Questioning SecularismIslam, Sovereignty, and the Rule of Law in Modern Egypt

Questioning SecularismIslam, Sovereignty, and the Rule of Law in Modern Egypt

Hussein Ali Agrama

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9780226010687

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

The central question of the Arab Spring—what democracies should look like in the deeply religious countries of the Middle East—has developed into a vigorous debate over these nations' secular identities. But what, exactly, is secularism? What has the West's long familiarity with it inevitably obscured? This book tackles these questions. Focusing on the fatwa councils and family law courts of Egypt just prior to the revolution, it delves deeply into the meaning of secularism itself and the ambiguities that lie at its heart. Drawing on a precedent-setting case arising from the family law courts—the last courts in Egypt to use Shari'a law—the book shows that secularism is an historical phenomenon that works through a series of paradoxes that it creates. Digging beneath the perceived differences between the West and Middle East, it highlights secularism's dependence on the law and the problems that arise from it: the necessary involvement of state sovereign power in managing the private spiritual lives of citizens and the irreducible set of legal ambiguities such a relationship creates.