On secularism

Samir Sobhi
Tuesday 6 Jun 2023

Ibrahim Abdel-Rahman, Al-Sira’ Bayna Al-Dawla Al-Madaniya wal-Dawla Al-Diniya (The Conflict between the Civil State and the Religious State), Dar Al-Funoun wal Abhath, 2023, pp314

The author of this essential book is an amateur historian with a uniquely lucid perspective and remarkable erudition. He starts it with a dedication to “those looking for the truth in the rubble of our false history”, going on to survey the various religious states that have been established in Egypt through the ages, as well as the rise of the civil state. In the first chapter of the book he deals with the Muslim Conquest with Amr Ibnul Aass’s arrival in Egypt as well as the Coptic Revolution joined by Muslims under the Abbasid caliphate. He moves onto the Tulunid, Ikhshidid, Fatimid and Ayyubid dynasties in turn, concluding with the Mamelukes and the Ottoman conquest of 1517.

In the second chapter, Ibrahim Abdel-Rahman deals with the emergence of a civil state under Khedive Ismail, and the start of parliamentary life under occupation in Egypt, the so called mixed courts and political parties and the foundational 1923 constitution, the signing and the revocation of the 1936 Alliance with the British, as well as the whole trajectory of civil (as opposed to religious) politics in the 20th century, up to and including the emergence of Arab nationalism and the Muslim Brotherhood and the shadow of the religious state looming over life once again.

The third chapter of the book zeroes in on the conflict of the title, starting with the attempt to assassinate the July 1952 Revolution’s leader by the Brotherhood, the military tribunals and the nationalisation of the press, as well as the role of Al-Azhar, and moving onto the impact of the 1967 defeat in the war with Israel – all the way to the rise of the Brotherhood to power in 2012 and its outset in 2013. This is presented against the backdrop of the theocratically inspired ambitions of both Turkey and Iran.

Abdel-Rahman sounds an alarm for the future of the civil state which has always remained fragile in Egypt, insisting that it has to be actively nurtured and protected in the face of theocratic threats.



* A version of this article appears in print in the 1 June, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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