Philosophy, Modernity and Revolution in Egypt

Ahmad Abdel Halim Atiyya

Professor of Philosophy, Cairo University

In the history of Egypt, philosophy and modernity have always gone hand in hand. To analyse the events in the country’s latest revolution in 2011, we must review the rich philosophical tradition that has always accompanied Egyptian revolutions. This is what some contemporary philosophers from different generations do, such as Hassan Hanafi or Mohamed Soffar, who in their reflections address how philosophy can contribute to a successful revolution. According to this line of thought, prevalent in Egyptian tradition, modernity is not possible without communication, dialogue and debate. Here we must introduce the concept of philosophy of dialogue or ethics of dialogue, which constitutes the principle of modernity. This ability to communicate, in the sphere of ethics and politics, is the basis of democracy, which becomes a reality through real civil institutions.

Philosophy and Modernity in Egypt

In Egypt, philosophy and modernity go hand in hand. The beginnings of modernity date back to the time when Egypt encountered Western civilisation, which has contributed to the formation of Egyptian awareness since the era of Muhammad Ali. Ali was greatly interested in establishing and organising the state, whose characteristics had been defined in the West, on civil foundations. He did so by bringing European experts to his country or by sending grant holders to Europe with the aim of creating a modern state and a strong army and founding higher education colleges.

The Egyptian University embraced different European systems and programmes, although the influence of French culture prevailed in law and humanities, particularly philosophy. Most lecturers with a grant to study abroad followed the approaches of French positivism. This led to the anticipated renewal, which took place thanks to the social controversy between traditional and conservative trends and the renewing trends that adopted modern methods. Proof of this is the doctoral thesis by Mahmud Fahmi’s “The Status of Women in the Islamic Legacy”, Taha Hussein’s work “On Pre-Islamic Poetry” or the debate of ideas that both generated at a general level in Egypt.

Taha Hussein, known as “the Dean”, was therefore the first Egyptian Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, and was linked to two lecturers who greatly influenced the Egyptian Renaissance: Ahmad Lutfi el-Sayed, leader of Egyptian liberalism and nicknamed “the Professor of the Generation”, and Mustafa Abdul Raziq, the first lecturer in Islamic philosophy at the Egyptian University and nicknamed “the Great Sheikh”. The former was Rector at the Egyptian University and the latter was Sheikh at Al-Azhar University. Neither of them was indifferent to early 20th century Egyptian politics. Ahmad Lutfi translated the works of Aristotle, in particular, Ethics and Politics. Taha Hussein wrote The System of Mondays, and both were convinced that Greek and in particular Aristotelian philosophy was the cause of the European Renaissance as well as the first Arab Renaissance and, consequently, studying it was the path to progress, development and the new Renaissance.[1] Hence Ahmad Lutfi’s efforts to establish politics, and Mustafa Abdul Raziq’s endeavour to reform Al-Azhar University, both continuing the work of Muhammad Abduh, who was their starting point.

Although there are a few philosophical references in Egyptian publications prior to the foundation of the Egyptian University, they are not aimed at political and social reform

Although there are a few philosophical references in Egyptian publications prior to the foundation of the Egyptian University, they are not aimed at political and social reform. However, after the first year of the Egyptian University in 1929 a generation of philosophers emerged who influenced Egyptian cultural life in an important period of its history, after the 1929 Revolution and the 1923 Constitution. Mustafa Helmy describes this in his prologue to Mahmoud El-Khodeiry’s translation of the Discourse of the Method. After the release of Taha Hussein’s The Future of Culture in Egypt soon after World War II, the renewing trend took hold. Notable among this generation of early philosophy lecturers is Othman Amin, who can be considered the reformist continuation of Mustafa Abdel Raziq and whose doctoral thesis dealt with the pioneer of Egyptian thought, Muhammad Abduh. In the vein of Kant, he wrote Towards Better Universities[2] to reconsider higher education and the function of the university. He defined his philosophical vision with the term “Internalism”. We will later examine his concern with conciliating the socialism of the July 1952 Revolution with “Internalism”.

In the 1940s we find two names from the school of Mustafa Abdel Raziq that established the next direction and graduated from the Egyptian University in 1934. These are Naguib Mahfouz, who was very close to Sheik Mustafa Abdel Raziq and who used the form of the novel to express the social and political history of Egypt, and Tawfiq al-Tawil, considered the pioneer of ethics studies and who participated as a member of national committees created for the country’s renewal.

In the same year that Naguib Mahfouz and Tawfiq al-Tawil graduated, Abdel al-Rahman Badawi enrolled in the university to study philosophy. Badawi would be quite influential in philosophy studies in Egypt and the Arab world. Moreover, he would play a major role in 1940s Egyptian politics and in the drafting of the first Constitution after the 23rd July 1952 Revolution.

The Issue of the Relationship between Philosophy and Revolution in Egypt

After this introduction, in this section we will explore the question recently posed by many about philosophy and revolution: What is the relationship between philosophy and revolution in Egypt? It is a question difficult to answer if we lack knowledge of the historical and social background of the philosophical directions followed by these philosophers at the time of the revolution, so that we can understand and analyse their writings. Did philosophy precede, accompany or follow the revolution? Did philosophy influence, support or explain the revolution?

Did philosophy precede, accompany or follow the revolution? Did philosophy influence, support or explain the revolution?

