EUME Berliner Seminar
Mi 20 Apr 2022 | 16:00–19:00

Tarek El-Bishry as a Post-Colonial Thinker

Roundtable with Amr Abdelrahman (AUC), Nader Andrawos (AUC) and Fouad Halbouni (EUME Fellow 2021/22), Discussant: Angela Giordani (Abdallah S. Kamel Resident Research Fellow, Yale Law School)

Online event via ZOOM

The prominent Egyptian judge Tarek El-Bishry (1933-2021) wrote extensively on contemporary Egyptian political history, Islamic political thought, and jurisprudence. Chiefly known for his systematic critique of the political legacy of Nasserism and its modernization project, his works have proven to be a rich resource for a contemporary analysis of Egyptian political life. Revisiting  his intellectual journey, which spans over sixty years, offers a critical reflection on crucial historical transformations in Egyptian state and society. His works, in other words, perhaps constitute a political chronicle of postcolonial Egypt starting from the early challenges facing the newly independent nation after the July revolution in 1952 to the socialist turn in the 1960s to the defeat of the Nasserist project in the 1967 war to the market liberalization policies throughout the last quarter of the 20th century, and lastly, to the late Egyptian revolution in 2011 and its aftermaths. During those turbulent years, he managed to produce numerous books, studies and articles that addressed key problems of his times such as: Political Life in Egypt 1945-1952 (1972), Democracy and Nasserism (1975), Muslims and Copts within the Framework of National Community (1981), Studies in Egyptian Democracy (1987), the Essence of Contemporaneity (1996), Islamic-Secular Dialogue (1996), Egypt Between Disobedience and Decay (2009).  

In this workshop, held within the EUME Berliner Seminar, we engage with his works as critical accounts of postcolonial history of Egypt, with its promises and failures; its possibilities and limitations. We will engage with his works from within their problem-space, that is, not only to understand the questions and the political preoccupations that generated them from within their historical context, but also to ask whether those questions are still relevant for us today and whether they could provide a new perspective to our current political predicaments. 

This workshop will be dedicated to discussing the following themes that emerge from Al-Bishry’s challenging and insightful works: Imperialism and the postcolonial self, the question of modernity and tradition, the question of democracy in a postcolonial context, the history of the Egyptian nationalist movement, the evolution of Egyptian judiciary, and lastly, the rights of minorities in the postcolonial nation. Those different themes enable us to engage with El-Bishry as a complicated political figure with a many-faceted body of work. In this workshop, the researchers will be addressing the following questions regarding the different facets of his intellectual legacy: 

  1. How is colonialism addressed as an analytical category throughout his extensive intellectual legacy, especially, in relation to his changing political commitments? How has his Islamic political commitments influenced his analysis of colonialism and the means to overturn its effects on the ‘colonized self’ (using his own words)?
  2. How did al-Bishry mediate between the discrepant political and intellectual legacies, whether leftist, liberal and Islamic traditions, that shaped his thinking and continued to influence his political commitments throughout his life?
  3. How does El-Bishry address the historical role of Copts in anticolonial struggles?
  4. How may we assess his legacy today, especially in relation to the political trajectories that arose following the late Egyptian revolution? How can we assess his role in the recent Egyptian revolution?  

Biographical Background: Tarek El-Bishry was born in Cairo, Egypt. He descended from a family of Azharite scholars, judges, and writers. His grandfather, Sheikh Selim El-Bishry, was the grand imam of al-Azhar in the early 20th century whereas his father, 'Abd al-Fattah El-Bishry, was the head of the Egyptian Court of Appeal (until his death in 1951). His uncle, 'Abd al-'Aziz, was a celebrated writer in the first half of the 20th century. In 1953, upon his graduation from the faculty of law at Cairo university, El-Bishry worked at the Egyptian state council (Maglis Al-Dawla). During his years at the council, El-Bishry served as the head of the General Assembly for Legislation and Consultation. After the fall of the Mubarak regime, he served as the head of the constitutional reform committee, which was responsible for amending the 1971 constitution for the constitution. 

Nader Andrawos is an adjunct professor at the American University in Cairo (AUC). He just completed his PhD at the London School of Economics, where he was exploring the possibility of a critical theory of rights and reconstructing a contemporary history of dissident intellectual activity in Egypt. Currently, he’s expanding on this project by looking into 1) the role of “cruelty” in dissident imaginaries; 2) the relationship between Marxism and neo-republicanism. He is generally interested in social and political thought.

Amr Abdelrahman is an adjunct lecturer at the Law Department, American University in Cairo (AUC). He is also the Director of the Civil Liberties Unit at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. His research focuses on state-religion formations in Egypt and the Arab World and how they are articulated in the Arab legal thought. He also wrote extensively on the history and development of the Egyptian and Arab secular/leftist intelligentsia, especially after the recent Egyptian revolution in 2011.

Fouad Halbouni is presently a EUME fellow for the academic year 2021/2022. He received his PhD in cultural anthropology from Johns Hopkins University (2019). His current research titled “Exercises in Survival” examines everyday forms of moral practices among Coptic activists which are involved in reclaiming their disrupted and damaged lives in the face of political repression following the January revolution in Egypt. Fouad has taught several courses at Johns Hopkins University and the Cairo Institute for Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (CILAS) that reflect his current research interests in diverse sub-disciplines such as the Anthropology of Orthodox Christianity, Memory Studies, Anthropology of Youth Movements, and lastly, the Anthropology of Revolution.

Angela Giordani is a resident research fellow at Yale Law School. She holds a PhD in History with a certificate in Comparative Literature from Columbia University. Her research focuses on the intellectual history of Islam and philosophy in the modern Arab world. She is currently developing a book manuscript, Scions of Ibn Sina: Arab Humanists and Islamic Philosophy in the Twentieth Century, based on her dissertation. Her most recent publication, a work of translation, is titled Arab Marxism and National Liberation: Selected Writings of Mahdi Amel.

Please register in advance via eume(at) to receive the login details. Depending on approval by the speakers, the Berliner Seminar will be recorded. All audio recordings of the Berliner Seminar are available via Soundcloud.

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