How can religiously inspired ideas explain violent extremism in Egypt?

The relation between extreme religious ideas and violent behavior has been largely debated over the past few years. While one group of experts stresses the importance of extreme religious beliefs in creating the conditions for being drawn to terrorism, another group has insisted that terrorism does not arise from the radicalization of Islam or extremist interpretations, but from the Islamisation of radicalism. Just like the youth who turned to left-wing violent groups in the past, some youth today have found a way to somehow root in Islam the paradigm of their revolt.

Egypt after the ouster of the short-lived rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, offers a more complicated picture.

Religious frames

Based on my research, most Muslim Brotherhood youth who joined violent groups after 2013, adopted extremist religious ideas only after they had been already radicalized due to other political and social conditions.

The removal of Mohammed Morsi from power in July 2013 led to a split within the Muslim Brotherhood between the historical leadership, which has insisted on using non-violent means to resist the regime, and newer leaders who supported the choice of some Muslim Brotherhood youth to use violence in their struggle against the Egyptian security forces. The case of the Muslim Brotherhood branch that decided to take up arms offers a case in point.

Constructing a religious frame to justify the use of violence was only done after many of its young members had been already radicalized since July 2013. The increasingly violent activities carried out by some of the Muslim Brotherhood’s angry youth led their new leadership to draft an ideological frame to organize this wave of violence. The text titled The Jurisprudence of Popular Resistance to the Coup, came only in early 2015. More than 18 months after the ouster of the Brotherhood from power.

However, while religious ideas in this case played a secondary role as a driver to violent radicalization, these same ideas play a primary role in shaping the form of violence, its aims, strategies and target audience. Even if many of them might be driven to the violent path by similar social and political grievances, following one set of religious ideological interpretations or another would have a major impact on their behavior, and would be likely to lead them to different, sometimes even contradictory, paths.

Egypt offers a suitable case to verify this statement. the spectrum of violence in the country has developed over the last seven years to include different groups, each with its own religious ideological interpretation framework to justify the use of violence. These competing groups can be divided into three main categories: those affiliated with ISIS, those affiliated with al-Qaeda, and those emerging from, or somehow inspired by, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Both al-Qaeda and ISIS affiliated groups follow variations of the Salafi Jihadi doctrine, which relies on five doctrinal pillars: Jihad (holy war), Tawhid (the oneness of God), Hakimiyya (Islamic governance), al-Wala wal-Bara (Loyalty to the divine truth), and takfir (excommunication).

Groups emerging from, or somehow inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood, however, follow a religious frame that underlines the religious concept of Dafa’ al- Sa’el or Repelling the Assailant, which according to The Jurisprudence of Popular Resistance to the Coup, is equivalent to the modern concept of the right to self-defense. This ideological framework is distinct from the Salafi Jihadi doctrine, as it does not excommunicate members of the security forces and insists that they should be resisted not because of their faith (or lack thereof) but for their actions.

Goals, strategies and audience

These different ideological frames have shaped the goals of these groups differently. While groups affiliated to either al-Qaeda or ISIS call for the establishment of an Islamic state based on the rule of God, those inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood don’t adhere to a concept of Islamic governance beyond much symbolic rhetoric. Rather, they argue that it is up to a nation to decide how to govern itself, while assuming a free nation of Muslims will govern itself in accordance with Islamic values, which is open to interpretation in any case. While they do question importing a specific model of western democracy, they reject at the same time the establishment of a despotic religious rule that the ISIS model advocates.

Religious ideas have also shaped the strategies these groups resort to in order to achieve their aims. ISIS groups in Sinai and mainland Egypt target both state officials and civilians, and attack mosques and churches alike. Groups emerging from the Muslim Brotherhood, however, refuse to target civilians or religious minorities.

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Georges Fahmi | Radio Free (2022-01-24T14:00:20+00:00) » How can religiously inspired ideas explain violent extremism in Egypt?. Retrieved from https://www.radiofree.org/2020/11/02/how-can-religiously-inspired-ideas-explain-violent-extremism-in-egypt/.
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» How can religiously inspired ideas explain violent extremism in Egypt? | Georges Fahmi | Radio Free | https://www.radiofree.org/2020/11/02/how-can-religiously-inspired-ideas-explain-violent-extremism-in-egypt/ | 2022-01-24T14:00:20+00:00
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