, one that is defined as a necessary instrument of public policy. The part the educational system plays in this creation lies not so much in any of the specific communications it makes about the locus of authority or the character of Islamic government—which can be and are ignored as propaganda—but in the creation of the need for religious information, the tendency to look toward religion for certain things, the creation of certain compartments in a conceptual order that can only be filled by something, regardless of its specific content, labeled “Islamic.” Just as advertising in capitalist societies works not so much by building loyalty to particular products, but by reinforcing the advantages of consumption in general, so religious messages in public space largely exert general rather than specific effects.[27] This is why the state is finding it so difficult to control the movements it helped set in motion. Like its own Islamist opposition groups or Algeria's Islamic Salvation Front, it has participated in a relentless “establishment of Islamized spaces” [28] and created a need for which it cannot provide sole satisfaction.

Thus, while it true that at various historical moments, anticolonial sentiment, or rural-urban migration, or military humiliation, or the relative deprivation of the lower middle classes, have contributed to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood (in the 1930s) and its derivative organizations (in the 1970s), viewing these same conditions as both necessary and sufficient for the formation of the contemporary Islamic Trend is unsatisfactory. For while motivations change from generation to generation, the common thread linking these generations—a long-term change in the social relations of Islamic cultural production—has to be considered central. As we have seen, the Islamization of Egyptian public culture is not just the effect of the Islamic Trend; it is one of its sources. This fact has an important practical implication. Given the continuity of a functionalized Islamic discourse in concert with the changing motivations of different generations for joining the Trend, no single political or economic strategy can disable it.

Habeas Corpus?

What distinguishes this new Islamic culture from that which Egyptians have experienced historically? Davis and many others have argued that “Islamic radicalism should not be understood in terms of the concept of revival or resurgence but rather as the politicization of Islam.” [29] Indeed, one of the more popular glosses of the phenomenon in both the Middle East and the West is “Political Islam,” a label that both identifies the Islamic Trend with conflicts about political power, and which tends to delegitimize it by implicitly contrasting it with something else (“Social Islam”? “Personal Islam”? “Spiritual Islam?” “Real, Genuine Islam”?). The difficulty with the label is that Islam—like Christianity—has always been available as a political discourse, and has been “politicized” for most of this century insofar as it has been appropriated for self-conscious use by institutions like the Ministry of Education for the purpose of furthering state goals, whether hygienic reform or social control. In fact, the Trend is partly a reaction against that politicization, or at least against the groups that claim exclusive, state-sanctioned authority to interpret Islamic scripture. It is, in Asad's terms, a new religious tradition.

In this sense, Islamic activist groups are similar to the Christian Protestant movements of sixteenth-century Europe.[30] The central feature of both movements is that they “transferred religious authority away from officially sanctioned individuals who interpret texts to ordinary citizens.” [31] According to Ellis Goldberg,

Both early Protestantism and the Islamist movement seek to force believers to confront directly the authority of the basic texts of revelation and to read them directly, rather than through the intervening medium of received authority. Both believe that Scripture is a transparent medium for anyone who cares to confront it.[32]

As the imprisoned leader of one Islamist group argued at his 1977 trial (on charges of kidnapping and murdering a former minister of religious endowments), the Qur’an was delivered, in its own words, in clear Arabic, and therefore anyone wishing to discover its meaning need only consult a good dictionary. One need not have been trained as a religious scholar for this, and thus, “In terms of power the issue of ijtihad [the authority to reach independent conclusions about religious questions] has to do…with the kind of education needed to make valid judgements on Islamic law.” [33] The Islamic Trend results not from differential class responses to the penetration of capitalism, as a Marxist or Weberian analysis might hold, but from the building of a modern state and the consequent competition between alternative modes of socialization.[34]

Universal popular schooling simplifies, systematizes, and packages religious traditions as it does other aspects of the known world. The proclamations of the minister of religious endowments about what percentage of the shari‘a is applied in Egypt, or what portion of the nation's youth hold “moderate” opinions are only comprehensible within the cognitive framework bestowed by a “modern” education, in which Islam is considered a tangible, measurable object, a durable good in circulation amongst the populace. What is happening, in effect, is that the ‘ulama, as the nation's sole legitimate arbiters of religious judgment, are being forced by the state into a position both more powerful and more precarious than before. Their monopoly on access to sacred texts, once guaranteed by mass illiteracy, has been broken by the extension of education and the growth of publishing. While they were once the sole possessors of written knowledge, they are now referred to in a modern idiom as “specialists” in their field. Just as prestige based on exclusivity gives way to prestige based on authenticity, once formerly rare luxury commodities become widespread within a market, so religious specialists in Egypt are now having to find ways to convince the public that their versions of the truth are qualitatively superior to the look-alikes flooding public space.[35] While the ‘ulama's knowledge of Islam is open to the qualified exercise of ijtihad, it expects the public to rely on the simplified, bounded, and established version learned in school, which is meant to remain stable until altered from above.

But instead of stability, what we have witnessed throughout the Muslim world in the twentieth century is the emergence of what Olivier Roy has dubbed “the new Islamist intellectual,” and his audience, the broad “lumpenintelligentsia” of school graduates. Their books and pamphlets, cassettes and videos, represent a collage of information drawn from numerous disciplines—from biology to Prophetic biography—and united not by the transmitted tradition of a single disciplinary methodology, but by the notion that all knowledge is contained in the Qur’an. Freed from traditional processes of knowledge acquisition—apprenticeship to a man of learning—these new autodidact intellectuals stand outside of traditional authorizing institutions, instead authorizing themselves in the process of knowledge production and dissemination. A new field of knowledge is thereby generated in which “the corpus is no longer defined by a place and a specific process of acquisition: anything printed or even “said” (cassettes) is the corpus.” [36]

This genre of Islamic knowledge is neither as new nor as haphazard as Roy claims, since the very model for the integration of modern science with the Qur’an—the public school religion textbook—is such a long- established part of the educational experience. Even if the methodology behind its construction is not part of the socialization process in the religion classroom, the textbook's functionalization of the Islamic tradition stands as a model product that lay intellectuals can thereafter attempt to emulate. “Resolutely rationalist” in style, as Roy writes of Islamist productions, the official textbook and the Religious Awareness Caravan are both, just as much as the Islamist tract, instruments of mobilization in which “the corpus [of sacred literature] becomes a mere point of departure, even just a reference, ever susceptible to being transformed into rhetoric, proverbs, epigraphs, and interpolations—in short, into a reservoir of quotes.” [37]

This combination of religion and modern education has proved dangerous to the religious establishment and the government that relies on it for legitimacy, because in the world of mass literacy, mass marketing, and mass (not to mention international) communication, the exclusive interpretive authority of local, state-based ‘ulama has been permanently broken. Authority is now more a characteristic of products themselves (sermons, lessons, advice, books, magazines, cassette tapes, computer software) than productive processes (apprenticeship, certification, jurisprudential skill). Who the producer is—when that can be determined—is less important than the marketability of what he has to say.

