« | Home | »

The Believer General

Tags:

One of the great misconceptions about Egypt today is that the army is a bulwark against the intrusions of religion in politics, a defender of state-mosque separation. (You can’t defend something that doesn’t exist.) This fable is widely believed in the West, and has been vigorously promoted by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s liberal supporters. But as David Kirkpatrick and Mayy El Sheikh report in today’s New York Times, in their campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood, Sisi and his colleagues are invoking Islam as shamelessly as the movement they’ve driven underground.

Sisi’s version of political Islam revolves around obedience to the army and the police against Egypt’s enemies, from Muslim Brothers to young revolutionaries to liberals of questionable loyalty, such as Mohamed ElBaradei, now cooling his heels in Europe. Loyalist clerics, many of them Mubarak appointees, have justified the killing of more than a thousand people – most of them unarmed civilians – as the performance of a sacred duty. The military’s Department of Moral Affairs has made a video portraying the Brothers as sowers of fitna (division) who got what they deserved; it has been shown to soldiers and riot police throughout the country. As one cleric featured in the video explains, ‘when somebody comes who tries to divide you, then kill them, whoever they are.’

Kirkpatrick and El Sheikh characterise the army’s religious appeals as ‘a new measure of the depth of the military’s determination to break down the main pillar of Mr Morsi’s support, the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood’. But the military regime’s brandishing of the Quran isn’t exactly new. Throughout the 1970s, Sadat, the ‘believer president’, leaned on appeals to religion – and coddled the radical Islamists who ultimately murdered him – in his war against the student left. Under Mubarak, extreme Salafi clerics were given free rein to proselytise on state television so long as they kept out of politics: the strength of the Salafi movement today is a tribute to Mubarak’s indulgence.

That Sisi, the believer general, is now covering himself in Islam, should hardly come as a surprise. Other than devotion to the army, he has no vision for the country, so the Quran will have to do. As Robert Springborg has argued, he may try to create ‘a hybrid regime that would combine Islamism with militarism’ along the lines of Zia al-Haq’s Pakistan. The conflict between the army and the Brothers is not over the presence of religion in political life, but over who gets to speak in its name. Only one form of political Islam has been driven underground in Egypt.

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.


  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • andymartinink on Reacher v. Parker: Slayground definitely next on my agenda. But to be fair to Lee Child, as per the Forbes analysis, there is clearly a massive collective reader-writer ...
    • Robert Hanks on Reacher v. Parker: And in Breakout, Parker, in prison, teams up with a black guy to escape; another white con dislikes it but accepts the necessity; Parker is absolutely...
    • Robert Hanks on Reacher v. Parker: Parker may not have the integrity and honesty of Marlowe, but I'd argue that Richard Stark writes with far more of both than Raymond Chandler does: Ch...
    • Christopher Tayler on Reacher v. Parker: Good to see someone holding up standards. The explanation is that I had thoughts - or words - left over from writing about Lee Child. (For Chandler se...
    • Geoff Roberts on Reacher v. Parker: ..."praised in the London Review of Books" Just read the article on Lee Child in a certain literary review and was surprised to find this rave notice...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Chris Lehmann: The Candidates
    18 June 2015

    ‘Every one of the Republican candidates can be described as a full-blown adult failure. These are people who, in most cases, have been granted virtually every imaginable advantage on the road to success, and managed nevertheless to foul things up along the way.’

    Hugh Pennington:
    The Problem with Biodiversity
    10 May 2007

    ‘As a medical microbiologist, for example, I have spent my career fighting biodiversity: my ultimate aim has been to cause the extinction of harmful microbes, an objective shared by veterinary and plant pathologists. But despite more than a hundred years of concentrated effort, supported by solid science, smallpox has been the only success.’

    Jeremy Harding: At the Mexican Border
    20 October 2011

    ‘The battle against illegal migration is a domestic version of America’s interventions overseas, with many of the same trappings: big manpower commitments, militarisation, pursuit, detection, rendition, loss of life. The Mexican border was already the focus of attention before 9/11; it is now a fixation that shows no signs of abating.’

    James Meek: When the Floods Came
    31 July 2008

    ‘Last July, a few days after the floods arrived, with 350,000 people still cut off from the first necessity of life, Severn Trent held its annual general meeting. It announced profits of £325 million, and confirmed a dividend for shareholders of £143 million. Not long afterwards the company, with the consent of the water regulator Ofwat, announced that it wouldn’t be compensating customers: all would be charged as if they had had running water, even when they hadn’t.’

Advertisement Advertisement