Negotiating Religion and Identity
Watching the history of the ‘present’: Religion and national identity in the Egyptian diaspora
During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in 2010, an Egyptian drama series or musalsal entitled al-Gama‘a [The Group] aired in Egypt and the Arab World focusing on the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen, the Muslim Brotherhood. The series, which was partially sponsored by the state-run television, was initially perceived by commentators to delegitimize the contemporary leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood while highlighting the important – if not misguided – role of the founder of the group Hassan al-Banna in the 1920s. The 2010 musalsal was set between two time periods: the first, took place in 2006, only a year after the Brotherhood’s gains in parliamentary elections, while the second time period historicised the roots of the organisation, narrating the life of the founder and its spiritual guide [murshid], Hasan al-Banna. Like many musalsalat [plural form of musalsal] before it, al-Gama‘a caused great controversy, which outlasted its 28 episodes and the duration of Ramadan.
By 2010, the Brotherhood, an eighty-year-old organisation, had pragmatically negotiated a public space for itself in the political arena, despite being banned since 1954. The turbulent image that had dominated the Brotherhood in previous generations was slowly being eroded and under President Hosni Mubarak the organisation actively played an important and vibrant role in the social, economic and political life of Egypt (Fahmy 2002: 86–87). In the parliamentary elections of 1984 and 1987, the Muslim Brotherhood, though officially still a banned party, ran ‘independent’ candidates who won a significant percentage of seats. During the...
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