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“liberal Renewal Of The Turath: Constructing The Egyptian Past In Sayyid Al-qimni’s Works”, Liberal Discourse In The Middle East After 1967, Meir Hatina & Christoph Schumann (ed.) (new York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 101-117.

“Liberal Renewal of the Turath: Constructing the Egyptian Past in Sayyid al-Qimni’s Works”, Liberal Discourse in the Middle East After 1967, Meir Hatina & Christoph Schumann (ed.) (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 101-117.




  Arab  Liberal  Thought after  1967 Old Dilemmas, New Perceptions Edited  by zyxwvutsrqponmlkjihgfedcbaZ Meir  Hatina and Christoph Schumann zyxwvutsrqpo palgrave zyxwvutsrqponmlkjihgfedcb macmillan  ARAB  LIBERAL THOUGHT AFTER 1967 Copyright © Meir Hatina and Christoph Schumann, 2015. AH rights reserved. First  published in 2015 by PALGRAVE MACMILLAN® in the United States—a division of St. Martin s Press LLC, 175  Fifth  Avenue, New York, NY 10010. Where this  book  is distributed in the UK, Europe and the rest of the world, this is by Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited, registered in England, company number 785998, of Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire RC21 6XS. Palgrave Macmillan is the global academic imprint of the above companies and has companies and representatives throughout the world. Palgrave® and Macmillan® are registered trademarks in the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe and other countries. ISBN: 978-1-137-55427-7 Library  of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Arab  liberal  thought  after  1967   old dilemmas, new perceptions / edited by Meir Hatina and Christoph Schumann, pages cm Includes bibliographical  references  and index. ISBN  978-1-137-55427-7 (hardback:  alk.  paper) 1.  Liberalism—Arab countries. 2. Arab countries—Politics and government. I. Hatina, Meir, editor. JC574.2.A6A73 2015 320.51089 927—dc23 2015013618 A catalogue record of the  book  is available from the British Library. Design  by Newgen Knowledge Works (P)  Ltd.,  Chennai, India. First  edition: October 2015 10 987654321 zyxwvutsrqponmlkjihgfedcbaZYXWVUTSRQPONMLKJIHGFEDCBA memory  of Christoph  Schumann, colleague  and friend  5 zyxwvutsrqponmlkjihgfedcbaZYXWVUTSR Liberal  Renewal  of  the zyxwvutsrqponmlkjihgfedcba Turath: Constructing  the Egyptian Past in  Sayyid al-Qimni s Works Wael  Abu- Uksa zyxwvutsrqponmlkjihgfedcbaZYX Introduction zyxwvutsrqponmlkjihgfedcbaZYXWVUTSRQP A  prominent shift in the post-1967 Arab intellectual discourse was an inten sive  intellectual preoccupation with the issue of zyxwvutsrqponmlkjihgfedcbaZYXWV turath  (historical heritage) by intellectuals in various secular, non-Islamist political streams. The  theo retical  assumption underlying the majority of  these  works was the need to produce  an "authentic" Arab Islamic foundation for modernity to bypass what had  been  labeled "imported," "superficial," and "Western" ideologies. The  intellectual discourse around  turath  pursued the creation of new frames of  reference for  questions  of legitimacy in Arab  thought,  and it aimed to pro duce  a  genuine  interpretation and understanding of the contemporary era (muasara),  which was perceived as being in  crisis  {'azma). 1 The  rise and  fall  of the modern Marxist critique and the  crisis  of secular thought  at the end of the 1970s led to two contradictory  phenomena  among leftist  intellectuals: a metaphysical turn toward Islamic  heritage  and the beginning of a transition toward liberalism  that  peaked at the end  of  the  Cold War.  The 1970s were the years of the rise of political  Islam.  The collapse of mainstream leftist  thought  (Nasserism) after the 1967 war, the leading role of the conservative  Gulf  oil  states  in Arab regional politics, and the rise of Sadat in  Egypt and  Hafiz  al-Asad in  Syria  led to the decline of the regional  order and its political concepts—"conservative, reactionary" versus "progressive, republican"  camps—that  underpinned the political discourse  of  the pre-1967 era. 2  The Iranian Revolution in 1979 reinforced the rise of  political  Islam. The  major  changes  at the political  level  formed the context of the intel lectual  preoccupation with  turath.  