Egypt and the Contradictions of Liberalism

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Pages: 400
Subject: History, Politics
Imprint: Oneworld Academic

Egypt and the Contradictions of Liberalism

Illiberal Intelligentsia and the Future of Egyptian Democracy

Daanish Faruqi, Dalia F. Fahmy

A nuanced investigation into the state of liberalism in Egypt

The Book

The liberatory sentiment that stoked the Arab Spring and saw the ousting of long-time Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak seems a distant memory. Democratically elected president Mohammad Morsi lasted only a year before he was forced from power to be replaced by precisely the kind of authoritarianism protestors had been railing against in January 2011. Paradoxically, this turn of events was encouraged by the same liberal activists and intelligentsia who'd pushed for progressive reform under Mubarak.

This volume analyses how such a key contingent of Egyptian liberals came to develop outright illiberal tendencies. Interdisciplinary in scope, it brings together experts in Middle East studies, political science, philosophy, Islamic studies and law to address the failure of Egyptian liberalism in a holistic manner - from liberalism's relationship with the state, to its role in cultivating civil society, to the role of Islam and secularism in the cultivation of liberalism. A work of impeccable scholarly rigour, Egypt and the Contradictions of Liberalism reveals the contemporary ramifications of the state of liberalism in Egypt.

Additional Information

Subject History, Politics
Pages 400
Imprint Oneworld Academic


About the Author

Dalia Fahmy is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Long Island University. She lives in New Jersey. Daanish Faruqi is a PhD candidate in History at Duke University, North Carolina.


‘Gives useful insights into the history of liberal though and its current situation inside and outside Egypt.'

- The Muslim World Book Review

‘What emerges in the reading of the entire volume is a crisis of orientation, in which leading liberal voices in Egypt have seemingly embraced a very binary of secular progress versus religious reaction, while playing a major role in the divisive politics that have characterized the transitional period. This new crisis has led many secular liberals, facing the alleged threat of Brotherhoodization, to a reactionary embrace of the ancient regime. In this perspective, even if the book focuses its attention on Egypt, it begs a more universal question: how can liberalism overcome its current crisis?'

- Reset Doc

‘I read Egypt and the Contradictions of Liberalism with a sigh of relief that understanding one of the most significant events in our contemporary history is in the caring and competent hands of some seminal critical thinkers. Dalia F. Fahmy and Daanish Faruqi have brought together a formidable volume challenging what they aptly call "Illiberal Intelligentsia” and gauge the future of the Egyptian democracy beyond and through their historic failures. What the community of critical thinkers gathered in this volume discover and discuss is no mere indictment of the Egyptian liberal intellectuals and their catastrophic failure at a crucial historic juncture, but something far more deeply troubling in the very nature of unexamined globalized liberalism. The result is a fiercely radical constellation of critical thinking indispensable for our understanding not just of Egypt and the rest of the Arab and Muslim world, but in fact the very legacy of liberalism in the 21st century.'

- Hamid Dabashi, Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature, Columbia University

‘This edited volume is an essential contribution towards understanding the current state of affairs in Egypt. The different chapters offer a sense of the underlying dynamics at work within Egyptian society (among the military, the Muslim Brotherhood, secularists and the youth). The reader is invited to consider the complexity of the situation and what it will take for Egyptian people to find their way towards freedom and justice.'

- Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies, University of Oxford

‘An extraordinary and wide-ranging exploration of the Arab spring's excitement and reversal in Egypt. Compulsory reading to grasp the role of Islam, secularism, authoritarianism and liberalism in contemporary Egypt.'

- Ebrahim Moosa, Professor of Islamic Studies, Keough School of Global Affairs, University of Notre Dame

‘The question of democracy in Muslim societies has generated heated debate on the role of mainstream Islamist parties and democratization. Can they moderate their views? Will they respect electoral outcomes? Are they committed to political pluralism? The same questions, however, have been rarely asked of liberal and secular forces who occupy the same political space. This is precisely what is unique about this book. Focusing on Egypt's Arab Spring democratic transition, it examines the political behavior of Egyptian liberals during the transition period and after the 2013 military coup. In doing so, the editors and contributors make an important and exceptional contribution to understanding both the persistence of authoritarianism in the Arab-Islamic world and the obstacles to democracy. It is a must read volume that challenges stereotypes and deepens our grasp of the politics and societies of the Middle East.'

