Politicized Religion in Egypt 2012 – for Egypt 2013?

“For those asking from Egypt: None of the choices in the referendum are sinful or in opposition to the sacred law, except voting for something that goes against your convictions in order to attain some worldly gain, or blindly following another person’s opinion.” Al-Habib Ali al-Jifri, Yemeni Islamic scholar

It is not Christmas in Egypt this week. Most Egyptian Christians will celebrate Christmas on the 6th of January, as per the Eastern Orthodox calendar. Yet, as 2012 draws to an end, this week is, indeed, still a time when many in Egypt are thinking about religion. The reasons, however, are hardly in keeping with a joyful, holiday spirit. Religion is on Egyptians’ minds at present because they are angry at how it is being used – and how it may yet be abused in the year to come.

Perhaps it was foreseeable. After all, during the constitutional amendments referendum last year, Islamists in the ‘yes’ camp positioned their vote as a ‘yes’ to ‘Islam’. During the parliamentary elections later on in the year, Islamist parties deployed religion as a mobilization tool, and were rewarded by the electorate for doing so.

Nevertheless, something was different in the past few weeks. The reaction to the Egyptian president’s decree divided Egypt, with two very loud camps: those who were deeply opposed to his issuing of it, and those who were in favor. Political polarization is bad enough in any country, let alone one that just went through a revolutionary uprising that was truly a popular movement that was representative of all of Egypt. But this polarization was different – it was deeply sectarian, and on many levels.

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