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The Challenge of Political Islam: Non-Muslims and the Egyptian State


The book The Challenge of Political Islam: Non-Muslims and the Egyptian State is written by Rachel M. Scott and published in the year 2010. Furthermore, it is the Finalist in the 2011 Best First Book in the History of Religions Award, sponsored by the American Academy of Religion.

In this book the author has addressed the role of Religion in the Egyptian politics, especially that of political Islam. According to Rachel, religion has always played a very vital role in the state of Egypt, in ancient times and in the contemporary. The most dominant force in the land of the ancient Egypt was religion. The dominant religion practiced now in Egypt is Islam and almost 85% of the population identify themselves as adherents of the Islamic Religion and its teachings. Religion played a role that was very much part of the lives of almost all the people in the land. The concept of Religion Started from a very polytheistic base and then it later on developed into Philosophical Monotheism.  A guardian deity or a specific God was worshipped by every community and the rationale was that this God or Deity will protect them from the threats looming in the world also from the pain and suffering caused by death. 

The literature and the academia of the ancient Egyptians also projected a very vital role of religion in the land.  A religious feeling was promoted, and the symbolic representation of religion was being projected through the art and philosophy of the land. Like other African nations, Egypt was and is very religious. In the ancient times, the cities of Egypt had a deity of their own who they named specifically as the Lord of the City. It is assumed that Egypt had almost seven hundred and forty God and Goddesses whom they worshipped day and night.  The Pharaoh was regarded as a living God on Earth and the priest were the ambassadors or the representatives that were working under the Pharaoh and making sure that his dominion is faithful to him.


The author states that the religion had met with politics in that time when the Pharaoh exploited the people of the land and declared himself as the God of the land and made it compulsory for the people to worship him. The aspect of religion was used by a person to acquire a divine right over the people of Egypt. In this book, the author has discussed the interplay of religion and politics and how political Islam has been used as tool for gaining power and prestige.

The author states in the book that the control and power of the land has always been with the King. The economic and political resources were all managed by the Kings representatives who were also the representatives of the divine household which had a monopoly over the land. This means that the Pharaoh had a power that had no comparison in the land. Some of the powers that were with the Pharaoh because of his divine representation were: He was the King of the Land; The Commander-in-Chief of the Military; and the head of the Irrigation system. This gave the king a very eminent position as he was the divine and he could do with the land of Egypt whatever he wished. This caused a severe amount of class inequality among the people of the land as the King and his family were enjoying the luxurious facilities that they had managed to acquire through the exploitation of the people and on the other hand the merchants and the normal people of the land were getting more and more poor the by time.

The Challenge of Political Islam: Non-Muslims and the Egyptian State

As mentioned earlier that with the passage of time, the religious traditions of the country had changed, and this was seen when a monotheistic belief started to emerge in the people of the country when Islam managed to get a strong grip in the land of Egypt. In the 20th century, Islam had managed to establish itself in the lives of the people and now the religion of Islam was playing a very important role in the Egypt of the 20th century.  The ottoman rule was the basis for this transformation and the role played by the dynasty of Muhammad Ali was also very important in this regard that they managed to establish a strong identity of political Islam in the region. So, the 20th century was the time when Islam was totally influencing the Politics in the country. But Muhammad Ai than sided away from the Ottoman Empire in the world war 1 and became the protectorate of the British in 1915. This selfish act of Muhammad Ali then separated him from the Ottoman Empire and Egypt became an independent Dynasty in the year 1922 when Muhammad Ali became the Monarch of the Land till 1952. The Monarchy of Muhammad Ali was justified by citing rationales from Islam that he considered himself as an Islamic Ruler that was in charge of spreading religion in the country.

The Monarchy was ended in 1952 by a leader named Jamal Abdul Nasser. Now this was a leader who was a real Islamic nationalist. This means that the policies of the nation were derived from the teachings of Islam in his times. The relation with Israel were very fragile and a 30-year war was fought between the two nations that were in pursuit of supremacy in the region, not like the recent governments who are just the puppet governments of United States and they choose to have good relations with Israel. The Government of Nasser was Islamist in the sense that he wanted to spread Islam in the region and according to the author, it was because of him that the Islamic ideology present in Egypt is sustainable and is not removed at all. In his time, the country or state of Egypt was turned into a republic. But the nature of the Republic was very autocratic in nature. The successive regimes were also of a very autocratic nature—The regimes of Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak.

The last part of the book, the author tells us about the role of this political Islam in the 21st century, the state of Egypt witnessed something that had never happened in its whole history of events. The people of the country were beginning to be fed up by puppet government and an autocratic ruler. Hosni Mubarak was considered to be an American agent and that the people would not be tolerating him anymore. To please the Americans, Hosni had brought about many reforms that were against the religion of Islam and this was repudiated by the people of the country as they wanted a ruler who would be sovereign and would apply the principles of Islam in governance and the polity. The Arab spring was just the thing that they needed. An uprising was initiated d-from Tunisia and spread across the entire Arab World. The Tehreer Square began to be filled with people and they protested against the regime of Mubarak. This was a reaction to the religious reforms that Mubarak was trying to implement. This was the first time in the history of Egypt that a regime was toppled by the people and in the chairmanship of field marshal Tantwani, an election were held in the region and an Islamist named Mohammad Morsi was elected as the first Democratically elected president of the country. This was an event that even the Pharaohs of the ancient time could not have imagined. The use of force was trend that was used in the ancient times of the Pharaoh but this time the use of Force was not proven to be fruitful for the ruler because this time motivated Egyptians were taking part in huge rallies encompassing millions of people who had the same agenda. The search for a democratic and religious rule was something that the people of the country were looking for. Thus, on 11th February, Hosni Mubarak resigned, and the regime was toppled.


In conclusion, this book is a comprehensive literature that tells us about the overall interplay of Religion and politics has been very controversial in the state of Egypt from the times of the Pharaoh, when religion was used as a tool for exploitation, to the contemporary times when different regimes tend to inflict their version of Religion for the acquisition of power and prestige. The trend continued by in the contemporary times it was challenged by the people of the state. The research has shown that awareness is the key factor when it comes to the acquisition of rights and liberties of the people. Also we have seen that the people of the state of Egypt are very religious in the sense that they are not willing to accept any reforms or structural adjustments that are not in line with the teachings of Islam and the toppling of the Hosni Mubarak’s Regime is a clear message to the world that Islam is still alive in the state of Egypt and that the Egyptians are ready to sacrifice their lives for its safety and preservice.

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Hamza Yaqoob

Hamza Yaqoob is a Pakistani author and journalist. He is an IR Graduate with expertise in South China Sea affairs. He is the Editor-in-chief of Revelation World PK, and currently working as a Senior Technical Writer at a Real Estate firm in Islamabad.

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