In addition to Arab domestic changes,  10; zyxwvutsrqponmlkjihgfedcbaZYXWVUTSRQPONMLKJIHGFEDCBA WAI I AIM I IIKSA manifested In zyxwvutsrqponmlkjihgfedcbaZYXWVUTSRQPONMLKJIHGFEDCBA the decline of revolutionary epistemology zyxwvutsrqponmlkjihgfedcbaZYXWVUTSRQPONMLKJIHGFEDCBA (thawra)  and the st ol political  Islam,  the late 1970s and early 1980s witnessed a new left ist  critique influenced by the rise of postmodernism (prominently the works  of  Michel  Foucault),  which  aimed to deconstruct the premises of Enlightenment, Eurocentrism, and rationalism. 3  Political Islam  on the one hand and postcolonialism on the  other  succeeded in imposing their  cri tiques on the subject of the authenticity of Arab  thought,  especially during the 1980s and the years after.' 1 The  works in the  field  of  turath  are characterized by totality—as evident in  philosophical projects  that  explored concepts derived from the fields of epistemology, such as Arab and  Islamic  reason.  This  preoccupation yielded the most prominent and comprehensive works in the  field  of  thought  and philosophy in the  Arabic  language in the modern era. Some scholars, such as Muhammad 'Imara, Hasan  Hanafi,  and Mohammed Abed  al-Jabri,  iden tified  with  pan-Arabism and Islamism; others, such as Husayn Muruwwa, Ghali  Shukri,  Tayyib  Tizini,  identified  with Marxism;  while some such as Zaki  Naguib Mahmud, Mohammed Arkoun, and Nasr Hamid Abu  Zayd identified  with  liberalism; all  these  enriched the Arab intellectual  field  with works  that  focused on the issue of  turath  from different ideological perspec tives.  The controversy around  turath  encompassed a variety of  political  top ics,  such as political identity, narratives on national history, ethics, and the status  of religion in the  state. The  focus of the intellectual discourse during and after the 1970s on the subject of  turath  was accompanied by public and institutional attention  that manifested in the organization  of  public  conferences and symposiums in sev eral  Arab countries. 5  Prominent  Marxists  perceived this trend among leftists, former leftists, and liberals as reactionary.  They  saw it as primarily represent ing  the increasing influence of  political  Islam  on secular political discourse and as a manifestation of the  crisis  of the progressive left. Jurj  Tarabishi, for example, commented in 1974 on the joint  statement  of scholars convened at  Kuwait  to discuss the issue of  turath.  This  statement, he argued, represented the  crisis  of progressive intellectuals and  perpetuated "consciousness  of  backwardness." 6  The  renowned  Egyptian leftist  philosopher Fu'ad  Zakariyya  agreed  with  this and emphasized the  link  between intellec tual  discourse and social practice. He contended  that  the  greatest  tragedy of this trend was the popular manifestation  of  this discourse, by  which  scholars were recruited to  protect  the  hijab  (veil),  the growing of beards, and the  adop tion  of  other  "Islamic"  costumes considered part of the expected authentic Nahda  (cultural  revival).  The Arab enlightenment, labeled "secular," found itself  in a defensive position when "secularism"  {'ilmaniyya)  was presented in a  negative light and as a spearhead of cultural imperialism. The preoccupa tion  of secular intellectuals  with  religious texts was, for him, an articulation of  absolute defeat. 7 LIBERAL  RENEWAL OF THE  TURATH  103 The  main rationale of the leftist critique of the 1970s and 1980s was the I  .ii  mption  that  the leftist preoccupation  with  turath  meant embracing a rel- |tl\  ist  attitude  to culture.  This  relativism undermined Enlightenment uni-   salism through the use of definitions of ideas and norms  that  had srcins in  political  Islamic  ideology. The Islamist discourse argued  that  the  Islamic I i  Itage  {turath)  is the authentic heritage  (asala)  for the  umma  (Islamic  com munity);  therefore, any ideology without  roots  within  this framework is no Irss  t  han imported. 8  This  assumption was embraced by many leftists during |nd  .liter the 1970s. 9  In fact,  despite  the leftist critique of the intellectual pre- i  upation  with  turath,  the premise of the significance of  Islamic  heritage in  Arab political  life  became a mainstream concept.  