Social, Cultural and Intellectual Trajectories”


Supported by

Held at
Centre for Political Ideology, University of Oxford
January 12 — 13, 2007

The proceedings were published in
Vol. 32 Nos. 2-3 and 4, 2007

Maghreb Review Vol 32 Nos 2-3 2007 Maghreb Review Vol 32 No 4 2007

£70 Post free for Vol 32 Nos 2-3 and No 4

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From the beginning of nominal independence after World War I to the 1952 Free Officers’ Revolution was a crucial period for modern state and society formation in Egypt. A new national culture shaped political and cultural formations, establishing the country’s trajectory for the remainder of the twentieth century. Much scholarship on Egypt has focused on either elite-centred political history, or has over-stated the strictly religious side of society. However, politics and religion took their modern forms in the context of new political frameworks and new sites of cultural production which have not been adequately addressed by academic literature. Political life and ideological formations, specifically the emerging nation-state, have been well studied in Egypt, but new forms of cultural production which crucially shaped ideological trends have been less well examined. A boom in the production of print and audio-visual media decisively reshaped political and religious expression. They could no longer be understood in isolation from what can be glossed as “popular culture”; but it was “popular culture” not of “the masses”, but rather of a new social and cultural formation incorporating intellectual production as much as “mere entertainment”. Our conference therefore aims to invigorate scholarship on the period by framing cultural history in relation to three broad processes: 1) social change; 2) the new nation-state political (and ideological) framework; and 3) new forms of cultural production. Their interaction produced a qualitatively new and vibrant urban mass culture, the broad outlines of which are still recognizable. In the interwar-to Revolution period it was an emerging urban culture that was both national and metropolitan (in the sense that it was hegemonic toward the rest of the country). By focusing on the interaction of these broad processes as they shaped culture, we will facilitate diverse scholarly approaches, while avoiding the fragmentation that plagues many edited volumes. The framework of the conference will engage well-developed literatures on politics, ideology and religion, thereby building on existing scholarship. But we aim to go beyond existing literature by better relating it to a broader emergent national culture.


MARILYN BOOTH: Street Walkers: Tracing the City through the Urban Memoir

ABSTRACT: This paper takes the production of memoiristic texts in Egypt in the 1920s as the site of a production of urban citizenship based not on elite political culture or participation in an emerging canon of “respectable” Arabic and Egyptian national literature but rather grounded in the (ventriloquized) “I” of counter-canonical “memoirs” articulated (if not necessarily written) by members of an urban service class and particularly its less respectable members: “fallen” or “falling” women, drivers-for-hire, and male youth apparently alienated from the markers of masculine success in an emerging modern urban society. These texts tend to detail the urban social fabric through evocations of walking the streets, claiming the city for a self-defined “underclass” which is not objectively subaltern but rather asserts a voice in the contemporary clamor for political subjectivity. The subjects constructed in these texts, the “narrators” of the urban street, claim a share in the national debate by asserting and constructing their own forms of respectability and demolishing the claims of others by exposing their self-interested and hypocritical interventions in national politics and culture.

KATHARINA IVANYI: Who’s in Charge?: The Tafsîr al-Manâr on Questions of Religious and Political Authority in Islam

