Ten years ago, some aspects of this New York Times’ piece would have been greeted by conservatives in the west as a sign of renewal of Egyptian culture, though hopefully one attended by increasing freedom for and protection of Egyptian Copts and all other sects.
Today it provokes concern. Will the revival of Islam in Egypt lead to the rejection of the extremists of the violent fringe, or make the country more vulnerable to their plots? Read the whole thing, but some key graphs:
Here in Egypt and across the Middle East, many young people are being forced to put off marriage, the gateway to independence, sexual activity and societal respect. Stymied by the government’s failure to provide adequate schooling and thwarted by an economy without jobs to match their abilities or aspirations, they are stuck in limbo between youth and adulthood.
“I can’t get a job, I have no money, I can’t get married, what can I say?” Mr. Sayyid said one day after becoming so overwhelmed that he refused to go to work, or to go home, and spent the day hiding at a friend’s apartment.
In their frustration, the young are turning to religion for solace and purpose, pulling their parents and their governments along with them.
With 60 percent of the region’s population under the age of 25, this youthful religious fervor has enormous implications for the Middle East. More than ever, Islam has become the cornerstone of identity, replacing other, failed ideologies: Arabism, socialism, nationalism.
The wave of religious identification has forced governments that are increasingly seen as corrupt or inept to seek their own public redemption through religion. In Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Morocco and Algeria, leaders who once headed secular states or played down religion have struggled to reposition themselves as the guardians of Islamic values. More and more parents are sending their children to religious schools, and some countries have infused more religious content into their state educational systems.
My wife and I saw a charming, small movie yesterday with some close friends, “The Band’s Visit,” which recounts the day and night of an Egyptian police band’s marooning in a remote Israeli town. None of the four of us have spent a day in either Israel or Egypt though we have been many places around the world, and we all agreed that the film was intended to convey themes of common humanity which don’t often come through MSM accounts of the endless strife in the region. In that regard it is a very hopeful movie, but one that looks very far removed from the realities of Gaza and South Lebanon. The key question in the Middle East in many ways is if the radicals can be brought towards the Egyptian model or whether Egypt will slide towards the hatred that dominates the jihadists. The New York Times’ piece doesn’t even begin to answer the question, though it includes some interviews which do not increase confidence in the country’s long-term stability:
“Yes, I do think that Islam is the solution,” Mr. Sayyid said, quoting from the slogan of the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned but tolerated organization in Egypt that calls for imposing Shariah, or Islamic law, and wants a religious committee to oversee all matters of state. “These people, the Islamists, they would be better than the fake curtain, the illusion, in front of us now.”…
Like most religious young people, Mr. Sayyid is not an extremist. But with religious conservatism becoming the norm -the starting point -it is easier for extremists to entice young people over the line. There is simply a larger pool to recruit from and a shorter distance to go, especially when coupled with widespread hopelessness.
“There are lots of psychological repercussions and rejection from society,” said Hamdi Taha, a professor of communications at Al Azhar University who runs a government-aligned charity that stages mass weddings for older low-income couples. “This is actually one of the things that could lead one to terrorism. They despair. They think maybe they get nothing in this world, but they will get something in the other life.”