“Like Sugar in Tea”

Competing Imaginaries and the Reinforcement of the Idea of a Nation-State in Egypt

  • Clément Steuer ERC TARICA / LADYSS, CNRS
Keywords: competing models, identity, imagined communities, Arab Spring, Egypt, nation-state, nationalism, political Islam


This article examines how, in a context of conflicting identities and collapsing states throughout the Middle East, the model of an Egyptian nation-state has—conversely—been reinforced during the recent revolutionary and counter-revolutionary waves. At first, the liberation of speech during the “Arab Spring” period of 2011–2013 allowed the public expression of competing models (pan-Islamism, pan-Arabism, Coptic ethno-nationalism, regionalism) of imagined communities. At the same time, however, the national flag became the most widespread symbol of the revolution, appropriated by all the political actors, from the leftists to the Salafis. Since 2013, the expression of diverging conceptions of identity within the political field has become impossible. Thus, the affirmation of alternative models of identity has occasionally taken a violent path, especially in the North-Sinai region, where regionalist feelings meet the pan-Islamism of insurgent jihadi movements. Simultaneously, the state has been trying to co-opt some of the most prominent identities, with a first official recognition of the Nubian culture within the 2014 Constitution, and with the adoption of a quota for Coptic candidates in the Parliament and local councils.

Author Biography


A researcher