This being the case, shutting off the specifically political threat posed by Islamists (whether through force or through reform) will not restore the power of state-subsidized religious intellectuals. Like government economists in Europe and the United States, agencies can use them to advise and justify policy decisions, but cannot force private specialists or the public at large to listen to or agree with them. In the real world, ordinary people use their own rules of thumb, practical understandings, political rhetoric, snippets of advice and learned principles skimmed from the radio, the newspaper, and that all-but-forgotten high school course to make sense of the world of religion, just as they do in the world of commerce. Attempts to enforce an orthodoxy shaped by the intersecting interests of legitimate culture producers and power elites have always been futile without the exercise of physical power through police raids, inquisitions and censorship, all of which undermine the goals of education's enlightened liberal utopia.[38]

The Realization of Distant Consequences

We are left, then, with one persistent question: Why does the Egyptian government persist in using educational tactics in its battle with the Islamic Trend, if education is one of the contributing factors to the climate of religious activism in the first place? It has been mentioned elsewhere that the government's consistent utilization of Islam for gathering mass political support “has been a crucial factor in sustaining and deepening the influence of Islam as the hard core of politics and most convenient terms of reference…[as well as in] the creation of a convenient climate for breeding Muslim fundamentalist movements.” [39] So how is a renewed and enhanced emphasis on religious education supposed to dampen popular religious activism?

The answer lies in a set of ideas that form the core of the Egyptian elite's conception of itself, a conception born in the mid-nineteenth century and nurtured through the next hundred years in a form so stable that it has seldom been seriously examined. It is a conception that Egyptians share with elites—and ordinary citizens—in America, Europe, and elsewhere, which identifies the state of “being educated” not only with the standing of particular classes within particular societies, but with the standing of whole civilizations relative to one another. Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins, in their research on American perceptions of cultural Others, have shown that one of the primary explanations ordinary Americans give for the existence of cultural and economic difference around the world is one of schooling, such that “lack of education must also imply a less adequate form of society or culture.” [40] The idea of education is deployed within an evolutionary narrative that associates it with wealth, with power, with worldliness, and, above all, with modernity, the fact of living in a present state contemporaneous with and similar to the most advanced nations.

The new Egyptian elite, which began to define itself during the late nineteenth century around the idea of education on the European model saw itself as “an elite of superior men” [41] who would jolt the country out of its second-class standing on the world stage. Their consciousness of themselves as a class was woven in part from a set of interlocking positivist dichotomies drawn from nineteenth-century social theory, of which tradition and modernity, ignorance and enlightenment, and religion and secularism, were central. Indeed, these pairs of evolutionary opposites have run like twin strands through research and public policy discussions in Egypt for more than a hundred years, acting like high- voltage cables that generation after generation have used to power their worldview. Enlightenment, secularism, and modernity form a tightly bundled conceptual package opposed to that of religion and its companions, superstition and blind adherence to tradition. In the era of postmodernity, though, with its purported incredulity toward metanarratives, such bundling is increasingly hard to maintain, and the twin ideological power lines are so brittle and frayed that the theoretical circuit they sustain has all but burned out. It is no longer possible in theory, any more than it ever has been in fact, to distinguish between well- marked poles of religious and secular endeavor. If we trace these two ideological strands to their point of origin and back again, we will find that the discourse of education as the road to progress, so central to the self-image of modernity, in fact relies on precisely the same foundations as the religious discourse of salvation. This being the case, then, the institution of schooling can no more face interrogation as a possible source of social discord than could church attendance be suspected as a source of moral failure.

Considering Herbert Spencer's deep suspicion of nineteenth-century national education projects reminded us of the contingency of historical developments, the sense in which institutional trajectories are never inevitable but remain open until finally pushed in one direction or another by changing intersections of power, interest, and circumstance. In the same way, a rereading of the works of mass education's early proponents helps us see how suspicions and fears of another sort were set aside, unresolved, in the face of seemingly more pressing needs, resulting in the image of education as a political panacea. The fear of peasant mobility, both geographical and social, that so concerned the British administration of Egypt, was founded on the perception of two complementary threats. First, a rural exodus inspired by faulty educational policies would threaten the economic stability of the entire country by depriving Egypt of its most valuable export commodity, cheap cotton that was produced by a large and predictable workforce.[42] And second, this exodus would result in a crowding of the cities with rural immigrants either lacking the skills to find urban employment or lacking job opportunities suitable to their educational level. The latter possibility was more immediately frightening than the former, since the effect of a large class of educated but unemployed malcontents posed a more practical short-term political threat to the occupying power. While some education was necessary in order to prevent specific social evils, it nonetheless had the potential to create an entire class of Egyptians who could neither find employment in the civil service nor initiate enterprises of their own. This dangerously “half-educated” and unemployed potential mob elicited a great deal of soul-searching by British intellectuals and imperial bureaucrats.

William Lecky, the popular political theorist who influenced Cromer's ideas on vocational training, had identified in England the same problem administrators faced in India and Egypt. Education, he wrote,

produces desires which it cannot always sate, and it affects very considerably the disposition and relations of classes. One common result is the strong preference for town to country life. A marked and unhappy characteristic of the present age in England is the constant depletion of the country districts by the migration of multitudes of its old, healthy population to the debilitating, and often depraving, atmosphere of the great towns.[43]

Citing the “bitterly falsified” hopes and ambitions of such urban migrants whose sights had been set too high, Lecky detailed the political effects of the consequent “restlessness and discontent”:

Education nearly always promotes peaceful tastes and orderly habits in the community, but in other respects its political value is often greatly overrated. The more dangerous forms of animosity and dissension are usually undiminished, and are often stimulated by [education's] influence. An immense proportion of those who have learnt to read, never read anything but a party newspaper—very probably a newspaper specially intended to inflame or to mislead them—and the half-educated mind is peculiarly open to political Utopias and fanaticisms. Very few such men can realise distant consequences, or even consequences which are distant but one remove from the primary or direct one.[44]

In Egypt, education had similarly “awakened ambitions which were formerly dormant,” according to Cromer, such that “it can be no matter for surprise that the educated youth should begin to clamour for a greater share than heretofore in the government and administration of the country.” [45] The danger of disaffection was treated by limiting the number of individuals who could receive access to higher primary education, to prevent the creation of “déclassés” who felt they were above engaging in manual trades.[46] If frustrated in their ambitions, such men posed a threat to stability. “[I]n my opinion,” the director of the School of Medicine wrote to the consul general, exemplifying this fear, “it is hardly possible to set loose on the country a more dangerous element than the needy medical man.” [47]