ABSTRACT: The Tafsîr al-Manâr is, arguably, the most influential Qur’an commentary produced in Egypt over the course of the first three and a half decades of the twentieth century. Through an analysis of the Manar’s discussion of several well-known Qur’anic verses (Q 3:104, Q 4:49 and Q 3:159 in particular), this paper will examine how Rashid Rida, one of the foremost reformist thinkers of the interwar period in Egypt, tackled a number of fundamental questions about the nature of religious and political authority, raised by the advent of ‘modernity’. The coming of the modern nation-state, with its concomitant dismantling of centuries-old institutions of education and the Law, the rise of new mass-media, and that of a professional and ever-increasing ‘secularised’ middle class, raised questions such as ‘Who can speak authoritatively for Islam?’ and ‘Does Islam, as a religion, require to be expressed in political terms?’ with a very new urgency. The paper will attempt to show the Manar’s great ambivalence with regard to the gradual fragmentation of religious authority in Islam - a process that had already started in the nineteenth century, but picked up more and more speed during the first few decades of the twentieth century and is, still, very much ongoing today. Aware of the fact that ‘modernity’ had resulted in both a potential threat and a great opportunity for the development of the faith, Rida (just like his teacher Muhammad ‘Abduh) was torn between arguing in favour of making the religion as open and accessible to as many ordinary Muslims as possible on the one hand, while at the same time trying to avoid a complete ‘opening of the flood-gates’ to any ‘Tom, Dick or Harry’s right to speak for Islam on the other. Radically departing from established traditions of exegesis, ‘Abduh and Rida’s interpretation of Q 3:104, Q 4:49 and Q 3:159 is intrinsically related to the historic context of the early twentieth century, that is, the era of great intellectual ferment and social change that witnessed, among other things, the ‘ulama’s ever-increasing loss of authority in all walks of life.

RONALD NETTLER: History, Religion, and Intellectual Freedom: ‘Abd al-Muta‘al al-Sa‘idi on Islam in the Modern World

ABSTRACT: The first half of the 20th century saw the emergence of new trends in Islamic thought in Egypt. Especially from the 1930’s onward, these trends were very prominent and influential in Egypt, as well as elsewhere in the Arab world. Mainly, but not exclusively, the product of Muslim intellectuals outside the traditionalist circles of ‘ulama’, this thought attempted to address issues of religion and modernity from various perspectives, using a variety of traditional and modern sources. Though we can say that many of these thinkers worked broadly in an ‘Abduh/Rida-inspired framework enjoining ijtihad and opposing taqlid, what exactly this meant for them and the details of their arguments remain in need of clarification through analysis of basic ideas and intellectual methods. Indeed, with respect to the whole range of their thought, both within as well as outside the ijtihad framework, such analysis is essential for our understanding of this important chapter in Islamic intellectual history in late-colonial Egypt. The relatively modest amount of scholarship done thus far on this thought has for the most part treated it from a social-historical perspective, seeing its main ideas as part of the developing new culture in Egypt in that period. The emphasis here was on intellectual trends as social-historical phenomena that addressed certain needs of the times. This approach has been valuable and in its fashion it has given us a broad picture of the development of thought from that perspective. However, the content of the thought in its essential intellectual features, in its relationship to pre-modern and traditionalist Islamic thought and in its relationship to modern Western thought has not been adequately treated.. As the body of thinkers (many of them still relatively unknown) and their published works in books and in articles in the new journals of the time is large and diverse, the analysis of intellectual content proposed here is a long-term task for many scholars.
    As part of my own larger, ongoing project in this area, my paper will be on certain aspects of the thought of ‘Abd al-Muta‘al al-Sa‘idi (1894-?), a Professor of Arabic language and literature in al-Azhar. al-Sa‘idi was a prolific and sometimes polemical (against “conservative” ‘ulama’) writer whose articles and books are characterised by Islamic learning, intellectual depth and distinctive ideas about religion and modernity. I shall be particularly interested in his thought on history, religion and intellectual freedom as a cluster of subjects through which he, implicitly and explicitly, develops his ideas on the nature of Islam and its ideal expression in the world. Apart from some of al-Sa‘idi’s articles, I shall use a number of his main books such as Hurriyya al-Fikr fi al-Islam, Dirasat Diniyya wa Adabiyya, al-Hurriyya al-Diniyya fi al-Islam, al-Islah fi al-Azhar and al-Qur’an wa al-Hukm al-Isti‘mari.

