The Future of the Middle East Workshop: Islamist Politics

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					      IR4504 Lecture 7

Contemporary Islamist Politics
        Defining Islamist Politics
Islamism is not Islam : a minority opinion
While Islam is part of the language of politics in the
 MENA, Islamism is only one possible
 Islamism is a set of political and social movements
 aiming to ‘bring Islam back’ into politics and society.
   Bids for power: Iran, Sudan, Algeria, Turkey…
 Has populist roots: emphasis on lack of corruption,
 authentic values, empowerment and resistance to
 foreign meddling
              Ideological Aims
 Islam is the solution?
  Response to failure of populist social contract
  Corruption of Western values
 Islamisation of the state
  Change in leadership
  Changes in law – in line with shari’a
  Changes in foreign policy
 Islamisation of society
  conservative mores through education and monitoring
  reclaiming a ‘Golden Age’ from below?
  Reclaiming a stateless ummah?
               Islamism in Context
 The new bogeyman of International Relations?
    ‘Green Threat’ arguments began in early 1990s. Is September the
     11th an argument in their favour?
    Danger of making Islamism and Terrorism synonymous…
 The Iranian Model?
 hope of Khomeini that this model would be exported and
  this failed as Iran was bogged down in a disastrous war with
  Iraq for most of the 1980s
    Efforts through sponsorship of groups like Hizbollah
 seen by many Islamists as a model for ‘Islamic State’ – but
  became unpopular in the 8 years of reform
 In this sense Islamism has failed to create a set of
  revolutions throughout the region (Olivier Roy)
 But groups are varied in goals and tactics…
       Roots of a Regional Movement - I

Choueiri: resistance movements in the name of
 Islam are cyclical in history
  Response to times of economic and political
Modern Islamism born in Egypt in 1920s: Hasan
 al-Banna’s Muslim Brotherhood (Ikwan)
  Setting up a Muslim state free from imperialist
    meddling (from above)
  Purification of society through Muslim values
    (from below)
  Creation of groups elsewhere to recreate a
    powerful community (ummah)
  Methods: education, infiltration of power
    channels, assassination of political leaders
     Roots of a Regional Movement - II
 The ‘cells’ structure remains relevant to most groups
  regionally since the early days of al-Ikwan.
 1960s: Sayyid Qutb - obligation to overthrow governments
  living in ‘ignorance’, radical interpretation of Jihad, more
  explicitly anti-Western discourse
 From 1970s: economic and political crisis of postcolonial
  development projects means varied groups mushroom
  throughout the Middle East
 1980s: height of economic crisis means growing popularity
  in the absence of other ideological alternatives
 1990s: pressures for liberalisation of civil society
  democratisation mean new opportunities to get power
  formally and informally (e.g. trade associations), Gulf War 2
  is the trigger for wave of anti-Americanism
 Post-9/11 backlash: regimes have a carte blanche to clamp
  down on all Islamist groups
                 Paths to influence
 Since the 1980s, the profile and power of Islamists has grown
  in the ME and all states been affected in some way…
 They have been influential in:
    putting pressures for changes in the law to meet their interpretation of
     the Shari’a. [Algeria 1984]
    infiltrating various professions to gain access to channels of influence
     (patronage networks) - legal and medical associations, the teaching
     profession, and the army and bureaucracy. [Egypt 1990s]
    Running for elections when allowed …and winning seats even when
     elections are rigged [Morocco, Jordan]
    Acting as charitable organisations and educational channels for the
     most dispossessed for both principled and pragmatic purposes [e.g.
     Pakistan’s earthquake]
    Committing acts of political violence [esp. against Israel]
    Violent groups becoming ‘mainstreamed’ as political parties [Lebanon]
 Islamism is a loose set of movements
  informal connections: e.g. former Afghani
   resistance fighters spreading through the MENA
  connections between al-Ikwan groups
  sponsorship links
No unified regional network
  Violent Groups organised as independent cells,
   creating new cells, etc…No unified leadership
  Non-violent groups organised as social
   movements – marketing, education, social
  Some groups have charity and violent wings
      Islamism and Democracy:
 Ties into wider debates about Islam
  E.g. Orientalism – Islam encourages despotism
 The Islamist Dilemma (Guazzone)
  If allowed to run for elections, they may win and cancel
   electoral processes once in power
  If not allowed to run, it undermines democracy
 Democracy to fight Islamism? (Bush admin)
  creating pluralism will give more moderate voices a
   chance to dominate politics – the ‘mainstreaming effect’
Radical Islamism as a response to
 authoritarianism (and external support for it)?
           Islamism and Violence
 Jihad as a limiting Just War doctrine
    not ‘holy war’, but to ‘struggle in the way of God’ (mind, deed, and
 Islamist violence was traditionally targeted, self-limiting –
  political assassinations of the Ikwan
 Since Qutb: radical interpretation of Jihad as 6th pillar of the
    Much wider range of legitimate use of violence
    Defines its violence as a response to oppression and imperialism
    Questions prohibition on civilian casualties
                E.g. Hamas – all Israelis are in the military!
    Justification of suicide in the name of martyrdom
 Terrorist Groups: e.g. Al-Jihad (Egypt), GIA (Algeria) Al-
  Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Hamas (Palestine), al-Qaeda…
 Some groups don’t use violent means at all.
 Is Islamism the radical expression of wider grievances?
    Challenge of dealing with underlying issues of representation,
     accountability, and political economy
 Islamism is the most potent opposition to authoritarian
  regimes in the MENA
    external and internal policies can help make them more mainstream,
     or radicalise them…
    They cannot be ‘exterminated’ as a political movement, a set of
 What is it that makes some groups more violent than
  others? A pragmatic choice according to ‘what works’, but
  also a response to state repression vs. inclusion.
 Alternative version of modernity? Links with global
  resistance movements?
 What does this mean for our understanding of the War on

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