The Educational Contexts of Islamist Activism: Elite Students and Religious Institutions in Egypt

Neil Ketchley and Michael Biggs

Mobilization, vol. 22, no. 1, 2017, pp. 57-76; DOI 10.17813/1086-671X-22-1-57

Predicted arrest rate The literature on student activism finds that protesters come from prestigious universities and from the social sciences and humanities. Studies of political Islam, however, emphasize the prominence of engineering and medical students from secular institutions. Contributing to both literatures, this paper investigates Islamist students targeted by security forces in Egypt following the coup of 2013. Matching 1,352 arrested students to the population of male undergraduates, it analyzes how the arrest rate varied across 347 university faculties. We find that activists came disproportionately from institutions that provided a religiously inflected education. This contradicts the conventional emphasis on secular institutions. Most importantly, we find that Islamists tended to come from faculties that required higher grades and that admitted students who studied science in secondary school. Controlling for grades, engineering and medicine were not especially prominent. These findings suggest that Islamist students conform to the more general pattern: political activism attracts the academic elite.


Michael Biggs, Department of Sociology, University of Oxford