The Egyptian Islamic Revival

From the 1970s through the 1990s, Egypt witnessed an Islamic religious revival, a resurgence in the practice and public expression of Islam among a broad spectrum of religious Egyptians, from Islamists to members of Sufi orders, which corresponded with a global revival taking place in the Muslim world. Social support and charity organizations proliferated, and men and women attended Islamic study circles in higher numbers in addition to other forms of religious gatherings. The social landscape quite literally changed; while few Muslim women in Cairo veiled in the 1960s, most covered their hair in the 1990s.

This revival movement was driven by several factors, including the return of Egyptians who had gone to work in the Arab Gulf, drawn by a proliferation of opportunities in the wake of the oil embargo of 1973. The oil embargo enriched the Gulf states, which made funding available for Islamic education and proselytization projects that exported Wahhabism—an Islamic reformist movement that developed in the 19th century Arabian Peninsula—to Egypt and elsewhere in the world. Returnees funded social service organizations and the number of private mosques grew.

The 1990s also saw an uptick in attacks by militant Islamist groups such as Islamic Jihad that had broken away from the Brotherhood or evolved out of Muslim student groups, including attacks on Coptic Christians and foreign tourists. Militants demanded a change in Egypt’s government and idealized an Islamic state structured by Islamic law. They also sought to institute austere social norms such as a separation between men and women in public spaces, and rejected cultural westernization. The security and police forces responded by arresting, torturing, and executing many, and was criticized by human rights groups for a heavy handed response that seemed indiscriminate in its use of force and made it impossible for those accused to receive a fair trial.


Leila Ahmed, A Quiet Revolution (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012).

John L. Esposito, Islam and Politics (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1984).

Saba Mahmood, Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005);

See also: Egypt