Egypt’s Islamic phenomenon
In the last twenty years, Egypt has witnessed the emergence of the universal Islamic phenomenon where its manifestations clearly seemed in many aspects suitable to Egypt’s society. It has been tackled by many studies and articles in which multiple terms were used to describe it as it mostly minimized Islamic movements primarily political. It seemed as a synonym for the Islamic phenomenon as a whole.
Egypt’s Islamic trend, in fact, appears to be more extensive and complex than this brief definition. It encompasses many subsidiary phenomena that neither necessarily shares the same nature, nor characteristics. It differs with other «Islamic movements» in their mutual relationship with politics.
It consists of four sub-phenomena which do not include what might be referred to as the government’s perception of «official Islam» which represents the major state-owned institutions with all of its great impact in society. Al-Azhar is in the forefront with all its faculties and institutions in addition to the Ministry of Endowments including its administrations, tens of thousands of mosques throughout the country and other social and economic projects.
First sub Phenomenon may be titled the -«social Islam», which appeared as part of the phenomena of increased religiousness which began to sweep over many Muslim communities around the world, including Egyptian in the last quarter of the century. It means that the phenomenon has became a general trend in the Egyptian society, especially between different categories of the middle class, segments of the lower and higher classes, rushing towards the devotional, behavioral, religious sense which has been confirmed by broad studies and writings which have extensively dealt with the phenomenon in recent years.
Two major remarks may be mentioned here on the sociological phenomenon of piety: the first, indicating that the growing sociological phenomenon of religiosity is not necessarily linked to a trend inclined towards political support for the Islamic political movements. In fact, it does not necessarily reflect its popularity in the Muslim community.
It is clear that those practicing rituals such as wearing the veil or performing prayers in the mosques or the acquisition and purchase of religious books, tapes and CDs are not necessarily interested in the political process or Egypt’s most prominent pro-Islamic political groups, (Muslim Brotherhood).
The relationship with politics is mostly the same with Egypt’s majority where it doesn’t mingle politics with religion.
However, the social religiousness rate can not be ignored nor can it be pinpointed despite there being a tendency to vote in general, for the Muslim Brotherhood’ student and trade union elections who are more concerned with the political work compared to their counterparts from non-sociological devout people in the society’s same classes.
The second observation, relating to social behavior and values that prevail among this extrinsic religiosity adheres to religious manifestations especially in the clothing. However this does not necessarily mean they are characterized by social and religious conservatism.
Here is the most likely explanation for their annexation to the phenomenon of “extrinsic religiosity” which lies in complex social-psychological process including the tendency to imitate what is prevalent in the community of values and patterns of religious behavior. It contains in another aspect a social deterrent that are non-committed to it, which reveals that these values contradictory manifestations of religiosity and un-conservative social and behavioral openness of a group committed to it.
Secondly, the phenomenon of Sufism dating back to the 3rd Century AH is represented today at least by the Sufi Movements, bringing the official number authorized by law to 74 general and sub-movements where there are nearly 10 million Egyptians as regular members.
Egypt’s Sufi orders and activity is subject to Law No. 118 of 1976, and its affairs are managed by the Supreme Council of Sufi Orders which is composed of ten elected members of the Sufi sheikhs, five appointed members ex-officio represent Al-Azhar, endowments and local government, interior and culture ministries.
The Phenomenon of Egyptian Sufism relationship with politics in recent decades seems very complex not facing any particular direction. On the one hand, the mystical state assumes upon those who embrace away from worldly concerns and indulge to realize «truth». They define themselves as «people» distinguished from «the people of law» who are interested in the phenomenon of Islamic worldly affairs particularly the political aspects.
The Egyptian Sufi Orders involved in political affairs, especially in the current period with the upcoming election showing support for the ruling party, has seemed a stable tradition in the Egyptian political life since the 1952 revolution and 1960s. The State intervened in the Sufi structures for the benefit of its great popularity in such critical political moments, which is used to strengthen legitimacy of the Egyptian governance and some of their major policies.
Salafism is the third of Egypt’s Islamic subsidiary phenomena. It is a conservative social and religious phenomenon which fully refuses to engage in any political activity. Its individuals primarily seek religious reform and adherence to all left by the pious ancestors and fight what it views as (Bid’ah) innovations which are alien to the true message of Islam. Salafism is an old religious phenomenon in Egypt present since the beginning of the 20th century. It possesses great institutions which are established in the community such as Al-Jam`iyyah Ash-Shar`iyyah of People rule by Book (Quran) and Sunnah, which was founded in 1912 or Jama’at Ansar al-Sunnah al-Muhammadiyah, founded in 1926. Today it has hundreds of branches and dozens of thousands of mosques as well as religious and social projects in various parts of Egypt, in addition to its well-known Salafist sublime principals.
The various Salafist associations and groups in Egypt, whether in the past or present, have always distanced itself from any political practice. It has not established any organizations based on political criteria. Those who belong to the Salafist movement, men and women alike adopt strict formal commitments in what they believe is the confirmed Sunnah (Sunnah moa kada) enjoined by the Prophet (PBUH) which can not be neglected.
There is no doubt that Egypt has witnessed in recent years, further widening of the Salafism signified by experiences in the prevalence of veiled girls robes and beards for men or the increasing number of mosques belonging to Salafist members as well as the increase in number of Salafi preachers, both in mosques and on TV channels.
Nonetheless, Salafism, in the recent days, is still affecting and attracting large segments in Egypt, the same distance moved away from traditional political activity despite the theoretical belief that «Islam Religion and a State». The Ruling regimes that do not rule according to God’s laws are «infidel regimes».
The emergence of some ineffectual individuals and small groups during the past five years of young people with Salafist trend, who approached a lot of jihadist-Salafist ideas spread by al Qaeda and its counterparts in this period in many Muslim societies and Western Muslim communities does not detract them from the Salafism general behavior.
These small groups are distinguished with main merits, first: The main sources of their new ideas came to them via the Internet, which now includes a huge arsenal of Salafi jihadist books, and the second: None of them had passed from the intellectual conviction into the Jihadist-Salafist activity either because of lack of experience and or strict security policies.
Finally, comes the fourth subsidiary phenomenon which is the most famous of Islamic movements, these join together to consider Islam’s aspects and its interpretations as a reference for its presence or objectives, which are active in different ways for enforcing Islam as they understand it in the communities, countries and places in which they exist. These groups may differ in the details of the understanding of its intellectual, political and social rules of Islam and its principals as they may also differ in their interpretation of some rules and fundamentals. There persistence, however, believes in the authenticity of their affiliation to Islam and are always seeking different ways for application.
Islamist movements are multiple in Egypt, but the overwhelming majority, at present, belongs to the category of socio-political groups that do embrace peace and oppose violence in their social and political movement, and is led by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Egypt witnessed a decade ago, a number of violent Islamist militant groups which relied on armed forces as the only way to enforce their conception pertaining to Islamic political ideas, all of which relied on the thought and vision and turned in nature to become closer to the Muslim Brotherhood in its peaceful approach of religious and political reform.
In fact, it does not represent a broad presence in the community, despite the broad media and political coverage on the phenomenon of Islamic movements in Egypt. In fact associate members do not exceed more than a few hundred thousand.