RACHEL SCOTT: The early thought of Muhammad al-Ghazali: the Islamic Order and the ’ulama’

ABSTRACT: This paper discusses the thought of the late popular Egyptian Islamic thinker and preacher Muhammad al-Ghazali (1917-1996). It examines al-Ghazali’s relationship with the religious establishment of al-Azhar and focuses on his critique of the ’ulama’. Based on al-Ghazali’s books from the period in which he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood prior to the 1952 Revolution, it examines the role al-Ghazali thinks the ’ulama’ should have in the proposed Islamic order.
    Al-Ghazali expresses dissatisfaction with the current state of the ’ulama’. He criticises the ’ulama’ for their ineffective preaching and for their failure to be the guardians of Islam. He mocks their political impotence and their lack of political involvement. Yet, at the same time, he criticises them for becoming too close to the state and for having interpreted the religious texts to suit their own political agendas and those of the government. His critique contains a number of contradictions one of which is his attitude towards Islamic jurisprudence. While expressing suspicion of the ’ulama’’s interpretation of texts, particularly in relation to the question of social justice in Islam, al-Ghazali also expresses respect for the body of knowledge produced by the ’ulama’.
    Like the Muslim Brotherhood at the time, al-Ghazali called for the unity of “religion” and “state”. This paper attempts to answer what is meant by this by focusing on the role of the ’ulama’. While a specific answer to this question is impeded by vagueness and contradiction, there are some interesting indications. On one level, al-Ghazali implies that the role the ’ulama’ had in theory - if not in practice - in the pre-modern order should be replicated in the modern Egyptian state. He calls on the ’ulama’ to fulfil their traditional role as the guardians of Islam by attacking the government and informing the people of any religious violations. The ’ulama’ should be separate from the state and should take up a position of advising and correcting it. The assumption behind this vision is that the ’ulama’ speak with one voice and present a unified stance.
    However, al-Ghazali does not engage with the reasons why reality in Islamic history departed from this ideal. Al-Ghazali argues that the Islamic world became disconnected from the “true constitution” long before the introduction of Western law, and that the ’ulama’ are partly to blame for this. And yet, he does not discuss the mechanisms which contributed to the separation of religion and state in the medieval period and to what he claims as the ’ulama’’s misinterpretation of the texts. He does not answer his own question as to what the circumstances were that allowed Muslim rulers to depart from Islamic law. He manifests both a dependence on the past as a normative ideal and a reluctance to formulate a theoretical vision of religion, state, and the ’ulama’, that could apply today.
    Despite this “traditional” model, al-Ghazali proposes something more radical, “modern” and “democratic”. His vision of the ’ulama’’s role in society appears to break down the boundaries between the people, the ’ulama’, and the state. He argues that every man is a man of religion and that the ’ulama’ have no monopoly on defining religion. He also argues that the state should have the ability to disallow what is allowed in Islamic law when it is in the public interest. The implication is that the ’ulama’ do not necessarily form a religious elite that has a monopoly on speaking for Islam. This has important implications for the popularization or democratization of religion and for the power of the state vis-à-vis the ’ulama’. It rests uneasily with the argument that the ’ulama’ have a responsibility to protect Islam. In addition, it contradicts the idea that it is through independence from the government and through the ’ulama’’s establishment of “institutions” that they can wield sufficient power to ensure that adherence to Islam is maintained.
    The tension between these two visions reflects the interesting position of al-Ghazali himself. Al-Ghazali, as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a former member of al-Azhar to which he subsequently returned, represents a convergence between official and popular Islam. Al-Ghazali does not manifest a self-consciousness concerning how he contributes to the important and problematic relationship between the two. By defending and undermining the ’ulama’, al-Ghazali is contributing to the same contradictory situation that his thought illustrates. This situation reflects that of Egyptian society in general, in which there was - and still is - a strong desire to return to the past from which the Islamic world has been dislocated, while the Egyptian state itself is a product of modern transformations that cannot necessarily be reversed.