The Disturbed Surface of the Public Mind

And yet, as we have seen, this fear of overeducation coexisted with a matching fear of undereducation. The 1919 report of the Egyptian Elementary Educational Commission concluded with a number of inspiring quotations among which was a line from a 10 August 1918 article in the Times of London: “If education is allowed to wait, children do not wait for it: they grow up uneducated; and if we have learned one thing from the war, it is that the uneducated are a danger to the State.” [48] It was this latter threat that was eventually to triumph, and to permanently foreclose the possibility of scaling back educational institutions. The question instead became, not whether to educate the masses, but how best to do so? The term half-educated, so often used to refer to those whose education resulted in political inconvenience, requires an image of what a complete and sufficient education should accomplish. The tension between the perceived danger and promise of schooling reveals deeper tensions both between the imperatives of economic development and those of social control, and between the intellectual categories in which Europeans, and later Egyptians, thought about the relationship between their societies. A traditional, superstitious society could be transformed into a modern, rational one, but such a transformation would take untold amounts of time. Expressing the long-term nature of such changes, Cromer resorted to the gradualist idiom of Spencer and Darwin when he wrote of the introduction of democratic processes into Egypt. By the careful cultivation of preexisting parliamentary principles, he wrote, “we may succeed in creating a vitalized and self-existent organism, instinct with evolutionary force.” [49] And such change, as Anna Tsing points out with respect to the global narrative of development, “appears as a category which, by default, brings us toward what we know.” [50]

The problem was that neither the British nor the Egyptians possessed a good model for what the transitional stages between tradition and modernity would look like. When they saw what was happening in fact, they found the results grotesque, upsetting, confounding of normal categories of thought, and counter to all predictions: it appeared that the little-educated refused to turn to manual labor even to escape poverty; while the much-educated were irrational fanatics. One writer expressed this confusion with respect to India (although it might just as well have been written of Egypt):

The English in India…sow secular education broadcast among the most religious races in the world; and they invite all kinds of free criticism, by classes totally unaccustomed to such privileges, upon the acts of a bureaucratic government. The confusion of ideas that is sometimes generated by this confounding of heterogeneous elements, by the inexperience of the people and the candour of their rulers, is hard to describe; but very curious instances can be observed every day in the native newspapers, which reflect the disturbed surface of the public mind, without representing the deeper currents of native opinion and prepossessions. The press often appeals in the same breath to the primitive prejudices of Indian religion, and to the latest notions of European civilization.[51]

This profound anxiety and sense of danger stems from the confusion of categories that occurs whenever cultural boundaries are shattered and unlikely elements come to coexist.[52] Transitional states that fall between conceptual categories occasion a sense of dread, just as “people living in the interstices of the power structure [are] felt to be a threat to those with better defined status.” [53] This is the real shortcoming of theoretical systems that contrast the initial and final states of societies moving from one to another ideal type: they cannot deal fruitfully with the transition itself, which is never entirely thorough, predictable, or bounded in time.

The passage quoted above, on the English in India, is from an 1884 article in the Edinburgh Review, by Sir Alfred Lyall, an Indian administrator who was friend and intellectual mentor to Egypt's Lord Cromer.[54] Both worked under the influence of their colleague Sir Henry Maine's trendsetting 1861 book Ancient Law, one of the first works to capitalize on Comte's comparative method as a means of tracing evolutionary sequences in society. For Maine, ancient societies as exemplified by contemporary India were collective, patriarchal despotisms in which the family was the basic unit of organization. Evolutionary change in Europe had long ago altered the very foundation of that society, so that “starting, as from one terminus of history, from a condition of society in which all the relations of Persons are summed up in the relations of Family, we seem to have steadily moved towards a phase of social order in which all these relations arise from the free agreement of Individuals.” [55] For his part, Lyall believed that the British arrival in India would free that country from its “arrested development” and set it on a similar evolutionary course. This conservative position assumed that social change would be a gradual process of organic development, with the indigenous religious system an important part of the engine driving that evolution. (Lyall's predecessor, Sir William Jones, had composed devotional poetry to the Hindu gods promising that the British would undermine a “priest-ridden Hinduism,” [56] and Lyall himself believed that Hinduism might move up the evolutionary scale of religion from “naturalism” to “supernaturalism,” in which religious concern turned inward and otherworldly. He feared, however, that higher education for Indians would lead to atheism among the Western-educated elite.[57]) In Egypt, Cromer cautioned his own Ministry of the Interior in 1895 that there was no ministry in which “the zeal of the earnest reformer is more to be deprecated. The habits and customs of an oriental people must not be trifled with lightly.” [58] Religion and culture had to remain unmolested not only to avoid popular reaction, but to allow beliefs and institutions to take their own evolutionary course.

It is hard to overstate how different this view was from that of the other European philosophical camp, that of the Utilitarian radicals led by Jeremy Bentham and James Mill. For the Utilitarians, who deprecated both “customary” (e.g., indigenous Indian) law, and British Common Law as unsystematic and therefore barbarous, real social change could only take root with a revolutionary revision in legal practice, a revision that would not hesitate to trifle with the customs and habits of indigenous peoples. While common and customary legal practices exhibited a “superstitious respect for antiquity,” according to Bentham, modern legislation and the creation of written codes could prompt immediate social change in a rationally anticipated direction.[59] “Give me the words of the Koran,” Bentham boasted,

give me the ideas that belong to them; I ask no more: out of them, and them alone, I undertake to produce you a code, which shall contain a hundred times the useful matter there is in that, without any of those absurdities, the existence of which, upon comparison with the ideas of utility we have at present, you cannot but acknowledge.[60]

Although the Bentham/Mill model of social change preceded that of the conservatives, it was not discarded with the development of evolutionary social theory by Maine, Spencer, and others. Its survival into the later part of the century contributed to a subtle duel at the heart of Victorian social theory. Along with competing theories of social change, competing theories of social structure and function stumbled over each other in the pages of learned periodicals and even cohabited uneasily within the pages of single monographs. One particularly prominent tension was that between a machine model of social organization, which seemed to imply the ability freely to engineer, tinker, and reconstruct, and the organic model of the evolutionists, later bequeathed to French and British functionalism, which appeared to favor caution and patience.

Cromer himself used the machine analogy with abandon in Modern Egypt, likening both society itself and the institutions of governance to mechanical devices (although in concert with his understanding of Egyptian society as an organism “instinct with evolutionary force,” this should be enough to wean us of the idea that there is a necessary correspondence between models of structure and change, or that there is much consistency either in individual thought or in the intellectual field as a whole).[61] But while Mitchell sees a transformation of Egyptian social imagery in the 1890s, where “the body as a harmony of interacting parts has been replaced with the body as an apparatus,” in fact the two models of social order and social transformation engaged in a desultory battle for European and Egyptian minds for most of the century. Not only was there no clear winner, but the normative image of either the social machine or the evolving social body is deeply ambiguous (viz., Durkheim's use of “mechanical” for primitive, and “organic” for advanced principles of social organization, a delightful jab at German Romantic scholars who privileged the authentic simplicity of village and field over the cold alienation of city and factory). Both the machine and the evolutionary metaphors for society had as many detractors as they had proponents. And to complicate matters still further, those detractors often recognized the applicability of social models only to denounce their effects.[62]

What is significant for our purposes is this: that politicians, administrators, and intellectuals concerned with the imperial interface between Europe and the East, regardless of the social model they favored, were able to convince themselves that the creation or re-creation of social order in the colonies was less for the purposes of control for its own sake than it was for the purpose of jolting the stalled and backward societies of India and Egypt out of their evolutionary torpor. Cromer's “vitalized and self-existent organism” would regulate itself with emergent structural properties once it was set in motion. Victorian understandings of the relationship between structure and evolution, then, need to be explored further, for they show us, finally, why the distinction between the religious and the secular is such a fragile one.