At first sight, the interpretation we are inclined to is that philosophy is absent from the January Revolution and was not one of its underlying causes. Neither did philosophers participate in the revolution or present theoretical documents about it. In fact, as palpable contributions we only find a seminar organised by the Egyptian Philosophical Society in December 2011 and issue 31 of the journal Awrāq Falsafīya on philosophy and revolution. This issue features contributions from Tunisia, Egypt and Syria, and also from Morocco, Algeria and Lebanon. Nevertheless, these two efforts lead us to a second deeper reading of the relationship between philosophy and revolution. Revolution as an embodiment of raising awareness of justice, oppression, corruption and tyranny, as well as philosophy as a cultural repository that accumulates rejection and resilience.

We are going to analyse these efforts that directly address the relationship between philosophy and revolution. Research on this in Egypt not only requires examination of the 25th January 2015 Revolution but also a reconsideration of Egyptian philosophers’ writings on the 23rd July 1952 Revolution.

Therefore, what is the relationship between philosophy and revolution in the 1950s and 1960s generation?

Philosophy and the July 1952 Revolution

First it should be noted that most philosophical writings on the July Revolution did not appear until the mid-1960s; in other words, over 10 years later. Philosophical writings did not result from the six principles publicised at the outbreak of the revolution but when the National Pact was published, in the form of commentaries. Their objective was to support the revolution and define a philosophical approach coinciding with the text of the Pact. In quite a short period of time, most of those who devoted themselves to philosophy in Egypt – if not all – presented their proposals on the relationship between philosophy and revolution to state “Which Philosophy to Follow,” according to the title of an article by Zaki Naguib Mahmoud. There were some critical approaches to the revolution or some that rejected it, or at least its principles, but they were rare and were only published after the death of Abdel Nasser. In particular, they are found in Abdel al-Rahman Badawi’s criticisms in his autobiography and Fouad Zakariyya’s writings on Abdel Nasser and the Egyptian left, both with clear differences. We will start with the postures advocating and interpreting the revolution, especially those of Yehya Howeidi, Othman Amin, Abdel Fattah al-Didi and Murad Wahba.

Revolution and Neo-realism

Yehya Howeidi is the author of numerous studies on the relationship between the July Revolution and philosophy and the political approaches of the Revolution, such as those of positive neutrality. He wrote about philosophical neutrality and its approach to Africa. He provided examples of political regimes and their leaders, such as Ahmed Sékou Touré, the African revolutionary. He insisted that neo-realism, with everything it entails of religion, ethics and values in its conception of the world and existence, is the philosophy closest to the July Revolution approaches.

Yehya Howeidi insists that “our philosophy is a realistic philosophy” in a work under this title, within his project of placing it in a general framework in which our revolutionary march advances. He argues: “In my view, our revolutionary philosophy is a realistic philosophy. We are realistic revolutionaries in the way we face the problems, define the general direction of the march and our overall vision of existence” (Howeidi, 1965: 14-22; 1990: 218). Howeidi shows great determination in distinguishing between philosophical realism and materialism, because the former does not reject religion or spiritual values, and this is the main difference between realism and materialism.

The Pact offers a framework for our life; philosophy in its original understanding is the science that examines life, its roots, the design of its general framework, and an overall vision of the world

In 1965, Howeidi published a brief treatise entitled Philosophy within the Pact in an attempt to provide the July Revolution with a theoretical foundation. The Pact offers a framework for our life; philosophy in its original understanding is the science that examines life, its roots, the design of its general framework, and an overall vision of the world. The Pact speaks of the Arab experience underlying it. It identifies the role that the Arab man must play to face life and defines him as acting to change the appearance of life. He offers us a theory of freedom and a theory of socialist scientific philosophy, which is a theory of history that recognises its determinism and overlooks man’s influence on events; a theory of class struggle and its final peaceful resolution, and a theory of ethical and spiritual values, which follows our reality but does not reconcile the three monotheist religions and our traditions. Philosophers addressed all these problems in their doctrines and there is almost no one that does not examine them. Howeidi considers that the mission is to establish links between the views of those philosophers and the Pact, with the objective of ensuring that the teaching of philosophy in our universities is not isolated from the new framework of our lives (Howeidi, 1964: 8-9).

Howeidi resumes the theme, for a second time, in an article entitled “The Philosophical Theory in the Pact”. Here he argues that the National Employment Pact offered us a complete philosophical theory with a clear approach. By “theory” he does not understand a complete philosophical doctrine but rather an open doctrine, or an open philosophy, which is not isolated from our social reality. We do not have a philosophical doctrine but rather a vision of philosophy evolving and opening out.

In his study entitled The Philosophy of the Modern State, Howeidi argues that the discourse on the philosophy of the modern state is only meaningful within the framework of socialist philosophy. He only understands the establishment of a modern state in a socialist society. “As for this humanistic, democratic and socialist philosophy underpinning our modern state, we find that it is governed by the principles of the Muslim religion” (Howeidi, 1968). After the defeat of June 1967 he wrote several articles in this vein, such as “Contemporary Philosophy” (Hilāl, July 1967), “The Philosophy of Resistance” (Hilāl, August 1967), and also “Sékou Touré, a Revolutionary from Africa” (Al-fikr al-muʿāṣir, March 1968) in the framework of the African path towards revolution.

In a later stage, Howeidi adopted the ideas of Garaudy, in particular after he converted to Islam, and translated his book Perspectives on Man: Existentialism, Catholic Thought, Marxism (1975) into Arabic, eliminating the part about Marxism. Howeidi wanted to accommodate religion and values in the call that revolution made to socialism.