- Nader Hashemi, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies, University of Denver, and author of Islam, Secularism, and Liberal Democracy: Toward a Democratic Theory for Muslim Societies

‘The heroic events of January and February 2011 seemed at first to rewrite the rules of Middle Eastern politics. One of the longest ruling autocrats in the Arab World fell not to a military coup, an assassination, or violent uprising, but to the immovable presence of the people demonstrating in public. The Tahrir Revolution was ‘liberal' in the sense that its demands were for freedom, the rule of law, and social justice. Its promise was that these goals seemed to reflect a shared will uniting the secular and the Islamist, the masses and the middle class. Two short years later that promise was shattered in a supreme act of anti-political, counter-revolutionary violence. How did many Egyptian ‘liberals,' who two years earlier stood side by side with Islamists against Mubarak in Tahrir, and one year earlier voted for Morsi for President, come to side with a return to military dictatorship over constitutional politics? Egypt and the Contradictions of Liberalism brings together many of the best scholars on Egyptian politics to answer just this question.'

- Andrew F. March, Associate Professor of Political Science, Yale University, and author of Islam and Liberal Citizenship: The Search for an Overlapping Consensus

Table of Contents

1 Egyptian liberals, from revolution to counterrevolution | Daanish Faruqi and Dalia F. Fahmy


The genealogies of Egyptian liberalism

Structure of the argument

Conclusion: Is liberalism contradictory?



2 Egypt's structural illiberalism: How a weak party system undermines participatory politics | Dalia F. Fahmy

The party system in Egypt

Elections in Egypt and why they matter

The parliament as a site of contestation

Political parties after the revolution: A liberal possibility

Participatory politics under SCAF and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood

The 2015 parliament: The political consolidation of authoritarian rule



3 Nasser's comrades and Sadat's brothers: Institutional legacies and the downfall of the Second Egyptian Republic | Hesham Sallam

The failure of contingent consent

Institutional legacies and the limitations of agency-centered narratives

The origins of the political field



4 (De)liberalizing judicial independence in Egypt | Sahar F. Aziz

The three prongs of liberalism: Private, political, and legal liberty

The liberal roots of Egypt's judiciary

Incremental deliberalization in the Mubarak era

A counterrevolution in the courts




5 The authoritarian state's power over civil society | Ann M. Lesch

The structures of authoritarianism

The post-25 January military regime

Mohammad Morsi's contradictory policies

General Sisi's constriction of the public space

The consolidation of authoritarian control


6 Myth or reality?: The discursive construction of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt | Mohamad Elmasry

The Egyptian press system

Disloyal to Egypt




7 Student political activism in democratizing Egypt | Abdel-Fattah Mady


Emergence of Egypt's student movement

Student activism under Nasser

Student activism during Sadat's era

Student activism during Mubarak's era

Post-January 25, 2011 revolution




8 Egypt's secularized intelligentsia and the guardians of truth | Khaled Abou El Fadl


9 The truncated debate: Egyptian liberals, Islamists, and ideological statism | Ahmed Abdel Meguid and Daanish Faruqi


Liberals and the state: Authoritarian modernism

Islamists and the state: The modernist paradox

Conclusion: Post-Islamism and post-liberalism as post-statism



10 Conflict and reconciliation: "Arab liberalism” in Syria and Egypt | Emran El-Badawi


State advocacy and the beginnings of Arab liberalism

Activism and state opposition: The later development of Arab liberalism

Egypt and Syria no more

Silencing liberal activism in Egypt, ca. 1979-2013

Activists in conflict and artists in reconciliation, Egypt, ca. 2013-

Temporary reconciliation with Assad, Syrian intellectuals, ca. 1982-2012

Conflict, exile and civil war: Liberal activism in Syria, ca. 2000-12

Burhan Ghalioun and Gaber Asfour, ca. 1990-2010

The Arab uprisings, 2011

Ghalioun and the SNC, 2011-12

Asfour, the ministry and Egypt's return to military rule, 2011-14


The limits of Arab liberalism


11 Egypt's new liberal crisis | Joel Gordon

Heroes of the revolution

The liberal crisis reconsidered

Postscript: Five years on


12 Egyptian liberals and their anti-democratic deceptions: A contemporary sad narrative | Amr Hamzawy

Liberal ideas at a crossroads

Grand deception one - Sequentialism

Grand deception two - Nothing is more important than…

Grand deception three - The notion of national necessity

Grand deception four - Religion and politics

Grand deception five - The state above everyone and everything

Concluding remarks - Fascist techniques stepped up


Conclusion: Does liberalism have a future in Egypt? | Emad El-Din Shahin

A liberal legacy

New beginnings


About the contributors