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Islam’s divided house

For militant Islam the 1990s have been less successful than the 1980s. But fundamentalism remains a powerful and volatile feature of several middle eastern and north African countries. Some regimes have tried to crush it, others to co-opt it. David Gardner considers the dilemmas

By David Gardener   November 1995

For hundreds of years the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo was one of the foremost seats of Islamic learning, propagating its ideas throughout the Muslim world. Today this “house of wisdom” radiates a spirit of religious bigotry. Its bigotry does not, however, serve the cause of Islamic fundamentalism. Rather, it is employed by the army-backed government of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in his battle against fundamentalists intent on supplanting his regime. The book-banning and harassment of secular intellectuals at which Azhari clerics have excelled for much of this century now has the power of the state behind it.

Egypt’s situation…

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