Egypt’s new religious fervour breeds ghetto mentality
A wave of religious fervour and a backlash by secular liberals has left some ordinary Egyptians feeling like strangers in their own country, and civil rights activists warn of a dangerous drift into sectarianism.
Banker Hussein Khalil says organising something as simple as an evening out with friends has turned into a headache.
(Photo: Koran held up at protest rally, September 5, 2010/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)
“These days in Egypt, either you go out with people who are very strict and agree not to go anywhere that serves alcohol, or you go out with others who just want to get drunk,” said the 27-year-old. “Moderates are unable to enjoy their lives… We’re under pressure to join one of the two extremes.”
Egypt’s legal system is based on Islamic sharia law yet the country has a large Christian minority and the state has sought since independence to cement national identity by promoting an ideal of citizenship that transcends religious affiliation.
Religious observance was seen widely as a matter of personal conscience until the 1980s, when growing numbers of Egyptians started working in Saudi Arabia and began promoting the strict Islamic ways back home.
When thanked, most Egyptians used to say: “You are welcome”. This has been replaced by the more pious phrase: “May God reward you with goodness”. Some women have stopped shaking men’s hands, saying it is forbidden.