Geneive Abdo recently made headlines for her expulsion from Iran after a tumultuous two-year stint as Tehran correspondent for the Guardian of London. Before that assignment, however, she worked as the Cairo correspondent for the Dallas Morning News, where she examined a new brand of grassroots Islamism growing in Egypt. This is not the violent form forged by Hasan al-Banna in the 1920s and most recently championed by figures like Omar Abdel Rahman, the notorious blind sheikh of New York. Rather, Abdo sees it as a peaceful form growing across Egypt's population, from the poor to the educated middle class. Unlike earlier Islamists, who sought to return to a utopian medieval past, Abdo reports that the new Egyptian Islamist seeks to create a synthesis of Islam and modernity. The author finds this movement multiplying quietly but rapidly to the point that it may someday undermine the authorities ruling Egypt today.
Abdo's theses derive from hundreds of interviews she conducted. Her text includes quotes from professional syndicate figures belonging to the outlawed Muslim Brethren, former members of al-Jama‘a al-Islamiya, popular "street sheikhs" of Cairo mosques, Al-Azhar clergy, peasants from Upper Egypt, and wealthy housewives who have adopted Islamism. All attest to the new face of Islamism, including its non-violent disposition.
The author ignores two possibilities that seriously reduce the validity of her thesis. First, that this peaceful trend of Islamism resulted not from a true belief in non-violence, but from a sense that violence is no longer a viable tactic. In other words, violence having failed, another strategy is needed—for now at least. Second, this wave of non-violence may simply be a disguise. The regime has killed thousands of Islamists and put many others behind bars, so the new-found rhetoric of non-violence may simply be a sensible precaution of self-defense. In the end, then, for all her interviews, Abdo may have missed the real trends in Egyptian Islam.