Censoring the Kishkophone: Religion and State Power in Mubarak’s Egypt

By Aaron Rock-Singer
Submitted to Session P4761 (Islam and the State in Egypt: An Institution-Centered Approach, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Between 1987 and 1993, the Press Bookstore (Maktabat al-Sihafa) released a sixteen-volume edition of the sermons of Egypt’s premier antiregime preacher, Shaykh 'Abd al-Hamid Kishk (d. 1996). Entitled al-Khutub al-Minbariyya li-l-Shaykh ‘Abd al-Hamid Kishk, this series, like other Islamic print products in Egypt, fell under the purview of government censors. Specifically, during the 1987–89 period, the Ministry of Culture’s Censorship Board (Jihaz al-Riqaba 'ala al-Musannafat al-Faniyya) reviewed volumes one through six, while between 1989 and 1993, the Islamic Research Academy’s Administration of Research, Composition, and Translation (Idarat al-Buhuth wa-Ta’lif wa-l-Tarjama) was responsible for volumes seven through sixteen. Whereas the Ministry of Culture (MOC) represented a leading secular-nationalist cultural bastion, the Islamic Research Academy (IRA) served as the state’s preferred tool to claim Islamic orthodoxy in the face of its Islamist challengers.

How can we recover the logic of censorship and how can such a story cast light on the strategies by which state institutions produce Islam? While previous efforts to access censorship reports have been stymied by political sensitivities and intra-institutional competition within the Egyptian state, this paper circumvents these restrictions by comparing between the censored sixteen-volume printed edition of sermons and MP3s of original performances recorded initially by audiocassette. Drawing on nine sermons from this period, it examines the distinct approaches according to which state institutions under Husni Mubarak (r. 1980–2011) produced particular religious visions. Based on comparison of the inclusions and exclusions of these two governmental bodies, the paper argues that, while both institutions’ censors excised Kishk’s explicit attacks on Egypt’s post-1952 rulers and shaped his sermons to affirm the centrality of state institutions to national religious life, censorship also involved the adoption of many of the Islamist opposition’s central tenets. Far from a monolithic universe of state-sponsored religious discourse, the engagement of state institutions in the production of distinct renditions of Kishk’s legacy reveals not only the reach of state power, but also the influence of Islamist thought on state institutions.