Cosmopolitans in Egypt’s Uprising
A young woman from Utah State University called me last week to discuss a paper she is writing on the Egyptian uprising. She was struck by how many of the people engaged in the uprisings were cosmopolitans, in the restricted sense of the term I use in my book: affluent, educated, well-traveled people whose management of global cultural styles maintains and justifies their class positions. Blogger/activist Wael Ghoneim seems to fit right in with the people described in my book, as does Gigi Ibrahim, recently seen on The Daily Show:
But I warned her to be aware that the youth movements that planned the uprisings and served as a core of its inspiration involved at least two other kinds of cosmopolitans. Cosmopolitanism “involves the capacity to manage the coexistence and juxtaposition of different cultures and to make this capacity part of one’s identity” (p. 11) and there are other cosmopolitan orientations than those described in the book.
The first is that large class of educated, globally sophisticated non-affluent people under thirty. These are the folks with working parents who struggled for years to score high on the national examinations, master foreign languages, and get college educations only to find that Egypt’s version of liberal economic reform has left them shut out. They are unemployed, or underemployed. Not only can they not find work commensurate with their education, many can’t find work of any kind.
The second is the “new Muslim Brotherhood youth” that I have previously blogged about here and which Marc Lynch (2007) has called “young brothers in cyberspace“. These are well-educated, moderately affluent Islamists who see in Islam a relevant and powerful tool for bettering the world’s situation. Globally-oriented, they look to different models of the relationship between Islam and politics than the previous generation, and seek to “put Islam to work” (Starrett 1998), especially in new public spaces not yet dominated by the older religious authorities, like the Internet.
What all these groups had in common last January was education, a cosmopolitan orientation, technological sophistication, and a deep belief that Egypt could be better, much better, than it was. And, after Tunisia, a growing belief that they might be able to have a hand in making it better.
Lynch, Marc. 2007. Young Brothers in Cyberspace. Middle East Report 245 <http://www.merip.org/mer/mer245/young-brothers-cyberspace>
Starrett, Gregory. 1998. Putting Islam to Work: Education, Politics and Religious Transformation in Egypt. University of California Press.