The Military and Religious Politics in Egypt

Gilad Wenig, University of California, Los Angeles

In recent years, scholars have become attuned to the presence of religion in the military. As a public institution thought to embody national ideals, the military is a particularly advantageous site for understanding state priorities with respect to religion. The extent to which the military accommodates minority soldiers, for example, is one indicator of state tolerance for religious diversity. But despite the prevalence of states with established religions in the Middle East, there have been few—if any—concerted studies of religion in regional militaries. At the same time, scholars continue to explore political interventions by the military in the Middle East. But the range of phenomena under consideration is limited to coups d’état, support for protesters, and defections. Overlooked are historical episodes of religious contestation in which the military played a role. A number of scholars have closely documented the participation of state actors in promoting and institutionalizing specific interpretations of religion, but without much consideration of the military. This paper brings together these two literatures by engaging the complex, complicating, and understudied case of Egypt. I specifically ask, when do militaries engage in religious claims-making? How do they establish and communicate religious identity? Informed by the premise that practices, discourse, and symbolism can provide insight into organizational culture, I draw on a novel source of data—the religious-affairs magazines of the Egyptian military—as well as interviews with retired generals to illustrate instances and plausible causes of religious mobilization by the military. I also shed new light on the military's religious infrastructure, including its corps of Muslim clerics. In the end, I contend that when a domestic competitor emerges in the Egyptian religious field and challenges state dominance, the military is deployed to engage in an altogether different form of combat: over the ideological power of the state.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 91. Interdisciplinary Histories of Religion, Economics, and Culture