Special Issue "Islamist Movements in the Middle East"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444). This special issue belongs to the section "Religions and Health/Psychology/Social Sciences".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 October 2021) | Viewed by 11599

Special Issue Editors

Prof. Dr. Bjørn Olav Utvik
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo, 0315 Oslo, Norway
Interests: Modern history of the Middle East and North Africa; religious-political movements; contemporary political history; religion and politics; Islam; Egypt; the GCC countries; Iran; CIMS; Gulf
Prof. Dr. Brynjar Lia
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Cultural Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo, 0315 Oslo, Norway
Interests: jihadism; militant Islamist movements; Islamism in Egypt; Palestinian politics and state-building

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

In virtually every country of the Middle East, Islamist movements have long been central to political and social development. Their critical—and highly contested—role came into sharp focus during and in the aftermath of the Arab Spring uprisings, which shook the established political order in the region to its foundations. Despite the major authoritarian rollback and counterrevolutionary wave sweeping the region in recent years, the uprisings produced seismic shifts in perceived power relations and uprooted myths of stability. The legacies and repercussions of the Arab Spring are still unfolding, confronting the region’s Islamists not only with extreme repression but also with new opportunities. As a result, one has witnessed both fragmentation and pluralisation of Islamist movements, and a repositioning of individual movements.

In this Special Issue, we invite contributions that will improve our understanding of these developments by investigating Islamist movements in the Middle East along two main axes:
- synchronically, across countries and the various categories of movements, with a focus on developments since 2011;
- diachronically, through historical case studies, revisiting key issues in the earlier history of Islamism which are pivotal to our understanding of these movements.

Thematically, along both these axes, authors are encouraged to focus on one of two central topics:
1. How have Islamist movements over time and across national, sectarian and intra-Islamist ideological boundaries dealt with the question of democracy and power sharing? How have they envisaged the ideal form of political rule? How do they view the relationship between Sharia as God-given law and the legislative power of elected parliaments? What are their views on equal rights for women and for religious minorities?
2. How have the same movements understood the question of under which circumstances it is legitimate to apply violent actions for political purposes? How have they related to militant or “jihadi” Islamist movements over the past few decades, and to what degree has the proliferation of jihadism influenced contemporary mainstream Islamist movements?

The editors invite empirically informed case studies from the Middle East and North Africa, especially studies based on new or understudied primary sources.

Prof. Dr. Bjørn Olav Utvik
Prof. Dr. Brynjar Lia
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • Islamist movements
  • Middle East
  • Arab Spring
  • democracy
  • power
  • politics
  • equal rights
  • violence
  • jihadi
  • jihadism

Published Papers (11 papers)

