Research Paper Number


Subsequently published in the Osgoode Hall Law Journal.

Document Type


Publication Date



Islam; Sunnites; Egypt; Authority


The political dynamics that have characterized post-Mubarak Egypt have often been understood to be a battle between "religious" forces, represented by the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters, and "secularist" forces, represented by a diverse group of civil society actors. Opposition of this latter group to the "religious" politics of the Muslim Brotherhood is therefore understood to be the primary cause of the events that led to the July 3, 2013 military coup that overthrew Egypt's only freely elected President, Mohammed Morsi. Without denying the salience of a religious-secularist divide in Egypt, this narrative of post-Mubarak politics fails to appreciate the importance of intra-Muslim religious division regarding the proper place of Islam in the Egyptian political order, and its relationship to the state. This paper argues that traditionalist Egyptian religious scholars have a normative commitment to political authoritarianism that is tied to their understanding that the only proper modes of religious instruction is through adherence to a tradition of learning, and a conception of religion as something that exists outside of, but ultimately, is responsible for directing the state through the cooperation of the pious autocrat. The Muslim Brotherhood, and their supporters, on the other hand, view religious authority as a kind of resource that any person can acquire with sufficient diligence, and accordingly, can be incorporated within a democratic polity by cultivating a religiously-minded citizenry. I trace the normative resources for both positions in the Sunni tradition and then illustrate why those debates can cast light on the important political differences between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Azhar, even though they may be in agreement on a broad array of substantive questions.