The rise of the Egyptian Islamic movement occurred at the moment when a wide range of trends in the global economy was taking place. In addition, this period was characterized by the occurrence of the regional politics that significantly shaped the growing underdevelopment in Egypt, as well as violent outbreaks in the country that arose in an attempt to repair the growing underdevelopment. Although the occurrence of Islamism in Egypt was largely predetermined by the country’s history, the rationale for its development was majorly repairing the growing underdevelopment in Egypt that was caused by the debt crisis fueled by the costs of energy, global inflation, the overvalued currency, stagnation in the industrialization of the public sector, and deterioration in the agricultural sector.

Root Causes of Islamism in Egypt

The development of Islamism in Egypt was a result of the history that commenced with Muhammad Abduh, who was the head of al-Azhar at the end of the 19th century and one of the key figures of the Islamic movement. He called for the purification of Islam from the centuries of Sufism, as well as superstitious accretions. It led to the rejection of intermediaries that existed between worshipers and God, which was characteristic of Sufi Islam, hence resulting in the creation of the implication that polytheism and idolatry were not to be in existence. The call by Abduh for the purification of Islam led to the return to the beliefs and practices that were common during the Islamic Golden Age. His ideas that were present in the Islamic movement that arose in Egypt were majorly adopted by Hasan al-Banna upon his establishment of the Muslim Brotherhood in the year 1928. Later on, it became the prototype for Islamist organizations that were formed during the 1930s and the 1940s. Salafi Islam resulted in the development of nationalism, thus leading to the gradual evolution of the practices and beliefs of a large number of Muslims in the current world. It was particularly prevalent during the rule of Abduh. However, it is worth noting that under the rule of al-Banna, Salafi Islam faced radical interpretation with an aim of defending it against the modernists’ attacks and the attacks by secularists.

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Another factor that led to Islamism in Egypt was the preaching and the interpretation of Islam that later on became the foundation of current Islamist organizations in the state. The proliferation of these organizations took place at the end of the Six Day War, majorly among college students who were on campuses throughout the country. Initially, they were motivated by the government; however, in November 1977, President Anwar al-Sadat traveled to Jerusalem. The fact that their country would forgive and engage in making peace with its enemies made the students turn against the state. As a result, the government was considered the primary target of Muslim associations based on the notion that the state was characterized by official corruption, as well as injustice.

From a historical perspective, since the formation of the Islamic movement at the end of the 19th century, its social base in Egypt has undergone transformations as it has become less elitist in addition to being more populist. In other terms, the horizontal line that divided “genuine”’ Muslims and Westernized Muslims has eventually affected the class hierarchy. Initially, the social pattern included two equal groups, with the Egyptians being on one side and the non-Egyptians being on the other side. However, following the events of the 1920s, educated individuals were particularly involved in the opposition as compared to the middle and lower classes that were viewed as genuine participants. It is, however, worth noting that during the 1970s and the 1980s, there were further changes in the division that related to the middle class. In particular, it was divided into “authentic” Egyptians and Westernized Egyptians.

One of the earliest root causes of Islamism in Egypt was the Muslim conquest that took place in the 7th century, a conquest that was led by Amr Ibn al-‘As who was the Palestinian military governor. A significant number of the Egyptian Coptic population, which was indigenous, converted from Christianity to the Islamic religion. The Islamization process occurred at the same time with the Arabization wave. The above-mentioned factors resulted in the increase in the number of Muslims in Egypt in the middle of the 10th century. The Egyptians were thus acculturated into the Arab identity, leading to the replacement of their indigenous languages, Coptic and Greek, with the Arabic language as the only vernacular language of the Egyptians.

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Rationale for Islamism in Egypt

There are various objectives of Islamism in Egypt. To begin with, following the collapse of the oil price in 1985 and the global recession that lasted for a period of 20 years as a result of the increased costs of energy, there was a decline in the petrodollar investments. Therefore, the above factors resulted in the realignment in line with the global division of labor. In particular, commercial entities in the First World engaged in the de-industrialization and relocation of their facilities of production to places that were more favorable. In addition, they aimed to relocate to sites with cheap labor with a view of reversing the profit squeeze that was generated by the increased costs of oil. After the end of the recession of 1967, as well as the end of the oil price shock that took place in 1974, there was a decline in industrial investment, particularly in the First World. However, there was a rise in the industrial investment in the Third World. Thus, the Third World countries emerged as the newly industrialized nations, which included Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, and Hong Kong. However, a number of countries, including Egypt, remained underdeveloped as compared to other Third World countries. Consequently, during the 1970s, Egypt was experiencing a significant debt crisis as a result of the costs of energy, global inflation, the overvalued currency, stagnation in the industrialization of the public sector, and deterioration in the agricultural sector. Thus, Islamism arose as a way to fix the state of underdevelopment in the country.

Second, the humiliating defeat of Egypt during the Six Day War that took place in June in the year 1967 resulted in a subsequent disenchantment. It was characterized by centralized development that was led by the state in addition to the rejection of the secular Arab program of nationalism and the radical program of modernization of Abd al-Nassir. Therefore, this factor resulted in the increasing overdependence of private investors and a move toward religion.

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The development of capitalism at the global level was a paradox as it coincided with the contraction and de-industrialization of the economies of the First World. On the other hand, a large number of the Third World nations in the Asian continent and Latin America were experiencing an increased rate of economic growth. Egypt, therefore, wondered why it was not fortunate to experience the increased rate of development. At the same time, its society was on the verge of uprising the religious insurrection. With the failure of the accumulation of the foreign policy, Egypt opted for international finance. The country made a wide range of failed attempts to attract foreign investment by primarily relying on its relationship with petroleum exporters in the Arab world. Islamic movements, therefore, arose in Egypt opposing the state with an aim of forcing the development of the nation. Theses Islamic associations preached on the belief and the practice of Islam.


The rise of Islam in Egypt took place in the midst of other global phenomena as far as the economy is concerned. There are major factors behind the development of Islamism in the country. They include the history that commenced with Muhammad Abduh, who was the head of al-Azhar at the end of the 19th century and called for the purification of Islam, the Muslim conquest in the 7th century, as well as the preaching and the interpretation of Islam that became the foundation of current Islamic organizations in Egypt. It is, however, essential to note that the rationale for the development of Islamism in the country was to fuel the development of Egypt as a result of its underdevelopment that was caused by the decline in the prices of oil and the international economic decline. On the one hand, the economic crisis resulted in the development of the Third World countries because of an increased rate of foreign industrialization in these nations. On the other hand, it led to the underdevelopment of Egypt caused by the debt crisis fueled by the costs of energy, the overvalued currency, global inflation, stagnation in the industrialization of the public sector, and deterioration in the agricultural sector.


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