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Research

Article
Egypt’s Salafi Awakening in the 1970s: Revisiting the History of a Crucial Decade for Egyptian Islamic Activism
Religions 2022, 13(4), 316; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13040316 - 02 Apr 2022
Viewed by 890
Abstract
This article aims at revisiting the history of Egyptian Islamic activism during the important decade of the 1970s, by reintroducing a crucial element that is absent from the existing academic literature: the role played by Salafi ideas in the religious socialization of 1970s [...] Read more.
This article aims at revisiting the history of Egyptian Islamic activism during the important decade of the 1970s, by reintroducing a crucial element that is absent from the existing academic literature: the role played by Salafi ideas in the religious socialization of 1970s Egyptian Islamic activists. Far from only being the product of Saudi Arabia’s intense petrodollar-funded proselytization efforts, these Salafi ideas had already gained a foothold in Egypt in the first half of the 20th century, when they started being promoted by organizations such as Ansar al-Sunna al-Muhammadiyya, which saw itself as a rival to the Muslim Brotherhood. Reintroducing this element helps complexify a historiographical narrative of the 1970s that has been mostly centered around the Muslim Brotherhood and the posthumous role played by the ideas of radical thinker Sayyid Qutb (1906–1966), and it is key to a more accurate and nuanced understanding of the subsequent evolutions of Egyptian Islamic activism. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Islamist Movements in the Middle East)
Article
What Role for the Sisters? Islamist Movements between Authenticity and Equality
Religions 2022, 13(3), 269; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13030269 - 21 Mar 2022
Viewed by 703
Abstract
In mainstream Islamist discourse, there is an awkward coexistence between recognition of women as equal political actors and affirmation of a traditional Muslim view of the man as head of the family. Islamism emerged in countries where patriarchy has remained deeply engrained. Yet [...] Read more.
In mainstream Islamist discourse, there is an awkward coexistence between recognition of women as equal political actors and affirmation of a traditional Muslim view of the man as head of the family. Islamism emerged in countries where patriarchy has remained deeply engrained. Yet their stances have varied. In Morocco, female Islamists have pushed for women’s rights and a guarded opening towards cooperation with feminists. In contrast, the Muslim Brothers in Egypt have remained more conservative and female cadres have prioritised fighting any development seen as threatening the Muslim family. The Arab Spring also stirred matters regarding gender relations, as women took active part in the uprisings. In the years to come, women’s issues will likely demand ever more attention across the Arab world. How the Islamists deal with this will be pivotal in determining the future of the movements. To understand the evolving responses of the movements to this challenge, it is essential to analyse the development of mainstream Islamist discourse and practice relating to gender relations in the period leading up to the ruptures of 2011. This article will investigate the issue in the two cases of Egypt and Morocco, and seeks to understand the relationship between internal and external drivers of ideological change. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Islamist Movements in the Middle East)
Article
A Kurdish al-Qaida? Making Sense of the Ansar al-Islam Movement in Iraqi Kurdistan in the Early 2000s
Religions 2022, 13(3), 203; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13030203 - 26 Feb 2022
Viewed by 1495
Abstract
Initially construed as the vital link between Saddam Husayn’s Iraq and al-Qaida in the runup to the Iraq war, the Ansar al-Islam (AI) group formed in Iraqi Kurdistan in December 2001 has been the subject of intense debate and huge media coverage. In [...] Read more.
Initially construed as the vital link between Saddam Husayn’s Iraq and al-Qaida in the runup to the Iraq war, the Ansar al-Islam (AI) group formed in Iraqi Kurdistan in December 2001 has been the subject of intense debate and huge media coverage. In academic research, however, its history, evolution and affiliation have received surprisingly little academic scrutiny. Commonly depicted as an al-Qaida affiliated group or a sub-group controlled by al-Qaida’s emerging organization in Iraq (AQI), the AI group should—this article argues—instead be understood as a strong independent-minded group with an ideology and operational pattern distinct from that of AQI. Although sharing many commonalities, the AI and AQI became de facto rivals, not allies. Contrary to accepted wisdom, the AI and its first successor group remained a distinct Salafi-jihadi insurgent group largely focused on fighting ‘the near enemy’, i.e., Kurdish and Iraqi authorities. It strongly resisted repeated calls for joining al-Qaida’s new umbrella organization in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) in 2006, and it paid no homage to AQI’s or ISI’s leaders. Also on the international level, the groups were fundamentally different. As opposed to al-Qaida’s terrorist plotting abroad, the AI’s international network were hierarchical structures, geared towards raising logistical and financial support as well as recruitment. The article highlights the need for greater attention to the complexities and nuances in patterns of contacts and cooperation between militant Islamist extremists. Informed by the growing scholarship on the multifaceted nature of contemporary jihadism, its numerous manifestations in local settings, and its strong internal rifts, this paper seeks to redress the early reductionist portrayal of the AI movement. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Islamist Movements in the Middle East)
Article
“Struggle Is Our Way”: Assessing the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s Relationship with Violence Post-2013
Religions 2022, 13(2), 174; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13020174 - 16 Feb 2022
Viewed by 1070
Abstract
