CAIRO—During a private conversation following Egypt’s bitterly contested and closely fought presidential election of 2012, a Western diplomat marveled, naively, at the multitudes of veiled women who had come out to support the old regime’s candidate, the avowedly anti-Islamist figure of Ahmed Shafik. It was during this campaign that strongly held anti-Islamist themes were aired widely and used to mount a campaign against the potent, often bigoted, Muslim Brotherhood. Many of these same views were advanced in support of the military’s removal of the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, victorious candidate for the presidency and, with his electoral victory, successor to President Hosni Mubarak.

More recently, with the presidential campaign of the former military leader Field Marshall Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, statist and traditionalist views of Egypt have been offered as a clear distinction from the Islamist project of social engineering along religious lines....

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