After  the 1970s, secular Hi  inkers became aware of the  claim  that  their political ideology should be grounded in  local  history. An example of this intellectual shift is to be found in  the development of the  thought  of  Tarabishi,  who became deeply  engaged In  turath  conceptualization during the late 1980s  despite  the oft-quoted 1970s i  it  ique from his Marxist phase. 10 During  the 1980s the confines of the Arab  Islamic  definition of  turath underscored the ethnoreligious perceptions among intellectuals identified with  pan-Arabism and Islamism.  Their  cultural critique was based on the Idea  that there  can be no legitimate ideological,  social,  or political construc tion  outside the framework of the Arab  Islamic  heritage. For example, the modern Arab history of the nineteenth and the  first  half  of the twentieth enturies  (termed the  Nahda  by many Arab thinkers) was depicted as the product of a  degenerate  culture  adopted  from the imperial West and  thus •i  failure. 11  One of the prominent philosophers representing this orienta tion  is Mohammed Abed  al-Jabri,  who wrote in 1980  that  liberalism  (libi- rtiliyya)  is equal to "class exploitation, ideological fabrication and imperial hegemony." 12 This  chapter examines the preoccupation  with  turath  from the perspective of  systematic political ideas. We  present  at length  Sayyid  al-Qimni's contribution to  turath  polemics in the context of the conflict between the different ideologies. Presenting his works in the general context of Arab  thought  may reveal  the political division lurking behind the Arab intellectual  debate  in topics such as collective memory, nationalism, democracy, religion, and eth ics.  From  this viewpoint we show how the works of  al-Qimni  regarding the past  and the  present  constitute a comprehensive liberal ideology or world- view  that  was articulated in  Arabic  as  libiraliyya —a  political category  with which  he identified. Sayyid  al-Qimni is a prominent Egyptian scholar who after the 1980s became deeply  engaged  in the Arab intellectual endeavor of redefining the subject of  turath.  Through his works al-Q.imni  sought  to establish an epistemic background for a liberal worldview  that  is intended to fortify the authentic  roots  of  liberal  theory in Egyptian national history.  104 zyxwvutsrqponmlkjihgfedcbaZYXWVUTSRQPONMLKJIHGFEDCBA WAEL  ABU- UKSA zyxwvutsrqponmlkjihgfedcbaZYXWVUTSRQPONMLKJIHGFEDCBA Al-Qimni  was born in 1947; his father was a merchant and an  al-Azhar graduate. He began his intellectual journey as a pan-Arab zyxwvutsrqponmlkjihgfedcbaZYXWVUTSRQPONMLKJIHGFEDCBA (qawmi),  and at the end of the 1980s—particularly after the  Iraqi  invasion of Kuwait—he switched  to  liberalism. 13  From  the mid-1990s  al-Qimni  came to be one of the most prominent spokesmen for Egyptian liberalism, and probably the most critical  of  political  Islam.  His polemical  activity  was not limited to written works  but extended to the popular media as  well.  In this regard, it is worth noting  that  he participated thrice in discussions on one of the most popu lar  TV shows in  Arabic,  al-Itijah  al-mu'akis  (the opposite direction) on al-Jazeera, where he strongly attacked  political  Islam. 14  He wrote his doctoral dissertation under the supervision of  Fu'ad  Zakariyya.  In 1988 he published his  dissertation as a book under the title  Rab al-thawra:  uziris  wa-'aqidat al-khulud fi misr al-qadima  (The god of revolution:  Osiris  and the faith of eternity in ancient  Egypt). Al-Qimni's  works  fall  into  three  main categories: works  that  focus on the ancient history of the region (some of  these  were collected under the title Isra'iliyyat  or "Jewish-Hebraic heritage"); works  that  focus on the establishment of  Islam (which  he collected under the title  Islamiyyat  or  "Islamic works");  and his collection of essays on  daily  topics written for Egyptian newspapers and journals. Extending the Limitations of zyxwvutsrqponmlkjihgfedcbaZYXWVUTSRQPONMLKJIHGFEDCBA Turath: Pluralizing  the Past Diversifying the Present In  his book  al-Ustura  wa'l-turath  (The myth and  turath,  1991)  al-Qimni asserts  that  the vast interest of  Arab  scholars  writing  on the subject of  turath was  a result of the failure  of  the Arab modernity project espoused by progres sive  revolutionary thinkers and regimes. To this general failure, he continues, Arab  secular  thought  failed  to  find  a  firm  social  base  in Arab societies. The prominent cause for this "massive orientation" toward the past he finds in the negative impact of  Israel  on its neighbors. In addition to the open wound to Arab national pride, Israel's ethnoreligious system provided a model for similar  trends in the Arab  milieu. The  "Arab masses,"  al-Qimni explains, feel  a need for a  collective  ideology that  has found its reference in  Islam.  