Islam and The Egyptian Civil society


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Is religion-Islam- a barrier or factor to the development of the Egyptian Civil Society?

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Islam and The Egyptian Civil society

  1. 1. An analysis of the Egyptian civil society shows that Islamic-religious actors are one of the most influential elements that form the Egyptian civil society; but the challenge we are facing as a society; is religion an effective tool in the process of development or is it a barrier to development. <br />*An insight into the Concept of Civil Society:<br />There are many conflicting opinions that revolve around the concept of civil society, but there is a consensus among political thinkers and practitioners that civil society is directly linked and related to any social activity or interaction that is not included by the state or the economy. Thus, civil society encompasses a large network of self-initiating and self-controlling groups that have a common goal and motivation, these groups act apart from or with state institutions, but these groups are subject to the power of law, civil society can be thought of as a public domain which unofficial individuals make and operate.1<br />A principal and essential feature of civil society is the social formations' right to self-govern and self-control activities without any governmental interference; NGOs are considered as a major pillar of civil society as: Professional groups, independent magazines and newspapers, environmental protection organizations, publishing houses, independent and private schools, Human rights groups, Labor unions and religious communities.2 <br />Civil society is different and separate from the state, this doesn't mean that its groups are always in conflict with the state, on the contrary; civil society groups or formations may act for the public common good without being controlled by or being financially helped by the state, at the same time the state can be trying to fulfill the same common good that the civil society is seeking to serve. Also, civil society groups may help in serving and fulfilling the state's goals even if the civil society groups don't agree with and accept some of state agencies' policies. On the other hand, civil society organizations can function as a social power that restrict and weaken unwanted coercive government control and power.3 <br />Civil society can be an adversarial faction that opposes the government, if this position was seen as beneficial to the public; civil society won't hesitate to hold. As well as, formations of civil society can be strong opposing force to unfair ultimate control practiced by government and can protect the civil freedom and rights of citizens.4<br />In short, civil society is a group of different unofficial social formations that have enough power and strength that is equal to the state, at the same time, achieve its goals in peaceful way, can't prevent the government from playing its prominent role in keeping peace and maintaining security, its role as judge in major issues.<br />Many thinkers had different opinions and views about the concept of civil society but all agreed on its opposition to statism; which is the state full control of economy and politics.5<br /> For example, John Locke maintained that civil society has to interact with the government to secure the citizens' rights in enjoying life, liberty and property vis-à-vis the threat of the dictatorship. Also, Adam Ferguson stressed on the prominence that community life has to be rooted in good and civic values, Ferguson emphasized on the importance of the volitional social groups as they have to reap the society's rewards by themselves, instead of depending on the state.6<br />James Madison, Tocqueville and John Locke saw that empowering citizens- which is an important aspect of civil society- is the optimum solution against what they call the Tyranny of the majority as by empowering citizens they can making their own circumstances even in the presence of an overwhelming and coercive tyranny, consequently, empowerment will be a tool for liberty and security. In short, the concept of civil society stresses that NGOS as hospitals, schools and newspapers etc, has to be independent, based on the civic moral ground that emphasizes the common good of a society and empowered to maintain and secure its independent and free identity.7<br />*Egypt: a Society of Islamists not Muslims: Searching in conscience: <br />After the failure of Socialism, Arab nationalism and Capitalism to fulfill the needs of the poor in Egypt, the Egyptian Public became more resistant to any new and major social change or movement especially western. The poor of Egypt are in a state of anger as the suffering they experience day in and day out. Consequently, there is a collective feel