The British notion that Indians, Egyptians, and the English working classes were in need of an education consisting of restraint and discipline owes its power to cultural roots far deeper than the nascent labor requirements of the Industrial Revolution. In fact, as Christopher Herbert shows in his important book Culture and Anomie, the secular Victorian theory that “natural” human indiscipline necessitated specific disciplinary training grew initially from the religious climate of Christian evangelicalism and “the Wesleyan…story of human nature as a bundle of unruly drives needing to be severely repressed.” [63] Sin, understood as a surrender to unlimited human desire, changed over the course of the nineteenth century into the secular social doctrine of “instinct,” against which all civilization was thought to be a struggle.[64]

But how does civilization restrain us and keep us from acting on our inner nature? “From the point of departure of a text like Ancient Law,” Herbert writes,

a crucial move toward the ethnographic culture concept occurs…when the theory of social control comes to frame itself chiefly not in terms of external agencies of enforcement (patriarchs, sovereigns, laws) but of internalized, unconscious controls which one does not so much obey as simply exhibit—a move rendering the concept of “control,” like that of “freedom,” philosophically ambiguous ever after.[65]

It is clear, then, that Mitchell's characterization of the historical change in Egypt as one “replacing a power concentrated in personal command, and always liable to diminish, with powers that were systematically and uniformly diffused” [66] is in fact little different in one sense from Maine's progression from status to contract, and in another sense, from the general movement in social theory itself from that which understood society as a system of external constraints to that which saw control operating through internal sanctions gained through socialization. As an advance over existing nineteenth-century theories of social dynamics, therefore, this approach, like Foucault's, is ultimately somewhat limited. Where we need to look instead is at the way the contradictions and ambiguities in these theories made education appear as the key to progress.

Accompanying the change in Europe's recipe for social control was an alteration in its evaluation of non-Western societies. In the early part of the nineteenth century, non-Western peoples were thought to suffer from an “anarchical and selfish restlessness” [67] stemming from a lack of behavioral controls that kept them from effectively structuring their wants and achieving social progress. But in mid- to late-century, this vision changes, and the European notion of “civilization” takes on an anomalous cast:

for on the one hand, “civilization” is identified…in the conventional way with a system of fixed restraints upon human drives, and is identified almost in the same breath with fluidity and progressive, expansive movement as against the stultifying fixity of “savage” society. It was apparently in order to resolve the dilemma posed by this highly unstable configuration of ideas that nineteenth-century writers initiated a long campaign to refute the myth of unbridled primitive desire, and…to replace it with something like its very opposite.…What we see…is a broad reversal of assumptions in which “savage” society is transformed from a void of institutional control where desire is rampant to a spectacle of controls exerted systematically upon the smallest details of daily life [through taboo and tradition].[68]

Of course European understandings of the primitive were partly mirror images of their self-understanding.[69] Herbert traces the change itself to the economic depression of the 1870s and the growing subversion of Victorian ideals of discipline. As the notion of institutional discipline, policing, surveillance and control began to draw public criticism,

it became a natural operation now to discover it in its most oppressive forms in primitive society, much as the previous generation of sensibility steeped in Evangelical thinking had constructed its own didactic image of primitives as figures of crazily uncontrolled passion. In contrast to the ethic of emancipated critical thought…tribal societies…were now disparagingly seen as “fettered,” “bound,” “chained down” by mindless conventionality.… Savages' exhorbitant devotion to custom and discipline…is precisely the reason for their (manifest) inferiority to progressive, developing European societies.[70]

Both of these stereotypes are prominent in writings about Egypt, which was considered implicitly primitive despite its objective status as a “high” civilization in its own right.[71] By the second quarter of the twentieth century, Egyptian educators came to believe that their country's political position was due to the chains of custom rather than to unbridled passion, but for the four decades between the British Occupation and Egypt's nominal independence in 1923, both theories coexisted in the worldview of foreign and indigenous elites. And this is precisely why, despite its recognized dangers, education was chosen as a tool of the state's expansion: because it promised simultaneously to constrain and control the irrational impulses of the populace that kept them from advancement, and also to free them of traditional social, behavioral, and intellectual constraints that kept them from advancement. In promising change, progress, and the amelioration of social problems from two opposite philosophical stances—promising all things simultaneously to all people—the school was immune to changes in the philosophy of public policy.

Schooling retains this aura in contemporary educational planning documents that speak of inculcating values representing “the Egyptian character, which has been forged in the country's history and traditions,” and at the same time of developing “the skills that are required to produce a scientifically and technologically sound individual.” [72] The school's ambiguous promises result in the bifurcation of its human product into a stabilizing repository of values, on the one hand, and a skilled engine of change and progress, on the other. In contemporary public policy discourse, the language of national security and the language of economic development, though they appear to be about different aspects of the world, in fact refer to the same thing. This highlights the fact that religious and secular political theories are of a piece, having grown together from the same roots and maintaining, with different vocabularies, the same unstable dialectics of moral responsibility and free will, of imperfection and progress. I would venture to disagree with Lecky, and suggest that the educated, far from being immune to “political Utopias and fanaticisms,” in fact bear as their central sacred image the unborn utopia to be shaped by the school, anticipated always, in nearly millennial terms, as the New Jerusalem just beyond the horizon.