Revolution and Social Change

Murad Wahba, current President of the Afro-Asian Society of Philosophy, agrees with the forces of the Egyptian left on the link between revolution and social change and that socialism is the path to progress. He believes that the Nasserist experience is the most authentic representation of socialism in the Developing World. In his study The Theory of Revolution Murad Wahba sets out its rationale and insists on the need to find thinkers who explore the revolutionary rationale applied to the 23rd July Revolution, which must follow the socialist direction in terms of social change (Essays, 1971: 283). Wahba deals more with the issue of social change than of individual freedom, a topic advocated by others, such as Abdel Fattah al-Didi. The latter inclines towards Sartre’s position in the critique of dialectic reason, while Wahba is more interested in dialectics, as revealed in an important book he published under the title Philosophical Dialogues in Moscow. Moreover, he offers us other studies in his book Philosophical and Political Essays, a collection of writings from the 1960s. We note the presence of the term “revolution” in all these studies, such as The Revolutionary and the Rebel, Youth and the Modern Revolution or The Theory of the Revolution. There are other studies on the experience of the July Revolution, such as The Hero in Developing Countries, Nasserism and Contemporary Ideologies and The Movement of History.

Wahba argues that: “Human revolutions are signs on the paths that show us the ascendant social forces and where they are,” and he continues: “The new revolution [he refers to the July Revolution] must go hand in hand with socialism as a method to follow rather than as a fossilised doctrine or a rigid belief. If the question of knowing who the hero is in developing countries, in the countries of the new revolutions, the answer is that it is the one who adopts socialism as a method and a path” (Wahba, 1971: 202). We find this idea again in his study on Nasserism and contemporary ideologies. In The Movement of History he argues: “The revolutionary Abdel Nasser advanced with the transformation of the form because he controlled the contents, that is, freedom, and therefore he did not stop at a specific form. The first form of freedom in the 23rd July Revolution is the ‘structure of liberation’ and meant in fact that freedom is not exclusive to army officers but also to the masses. His slogan was: ‘We are all members of the structure of liberation’” (Wahba, 1971: 268).

Wahba argues that: “Human revolutions are signs on the paths that show us the ascendant social forces and where they are”

This issue must be discussed because the March 1954 rejection of democracy denies the existence of freedom in the organisations of the revolution. Murad Wahba extols the July Revolution and corroborates its socialism, because he considers it one of the revolutions of the Developing World. The hero in the Developing World is the socialist revolutionary and his model is Abdel Nasser, who offered us a socialist revolution. The former Advisor to Abdel Nasser has recently established an innovative parallelism between al-Sisi’s experience and Nasserism.[3]

Existential Freedom and Socialism

The dialogue and debate on the revolution and its socialist approaches continued to be the pivot of the interests of writers who agree on the need for a socialist approach despite diverging in its concept and interpretation. In most of them we see the need for opening up to spiritual and moral values and to religion. In others, we see that they state the need for respect for individual freedom. The second option is in keeping with Sartre’s view in his book Critique of Dialectic Reason, which transformed existentialism from a party opposed to socialism to another that perfects it. Everything is revealed in the work by Abdel Fattah al-Didi Contemporary Philosophical Trends.

Al-Didi takes as a starting point the idea of choosing one of the philosophical doctrines to express the revolution. Thus, he states: “We feel an intense desire to cut off a branch of philosophy to make it a living model of thought and a clear example for the Arab masses who are moving towards a new world of their own. Undoubtedly, all of us want to see a kind of philosophy that goes through the minds of men and makes them understand with the objective of becoming aware of, believing in and coinciding with the contents of life. This is what those of us who devote ourselves to philosophy aspire to” (Al-Didi, 1981: 212).

Al-Didi’s analyses show the philosophers’ concern with finding a philosophical doctrine in keeping with the Egyptians’ aspirations and with their hopes of revolutions. Moreover, he emphasises that there are many demands among logical positivists, in particular, Zaki Naguib Mahmoud and the articles he wrote in the first issues of the Journal of Contemporary Thought. These demands later appeared in his work On Our Mental Life. They also appeared in those philosophers who adopted Marxism, such as Mahmoud Amin al-Alem in his articles compiled in his work Intellectual Battles. For this reason, al-Didi expresses his disagreement with those who adopt dialectic materialism and logical positivism. He believes that “both represent a current opposed to philosophy in its true scientific foundations” (Al-Didi, 1981: 313). On the contrary, he thinks that existentialism is the new socialist philosophy, and he refers to the philosophy of Sartre, who did not oppose communism but rather made it a part of the construction of socialist existentialism, as he set out in his book Critique of Dialectic Reason. On several occasions he insists on this aspect: “Socialist existentialism has completely refuted communism. Existentialism is what best represents internationalist socialisms” (Al-Didi, 1981: 315). Al-Didi thus returns to Sartre, who could have made communism one of the gates of the theory of socialism by integrating it into a general theory. He says: “When our revolution comes closer to the realities of the contemporary socialist situation, we will see that the most modern theories that need closeness, mobilisation and integration in the national contents are those that come from Sartre’s humanistic meaning” (Al-Didi, 1981: 316).[4]

Internalism, the Spirit of Arab Socialism

Othman Amin alters his discourse on socialism towards the discourse on Arab socialism and devotes to it one of the chapters of his philosophical interpretation, which he calls “Internalism” and which is the effort to offer an idealising vision of the universe and existence. Amin enumerates ten philosophical principles that define this socialist approach.