of nostalgia for the Islamic roots.8<br />This nostalgic revival was resulted due to the economic disappointment and social disorder; as one Egyptian doctor can get in Thanawia amma 98% and go to the faculty of medicine, study for seven years and eventually earn after graduating 750 L.E. which insufficient for someone being married with one child. While facing the overwhelming socio-economic pressures, the Islamic discourse anti-depressant pill appears to fulfill the ordinary citizen psychological need for comfort in faith-Islam- and certainty of destination-paradise, imagine a person who does his best to fulfill his potential at the same time facing an overwhelming and discouraging obstacles, he would normally turn to seek help and peace from the higher power; it is the human nature from the dawn of humanity to the very moment. <br />This movement is more of Culture-like than ideology or true-faith as any observer can easily notice and recognize that Islamists in Egypt give attention to appearances as the beard and the veil than the core of the religion, also, contradictions in behavior can be observed as the proponents of the movement outwardly talk about the ideals of honesty and goodness but in secret and inside they are the opposite to the ideals they promote , However, this phenomenon is increasingly existing in the poor classes of the Egyptian society due to: on one hand the difficult circumstances they face, on the other hand, the overload of Islamic media messages. In fact, these contradictory features are not only understandable but human. <br />*Islamic Factions and Mastering the Art of Charlatanism:<br />In the absence and lack of collective goals and grand causes; the Egyptian hearts and minds grew fonder of the urge and need to believe in something, here comes the role of Islamic factions within the society to fill the void left by the state failure to mobilize the masses around a common national goal or project that brings good and welfare to one and all.<br />Religion in the Egyptian society functions as the drug that puts minds into rest in the face of anxieties of the present and down the line, throughout history governments use religion to distract the masses from their failures and to calm down angry mobs, as Karl Marx puts it "Religion is the opium of the masses."<br />The Egyptian government dependence on religion is not a brand new political tactic and exclusive to the current president-Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, it is an old ritual practiced by the Egyptian government; the believer president Mohamed Anwar El Sadat initiated and adopted the strategy of divide and rule which still in action, when he decided to release the Muslim Brotherhood members from prison to balance the powers in the Egyptian street due to the fear from Nasserists and communists to dominate. <br />However, the uncreative Mubarak follows the same guidelines of Sadat's divide and rule strategy but it includes 2 new dimensions; more personal security and less public appearance, This strategy perfectly suits and serves the current president interests as in its context, he allegedly introduced a healthy form of democracy as there are different political trends in Egypt which include Islamic, at the same time, uses religion as a decoy that distract the public from the governments failures and a passage through which the youth can channel their energies.<br />Back to my initial point, the Islamic social factions in the Egyptian society could easily- as in any marketing communications process- identify the Egyptian public need in following a cause, and tailor programs and messages that recipients could mentally decode and serve their immediate needs; these factions take into account Niccollo Machiavelli advice that "Men are so simple of mind, and so much dominated by their immediate needs, that a deceitful man will always find plenty who are ready to be deceived." And Friedrich Nietzsche advice that" To become the founder of a new religion one must be psychologically infallible in one's knowledge of certain average type of souls who have not yet recognized that they belong together."<br />Religious factions in the Egyptian society imitate 16th and 17th century charlatans; who have perfectly seduced and captivated the masses, sold them not real, imaginary formulas of health elixirs and short routes to the un-vanishing wealth. Then, their followers didn't see through their deception, anyone who tried to doubt their abilities and visions was violently punished. The rational inconsistencies and deficiencies in their discourse were covered by the great enthusiasm of the masses.<br />Those charlatans played on the masses' emotions, selling to them promising future-dreams that put their mind to ease; making them more and more vulnerable to their insinuations. Here in Egypt religious factions have the same structure and style of Charlatanism; they won the hearts and minds of Egyptians by telling them what they want to hear at the same time promoting the group's interest.