Shaker al-Nabulsi

Today the world worries over Egypt as it struggles with the military, after it has been struggling with professional politicians eager to bequeath their privileges and remain permanently in their posts like medieval kings by absolute divine right.

This is because Egypt is the balance of democracy in the Middle East and its touchstone: if democracy is achieved there it is achievable in many parts of the Arab world that are undergoing, or on the verge of undergoing, revolution.

The assassination of Anwar Sadat  in 1981

If the West today is fearful of the rise to power in Egypt of Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood or of Salafist movements this fear may need to be examined. For the question remains: if the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist groups attain to power in Egypt will they be able to implement the slogans they are now raising on a reality on the ground that wholly conflicts with their slogans?

The world is swiftly globalizing. The age of the nation state, of secure identity, of individualized creed, is up against a huge and overwhelming flood. This is globalization which seeks the unification of the planet, not merely the unification of specific regions. It seeks a single global identity, not fanatical regional ones that war against each other.

Fundamentalists on the other hand seek a false and imaginary ‘cultural independence’ and the destruction of the ‘other’ enlightenment culture which they have dubbed ‘the 21st Century Jāhiliyya[1].’  Their accession to power has turned out to be an easy matter for the following reasons:

  1. Egyptians are emotionally religious, more than any other Arabs
  2. Egyptians acquiesce easily to the leadership of the clergy
  3. Egyptians fear unruliness in the leaders, be they military or religious
  4. Politico-religious parties have their longest history in Egypt; most of the Arab politico-religious parties derive their thinking and ideology from Egypt
  5. Egyptian politico-religious parties are to this day fixated on setting up an Islamic caliphate – this is evident in a number of declarations by the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood and many Salafist movements.
Fundamentalism adheres to a fantasy political discourse

Fundamentalism adheres to a fantasy political discourse and propagates its populist religious discourse in rural areas and among the poor and the illiterate classes.[2] This discourse is mixed with superstitions, legends and legerdemain, with the hallowing of leaders, governors and the clergy. In Egypt itself fundamentalism began to lay the foundations for what you might call ‘religious ecclesiasm[3]’, that is, the setting up of a religious church represented by al-Azhar and its people, who dress themselves in special priestly garb. They have a religious hierarchy, not necessarily like the hierarchy in Christianity or Shī‘a Islam, but not too far removed.

Ayman al-Zawāhirī: an Egyptian export

It was from Egypt that the special uniform of the clerics with it turbans and kaftans spread over the Arab world, with the exception of the Gulf, where the clerics dress much like everyone else. The populist religious discourse promulgated by fundamentalism – Egyptian in particular – sticks closely to a populist political discourse based on superstitions, legends and fantasies of conspiracies and infiltrators. It has all led to a type of religious humbug and thence political humbug. The result of the penetration of fundamentalism into Egypt in this manner was the launching of terrorism and religious violence from Egypt across the Arab world. The Muslim Brotherhood began in Egypt in 1928 and spread to all parts of the Arab world, particularly the Gulf and Saudi Arabia in particular. The terrorist mentality, the mentality of violence hails from Egypt[4], with the Muslim Brother Mannā‘ al-Qattān adding fuel to the fire, along with the Syrian Brother Muhammad Surour bin Nayif Zayn al-‘Ābidīn, both of them refugees to Saudi Arabia.

The Syrian Muslim Brother Muhammad Surour: made in Egypt

The clandestine organization of the Muslim Brotherhood which was also a nursemaid of the Islamist terrorist groups that assassinated Sadat in 1981 and attempted to assassinate President Mubarak in Addis Ababa in 1995, also hailed from Egypt. The Islamist terrorist groups that issued from the folds of the Muslim Brotherhood all hailed from Egypt. The fundamentalists in the circle of Bin Ladin, and those who made his plans and aided him in his task of setting the world alight and destroying human civilisation – chief among whom Ayman al-Zawāhirī – were all Egyptians.

Egypt, ‘the mother of the world’ as the populace has it, has become ‘the mother of fundamentalism’ as those with a conscious reading and study of history would have it.


[1] Al-Jāhiliyya (Arabic for ‘ignorance’) was originally understood historically, to denote the pre-Islamic age but under the influence of Islamist ideologues such as Abū al-‘Alā’ al-Mawdūdī and Sayyid Qutb it has come to mean, for the Islamists, a contemporary ‘pagan’ state of mind or a political system that is insufficiently ‘Islamic’. (Ed.)

[2] The level of illiteracy in the Arab world, according to the latest United Nations report, has reached 110 million.

[3] The author’s neologism is كنسسة   kanassasa. A similar neologism such as ‘churchification’, ‘ecclesiogenesis’ or ‘ecclesiasm’ lacks the neatness of the Arabic. (Ed.)

[4] Sayyid Qutb and Muhammad Qutb who are considered the two foremost authorities on terrorist thought with their books Milestones on the Way and The Jāhiliyya of the Twentieth Century.