The rapid succession of events in the past four years—the Arab Spring, the Egyptian military coup, and the rise of ISIS—have challenged conventional wisdom on political Islam. After the democratic openings in 2011, mainstream Islamist groups—affiliates and descendants of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood—rose to newfound prominence after decades in opposition, but grappled with the challenges of governance and deeply polarized societies. The subsequent “twin shocks” of the coup in Egypt and the emergence of ISIS are forcing a rethinking of some of the basic assumptions of, and about, Islamist movements, including on: gradual versus revolutionary approaches to change; the use of tactical or situational violence; attitudes toward the state; and how ideology and political variables interact.
Rethinking Political Islam is the first project of its kind to systematically assess the evolution of mainstream Islamist groups across 12 country cases—Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, and Pakistan, as well as Malaysia and Indonesia. The project engages scholars of political Islam through in-depth research and dialogue to consider how the Arab uprisings and their aftermath have shaped—and in some cases altered—the strategies, agendas, and self-conception of Islamist movements.
Each author has produced a working paper that draws on on-the-ground fieldwork and engagement with Islamist actors in their country of expertise. Authors then write reaction essays focusing on 1) how reading the other country cases has made them think differently about their own country of focus, and 2) broader observations on regional commonalities and divergences. These are presented on the Brookings website in a real-time format, so readers can track responses and reactions between the authors as they grapple with each other’s cases.
We then ask Islamist leaders and activists to respond and offer their own perspectives on the future of their movements. They will have the opportunity to disagree (or agree) with some of the leading scholars of political Islam, in the spirit of constructive dialogue. Finally, authors will produce final drafts incorporating additional insights gleaned from months of discussion and debate.