In his “Internalism”, Othman Amin follows the steps of his master, Sheik Abdel Raziq, who follows the current of Muhammad Abduh’s reformist approach. Amin published a study that had been his doctoral thesis on Muhammad Abduh, “the pioneer of Egyptian thought.” For this reason, his interpretation of socialism is based on the spirit of the reformist direction and on Islam. He argues: “Arab socialism is a spiritual and rational socialism, whose law is love. Its constitution is reason and freedom, and its objective, social justice. Who has doubts about socialism in Islam? The Koran calls us to it and numerous hadiths encourage us to go towards it” (Amin, 1994: 245).

Othman Amin adopts a different starting point from that of his predecessors. What we have previously said about them shows that they aspire to argue that no philosophical doctrine agrees with the revolution, whether it is adopted by a pragmatist philosophy, dialectic materialism, neo-realism or existentialism. Othman Amin, the creator of internalist idealism, finds in the revolution of its leader Gamal Abdel Nasser an internalist revolution and in Abdel Nasser an internalist leader (Amin, 1994: 244). Internalism consists of reproducing philosophical idealism in particular, as manifested in Descartes, Kant and Fichte. Amin devoted one of the chapters of his work, which deals with philosophical certainty, to set out the relationship between socialism and philosophy. This chapter is entitled “Internalism, the Spirit of Arab Socialism”. It starts with some quotations from Gamal Abdel Nasser’s speeches emphasising the importance of thought: “Half the path corresponds to what thinkers do by explaining the concepts of the revolution and society that we are going to build.” Amin introduces ten philosophical principles that define the spirit of Arab socialism, which is characterised by eliminating “classism”; that is, eliminating the social differences that divide the members of society between rich and poor, fortunate and dispossessed, considering all of them as citizens of the same nation. Another of its features is that it achieves cohesion between interests, instead of the conflict of egoisms and self-respect.

Othman Amin insists on social justice and rejects the proletariat’s dictatorship, as well as class struggle. He insists on distributive justice, on freedom, and on the role of religion in socialism. He seeks to find the perfect harmony between freedom and cooperation, between collective wealth and equality of individual income, between ethics and culture, between justice and joy (Amin, 1994: 244).

Support for Socialist Critical Rationalism and Rejection of Nasserism

Faced with the previous approaches that sought to link philosophy with revolution and chose an important philosophy to found the revolution, beyond the philosophy of neo-realism, existentialism, Marxism or internalist realism, now we find a philosophical approach characterised by its critical meaning. It is Fouad Zakariyya’s approach, which he called “critical rationalism”. His support for socialism implies a severe criticism of Nasserism.

We are going to devote this section to explaining Fouad Zakariyya’s position in terms of the Egyptian Revolution, the 1952 Revolution and, more specifically, the Nasserist experience based on what he wrote about Abdel Nasser and the Egyptian left. There are more writings that reveal his firm socialist conviction, which we find deep within his books. We are referring, in particular, to his work The Intellectual Aspects of the Different Social Systems.

Zakariyya wrote an extensive article in which he discusses Abdel Nasser’s relationship with the Egyptian left. We can summarise his posture by stating that the Egyptian left made a mistake by deifying Abdel Nasser, allying itself with him unconditionally and placing itself at his service, overlooking his errors. Abdel Nasser did not put his authority at the service of socialism but rather socialism at the service of his authority.

Amin introduces ten philosophical principles that define the spirit of Arab socialism, which is characterised by eliminating “classism”; that is, eliminating the social differences that divide the members of society between rich and poor

In Zakariyya’s view, Abdel Nasser’s errors focused on the method of application of socialism itself. Nasser’s socialist experience did not always place popular classes at the centre of interest when he adopted measures. It is clear that class differences did not disappear with the Nasserist experience. Fouad is also critical of Nasser’s external politics and argues that he overlooked domestic politics, which had it been strong it would have easily overcome the obstacles facing it, particularly during the second half of the Nasserist experience (Zakariyya: 26-27).

Fouad Zakariyya believes that true socialism is primarily an impulse of the human condition and therefore complains: “What I cannot imagine of any experience that describes itself as socialist is that it despises man and wants to humiliate him.” He also states: “Any revolution that oppresses all to the benefit of a single prevailing class can be called whatever its advocators and followers wish, other than socialist.” The Nasserist experience contained the ingredients of oppression, largely exceeding those legal provisions that are necessary to protect the revolution itself. The Egyptian man emerged from this experience changed in substance, radically different from what he was before. This internal destruction of the soul and mind of the Egyptian man is, according to Zakariyya, the most negative aspect of the Nasserist experience.

The Nasserist experience created a negative image of socialism in people’s eyes. Mistakes were made in the relationship with the Egyptian people that go further than those unintentional mistakes a revolutionary regime makes in its effort to suddenly change situations (Zakaryya: 44).

According to Fouad Zakaryya, this regional socialism completed most of the formal structures of any socialist experience: liquidation of feudalism and the capitalism underway, first with Egyptianisation and later with nationalisation, as well as the creation of a strong and broad public sector. Everything required by socialism existed except one thing: the spirit of socialism, its core, its essence, the essence which the Egyptian people lacked.