<br /> <br /> In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood which is the most successful social power in the society; is very similar to charlatans in structure and their approach in dealing with the masses; the Muslim Brotherhood were able create a cult-like followers throughout the Egyptian region believing in and repeating their motto " Islam is the Solution!!"<br />According to Robert Greene the author of the 48 laws of power; Charlatans use 5 aspects through which they can create power bases that gives the leader of the group-Charlatan- untold power. However, these aspects clearly reflect the Muslim Brotherhood approach to the Egyptian public life and this will be elaborated in the following9:<br />*Keep it vague, keep it simple:<br />Khalil el Anani writes about the Muslim Brotherhood in his article theoretical deficits in Al-Ahram weekly "MB determined vagueness has been its most decisive, its greatest, strength. 10" Their discourse is completely vague in the face of sensitive issues that need jurisprudential and religious interpretation such as: political ideology, women, Copts, freedom and the use of Islamic law and penal codes.<br />This vagueness is used as an exit strategy when the group is cornered in the face of such sensitive issues that if dealt with in a way that shows the group position may lead to clash with the regime or their obsessive followers.<br />On the other hand, the group uses a seductive mixture of vague promises, at the same time attractive concepts that create a state of fever-pitch. The group is never specific in promises, because, it will be expected to be satisfied.<br />Also, MB uses a cover that promotes an image of deep understanding and expertise in what they call the political Islam; you hear words and phrases like" Takfir, Maalem fe tariq and El Farida EL Ghaaiba" which are hazy and unclear that add attractiveness to the group vagueness. <br />But, the group main source of attractiveness is the good old remedy "Islam is the Solution!!"- who dares to resist or refuse- which is tailored in response to social, political and economic disappointments that face Egyptians as referred in the previous.<br />*Emphasize the Visual and the Sensual over the Intellectual:<br />MB is using the latest technological gadgets as the internet to promote itself, the content used in the promotion is contradictory and inconsistent, and I am not quite sure if it is religiously righteous and acceptable for a Muslim to hypocritically tailor his words based on the recipient, the group seems to be following Machiavelli's advice for princes as "The end justifies the means." In the English Version of El-Khawen Web which targets the western world; includes a link which has the picture of president Obama, says that the US should engage Islamists to push democracy- which their position is vague towards it- in the Arab world, and the Arabic version of Al-khawen Web which targets the Arab world; its logo is two crossed swords which very appealing to the Arabs as it satisfies their nostalgic needs for the glorious past as the faith spread throughout the Arab Peninsula and other regions of the world through the power of the sword*. This contradictory- picture of Obama & the 2 Crossed swords- use of the visual over the intellectual tactic was used by charlatans to keep their followers engaged and held but through simpler means as colorful charts and appealing music that prevented cynics from seeing holes in their ideas. <br />*Note: If a person from the west saw the same picture, the first thing that comes to his mind that Islam is a religion of terrorism. <br /> <br />*Borrow the Forms of Organized Religion to structure the group:<br />Due to MB religious nature; it has a quasi-holy aura around it, the group uses religious associations to the group members that give MB many initiatives to exploit. On the top of its organizational structure and chain of command there the supreme guide- Al Morshid Al Aala- which is a title that suggest religious overtone; which make the organization a taboo as it talks in the gods name and anyone who oppose it will find himself automatically opposing Allah- who dares? However, the supreme guide now and the charlatan then, perfectly found cover for the power they have in the fog of religion.<br />*Disguise your Source of Income:<br /> As Greene maintains that a charlatan after his group has grown in a Church-like structure; his pockets will be filled with the followers' money. At this time, he has to camouflage his source of income and surround himself with luxury and welfare that reflect the trustworthiness of his belief system to attract more followers. MB has many bearded wealthy businessmen in different fields throughout the Egyptian region who reflect the soundness of the group and play the role of an attractive exhibit that promotes following the group.