"These two colonial attempts created a state of confusion not only in the Egyptian culture and political development, but also inside the Egyptian
minds," said Al-Dardery, citing British controller-general of Egypt Lord Cromer's establishment of an Egyptian educational system to produce, in Cromer's
words, "de-Muslimized Muslims." Al-Dardery then traced this foreign attempt to secularize Egypt in the writings of Egyptian thinker Taha Hussein, who
"wrote a whole book about ... which direction should Egypt take. Should it take the European direction or the Islamic direction? And in the writings of Taha
Hussein, his vision was Egypt had to go European. It had to do everything the Europeans did in order to be able to create a new renaissance for Egypt."
According to Al-Dardery, Hussein's embrace of European values and development "was not ... welcomed very much by the traditional thinkers and the Islamists at that particular time." But the 1952 military coup and the successive Nasser,
Sadat, and Mubarak regimes prevented Egyptians from providing "a popular answer" to the question of whether Egypt should embrace European secularism or
Thus, Al-Dardery said, the significance of Egypt's 2011 uprising was that it represented the first opportunity for Egyptians to finally answer
collectively, "What is the future of Egypt? Where Egypt should go?" And the Muslim Brotherhood's successive electoral victories have legitimized its
preferred formula, which reconciles "the Islamic tradition with ... Euro-American developments." Al-Dardery traced this approach back to late nineteenth- and
early twentieth-century Islamic thinkers such as Muhammad 'Abduh and Rashid Rida, as well as Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna, who aimed "to take from
Europe the best we could, add it to the best traditions we have, and try to create the third alternative."
It bears emphasizing that this "third alternative" takes "Euro-American developments" - specifically western scientific advances and administrative
procedures, such as electoral politics - but uses them to advance the Brotherhood's "Islamic tradition," which emphasizes
"instituting the sharia" and, thereafter, building a "global Islamic state."
This approach makes it different from, say, traditional Salafists, who until recently largely rejected western advancements as illicit "innovations." But
the Brotherhood's approach ultimately views western values - such as political secularism and pluralism - as imports against which, according to
Al-Dardery, Egyptians have been fighting for 213 years.
This is, of course, not what motivated most of the revolutionaries who bravely took to Tahrir Square two years ago, demanding political freedom and touting their ecumenism. But the Islamist organization that
seized the revolutionaries' initial momentum has been fighting a very different battle for nearly a century, and Washington should note that the
Brotherhood essentially views Egypt's revolution as part of an ongoing struggle against western influence and values. One of the Brotherhood's own spokesmen, after
all, said as much in Washington.
(Katie Kiraly, the author's research assistant, transcribed Al-Dardery's remarks.)