Despite the abundant criticism of the Nasserist experience by the right, Fouad Zakaryya’s critical and rational analysis awoke great interest in the Egyptian left, which in its turn provided answers and offered analyses of what the philosopher had written. He produced many writings on the urgent issues that shook the Egyptian political arena, in particular criticising the religious current that began to dominate the scene in Sadat’s time. He did so in his books The Islamic Movement between Reality and Fantasy and The Islamic Awakening in the Balance of Reason. In another work, Arabs and the American Model, he criticised political submission in the United States. What best characterised his stance was his insistence on socialism while criticising the Nasserist experience, which destroyed the dignity of the Egyptian man and his freedom, leaving socialism without its human nature. Zakaryya’s criticism of Nasserism is different from that of Abdel al-Rahman Badawi, who attacked him for his socialism. It is a distinct stance to those we have introduced.

Rejection of Socialism and Nasserism

We devote this section to a totally individual stance. The person who adopted it at the beginning was inspired by the writings of the men of the revolution and contributed to the direction of the events but later distanced himself from it, especially after the socialist measures, and he rejected revolution and its socialist approaches. The most important thing is that it meant a turn against Nasserism. It is the stance of Abdel al-Rahman Badawi, which differs from the previously mentioned authors in terms of his political activity. Indeed, Badawi had joined the Egypt Youth Party before the revolution and had influenced its leaders with his ideas.

Badawi wrote about himself: “He participated in national politics and was a member of the Egypt Youth Party from 1938 to 1940. Later he was a member of the national committee of the New National Party from 1944 to 1952 and in January 1953 he was elected member of the drafting committee of the new Egyptian Constitution. This committee encompassed the quintessence of the country’s politicians, thinkers and jurists, and contributed in particular to establishing the chapters related to liberties and duties. The committee completed the drafting in August 1954, but the revolutionaries did not take the report into account. In its place, they approved the 1956 Constitution, which suppressed the liberties and backed the repression that was established some years later.

Badawi sets Nazism against democracy and exalts the former to the detriment of the latter. He argues that the portrayal of Hitler provided by the Jewish democratic press does not match the reality

Badawi was, therefore, a political man, who reported the revolutionaries who supported the repression and whose main concerns were liberties and healthy democratic government. He adopted a fluctuating posture in relation to the Revolution, and his writings had some influence on Ahmed Abdel Aziz, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat. He collaborated with the revolution in the early years, until the arrival of the nationalisation decrees and the so-called socialist decrees. Finally, his posture became open enmity against the Revolution and, more precisely, against Abdel Nasser.

Badawi speaks in detail about his membership of the Egypt Youth Party in February 1938. The author had closely experienced Nazism, both in practice and its theoretical foundations, during his first trip to Europe, especially Munich, in July 1937. Badawi sets Nazism against democracy and exalts the former to the detriment of the latter. He argues that the portrayal of Hitler provided by the Jewish democratic press does not match the reality (Badawi, 2000, 1: 46-47).

His negative position on freedom appeared in a series of writings he published under the title The Philosophy of Political Principles on Fascism and Nazism. These writings are a translation and reveal Badawi’s own posture, who translated them hoping that the Egyptian people would reflect on them and reach a reasonable understanding (Badawi, 2000, 1: 24). In that period he was against democracy, as reflected by his writings on leadership. Badawi considers Nazism as the best form of government (Badawi, 2000, 1: 25).

The final stance of Badawi with respect to freedom and democracy is clear in what he wrote in the final part of the first volume of his autobiography in relation to his activity within the drafting committee of the Constitution, which he accepted along with his appointment as Cultural Advisor of Egypt in Switzerland. Moreover, it is worth noting his posture on the revolution, which was an important source of inspiration for the men who undertook it.

As a member of the drafting committee of the Constitution, Badawi formed part of the Sub-Committee on Rights and Duties, and on Electoral Affairs. He provides us with extremely important details about his work in the Sub-Committee on Rights and Duties. He tells us that the best document we can cite to set out the liberties and rights in the Egyptian Constitution is the project adopted by the French National Constituent Assembly on 19th April 1946. It contains a ratification of public liberties that is more extensive than the constitution approved in referendum in October that same year.

Badawi moved from the Sub-Committee on Rights and Duties and the Sub-Committee on Electoral Affairs to the sub-committee in charge of organising the structures of power, although he was not a member of the latter but wished to participate giving his opinion on this in Egypt, after the Committee adopted the Republican regime for the country. He explains his posture on the question posed in March 1954 about whether the regime in Egypt should be parliamentary or presidential; the majority preferred the parliamentary regime but Badawi did not (Badawi, 2000, 1: 35). However, he himself explains that after Abdel Nasser’s rise to power he inclined towards the parliamentary rather than presidential regime (Badawi 2000, 1: 37). Thus, he states: “Abdel Nasser and the Egyptian Revolutionary Command Council brought their spurious and despotic Constitution, proclaimed in January 1956, and completely rescinded all rights and liberties and in their place caused the oppression of the Egyptian people” (Badawi 2000, 1: 338).

In the second volume of his autobiography he expands on his criticism of Abdel Nasser. This is clearly revealed when, in relation to the “shame of defeat”, he writes: “With his habitual rashness and thoughtless impulsiveness, and his lack of foresight of the consequences, Abdel Nasser gave Israel the opportunity to attack Egypt.” In his writing entitled “Feeling of Shame and Ignominy”, we also read: “I lost all hope in Egypt: a despotic, authoritarian and bold ruler, a people without understanding and will, submissive to any oppressive tyrant” (Badawi, 2000, 1: 95).

Under the title “The Nightmare Vanished” he wrote: “On 28th September 1970 a terrible nightmare vanished from the heart of Egypt, a nightmare that had tortured it for 18 years, during which the Egyptian people suffered the worst tortures, endured profound humiliations and were sunk in the most terrible defeats; that day Abdel Nasser died” (Badawi 2000, 1: 237).