<br />*Set-up an Us- versus them Dynamic:<br /> Greene adds to avoid the spread of boredom within the group; a Charlatan must establish and form an Us- Vs - Them dynamic. Firstly, a Charlatan must make his followers who the building unit of the group that is exclusive and secretive in its own sense. <br />In our case, believing that they are a part of a group who believes that Islam can be applied at any time and in any place – which I believe is true- as Hassan el Bana the first supreme guide of the group puts it; Islam is "Religion and the earthly world"-Al din wa el donya. But, the problem here is in tailoring the words of Islam to fit in serving the needs of the group followers as you hear shocking phrases from followers as heaven exclusively limited to Muslims and Men are more able than Women; these beliefs can be traced in the followers' actions within the society as they prefer deal with their fellow Muslim than the other-Copt. On the other hand, followers' actions' reflects gender discrimination that rooted from the belief of being finer than women. <br />*Islam & Positive Change for the Better:<br />Within our Society, Some Islamic factions are growing more and more politicized, sponsored by external Islamic powers that are aiming to impose their culture on us which is very contradicting to the Egyptian modern secular culture which can be traced to the Revolution of 1919 whose slogan which was "Religion is for god and the homeland for all" which symbolized the secular nature of the Egyptians.<br />Also, these Islamic factions as the Muslim brotherhood are extremists, they offer their services to the Egyptian society to indirectly seek power, MB services are exclusively offered to their supporters as Luke said in the holy bible" He that is not with me, is against me"-Luke 11:23. MB position are vague in terms of crucial issues as democracy, political ideology, women rights and Copts which all sensitive issues that is prominent in the development of the Egyptian Civil Society.<br />On the other hand, there are other centrist entities in the Egyptians civil society as NGOs whose motivation for the public service is essentially Islamic. They are very different than extremist's Islamic factions such as MB as they offer their services to one and all, both Muslims and Copts. These NGOs promote the notions of Democracy and equality, as well as, they empower women in order to be free and to enable them to govern their circumstances.<br />*Dar el Orman Functions for the Common Good:<br />Some NGOs with Islamic motivation are in different league, they give us hope in a better Egyptian Society, Such as: Dar El Orman which successfully sets an example for the rest of Egyptian NGOs. During interviewing Sahar El Sherbiniy the manager of Dar el Orman at Mohandieseen, I felt that la vie en Rose; the NGO's efforts inspired and urged me to take part in social voluntary effort.<br />Dar el Orman is mainly famous for its orphanage but unfortunately the public is unaware of other community efforts exerted by Dar el Orman; the NGO conducts many programs that empower the poor in Egypt, which is –empowerment- the essence of social development concept. Dar el Orman supports the needy in Egypt by enabling them to have sustainable income, teaching the uneducated, helping the poor by paying for their medical treatment.<br />Moreover, Dar el Orman promotes many notions that are essential in the development of our society as a whole, such as: Democracy, Women's rights and equality among Muslims and Copts.<br />Under the supervision of Dar el Orman, Orphans are taught from a young age that they are equal and they are rewarded in terms of their good manners and success at School. This System of breeding and raising will produce for our society; productive and democratic-oriented citizens who sets a positive example for others to follow. <br />Also, Dar el Orman is very concerned with empowering poor and illiterate women. Consequently, enabling them to depend on themselves, leading a better lives for their families which will inevitably serve the Egyptian society on a macro-level.<br /> As well as, Dar el Orman's programs are targeting both the poor of Muslims and Copts without any form of differentiation. However, this philosophy of indiscrimination is rarely found in any Egyptian NGOs with Islamic background.<br />In Short, Dar el Orman exerts tremendous effort for providing spiritual and material assistance for vulnerable groups in our society. Thus, we – as a society- should be thankful and grateful for Dar el Orman as it helps us in getting rid of our sins. <br />*To Be Secular or Not to Be: That is the Question?