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Millennial Politics in Modern Egypt: Islamism and Secular Nationalism in Context and Contest

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Abstract As a type often linked to societies in transition, millennialism provides a useful framework of analysis to understand the contestation between the two movements that shaped Egypt’s modern identity: Islamism and secular nationalism. Both movements blended political and religious form and content as they strove to unite people in a collectivist effort to create an ideal society that addressed the nation’s material and cultural needs. Indeed, millennial discourse provided a medium through which Egyptians worked out their nationalist aspirations in a religious key and envisioned their religious values and identity in nationalist form. The volatile, irrational character of millennial movements made Egypt’s postcolonial transition to modern politics fraught and uncertain. And the authoritarian trend among Egypt’s ruling secular nationalists exacerbated the situation. In the end, Egypt’s seminal Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, proved capable of reorienting itself, downplaying its millennial claims, and espousing a rational politics. Its evolution speaks to the capacity of millennial movements to transform themselves and the societies of which they are a part.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Religious Studies, DePauw University 7 E. Larabee St., Greencastle, IN 46135, USA jkenney@depauw.edu

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