In short, we will say that the philosophical positions with respect to the July Revolution have been clear and are limited to two demands. The first insists on the socialist approaches of the revolution that tend to fulfil social justice. This demand constitutes the direction towards modernity pursued by Egypt and the July Revolution, together with the eagerness of many, at the same time, to open up to religion and ethical values. In this period, many writings appeared on socialism in Islam, or on Islam and socialism.

The second demand explicitly affirmed the need for individual freedom. We find it at the beginning of Abdel Fattah al-Didi’s research on the philosophy of the revolution, and in Badawi’s criticism and assessment of the revolution, either linking Abdel Nasser with the revolution without a reference to the military component or emphasising the role of this component in the development of the revolution. There is no clear perception of the contradiction between the military organisation of the revolution and the demand for individual freedom, or the fundamental contradiction between the military and the religious, between revolution and the Muslim Brotherhood. Hassan Hanafi, who witnessed the 1952 July Revolution and the 2011 January Revolution, has insisted on this aspect. We will explore it in the following paragraphs:

The 25th January 2011 Revolution and Philosophy

If now we leave the different philosophical stances on the July Revolution, whether favourable and seeking a philosophical foundation for the revolution or critical, and we move to the stance of philosophers on the 2011 January Revolution, or more specifically the role played by philosophy, we realise that the Egyptian revolutionary scene in Tahrir Square did not expect philosophy to provide new principles for the revolution.

It is true that some living philosophers have reflected on the Tunisian Revolution. The Frenchman Alain Badiau sees in it popular protests for freedom and the Italian Toni Negri states that it is a revolution for socialist democracy. However, we need a longer perspective to show the philosophical position in relation to it. The January 2012 issue of Awrāq Falsafīya on the January 2011 Revolution featured many contributions from different Arab countries but here we will consider the Egyptian contributions, notably those by Hasdan Hanafi and Mohamed Soffar.

First Generation: Hassan Hanafi, Religion and Philosophy, Revolutionary Creativity

In order to understand Hassan Hanafi’s position on the relationship between philosophy and revolution, we must first outline the key aspects of his philosophy. Our introduction will be an annotation repeated in his two autobiographies whose importance lies in the fact that it defines his philosophical approach since the period of his university studies in Egypt and his postgraduate studies in Paris. This approach is based on his yearning to study the Islamic method in general, whose foundations he established in his two doctoral theses. After his return to Cairo in 1966, he continued his research on what he called the “Legacy and Renewal Project”.

Hanafi divides this project into three sections that he calls “fronts”. The first is “the position with respect to the ancient legacy” in search of a new reading of Islamic sciences in light of the questions of the time. This section begins with the study of the Sciences of Religion Foundations and is entitled “From Belief to Religion”.

What immediately calls our attention is the presence of the word “revolution” in the main title of the first section of his scientific project. Revolution also appears as the main title in his cultural promotional works aimed at non-specialists, as well as in the eight volumes published under the title Religion and Revolution in Egypt. Everything reveals that Hanafi is concerned with the cause of the revolution and, more specifically, with the cause of belief and religion, or of religion and revolution, as we can see in his work.

In an initial autobiographical essay, justifying its inclusion in the volume Islamic Fundamentalism,we read: “I believe that this autobiography that I wrote as a preamble to the theoretical manifesto Legacy and Renewal identifies our position with respect to the ancient legacy. Legacy and Renewal, published in 1980, was an attempt to reconstruct the sciences of the ancients, the Science of Religion Foundations, as a first theoretical introduction to the work From Belief to Revolution, published in 1988 […]. In my view, it is close to the study of Muslim fundamentalism that narrates the conflict between the Muslim Brotherhood and the revolution over 30 years. My autobiography deals with the same issue; at an individual level, I form part of Islamic fundamentalism in its interaction with the Egyptian Revolution” (Hanafi, 1988b: 207-208).

Hassan Hanafi not only speaks of the Muslim Brotherhood, the revolution or fundamentalism, but also bases his analyses on his individual belonging to fundamentalism. The objective he defines, advocates and calls for is the Muslim Brotherhood’s reconciliation with revolution. This is clearly seen in his second autobiographical essay, within his work Concerns with Thought and with Nation, in which he explains his relation with both and argues: “The Egyptian Revolution broke out in July, the king was expelled and the Republic was proclaimed. This is how the dream of a time ‒ to end monarchy and corruption of political parties ‒ became a reality […]. That same summer I went to the Bāb al-Shaʿrīya district of the Muslim Brotherhood, and with other companions from secondary school we joined the Muslim Brotherhood, we, who were the revolutionaries. Thus, I joined the Muslim Brotherhood the same year the Revolution broke out. Before us we only had the Muslim Brotherhood organisation, and we were the followers of the Brotherhood […]. Our alliance with the Brotherhood lasted for the first two years of the Revolution. The group was not dissolved. The alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood came apart after the 1954 evacuation agreement, known as the ‘March crisis’. I experienced the conflict between the two laws, the religious law and the Revolutionary law. I tried later to advocate this alliance in The Islamic Right and in From Belief to Revolution, to found the religion of liberation in reform” (Hanafi, 1998b: 613-614).

Later he adds an explanation of his demand, or what he calls “the great mission”, which is the reconciliation between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Revolution, between religion and progress. This happened after the nationalisation of the Suez Canal and the transformation of Abdel Nasser into a national hero, the symbol of liberation in the Developing World (Hanafi, 1998b: 618-619).