<br />As a good student and devoted reader to the human history, I noticed that it is full of examples that show if humans are given authorized power that is backed by religion, they become more prone to corruption and they use religion to gain a moral-high ground over others and as tool of subtle coercion -which is an insult to god and un-respect for the human mind.<br />*Historical examples that present this behavior:<br />*Scene1:<br />Henry the 8th of England grew impatient as he wanted a male heir to consolidate his power and to avoid conflicts in the English court, he divorced his infertile wife- Catherine of Aragon and married Anne Boleyn. Consequently, the English Church was separated from the Vatican Church and Henry the 8th adopted and his church Protestantism; making himself the only supreme head in earth of the Church of England; Henry the 8th made his nation adopts a new religion for his own personal issues.<br /> *Scene2:<br />During the Medieval times, popes in Europe mobilized the public and lured them into unnecessary holy war to take back their holy land and secure their citizens in Jerusalem from the Arab aggression- which are all lies. In fact, the popes' main aim was to exploit the riches of the Arab land and to fill the Church treasury. However, the crusaders were defeated by the legendary Saladin.<br />*Scene3:<br />In 2007, the Egyptian Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Mohamed Tantawy stated a fatwa its essence; who spread rumors should receive 80 lashes in other words die, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar made this Fatwa in reference to the issue of the 3 journalists of independent newspaper who published news concerning president Mubarak's death.<br />This Fatwa was made under the Umbrella of the Alliance between the Egyptian state and Al-Azhar, resulted from the Egyptian state conscious of the power of religion on the Egyptian public.<br />Finally, I personally believe that religion is an essential aspect in the development of any civilization; in the ancient times and today religion played a prominent role in keeping communities well ordered as well as maintaining the souls good, but I prefer avoiding giving any person or organization a power to influence others based on religious motivation as it seems that if we – humans- know what religiously or morally right, we don't necessarily do that action. <br />And the solution is to have more earthly secular motivations which encourage both social reformers and mass communicators in making social changes that serves all Egyptians without any biases in favor of religion or gender, Social changes which encourages and promotes the concept of Citizenship; because in the growing challenges that are facing us as society, we either survive as united cooperative nation or we die as fragmented and remote individuals. <br />*Works Citied:<br />1)Patrick,John.J.(1996,September).Civil Society in Democracy's Third Wave: Implications For Civic Education.Retrieved:December 13,2009,from ebscohosy, website:<br />2) Patrick,John.J.(1996,September).Civil Society in Democracy's Third Wave: Implications For Civic Education.Retrieved:December 13,2009,from ebscohosy, website:<br />3 Patrick,John.J.(1996,September).Civil Society in Democracy's Third Wave: Implications For Civic Education.Retrieved:December 13,2009,from ebscohosy, website:<br />4) Patrick,John.J.(1996,September).Civil Society in Democracy's Third Wave: Implications For Civic Education.Retrieved:December 13,2009,from ebscohosy, website:<br />5) Patrick,John.J.(1996,September).Civil Society in Democracy's Third Wave: Implications For Civic Education.Retrieved:December 13,2009,from ebscohosy, website:<br />6) Patrick,John.J.(1996,September).Civil Society in Democracy's Third Wave: Implications For Civic Education.Retrieved:December 13,2009,from ebscohosy, website:<br />7) Patrick,John.J.(1996,September).Civil Society in Democracy's Third Wave: Implications For Civic Education.Retrieved:December 13,2009,from ebscohosy, website:<br />8)Herbert,D(2003).Religion and civil society: Rethinking Public Religion in the Contemporary World,Retrieved: December 13,2009,From google books:Website:<br />9)Greene,R.Joost.E.,(1998),The 48 laws of Power.Peguin books:NY<br />10)El-Anani,K.(28june2007).Theoretical Deficits. Retrieved December 13,2009,From: Al-Ahram Weekly,Website: <br />Title: Religion and Egyptian Civil Society: a Critical perspective with a Political Reflection.<br />Name: Karim Abd El Kader.<br />I.D#:060826<br />Course:Mcom 408<br />Presented to: Dr.Assya<br />*Table of Contents:<br />1) An insight into the Concept of Civil Society.<br />2) Egypt: a Society of Islamists not Muslims: Searching in conscience.<br />3) Islamic Factions and Mastering the Art of Charlatanism.<br />4) Islam & Positive Change for the Better.<br />5) Dar el Orman Functions for the Common Good.<br />6) To Be Secular or Not to Be: That is the Question?<br />