LEONARD WOOD: Proponents of Islamic Legal Reform in Interwar Egypt and the Flowering of Comparative Law

ABSTRACT: This paper assesses the development of comparative law in Egypt during the interwar period. During this period, a sub-field of comparative law emerged that compared Western and Islamic law. Jurists operating in this area of research endeavored to modernize Islamic law and to bring Egypt’s largely French legal system more in concert with the sharia. My paper discusses how Egyptian jurists used comparative law to establish new trajectories in Islamic jurisprudence and simultaneously to advance the modern conception of Egypt as a modern Muslim state wherein sharia should be the wellspring of national laws.
    In the intellectual and social historiography of modern Egypt, scarce attention has been paid to the role played by Egyptian jurists in developing Islamic jurisprudence and influencing national culture and conceptions of modern Egyptian identity. The majority of prominent Muslim Egyptian jurists remain unknown even in Arabic-language histories. This paper introduces influential Egyptian jurists and their work, and suggests paths of further inquiry that would benefit the study of law and the intellectual and social history of twentieth-century Egypt.
    The paper analyzes articles that appeared in two contemporary, Arabic-language journals: the journal of the Egyptian Sharia Bar Association (Majallat al-Muhama al-Shar‘iya) and the journal of Cairo University Law Faculty (Majallat al-Qanun wa’l-Iqtisad). While the paper is primarily an exploration in intellectual history, it also addresses social and political factors that influenced the comparative jurists. It discusses how changes in social life and economy enhanced the number of comparative jurists during the interwar period. The paper also examines how political events of the time influenced their juridical thinking.

NADIA ABU-ZAHRA: Al-Manar (1898): A Journal inspired by Afghani and Abduh



ISRAEL GERSHONI: Monumental Sculpture and Nationalism: The Construction of the Commemorative Statue of Mustafa Kamil, 1914—1940

ABSTRACT: The paper attempts to reconstruct the processes of the construction of the monumental sculpture commemorating Mustafa Kamil (1874-1908). The statue, officially unveiled in May 1940, still stands in the Mustafa Kamil square in downtown Cairo. The paper will analyze the historical relationships between public commemoration, collective memory, and national identity in the formation of national culture. Kamil’s statue is presented as a case study within the much larger undertaking of erecting monumental national sculptures and other artistic monuments and icons during the interwar era in Cairo and Alexandria. Extensively appropriating insights and methods from recent theoretical discussions of collective memory and public commemoration, this paper examines how different Egyptian communities of memory — the National Party, the state under successive regimes, the young effendiyya particularly as it developed in the 1930s, and other elite and non-elite groups within civil society — remembered and commemorated Mustafa Kamil’s struggle for independence, his national legacy and his appropriate place in Egyptian communal memory. The study will follow the commemorative processes from the production of the statue (created by the famous Parisian sculptor Leopold Savine in the years 1908-1910), to its transfer to Egypt in 1912 and its placement in a peripheral school yard in Cairo in 1914 where it waited for redemption by the state in May 1940 when it was officially unveiled. Three specific contexts will be systematically considered.
A) The processes of public forgetting and remembering Mustafa Kamil during the years 1914-1940. Here special attention will be paid to the politics of commemoration which intensified in the interwar era. The main players in this struggle were the Watanists, the Monarchists and the Wafdists who all competed to establish their own monumental national sculptures. Both favorable and opposing views to the sculpture will be presented.
B) The artistic, intellectual and aesthetic origins of the bronze sculpture will be traced. The paper will analyze the structure of the statue, form and content, in light of its French and Egyptian artistic components. An attempt will be made to decode the covert messages and meanings.
C) The large spectrum of interpretations and representations granted this sculpture by different groups in different contexts until it was finally established will be studied. Attention will also be paid to the contemporary perception of the statue at the time of the unveiling ceremony and in the following weeks. Specifically, the representation of the statue as the “statue of the youth” will be highlighted. This representation portrayed Kamil as the embodiment of “the youth revolution of the 1930s”.
D) An attempt will be made to position the monumental product within the larger artistic cultural project of creating sites of memory and commemoration in the urban Egyptian landscape during the interwar era. The paper will show that Kamil’s monumental statue was intended to help mold the emerging national culture. The formation of national culture will be discussed from the angle of the Egyptian monumental art particularly public commemorative statues. The statue of Mustafa Kamil will be compared to the two statues of Sa‘d Zaghlul erected in Cairo and Alexandria in 1938 and to the statue of the Revival of Egypt (Nahdat Misr), and other monarchial sites of commemoration (such as the new Isma‘il (Qasr al-Nil) Bridge, erected in 1933. In this comparison, artistic, aesthetic, and cultural elements will be examined in the specific socio-political and economic contexts that produced these monumental works.