The Past in the Present

Fear of the “déclassés,” and of other liminal states and individuals, is being revived in contemporary Egypt through the recapitulation of colonial population management theories in the current literature on Islamic resurgence. The image of Muslim militants as being “from [the] lower middle class of recent migrants to urban areas” [73] depicts the safe boundaries of the city being transgressed by invaders from another place and time.[74] Some Egyptian intellectuals suggest that the Islamic Trend, far from being the result of the frustration of a downwardly mobile middle class, is due instead to the growing power of upwardly mobile rural classes who take advantage of new educational opportunities by infiltrating various sectors of public culture, including the media, “allowing them to spread their habits of thought and patterns of behavior to the whole society.” [75] Radicals are denounced as “the new Kharijites” or “the new Bedouin” engaged in the latest round of a centuries-old conflict between urban civilization and the forces of social fragmentation pressing in from the countryside.[76] Political, geographical, and moral boundaries blend into one another as the contrast between countryside and city is used to symbolize a threatening relationship with a past that might overcome the modernist narrative of progress.[77]

As in the summer camp raids in Alexandria, shabab are portrayed as threats to the normal order in which the family and the state share responsibility for moral instruction. Young men who have left the confines of their own families are exiled into the wasteland of drugs, unemployment, and extremism. The “déclassés” exist in a liminal state, bright and educated but unemployed, sexually mature but unmarried, raised in the country but living in the city. And increasingly, they not only represent threats to themselves and to the adult establishment, but threaten, through their participation in Islamist institution-building, to carry the country's children along with them. The solution is to provide Egyptian youth with internal restraints that will compensate for their rootlessness once they make the transition into “the non-restraint of the world.” Just as the earl of Northbrook had claimed that “Mahomedans who are instructed in the tenets of their religion have always looked upon [the Mahdi] as an impostor,” and that religious enthusiasm was a lower-class phenomenon, so secular Egyptian intellectuals prescribe education as a cure for radicalism. Egyptians need to be taught the difference between truth and error, including a knowledge of past sects and heresies.

[It] is vital for the government to open widely the subject of the Shari‘a, to explain to the people the various forms it can take, i.e., which is Shi‘a, which is Wahhabi, Kharijite, etc. Because religious education has deteriorated and has been limited to teaching children enough of the Qur’an to perform rituals, most people in the country are not really aware that there are such differences.[78]

Traditional modes of home and mosque-based socialization are stereotyped as ignorant and backward, contributing to “the spread of extremist thinking among young people, who are ill-equipped to resist brainwashing.” [79] Cromer's desire to use education as a defense against “the hare-brained…projects…[of] the political charlatan, himself but half-educated,” is felt by a new generation that perceives the ideological positions of Islamic radicals not merely as errors, but as ancient errors that have already been refuted. Egyptians who see the Islamic Trend as a return to the past, a regression to the oppressive theocracies of ancient times, find the solution in the quintessential modernizing force of education. True culture becomes, according to Charles Hirschkind, “the realization of state power in the individual,” providing a shield against propaganda and generating enlightenment in the form of assent to moderate, modern opinions.[80] Ironically, as part of its slow reworking of religious life, the functionalization of Islam has provided a quasi back door to Sufism as an alternative notion of individual spiritual development. Assimilated to the imperative of social control, the modern ideal of spiritual growth replaces the Sufi's mystical communion with God, with Everyman's incorporation of statist ideology into his very being through the process of socialization.[81]

Religion as a Politically Constituted Defense Mechanism[82]

The overlapping series of dichotomies used to express the differences between tradition and modernity in Egypt—religion versus secular politics, memorization versus thought, rural versus urban, ignorance versus enlightenment—are primarily ideological rather than analytical devices. They are used by indigenous intellectuals and by outside analysts to imply that “tradition” (and therefore religion) is an imperfect realization of human potential. Remember how Hani Sharif Mahmud dismissed the Islamic Trend as “not genuine, most of it, because it's generated from frustrations.” [83] Religious ideas and commitments have no independent cognitive force, no power and no attraction aside from the socioeconomic correlates that predispose particular groups to adopt them. The language of secular modernity cannot consider religious ideas, by themselves, compelling. Women adopt modest dress for economic reasons, for fashion considerations, or to escape the police. Even when ennobled as “resistance” rather than explained away as a symptom of pathology or poverty, practices like veiling are often denied religious import. Valerie Hoffman's and Arlene MacLeod's insightful analyses of recent religious change in Egypt agree that “only a very small percentage of these veiling women seem to be actually turning to religion in a genuine way,” [84] and that women themselves claimed they “were not more religious after wearing the hijab than they had been before wearing it. They had simply become better educated.” [85] Resort to the language of “genuineness” is as significant here as it was when Victorians mistook the kuttab student's rocking as a sign of intellectual stultification and spiritual aridity. A century after William Robertson Smith, it would certainly be an odd anthropological interpretation of “religiousness” that required a transformation of inner state (how, after all, can we tell?) rather than public performance of a religiously meaningful action. The act of veiling, whatever its individual motivation and spiritual consequences, is a ritual act that contributes de facto to the Islamization of public space, altering the social and cultural universe in which subsequent perceptions arise and subsequent choices are made.

Similarly, government efforts at public education, such as the National Democratic Party's weekly al-Liwa’ al-islami (The Islamic Standard) are dismissed by secularist Egyptians like Hani Sharif Mahmud as

just a fake. I know the people who write it. It's more the Minister of the Interior speaking than it is the Minister of Religious Endowments. They're merely reacting to the stronger radical trends by taking the subject of religion, about which there's so much concern, and bending it around to come from their perspective. It's not a positive, genuine thing, just a reaction to outside forces.[86]

Coming from a self-described atheist, this ability to distinguish between “genuine” and “fake” religion is quite remarkable. To him, “genuine” religion is “religion that stays in the background, as it always has in Egypt.” Genuine religion is that of the masses, a religion he was able to escape through an education that brought to light the true causes of religious behavior and allowed him, like Bertrand Russell, to formulate an alternative belief system. Only the insidious effects of personal trauma and mental illness could strip that system away and force the members of his family to resort to the primitive solaces of religion. This discourse is redolent with a dated evolutionism linking together the superstitions of savages and the working classes as representatives of primitive thought. As the higher mental functions of the cultivated individual fail, the residue reverts to religion, which lies just below the surface of the rational mind like a Comtean religious phase of history lies beneath the layer of modernity, always ready to erupt if the smooth surface of progress is subjected to sufficient stress. Religion, it seems, is the human default setting.

But when it becomes more than this and spreads rapidly through the whole of public space, it appears to stand as a fundamental threat, a metastasizing cancer requiring a diagnosis and a cure. Particularly when lay intellectuals begin to intrude on the territory of traditionally sanctioned religious elites, both those elites and the corps of secularist intellectuals become caught up in a cycle of reaction. Each tries to discredit the Islamist's abilities and intentions, the former by challenging his lack of training (he is uncertified and therefore incompetent), the latter by challenging his rationality (he is either an opportunist or mad). In either case, he is neutered because his religious thought is neither true religion nor true thought. He is not worth listening to.