Hanafi had written several articles on this subject in the opinion column of the newspaper Al-Ǧumhūrīya (The Republic), in which he wonders: “What has the world lost by condemning the Muslim Brotherhood? What has the world gained from the Brotherhood? How can the Brotherhood’s thought be transformed?” (Hanafi, 1998b: 645). The relationship between the Revolution and the Muslim Brotherhood is the pivot of Hassan Hanafi’s work and he places the foundation of Legacy and Revolution within his scientific project. We clearly see it in his work From Belief to Revolution. In light of the aforementioned notes made by Hanafi himself in his two autobiographies, we can understand the conflict underway in Egypt between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military.

Reconciliation is, therefore, Hanafi’s objective. Reconciliation is a demand that distinguishes itself from reform, which is a theoretical concept. Reconciliation is a practical and pragmatic issue which until now has not been introduced and, therefore, is a factor of conflict and political deconstruction. Its absence fed the confrontation between the Muslim Brotherhood and the transitional military authority holding power.

Hanafi argues that the Egyptian Revolution, after the Tunisian Revolution, has shown that awareness can be reinvented, whether individually or collectively, at elite or popular level, overcoming not only the known revolutionary models – French, Bolshevik, Latin American, Chinese, Turkish, Eastern European – but the model that this very revolution had followed for over half a century. Hanafi argues that, like art, thought and science, revolution is creativity. For him, creativity is mainly characterised by being a sudden, unexpected, innovative and original intuition.

On 28th September 1970 a terrible nightmare vanished from the heart of Egypt, a nightmare that had tortured it for 18 years, during which the Egyptian people suffered the worst tortures, endured profound humiliations and were sunk in the most terrible defeats; that day Abdel Nasser died

Hanafi also defines revolutionary creativity as collective, spontaneous, peaceful and altruistic. It is a concept that renounces individualism in favour of the community thanks to the determination of those who first made it explode on the Internet.

The programme of the revolution was spontaneous. It sought to free the citizen from oppression, to bring the police departments and the state of emergency law, summary trials and military courts to account; provide citizens with their basic needs, such as bread, housing, healthcare, education, freeing them from poverty, humiliation and weakness.

Revolutionary creativity emerged through the peaceful path of the revolution. Revolutionary creativity also appeared in the names and weeks of the Revolution: “Friday of Anger”, “Friday of Departure” (Mubarak’s), “Week of Challenge” or “Week of Resistance”. They all express the determination, perseverance and rejection of provisional solutions, which sought to surround the revolution, besiege and end it, but also to take revenge on it.

Hanafi addresses the challenges of the Revolution in the second section of his study. Revolutionary creativity is the revolution in positive; the challenges to the Revolution are the revolution in negative and designate its dangers, difficulties, prohibitions and risks. If revolutionary creativity is a step forward, challenges are a step backwards. All revolutions have yielded counterrevolutions. A revolution is motion and advancement. It contains internal contradictions, it is centrifugal and centripetal, it is action and reaction. The most notable challenges can come from the contradiction between revolution and the army. The army evolves from being the protector of the revolution to its enemy. The military’s greed for power, known in the history of revolutions since Napoleon, is another challenge. Contradictions also emerge among revolutionaries themselves. With time, the revolutionary ardour cools.

In the third section Hanafi considers Arab revolutionary unity, which is represented, in its turn, by the unity of the slogans. One of them, “The people want the fall of the regime”, spread like fire in a straw loft in all the regional revolutions with some adaptations to each case. There is only one demand: change the regime after the constitutional institutions have degenerated into a mere formality and have become artificial.

Finally, in the fourth section, Hanafi deals with the counterrevolution. He believes that it is not enough to anticipate the challenges of the revolution but it is also necessary to warn of the dangers of the counterrevolution. The counterrevolution emerges from the folds of the revolution and is constructed within it. The old regime was caught off guard. It was believed to be safe; in its hands it held the security of the state, the police, the party, the power and the money. But the body began to move swept along by the euphoria of the victory and the continuous achievements of revolutionary demands. Then the old regime recovered its consciousness after the shock. The holder of power, money and state security would not go away so easily.

Mohamed Soffar: The Revolutionary Scenario and the Anthology of the Present

Mohamed Soffar, Lecturer in Political Sciences at Cairo University and profoundly linked to philosophy, deals with the issue of the relationship between philosophy and revolution through a reading of Averroes’ comment on Plato’s The Republic. He describes the revolutionary drama experienced by Egypt over 18 days, whose events never cease to surprise the world. He wonders about the role of philosophy in the revolution and strives to place the idea of the revolution in the traditions of political philosophy.

From the outset, Soffar places along a single line the different postures to the idea of revolution in philosophical traditions. At opposite ends of the line we find Aristotle’s stances, contrary to the revolution, and Marx’s, who embraces it. In the middle there is the posture of the German philosopher Emmanuel Kant, which he will use as a tool of analysis to answer the questions he puts forward and to delimitate the role of philosophy in a given period, after the revolutionary drama in Egypt. To this end, he distinguishes between the intermediate Kantian posture and its application in the Egyptian reality, based on Michel Foucault’s reading of the Kantian concept of revolution.

Soffar insists on the question that Foucault considers appears for the first time in this Kantian text and that reads: “What is happening today? What is happening now?” He justifies this by arguing that the issue posed by this study, drawing on Kant’s research on the ontology of the present that deals with answering the question “what is the revolution?”, is an attempt to reacquire the present moment inherent to us, to create the appropriate place and the expression of the meaning and definition of the suitable model of movement, in that instant, which we consider part of it, us, here and now.  