LUCIE RYZOVA: Magazines, Writing, and Being Young in Interwar Egypt

ABSTRACT: My paper will focus on popular magazines published in Egypt in the Interwar years, their urban readership, and related changes in social practices. The period (the 1920s to 1940s) saw the mushrooming of illustrated magazines of varying types. Their forms ranged from lavish general variety magazines to cheap pulp-fiction series; their content encompassed urban entertainment and sports to ‘high’ literature and/or religion. Crucially, such themes would often meet within the scope of a single publication. Many canonical works of Egyptian literature were first serialised through popular magazines; conversely, cultural forms that were previously considered shameful (dance, urban vaudeville) and consumed in discrete locations and specific contexts (such as weddings) became part of the urban mainstream through magazines, either as regular features in variety formats, or as publications specialising in ‘cabaret news’. The magazine field as a whole thus represented a venue in which ideas of lowbrow and highbrow were negotiated with respect to the emerging national culture, resulting in the formation of a ‘national middlebrow’ culture. While scholars have begun to use these magazines as a source for the writing of history, the print market remains largely unexplored in its own terms. My paper aims at discussing the magazines on three levels: (1) as a field, tracing the history of the magazine form, (2) the magazine’s urban readership — its social and cultural identity — and (3) changes in social practices (reading, writing, and social perceptions of age).
    The first part of my paper will trace the development of leading magazine forms through the first three decades since they first appeared in Egypt during the First World War. I will discuss titles that became significant ‘model’ forms in each decade. Each of these stages signals not just changes in journalism, but more importantly, changing expectations of urban consumers with respect to print media. Secondly, I will discuss the urban print market: the modes of production and consumption of the magazines (who writes, who buys, distribution). Popular magazines catered to a wide variety of urban groups, located within a conceptual middle class. An inchoate urban middle class status was often articulated, performed and shaped through eager consumption of cultural goods, among which popular magazines feature prominently. Here, I shall focus on two points: firstly, how the magazines function as a site of articulating nascent urbanity; and secondly, on how the mode of production of the magazine itself was a complex two-way process involving both author/producer and reader/consumer. I will argue that large sections of the urban reading market consisted of young males (efendis) in their capacity of either producers or consumers (sometimes both) of the print market.
    Finally, I will discuss the transformations of reading and writing practices on which the urban reading market was predicated. For the bulk of readers the transition was not simply from illiteracy to literacy. Rather, it was a shift from one culture of producing and consuming texts to another. The shift in approaches to written texts is, I will argue, closely related to shifts in the social perception of age and authority. Older forms of authoring texts were based on respect for a senior moral-religious authority. For most consumers the old approach focused on the memorization of texts deemed to have eternal moral or educational value. It involved authoring new texts only when one enjoyed a consensual authority to do so. The new approach, by contrast, opened a space for authoring texts, which had ‘entertainment value’ often based on personal experience. Such texts were, significantly, predominantly written by young authors. The novel practice of ‘writing young’ started with writing diaries, continued through sending poems and articles to papers, and often ended with founding a magazine. Thus, the act of writing (and of publishing) can be understood as one of creating a space free from paternal or religious authority. Young author/publishers in fact often hid their writing activities from their fathers. In other words, the new practice of “writing young” signalled the creation of a (new) public sphere which is normally associated with much later developments in “new media” (Eickelman/Anderson volume). This new public space was a crucial venue for the social construction of national culture, but it has thus far not received its due in historical writing, which has tended to obscure this crucial form of cultural production through an implicit denigration of “mere entertainment”.