The Ideals and Interests in Intellectuals’ Political Deliberations The Arab Spring and the Divergent Paths of Egypt’s Shaykh al-Azhar Ahmad al-Tayyib and Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa

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Muhammad Amasha


Sociology of intellectuals, cultural sociology, Islam and politics, Arab Spring, Egypt, Ulama, al-Azhar


The academic literature equates the Arab Spring politics of Egypt’s two highest official religious figures – the Shaykh al-Azhar Ahmad al-Tayyib and Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa—as “anti-revolutionary.” This article argues that al-Tayyib and Gomaa’s politics are fundamentally different. While Gomaa’s politics are submissive to the state, al-Tayyib’s politics are a negotation without confrontation. I explain the former by Gomaa’s struggle for religious authority either by seeking official positions or obstructing the revealing of information harmful to his religious legitimacy. The statist legitimacy threat against Gomaa is central to understanding his politics. Defending al-Azhar, on the other hand, is what explains al-Tayyib’s fluctuating politics. Theoretically, I advocate that explaining intellectuals’ politics requires focusing on their political deliberation. Only with a methodologically rigorous reconstruction of the intellectuals’ political deliberation and its context, can we decide the relative relevance of factors like ideals, interests, and structures (e.g., the state). I establish this with more than a thousand chronologically ordered primary sources and twenty interviews with people in Gomaa and al-Tayyib’s circles.

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45 The post is no longer available online and I obtained this information from an interviewee who saw the post and was so close to these circles. What confirms this, however, is a post on Gomaa’s official page that asked people not to believe that student.
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Ali Al-Jifri,” August 19, 2011,
91 Dr Ali Gomaa, “Yanfi.”
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108 Luiz Sanchez, “Free Egyptians Party Support Al-Azhar Defence Front,” Daily News Egypt, January 22, 2013,
109 Egyptian Constitution, 2012,
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111 BBC, “Al-Azhar Yansahib min Lajnat Wadʾ al-Dustur al-Misri,” March 29, 2012,
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114 Luʾay ʿAli, “‘Al-Azhar’ Yarudd ʿala ‘Safwat Hijazi’: Allahum La Tuʾakhidhna Bi-Ma
Faʿal al-Sufahaʾ Minna.. Wa-Yasifuh Bi-”Mutamassih Bi-l-Thawra Wa-Mutallawin”..
Wa-Yushaddid ʿala Wujub al-Tasaddi Li-Man Yastakhdim al-ʿUnf Fi al-Muʿarada..
Wa-l-Azhar Awwal Man Qal an Dahaya al-Thawra Shuhadaʾ,” Youm7, June 23,
2013,; Sada Elbalad, “Safwat Hijazi: Shaykh al-Azhar Huwa
Min Aham Aʿdaʾ al-Thawra,” YouTube, June 25, 2013,
115 Al-Araby, “‘Tasrib Fidyu Ibahi’… Hall Yuʿaqib al-Nizam al-Misri Khaled Youssef?,”
January 15, 2019,
116 Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death (Harvard University Press, 1982).