For them ideologized  Islam  becomes "nation and ethnicity," and thus includes all Muslims everywhere. The ideological  logic  that  stood beyond this massive recruitment, he continues, extended the confrontation  with Israel  and turned the  Arab-Israeli  dispute into a  Muslim-Jewish  one—a conflict between "the  best  nation ever raised up for mankind [the  Muslim  people] versus the chosen people [the  Jewish people] ," 15 That  is how  al-Qimni,  who perceives  himself  as a  child  of  the 1967 defeat, 16 understands the Arab nostalgia toward  turath.  Like  many secularists before LIBERAL  RENEWAL OF THE zyxwvutsrqponmlkjihgfedc TUR TH  105 1 11111 ,  especially Marxists,  he considers this intellectual  engagement  the result I  ||  deep  cultural  crisis. This  crisis  led to a sanctifying of the concept of  turath, Which  formed the core of legitimacy in the longed-for Arab  revival.  In this irspect the works of  al-Qimni  constitute a continuous  attempt  to redefine, IXtend,  and challenge the definitions  that  evolved  within  the context of the i  ultural  crisis. He defines the ideological orientation  that  shaped his inter-pretation  of  history as  liberalism, which  he embraced as a  "principle,  ideology ind  model for the salvation" of  Egypt. 17 Following  the spirit of the interwar, liberal-national Egyptian school of Ahmad  Lutfi  al-Sayyid  and  Taha  Husayn,  al-Qimni  embraces liberalism as I  comprehensive ideology. In his case, liberalism not only stands at the core zyxwvutsr ill  his  attitude  toward  political  streams and  social  and religious values, but llto  informs his perception of history and collective memory.  Al-Qimni  con-lends  that  the Arab definition of  turath  should not be limited to the medi eval  Arab  Islamic  heritage, as it had been defined by pan-Arab and  political Islamist  intellectuals. In his perception, the chronological  limits  of  turath should also include the pre-Islamic, pre-Arab history of the eastern side of I  lie  Mediterranean, and its beginning should not be confined to the "the era of  documentation of  Islamic  heritage"  ('asr al-tadwin). is Al-Qimni  refers this critique to al-Jabri's "project"  that  began  with  his book  Nahnu wa'l-turath  (We and  turath,  1980),  and continued through his series  Takwin  al-'aql al-'arabi  (Critique of Arab reason,  2002). 19  Al-Jabri, who came from a pan-Arab background, limited his definition of  turath  to Arab Islamic  history—and, more precisely, to the era of documentation in I  he eighth century. 20  For him this era witnessed the start of the evolution of Arab  reason, or the Arab historical consciousness. These chronological  defi nitions marked the beginning of the construction of what would be defined ,is  turath  or, in al-Jabri's words, the "framework of legitimacy and reference to the Arab aspect of things." 21 Others, such as Mohammed  Arkoun, 22  extended the definition of  turath to "the extensive  Islamic  tradition," 23  so  that  its manifestation could be reflected in myths and oral stories. These motifs played an active part in the formation of the "imaginary"  that  in later  stages  of  Arkoun's  career included I  he monotheist Mediterranean heritage. 24 Al-Qimni,  who writes as an Egyptian rather than as an Arab or a  Muslim, extends further the chronological definitions of  turath.  He asserts  that  pan- Arab  and  Islamist  intellectuals recruit  these  definitions to establish historical memory and  political  identity, a process  that  views  ancient history as foreign or acknowledges it only in negative terms, such as  jahiliyya,  meaning "barbaric era" ruled by tyrants and heretics. 25 For al-Qimni,  the concept of the national memory of  Egypt  as a story  that begins  with  the  Islamic  conquest of Amr ibn  al-Aas  in the seventh century is  completely false. Egypt's history began thousands of years before this, and its  ancient history recorded the  first  kingdom in the history of the  world.