In This Review

Passion for Islam: Shaping the Modern Middle East: The Egyptian Experience
Passion for Islam: Shaping the Modern Middle East: The Egyptian Experience
By Caryle Murphy
Scribner, 2002, 359 pp
Mobilizing Islam: Religion, Activism, and Political Change in Egypt
Mobilizing Islam: Religion, Activism, and Political Change in Egypt
By Carrie Rosefsky Wickham
Columbia University Press, 2002, 306 pp

Well-chosen vignettes -- the terrorist, the Islamist lawyer dying in prison, the Islamist ideologue, the cynical secularist, the Coptic Christian, and others -- describe the confrontation between Islamists and the authoritarian state in Egypt. Murphy often presents incidents that can explain more than extended analysis could. For example, as she describes a faxed message (sent to a Western news office in Egypt) that decries the "loot plundered by senior officials from the toiling masses," she envisages the anonymous author as a formerly devout Marxist who had "become a devout Islamist without retooling his political slogans." Showing that in addition to extremists there are moderate Islamists and secularists, she indicates the possibility of an accommodation between state and society but has no illusions about that prospect. Her penultimate chapter moves to an overview of the Arab-Israeli confrontation and the need for a settlement there, adding yet another informed argument against those who maintain that the plight of the Palestinians can be decoupled from the issue of Islamists against the state in Egypt or elsewhere.

Mobilizing Islam draws on field research conducted throughout the 1990s in three popular districts of sprawling Cairo to address the same issue of Islamists confronting the authoritarian state. Wickham traces the Nasserist educational boom that created a "lumpen intelligentsia" that is now either in redundant government jobs or unemployed. This inchoate class might have lapsed into political apathy, but she shows how cadres of local Islamists managed to organize it into a cohesive body. When denied the opportunity to compete in national politics, this group effectively turned toward winning control of Egypt's many professional associations. The state's ambivalent response permitted increased Islamization even while it cracked down on moderate Islamist political parties such as the Wasat (Center) Party. Any chance to avoid "the bleak choice between secular and religious variants of authoritarian rule," she concludes, will require a concurrent effort by the state to integrate the Islamist groups as well as a democratic evolution within the Muslim Brotherhood.