Critiques of Islamism that frame it in this way as a defense mechanism for the maladjusted and the relatively deprived, rather than a “genuine” religious exercise, can function themselves as politically constituted defense mechanisms for those who offer them. These explanations comfort the powerful, the fortunate, and the wise that the Islamic Trend is an incoherent movement destined to failure if treated with the right combination of economic prosperity, political reform, and the fine-tuning of the apparatus of socialization (cf. the very title of Roy's The Failure of Political Islam). That this was precisely Cromer's prescription for treating the inconvenient political proclivities of the natives should give us pause and lead us to reflect on the continuity between his worldview and our own. If we treat Islamism as a pathology, the result of the faulty operation of modern institutions rather than of the potentials and contradictions inherent within them, we can continue to believe that our own personal, religious and political convictions are, by contrast, consistent, coherent, and grounded in truth and reason, rather than desperate practical refuges always on the verge of crisis and change. And in so doing we abandon the potential relevance of the Egyptian case for understanding the role of religion and politics in our own society, believing that the wolf knocking at the palace door in Cairo is hungrier than the wolf at our own. From a liberal American president's public assurance that “religion is too important to our history and heritage to keep it out of our schools,” [87] to the growing vehemence and violence of the debate over abortion, to the more acute eruptions of barbarism in our own midst (the fatal 1993 government siege of a religious commune in Waco, Texas; the 1995 terrorist bombing of a federal office building in Oklahoma City; and the rash of financial crimes committed by the suddenly discovered antigovernment “militia” and “patriot” movements), our own society is facing political questions comparable to those faced by Muslims around the world.[88] Such incidents raise fundamental questions about the limits of freedom, the rationality of political ideologies, the relevance of religion in public life, and the character of the state. How, we ask, are we to deal with people who do not believe what we want them to believe?

Just as average Americans are increasingly concerned with ideologically loaded issues like abortion and school prayer, the battle between genuine and spurious, or authentic and erroneous Islam, is being joined today by more and more Egyptians from different positions in society. But the internal debates that have been conducted in many forms since the time of the Prophet are now augmented by the rhetorical strategies and research results of the modern educational and scientific establishments. This augmentation does not make the debates any more or less genuinely “about” religion, nor do the social control aspects of the religion curricula in the public schools necessarily make that teaching any more or less authentically Islamic, at least from an anthropological perspective.

What this augmentation does do is create a special danger when we attempt to interpret the forms Islam takes in the modern (some would say postmodern) world, a special responsibility not to mistake secularism for rationality, or method for authenticity. What I have written about the teaching of Islam in the modern public school should not be read as an indictment of the Egyptian government for using that teaching for its own political purposes. Nor should it be read as agreement with them that their interpretations of Islamic legitimacy are the only ones possible. The opinions of Muslims who share the prejudices of the anthropologist should not override the opinions of those who do not. For the social scientist, especially the non-Muslim one, Islam is what Muslims do (which includes, of course, the characteristic human behaviors of speaking and writing). What we need to do increasingly is not only explore the continuity between rational and symbolic processes within the constantly changing institutional constellations of complex societies,[89] but interrogate the very categories of reason and religion themselves. Linking “fundamentalism” with regression or antimodernity not only misrepresents the lives of Muslims who experience such approaches to Islam as the pinnacle of civilization, but embraces an oddly skewed vision of history. “The rise of Islamic fundamentalism,” in the words of Victoria Bernal, “is not a reaction against change, but change itself.” [90] Moreover, it is part of a process of change without end.


1. Quoted in James Williams, Education in Egypt Before British Control (Birmingham, n.p., 1939), p. 79.

2. Spencer, “Moral Education,” pp. 112–13.

3. El-Gawhary, “Report from a War Zone,” p. 50; al-Ahram, 26 July 1993, p. 7.

4. Al-Ahram, 31 July 1993, p. 10.

5. Hani Sharif Mahmud, interview, 18 April 1989, pp. 342–44.

6. Joel Beinin, personal communication, 1989.

7. Hani Sharif Mahmud, interview, 9 June 1989, pp. 339–40.

8. Eric Davis, “Ideology, Social Class, and Islamic Radicalism in Modern Egypt,” in From Nationalism to Revolutionary Islam, ed. Said Amir Arjomand (London: The Macmillan Press, Ltd., 1984), pp. 139–40.

9. Karl Marx, in the introduction to his “Contribution to a Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, 2nd ed., ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York: Norton, 1978), p. 54.

10. The section on religion in Economy and Society is published in English as The Sociology of Religion, trans. Ephraim Fischoff (1922; rpt., Boston: Beacon, 1963). Curiously, Davis does not cite Weber.

11. Davis, “Ideology, Social Class, and Islamic Radicalism,” p. 141.

12. Davis, “Ideology, Social Class, and Islamic Radicalism,” p. 147.

13. Davis, “Ideology, Social Class, and Islamic Radicalism,” p. 146.

14. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, “Anatomy of Egypt's Militant Islamic Groups: Methodological Note and Preliminary Findings,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 12 (1980), pp. 423–53; Ahmad Abdalla, The Student Movement; Fischer and Abedi, Debating Muslims, p. 86.

15. Davis, “Ideology, Social Class, and Islamic Radicalism,” p. 147.

16. Janet Abu-Lughod, “Rural Migration and Politics in Egypt,” p. 324.

17. “The emphasis on a unitary, holistic Islam is very compatible with the overall world-view of the rural petite-bourgeoisie. It has been argued that there is no contradiction between the fact that such a large percentage of Islamic militants have been educated in the natural sciences and still subscribe to radical interpretations of Islam. Since the natural sciences stress an absolute approach to knowledge (either something is right or it is wrong), it is erroneous to assume that a “modern” education will necessarily erode a traditional consciousness which likewise emphasizes absolute categories of thought.” Davis, “Ideology, Social Class, and Islamic Radicalism,” p. 146. It is worth noting here that the Egyptian educational system has long been criticized for teaching all subjects as if there were an absolute quality to knowledge. The difference between the teaching of literature and of engineering is thus not necessarily very great. It is also worth noting that Hassan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, Samia ‘Abd al-Rahman, and Layla al-Shamsi were all trained in literature rather than the sciences.

18. The weakness of class analysis in this case becomes manifest in the conceptual effort it takes to squeeze together the various occupations that Davis discusses into a single class category (“bourgeoisie,” or, oxymoronically, “rural petite-bourgeoisie”) that can experience socioeconomic pressures in a consistent way. Inferring the cognitive needs or social networks of ill-defined classes is a troublesome undertaking. Even when restricted to single occupations, theoretical statements about political susceptibility are always underdetermined. For example, Davis points to the large number of high school teachers involved in the Muslim Brotherhood in rural areas, interpreting their apparent overrepresentation as an indication of kinship relations between urban radicals and rural teachers, concluding with the non sequitur that “Secondary school teacher-training entails considerable religious education which is an indicator of the traditional origin of religious radicals.” But there are simpler ways to explain the apparent abundance of teachers in these groups and movements. If data on the representation of teachers in Islamic movements is in fact correct, there are other reasonable explanations of their participation that have to do with personal and organizational strategies rather than with inferences from class background and kinship networks. The first is that Islamist organizations target teachers for recruitment because of their influence over children—and adults—in rural communities (in smaller communities, secondary school teachers are more likely than the general population to be literate and politically aware in the first place). The second is that individuals attracted to the Islamic Trend will tend to select high school teaching as a profession because of its positive social effects. As we saw in the last chapter, Layla al-Shamsi exemplifies this type of linkage, which is likely to be particularly strong in private schools. In the Islamic school where she taught, volunteers from the Islamic activist community played an active part in teaching and administration (one of the volunteers I met was a young man with an Islamic beard, a junior member of the Engineering faculty from Cairo University).