This article focuses on the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s relationship with violence after the 2013 military coup. Following the Brotherhood’s sudden ouster from government, scholars predicted that renewed repression would lead to the radicalization of wings of the movement, particularly speculating that the [...] Read more.
This article focuses on the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s relationship with violence after the 2013 military coup. Following the Brotherhood’s sudden ouster from government, scholars predicted that renewed repression would lead to the radicalization of wings of the movement, particularly speculating that the youth would resort to violence as a way to respond to the regime. Indeed, calls in favor of the use of violence were recorded and associated with the activities of the New Office in Egypt during 2015, and with radicalization within the country’s prisons. Yet, this phenomenon has remained limited with reference to both time and context. Relying on interviews with members in Egypt, Turkey and the UK (2013–2021), this article critically unpacks the Brotherhood’s relationship with violence in the aftermath of the coup, investigating how the majority of Brotherhood members who subscribed to the movement’s peaceful resistance navigated nonviolent and violent strategies advocated by competing movements’ factions, as they became exposed to state-led violence. It looks at how members, male and female, endured repression, what role violence had in their resistance, if any, and how they justified it. The conclusion reflects on the role that violence plays in the Brotherhood’s strategies to reunite and rebuild after 2013. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Islamist Movements in the Middle East)
Article
Conspiracy Theories and Muslim Brotherhood Antisemitism under Sadat
Religions 2022, 13(2), 143; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13020143 - 03 Feb 2022
Viewed by 438
Abstract
This paper highlights how the Muslim Brotherhood instrumentalized antisemitic conspiracies in its journal al-Daʻwa in its bid to strengthen its socio-political authority under Sadat. After discussing theoretical insights on conspiracy theories and (Muslim and Muslim Brotherhood) antisemitism, the paper zooms in on the [...] Read more.
This paper highlights how the Muslim Brotherhood instrumentalized antisemitic conspiracies in its journal al-Daʻwa in its bid to strengthen its socio-political authority under Sadat. After discussing theoretical insights on conspiracy theories and (Muslim and Muslim Brotherhood) antisemitism, the paper zooms in on the return of the Muslim Brotherhood under Sadat, focusing on the movement’s internal dynamics and its growing socio-political ambitions, followed by a content analysis of antisemitic conspiracy theories found in al-Daʻwa. The final part of the paper analyses the different dimensions and the functions of these antisemitic conspiracies for the movement. The paper concludes that through the antisemitic conspiracies, the Muslim Brotherhood has positioned itself as a religious, moral and political authority. Although al-Daʻwa promulgated classical (European) antisemitic conspiracies, these were utilized by the movement for purposes other than mere hatred and distrust of the Jews and Jewish–Muslim polemics. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Islamist Movements in the Middle East)
Article
Partnership and Rescue Party and the Transformation of Political Opposition in Jordan
Religions 2022, 13(2), 136; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13020136 - 30 Jan 2022
Viewed by 1347
Abstract
In Jordan, the main regime, as a successful political survival strategy, while skillfully forming a tight pro-regime political coalition all along, has kept an even firmer grip on the political opposition. The political opposition in the country, the Muslim Brotherhood, and its political [...] Read more.
In Jordan, the main regime, as a successful political survival strategy, while skillfully forming a tight pro-regime political coalition all along, has kept an even firmer grip on the political opposition. The political opposition in the country, the Muslim Brotherhood, and its political wing the Islamic Action Front (IAF) being the leading front, sometimes boycotted the elections as a response to or compromised with the regime. This latter approach has also been embraced by the parties which emerged out of the MB, including the National Congress Party and the Muslim Brotherhood Association; however, another splinter party, the Partnership and Rescue Party (PRP) criticized them for their incompetence in acting as a true opposition. This is the juncture this paper problematizes—the IAF seems to have lost its ability to act as the main opposition, and the newly emerged PRP prospectively stands out as the leading candidate to replace it. This paper examines the transformation of the political oppositional block in Jordan and elaborates on its consequences for the MB and the regime–opposition relations. In relation to this, in the conceptual level, the paper also reflects on the relevance of this transformation to the post-Islamism debate: in this instance, the PRP denouncing the political Islamic ideology and positioning itself in the center of the political spectrum while maintaining the claim that it has taken over the main opposition role/legacy of the MB evoke a post-Islamist tendency. The argumentation in the article is built on primary sources, including interviews with the opposition leaders and prominent opposition members. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Islamist Movements in the Middle East)
Article
The Future of Islamism through the Lens of the Past
Religions 2022, 13(2), 113; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13020113 - 24 Jan 2022
Viewed by 1083
Abstract
Islamist movements today face perhaps their most difficult conditions in decades. After seizing political openings after the Arab uprisings, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Sunni political Islamist organizations have suffered from military coups, electoral defeats, social and political polarization, and extreme repression. This [...] Read more.
