This study will examine the Jama'a Islamiyya (ji) as an example of a group that has, in different ways, tried to shape patterns of civility and position itself as an interface between state and society in Egypt. It charts and offers an explanation for the ji's intellectual and programmatic transition fromaspiring to create a totally new polity based on a Salafi Islamic form of civility to an accommodation with the state and apparently more tolerant posture vis-à-vis society. The study analyses the ji's shifting interpretation of hisba and argues that, although the ji appears reconciled to a more co-operative stance, the group continues to promote an unrealistic vision of state–society relations in Egypt. Whereas before the ‘revisions' the ji proceeded from an idealised conception of the Islamic state and the potential for its realisation in Egypt, its new ideas suggest an equally naive conception of the existing state and its ability to regulate, and police, society. The political and intellectual trajectory of the ji tells us much about the role of societal groups in sustaining authoritarianism in Egypt and suggests that any compact between the ji and a regime like that of Mubarak is likely to remain ‘uncivil’.