19. Davis, “Ideology, Social Class, and Islamic Radicalism,” p. 136.

20. Max Weber, The Sociology of Religion, p. 137.

21. Weber, Sociology of Religion, p. 71.

22. Weber, Sociology of Religion, pp. 125, 137.

23. Engels reacted to early vulgarizations of Marxist theory by criticizing

the fatuous notion of the ideologists that because we deny an independent historical development to the various ideological spheres which play a part in history we also deny them any effect upon history. The basis of this is the common undialectical conception of cause and effect as rigidly opposite poles, the total disregarding of interaction. These gentlemen often almost deliberately forget that once a historic element has been brought into the world by other, ultimately economic causes, it reacts, can react on its environment and even on the causes that have given rise to it. (Friedrich Engels to Franz Mehring, 14 July 1893, in The Marx-Engels Reader, 2nd ed. Robert Tucker [New York: Norton, 1978], p. 767)

24. Davis, “Ideology, Social Class, and Islamic Radicalism,” p. 143.

25. Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958), p. 54.

26. Karl Marx, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, p. 595.

27. Michael Schudson, Advertising: The Uneasy Persuasion (New York: Basic books, 1984).

28. Olivier Roy, The Failure of Political Islam, p. 79. See also Hannah Davis's interview with Rabia Bekkar, “Taking up Space in Tlemcen: The Islamist Occupation of Urban Algeria,” Middle East Report, no. 179 (November–December 1992), pp. 11–15; and Kate Zebiri, “Islamic Revival in Algeria: An Overview,” The Muslim World 83, 3–4 (July–October 1993), pp. 203–26.

29. Davis, “Ideology, Social Class, and Islamic Radicalism,” p. 140.

30. Ellis Goldberg, “Smashing Idols and the State: The Protestant Ethic and Egyptian Sunni Radicalism,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 31 (1991), pp. 3–35.

31. Goldberg, “Smashing Idols,” p. 3.

32. Goldberg, “Smashing Idols,” p. 4.

33. Goldberg, “Smashing Idols,” p. 28; see also Gilles Kepel, Muslim Extremism in Egypt, p. 79.

34. Goldberg, “Smashing Idols,” pp. 34–35.

35. Brian Spooner, “Weavers and Dealers: The Authenticity of an Oriental Carpet,” in The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, ed. Arjun Appadurai (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), pp. 195–235.

36. Roy, Failure of Political Islam, pp. 94–95.

37. Roy, Failure of Political Islam, p. 103.

38. See Carlos Ginsburg, The Cheese and the Worms (New York: Penguin, 1980).

39. Raouf Abbas Hamed, “Factors Behind the Political Islamic Movement in Egypt,” paper delivered at the annual meeting of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, San Antonio, Texas, 24–26 November 1990, p. 10. Dr. Hamed also notes that the summer camps set up by the government to train young people in proper Islam have been prime recruiting grounds for Islamic radical groups.

40. Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins, Reading National Geographic (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), p. 233.

41. Mitchell, Colonising Egypt, p. 124.

42. “What seems to be most required for progress…is to evolve the best type of rural school, adapted to the special practical needs of agricultural districts, and when this has been done we may confidently hope to see a considerable increase in the number of boys educated. It must not be forgotten that any hasty or unthought-out development of education in rural districts, unless it is carefully adapted to rural necessities, may imperil the agricultural interests on which the prosperity of the country so largely depends. A rural exodus in Egypt would be an economic and social disaster of considerable magnitude.” Kitchener, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1912, vol. 121, p. 4.

43. Lecky, Democracy and Liberty, vol. 1, p. 319. “It is by no means desirable,” he wrote one page earlier, “that the flower of the working class, or their children, should learn to despise manual labour and the simple, inexpensive habits of their parents, in order to become very commonplace doctors, attorneys, clerks, or newspaper writers.” Perhaps the flower of the working class were listening to the contemporary equivalent of Willie Nelson's sage advice, “Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” in which medicine and law are compared favorably to the simple, inexpensive habits of playing guitar and riding around in old pickup trucks.

44. Lecky, Democracy and Liberty, vol. 1, pp. 319–20.

45. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1907, vol. 100, p. 630.

46. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1903, vol. 87, p. 1011; Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1906, vol. 137, p. 566. Cf. Bowring,

No sooner has a boy learned to read and to write, than he is unwilling to pursue any trade, whatever prospects it may offer of reputation, usefulness, or even wealth. The boy will rather be a scribe with small, than an artisan with large, emoluments. To obtain the name of effendi is an object of higher ambition than to lay the foundation even of opulence. This defect pervades the whole of Oriental society, and is an impassable barrier to the advance of the general prosperity. (“Report on Egypt and Candia,” p. 137)

47. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1906, pp. 720–21.

48. Ministry of Education, Report of the Elementary Education Commission, p. 40.

49. “Further Correspondences Respecting Reorganization in Egypt,” Parl. Pap., 1883, vol. 83, p. 47.

50. Tsing, In the Realm of the Diamond Queen, p. 87.

51. “Government of the Indian Empire,” Edinburgh Review 159 (January–April 1884), pp. 11–12.

52. “[I]deas about separating, purifying, demarcating…have as their main function to impose system on an inherently untidy experience. It is only by exaggerating the difference between within and without, above and below, male and female, with and against, that a semblance of order is created.” Douglas, Purity and Danger, p. 4.

53. Douglas, Purity and Danger, pp. 96, 104.

54. Roger Owen, “Anthropology and Imperial Administration: Sir Alfred Lyall and the Official Use of Theories of Social Change Developed in India after 1857,” in Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter, ed. Talal Asad (London: Ithaca Press), pp. 241–42.

55. Sir Henry Sumner Maine, Ancient Law (n.p.: Dorset Press, 1986 [1861]), p. 140.

56. Majeed, Ungoverned Imaginings, p. 23.

57. Owen, “Anthropology and Imperial Administration,” p. 230.

58. Cromer, Annual Report, Parl. Pap., 1895, vol. 109, p. 12. Quoted in Owen, “Anthropology and Imperial Administration,” p. 242.

59. Majeed, Ungoverned Imaginings, p. 148.

60. Jeremy Bentham, “Of the Influence of Time and Place in Matters of Legislation,” in The Works of Jeremy Bentham, ed John Bowring, p. 191. See Majeed, Ungoverned Imaginings, p. 183; for Ottoman understandings of legal reform during the Tanzimat period, see Messick, The Calligraphic State, p. 64.

