How religion is being used to manipulate Egyptians
Religion in Egypt is no different from politics, business, media, or any other domain
Religions are meant to play a spiritual role in people’s lives; yet their power is being harnessed in the service of the Egyptian state, providing it with an additional “maneuvering tool” to frame and manipulate citizens. With the aim of supporting the state in its mission to control the society, large numbers of citizens (defined as religious figures) are, unfortunately, advocating for irreligious behavior.
The Egyptian state claims to be working on promoting a “devout society”, but actually it is expanding and strengthening the role played by religion in ordinary people’s lives in order to eventually use it as a tool to control society. Religion in Egypt is no different from politics, business, media, or any other domain; they all function as diverse arms and processes servicing the state’s policies. Obviously, this comes at the cost of distancing Egyptians from observing and abiding by the true values of their respective religions.
The Egyptian state essentially controls the entire dynamics of the two dominant religions in Egypt i.e., Islam and Christianity. Overall, Muslim and Christian religious institutions operate freely in the handling of their internal issues. However, when either institution comes into conflict with the state’s ruling mechanism, the Egyptian state clearly has the upper hand in deciding the issue; both institutions must comply with the state’s decisions fully – even if its position goes against the core principles of either religion.
The Egyptian state regulates the mosques. It privileges preachers who are loyal to the state by allowing them to dominate the larger mosques and the Egyptian media and to preach freely – as long as they support the state and praise the ruler. Whereas preachers who don’t abide by the “rules of the game” are barred from preaching and distanced from their followers.
Penalizing Egyptians who eat in public during Ramadan is not meant to force Muslim society into becoming more righteous by imposing the fast; the point is to demonstrate to the entire Egyptian society that the state continues to maintain its iron grip.
The Egyptian state claims to be working on promoting a “devout society”, but actually it is expanding and strengthening the role played by religion in ordinary people’s lives in order to eventually use it as a tool to control societyMohammed Nosseir
Message to the minorities
The Egyptian state tends to be lenient in its application of criminal law provisions when Muslim extremists attack the homes and businesses of the Christian minority. This is not due to any state discrimination against Christians; sadly, by pleasing large numbers of illiterate Muslims at the expense of the minority, the state aims to inflate the power of the “majority”, giving it a sense of superiority in society.
By surrounding churches with cement blocks, the state is sending a message to Egyptian Copts: that they are under constant threat from extremists and terrorists and should thus value the protection provided them by the state – and tone down their demands regarding the building of new churches.
By rights, the well-known Egyptian scholars recently convicted for expressing relatively more liberal opinions on a number of debatable Islamic issues should be perceived as catalysts attempting to confront extremists by modernizing the basic understanding of Islam. Nonetheless, the state works on prosecuting them – because they ventured into an area that falls under its full control, where liberal newcomers are not welcome. In short, the state does not want religious issues to be subject to citizens’ debates and initiatives.
Western scholars who study Islam often point to certain articles that stimulate and incite Muslims against non-Muslims. They are viewing these articles outside of their proper context; what matters here is that the vast majority of Muslims are not able to understand and digest such articles, which are manipulated by the state (either by inciting or by suppressing Muslims) in order to serve its own purpose.
For example, some Islamic religious articles served to stimulate Egyptians against Israel in wartime while others were intended to encourage reconciliation with the enemy after the peace treaty was signed.
The Egyptian state does not want to leave the interpretation of religions to ordinary illiterate Egyptians! Misguided by erroneous religious interpretations, millions of illiterate Egyptians could easily be driven to commit crimes.
On the other hand, manipulating religion to serve the state’s policies and to flatter the ruler is prompting millions of Egyptians to develop their own understanding of religion, one that is equally far-removed from the true values of their faith. Regrettably, non-abidance by either religious values or the rule of law has bred an immature and intolerant society.
Mohammed Nosseir is an Egyptian liberal politician who advocates for advancing liberalism, political participation, and economic freedom. Mohammed was member of the higher committee at the Democratic Front Party from 2007 to 2012, and then member of the political bureau of the Free Egyptian Party till mid-2013. Mohammed advocates for his work through providing the Egyptian government with a number of schemes to better reform its government institutes, as well as he is a regular contributor to various Egyptian newspapers. Mohammed also has extensive experience in the private sector, working with a number of international companies assisting them in expanding their businesses in the Middle East. Mohammed graduated from Faculty of Commerce, Ain Shams University, Cairo (1986); he participated at Aspen Seminar on Leadership, Values and Good Society (2011), Eisenhower Fellow, Multi-National Program (2009) and Stanford Fellow for Democracy, Development & Rule of Law (2008).