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The success of political Islam
• The success of political Islam coincides with the decline of
secular Arab nationalism. A number of Islamist thinkers had
predicted it would fail because it was based on the import of
alien values and ideologies.
– When however Arab nationalism is able to deliver material goods
and ideological certainty, the criticism of Islamist thinkers can be
easily marginalised (Qutb in Egypt or Bennabi in Algeria)
• The failure of Arab nationalism is policy-motivated rather than
– Political Islam will pick up the ‘flag’ of Arab nationalism on a
number of respects: anti-imperialism, the unity of Arabs and the
vision of a classless society united around a common purpose and
with the objective of delivering for all.
Why so successful?
• There is no doubt that since 1967 the rise of political Islam in all of its
expressions has been the most important political change in the Middle
East and North Africa.
– The return to ‘authenticity’ of thinking and action in light of the failure of
imported ideologies.
• The legacy of colonialism is still relevant.
– Socio-economic factors are also very relevant because Islamic charities
begin to fill the void left by the state and expose the deficiencies of current
• A society should be governed for the benefit of all of its members
– The proximity of Islamist militants to the constituencies they serve and
wish to represent.
• The very different cases of Fatah and Hamas leaders.
– Political representatives of the ‘educated and marginalised.’
• Vast sectors of the middle-class buy into the Islamist project. Its leaders are
doctors, engineers, teachers and university educated men and women.
Political Islam – the objective
• Political Islam ‘provides a comprehensive critique of the
existing order, challenges it and aims to change it. It
addresses the social, political, economic and cultural
challenges faced by contemporary Muslim societies and
claims to provide solutions to them’ (Denoeux 2002).
– The creation of an Islamic state is the objective of Islamists and
through the creation of this state there should be the radical
transformation of social, economic, political and cultural
• The problem is that different Islamists have different ideas as to what
constitutes an Islamic state and go about trying to achieve its creation
through very different methods.
Islamist Groups – a classification
• It is quite difficult to proceed to a
classification of radical Islamist actors, but
there are clusters that can be identified:
– Social and political actions coupled with
national liberation struggle.
– The violent salafi groups.
– The Brothers’ Islamism.
Social and Political activism for
national liberation
• There are groups that combine the provision of
social services with engagement in the democratic
process and with political violence towards the
perceived ‘occupier.’
– Hamas and Hiz’bullah are the two classic examples.
– The paradox of participation to the democratic game.
• Lebanon and Palestine more democratic than all surrounding
– The legitimacy of the perceived anti-colonial armed
The violent Jihadi Salafi Groups
• They operate both nationally and internationally.
Subscribe to the idea of the ‘cosmic struggle.’
Imposition of the Islamic state from above.
Marginalised by the Arab Spring
– The Algerian GIA and Al Qaeda are the classic examples.
• Muslims who do ‘nothing’ are equally guilty.
– Motivated by a wider sense of injustice.
• This comes straight from Qutb. Injustice is the motivator, not
absence of democracy.
– The use of violence.
• The need for religious justification for killing.
The Brothers’ Islamism
• The vast majority of groups belong to this strand.
Successful post-Arab Spring.
– The Egyptian Brotherhood, the Moroccan PJD and the
Syrian Brotherhood are classic examples.
• Social activism at the roots of their success.
– The acceptance of democratic politics.
• From flirting with violence to benefiting from democratic
– The transformation into catch-all parties.
• Many social groups are represented and they have diverging
interests. Multiple influences as moderating influences.
What do they have in common?
• Two factors holds them together in the
radical camp:
– They all use religious references to underscore
their political objectives.
• Islam as the only indigenous source that can provide
an ideological alternative to western imported
models and ideologies.
– They all have a revolutionary ethos.
• The objective is the transformation of society.
Means are different.