61. Mitchell, Colonising Egypt, pp. 156–60.

62. One interesting, almost parenthetical, result of schooling's growing importance to the Egyptian economy was a new way of describing educated individuals that matched them to their function. After European training, the native was transformed metaphorically from an untamed beast into a handy tool, a commodity that could be traded on the open market. In the Annual Report of 1903 (Parl. Pap., vol. 87, p. 1034), Cromer quoted Mr. Currie, the director general of education for the Sudan, on his “heartfelt pity” for the beleaguered local administrators who had to rely on Egyptian help:

Their clerical staff is beyond description bad. Add to this the fact that it is proportionately expensive and absolutely unacclimatized, and I think the need for higher primary schools, as a matter of urgency, is made out.

In a couple of years, even without the institution of any beginning of secondary education, these schools will turn out a product infinitely better than is often found here at present, and, it is important to remember, a product at once acclimatized and comparatively cheap.

Though the mechanical analogy was not restricted to official usage, neither was it universally praised. Florence Nightingale, writing to her mother after an 1850 visit to a convent school in Alexandria, recalled with distaste “the patent improved-man-making principle at home—the machine warranted to turn out children wholesale, like pins, with patent heads,—I did not wonder at the small success of our education.” Nightingale, Letters, p. 204.

As early as 1829 Thomas Carlyle characterized his times as The Mechanical Age, both because of the booming metallic din of factory machinery and because of “the deep, almost exclusive faith we have in Mechanism…in the Politics of this time.…We term it indeed, in ordinary language, the Machine of Society, and talk of it as the grand working wheel from which all private machines must derive, or to which they must adapt, their movements.” “Signs of the Times,” in his Selected Writings, ed. Alan Shelston (New York: Penguin, 1971), p. 70.

63. I owe this and part of the succeeding discussion to Christopher Herbert's Culture and Anomie.

64. Herbert, Culture and Anomie, pp. 36–8.

65. Herbert, Culture and Anomie, pp. 39–40.

66. Mitchell, Colonising Egypt, p. 175.

67. W. Cooke Taylor, ca. 1840, quoted in Herbert, Culture and Anomie, p. 62.

68. Herbert, Culture and Anomie, pp. 64–65.

69. In addition to Fabian's Time and the Other, see Adam Kuper, The Invention of Primitive Society: Transformations of an Illusion (London: Routledge, 1988).

70. Herbert, Culture and Anomie, pp. 65–66.

71. In 1988 an international conference in Cairo actually contained a discussion between Arab intellectuals about whether peasants did or did not have “culture,” so such perspectives have hardly disappeared from the intellectual landscape.

72. Educational Planning Unit, Ministry of Education, Government of Egypt, “Reform of the Educational System of Egypt: A Sector Assessment,” draft, USAID Development Information Center, 8 January 1990, pp. 14, 106. See also Dr. Ahmed Fathy Surour, Towards Education Reform in Egypt: A Strategy for Reform and Examples of Implementation, 1987–1990 (Cairo: Al-Ahram Commercial Presses, 1991).

73. Hamed, “Factors Behind the Political Islamic Movement,” p. 1.

74. Saadek Samaan, an Egyptian educator writing in the early years of the Nasser period, wrote that reactionaries like Hasan al-Banna “are advocating a strong theocracy modeled after that of the ninth-century society of Arabia,” Value Reconstruction and Egyptian Education (New York: Bureau of Publications, Teacher's College, Columbia University, 1955), p. 19.

75. Galal Amin, “Migration, Inflation and Social Mobility: A Sociological Interpretation of Egypt's Current Economic and Political Crisis,” in Egypt Under Mubarak, ed. Charles Tripp and Roger Owen (London: Routledge, 1989), p. 118.

76. ‘Abd Allah Imam, “Al-Khawarij al-judud!” Ruz al-Yusuf, 17 April 1989, pp. 30–33; Muhammad Sa‘id al-‘Ashmawi, “Al-Sira‘ al-hadari fi al-Islam,” al-Azmina, January–February 1989, pp. 18–27. Talal Asad has pointed out that this representation of Islamic society as composed of “protagonists engaged in a dramatic struggle” is widespread in the anthropology and historiography of Islam; “The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam.” Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Occasional Papers Series, Georgetown University, 1986, p. 8.

77. Even the unconscious motivations that scholars like Davis impute to modern-day radicals match quite precisely the idiom of recapturing the past that Raymond Williams has traced through British “pastoral” literature in The Country and the City (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), pp. 290–304.

78. Amira el-Azhary Sonbol, “Egypt,” in The Politics of Islamic Revivalism, ed. Shireen Hunter (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), p. 35. Her faulty perception of Islamic instruction in Egypt is due in part to misunderstanding the reason why different kinds of Islam are not discussed. For pedagogical purposes, there is only one kind of Islam.

79. An editorial in al-Ahram, quoted in Charles Hirschkind, “Culture and Counterterrorism: Notes on Contemporary Public Discourse in Egypt,” paper presented at the 1993 meetings of the Middle East Studies Association, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

80. Charles Hirschkind, personal communication. For an outstanding survey of media depictions of education as a modernizing force, see Walter Armbrust, Mass Culture and Modernism in Egypt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). James P. Young has pointed out, after Jacques Ellul, that not only is education no prophylactic against propaganda, but it “makes propaganda possible, helps propaganda accomplish its ends, and is in many ways itself a form of propaganda.” “Intimate Allies in Migration: Education and Propaganda in a Philippine Village,” Comparative Education Review 26 (1982), p. 218.

81. Olivier Roy sees the resurrection of the Sufi ideal of the insan kamil, or “ideal man,” as a feature of Islamist thought, but in fact its resurrection can be traced to the work of modern educational elites generally; see his Failure of Political Islam, p. 101.

82. With apologies to Melford Spiro, on whose paper title, “Religious Systems as Culturally Constituted Defense Mechanisms” (in Context and Meaning in Anthropology, ed. Melford Spiro [New York: The Free Press, 1965], pp. 100–13), this phrase is modeled.

83. Hani Sharif Mahmud, interview, 18 April 1989, p. 342.

84. MacLeod, Accommodating Protest, p. 110.

85. Hoffman, “Muslim Fundamentalists: Psychosocial Profiles,” p. 221.

86. Hani Sharif Mahmud, interview, 18 April 1989, p. 342.

87. John Aloysius Farrel, “Clinton Calls for Religion in Schools,” Boston Globe, 13 July 1995, p. 1.

88. For a discussion of the sources of the American government's understanding of the category “religion,” see James Tabor and Eugene Gallagher, Why Waco? Cults and the Battle for Religious Freedom in America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).

89. Michael Herzfeld, The Social Production of Indifference: Exploring the Symbolic Roots of Western Bureaucracy (New York: Berg, 1992).

90. Victoria Bernal, “Gender, Culture, and Capitalism: Women and the Remaking of Islamic “Tradition” in a Sudanese Village,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 36 (1994), p. 42.


Preferred Citation: Starrett, Gregory. Putting Islam to Work: Education, Politics, and Religious Transformation in Egypt. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1998 1998.