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False Islamist-Secular Divide in Egypt is a Wedge in Hopes for Preserving Democracy

The dichotomous myth of "secular" versus "Islamist" must be dismantled in order for Egypt to move on.

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Egypt divided: Wall being
built around presidential palace

Both sides of this fictitious and fetishised divide are to blame - equally. No one died and made the Muslim Brotherhood the custodians of Islam and the right to define what it means to be a Muslim. There are as many ways to be a Muslim as there are Muslims. The self-described "secularists" should also overcome this ghastly colonial construct and realise once and for all that they too are Muslims - Muslims can be socialists, feminist, nationalist, even atheists, or agnostics, if they so choose to identify themselves. The history of Islam is full of Muslim atheists, agnostics, etc. The term "Muslim" needs to be rescued from the ideologically manufactured, and politically violent juridicalism that defines the Shia clerics and Sunni lslamists alike. Egyptian "secularists", like all other "Muslim seculars", need to recognise and overcome their streak of Islamophobia. 

Muslims, in the sanctity of their conscience, in the privacy of their heart and the publicity of their normative and moral behaviours will collectively decide what it means to be a Muslim. Egypt, along with the rest of the Arab and Muslim world, is going through magnificent historic changes - and it is the collectivity of Muslims who will eventually decide who and what is a Muslim. This historic eventuality is bound to happen, it is an inevitability, and it is happening as we live these historic days - but the collective and public recognition of this fact can spare much hardship and violence now marring the glory of the Egyptian revolution. Egyptians owe it to themselves, and they owe it to the rest of the Arab and Muslim world to lead the way in this critical moment. 

Principled reasoning, not rocks

The only way out of this crisis and this damned bloodshed is dialogue - immediate and unconditional - and for that dialogue to begin, President Morsi's decision to rescind the power he had granted himself was a necessary but not sufficient move. He must also immediately postpone the date of the referendum in order for the constitutional assembly to reconvene and include all Egyptian factions and resolve all the pending issues before it is sent to Egyptian people to vote. In that reconvened assembly, Egyptians who think themselves "secular" must abandon the false anxiety of that colonial designation and enter into a dialogue with their own Muslim brothers and sisters. 

Meanwhile if Netanyahu and his Zionist supporters in Washington, DC think by bombing Gaza and tickling Morsi towards this power grab they have thrown a monkey wrench at the Egyptian revolution and the Arab Spring, they have another thing coming. Egyptians will triumph over this obstacle and will emerge stronger through it, and bankrupt ideologies - from the militant Islamism of Ayman al-Zawahiri to the violent Zionism of Binyamin Netanyahu - will not benefit from that triumph. 


Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.

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