Girish Mahajan

Secularism in Egypt

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Secularism in Egypt has had a very important role to play in both the history of Egypt and that of the Middle East. Egypt’s first experience of Secularism started with the British Occupation (1882–1952), the atmosphere which allowed the protection of debate. In this environment pro-secularist intellectuals like Ya'qub Sarruf, Faris Nimr, Nicola Haddad whom sought political asylum from Ottoman Rule were able to publish their work. This debate had then became a burning issue with the work of Egyptian Shaykh Ali Abdel Raziq (1888–1966), “The most momentous document in the crucial intellectual and religious debate of modern Islamic history” By 1919 Egypt had its first political secular entity called the Hizb 'Almani (Secular Party) this name was later changed to the Wafd Party. It combined secular policies with a nationalist agenda and had the majority support in the following years against both the rule of the king and the British influence. The Wafd party supported the allies during World War II and then proceeded to win the 1952 parliamentary elections, following these elections the prime minister was overthrown by the King leading to riots. These riots precipitated a military coup after which all political parties were banned including the Wafd Party and the Muslim Brotherhood. The government of Gamal Abdel Nasser was secularist-nationalist in nature which at the time gathers a great deal of support both in Egypt and other Arab states.

Key elements of Nasserism:

  • Secularist/Nationalist dictatorship; No religious or other political movements allowed to impact government
  • Modernization
  • Industrialization
  • Concentration on Arab values rather than Muslim values
  • Following the death of Nasser, President Anwar Sadat (1970–1981) continued economic liberalization and maintained the government’s secularist policy, even going as far as signing peace agreements with Israel which was a first for any Middle Eastern country. However, following further intensive clampdowns on political opposition, Sadat was assassinated and replaced by Hosni Mubarak who again faces the issue of keeping the Islamist support at bay whilst keeping his power base during increased pressure to be democratic. Nowadays, most proponents of secularism emphasize the link between secularism and ‘national unity’ between Coptic Christians and Muslims.


    Secularism in Egypt Wikipedia

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