He believes that the use of Kant’s concept “the revolution as drama”, as an analytical unit to understand the nature of the current moment, is the opportunity to speak of the role of philosophy in the revolution today. By shedding light on the revolutionary scene in Egypt, through the Kantian concept of revolution, Soffar sees a collective agent of a new kind, which has nothing to do with the common units of analysis such as the tribal spirit, the association, social class or social network. This collective agent can define an objective that attacks sections of diverse social formations but later does not progress because it lacks organisation and an understandable idea or an ideology.

Consequently, the revolution as a drama needs a profound change and to expand the area of this change, and places what happens closer to popular uprising than to a true revolution. Although philosophy did not play a role by inciting or maintaining the revolution, this challenge faced by the revolution is for philosophy an opportunity to carry out the historical mission of the revolutionary forces.

In other words: as philosophy did not play a vanguard role and was absent in the revolutionary drama, it can, because of the challenge being faced by the revolutionary forces and because of its intellectual capacity to confront this challenge, play the role of rearguard and be present in the revolutionary scene. Thus, the role of philosophy, for Soffar, consists of making the second revolution, that is, the true one.

Soffar speaks extensively about the role of philosophy as a rearguard in the revolution as drama and believes that for philosophy to make the movement of the rearguard fulfil its mission of deepening and enlarging revolutionary change at the level of the relationship between the drama of the event and the event itself, it is necessary to return to Averroes’ summary of Plato’s The Republic. We are now facing the same challenge as Averroes; that is, to benefit from the movement of the events heading towards change with the objective of carrying out a scientific-political project that fills the intellectual gap and makes the revolutionary forces emerge from their present impasse. The “reading of the reading” takes place because of the pressure on the areas of tension, within Averroes’ project, with the aim of resilience rather than sacralisation.

Hassan Hanafi not only speaks of the Muslim Brotherhood, the revolution or fundamentalism, but also bases his analyses on his individual belonging to fundamentalism

Soffar takes the idea of philosophy as a rearguard from Michel Foucault. It is an attempt to retain some status for philosophy after the outbreak of the first revolution, without the least contribution by philosophy, but the fact that the youth elements free themselves from their revolutionary task is, as he says, an overcoming of polarisation, dualisms and the almost holy patterns into whose traps philosophy let society fall. In this way it contributed, on purpose or not, to maintaining a highly conservative role that matched the interests of the governing elite in the past.

Soffar believes that, unfortunately, the resilience of philosophy in the first revolution has been repeated in the second revolution, and not only this, but philosophy continues to be incapable of making the revolutionary forces and the political system as a whole emerge from our current impasse.

The role of philosophy, as the events of the first revolution and those of the second confirm, consists of being behind, not in front, and this should not awaken desperation in us or make us feel betrayed.

Philosophy must overcome the stranglehold of mere philosophical history and marginal commentary, or imaginary combats with whoever, with the objective of reaching the inner truth and enough greatness for the revolutionary movement that we are experiencing, and this, specifically, is the meeting between the world chronology and modern human existence, with the aim of amending what makes up our historical existence: us, here, now.

By Way of Conclusion

At the beginning of this article we addressed the relationship between philosophy and modernity to analyse the writings published in Egypt on philosophy and religion. In our view, the revolution confirms the principles of modernity that humankind wished to make a reality throughout history. Rationalism, progress, science, the Enlightenment, humankind, freedom, democracy and human society were the object of philosophical thought. Revolution is, in general, the embodiment of the ideals of the philosophy of modernity.

Soffar describes the revolutionary drama experienced by Egypt over 18 days, whose events never cease to surprise the world

Let us examine philosophical modernity, as set out by communicative critical rationalism, which insists on the possibility of making the values of modernity a reality and adding a very important dimension; that is, the communicative character that it receives from the extensive development of contemporary philosophy and which derives from the so-called linguistic turn. At present, language is the common thread of most of today’s philosophies, which have ratified the concept of communication between individuals and the elite in societies. Modernity without communication, dialogue and debate is not possible. Here we must introduce the concept of philosophy of dialogue or of ethics of dialogue, and the ethics of dialogue is the principle of modernity.

Only if we use the philosophical research of Jürgen Habermas and Carl Otto Appel, as well as their disciples in Europe and in the United States, will we realise that communication, in the sphere of ethics and politics, is the basis of democracy, which becomes a reality through true civil institutions. Here we reach the ethical and political essence of the relationship between philosophy and revolution, and modernity is the bridge of communication between them. Based on philosophy and communication it is possible to develop the discourse on modernity and revolution.


[1] The early scientific missions for humanity studies went to France. First, Mansur Fahmi and Taha Hussein travelled to this country and later the new generations, Mahmud Qasim and Mohammad Elsayyed Badawi. Their scientific training took place within French positivism and they translated into Arabic the main works of the leading figures of this school. Moreover, most lecturers at Egyptian universities were French.

[2] Murad Wahba, The Path of a Thought (Masār fikr), Cairo, al-Hay’a al-miṣrīya al-ʻāmma li-l-kitāb, 2014.

[3] Hassan Hanafi, “The Revolutionary Creation”, Awrāq Falsafīya, 31, 2012, pp. 83-95.

[4] Mohamed Soffar, “Philosophy and Revolution”, Awrāq Falsafïya, 31, 2012, pp. 32-83.