Islamist movements today face perhaps their most difficult conditions in decades. After seizing political openings after the Arab uprisings, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Sunni political Islamist organizations have suffered from military coups, electoral defeats, social and political polarization, and extreme repression. This is not the first time they have faced such catastrophic conditions, however, and historically Islamist organizations have proven to be resilient and able to return to public life. This article examines the history of Islamist movements in the Middle East recovering from extreme setbacks in order to identify nine key mechanisms that facilitated those rebounds and then considers which of those factors might be operative today. It concludes that many of those factors are less available than in the past, but that the global turn toward populism, the persistent governance failures of Arab states, and the adaptability of Islamists create greater opportunities for recovery than might initially appear plausible. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Islamist Movements in the Middle East)
Article
The Special Apparatus (al-Niẓām al-Khāṣṣ): The Rise of Nationalist Militancy in the Ranks of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood
Religions 2022, 13(1), 77; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13010077 - 14 Jan 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 443
Abstract
Existing scholarship has largely focused on the role of Sayyid Qutb’s ideas when analyzing the Muslim Brotherhood’s violent history. Perceiving Qutb’s ideas as paving the way for radical interpretations of jihad, many studies linked the Brotherhood’s violent history with this key ideologue. [...] Read more.
Existing scholarship has largely focused on the role of Sayyid Qutb’s ideas when analyzing the Muslim Brotherhood’s violent history. Perceiving Qutb’s ideas as paving the way for radical interpretations of jihad, many studies linked the Brotherhood’s violent history with this key ideologue. Yet, in so doing, many studies overlooked the importance of the Special Apparatus in shaping this violent history of the Brotherhood, long before Qutb joined the organization. Through an in-depth study of memoires and accounts penned by Brotherhood members and leaders, and a systematic study of British and American intelligence sources, I attempt to shed light on this understudied formation of the Brotherhood, the Special Apparatus. This paper looks at the development of anti-colonial militancy in Egypt, particularly the part played by the Brotherhood until 1954. It contends that political violence, in the context of British colonization, antedated the Brotherhood’s foundation, and was in some instances considered as a legitimate and even distinguished duty among anti-colonial factions. The application of violence was on no account a part of the Brotherhood’s core strategy, but the organization, nevertheless, established an armed and secret wing tasked with the fulfillment of what a segment of its members perceived as the duty of anti-colonial jihad. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Islamist Movements in the Middle East)
Article
Things Fall Apart: The Disintegration of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood
Religions 2021, 12(12), 1066; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12121066 - 01 Dec 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 982
Abstract
The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood has been accepted by the Hashemite monarchy throughout most of its seventy-five-year history. Today, however, it is illegal and a new, more pro-regime version exists, as well as several other groups that have their roots in the organization. Based [...] Read more.
The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood has been accepted by the Hashemite monarchy throughout most of its seventy-five-year history. Today, however, it is illegal and a new, more pro-regime version exists, as well as several other groups that have their roots in the organization. Based on a close reading of the Arabic writings by Salim al-Falahat, a former leader and current critic of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as Jordanian media reports, this article seeks to explain how this falling apart of the organization happened. Many studies focus on fissures within the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood. I argue that while these are important to explain the underlying divisions underpinning this breakdown, it was actually the reformist ZamZam initiative launched in 2012 and the organization’s handling of its aftermath that caused the Muslim Brotherhood to fall apart in the ensuing years. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Islamist Movements in the Middle East)
Article
Controlling the State in the Political Theory of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad
Religions 2021, 12(11), 1010; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12111010 - 16 Nov 2021
Viewed by 839
Abstract
Existing scholarship has largely focused on the violence of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) when analyzing their response to the Oslo Agreement and the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority (PA) in the 1990s. The Islamist opposition’s contribution to Palestinian political thought [...] Read more.
Existing scholarship has largely focused on the violence of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) when analyzing their response to the Oslo Agreement and the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority (PA) in the 1990s. The Islamist opposition’s contribution to Palestinian political thought has largely been ignored, however, although the prospects of Palestinian self-rule confronted the two movements with fundamental questions about social organization, governance, and the permissibility of democracy. I offer an analysis of key Hamas and PIJ texts from this period to demonstrate that Hamas and PIJ fundamentally differ in their analysis of the state and the organization of just society. While Hamas outlines a state-centric approach to governance through which Islamic values are enforced from above, PIJ perceives the state to be the greatest threat to the just organization of society. This article consequently dispels the myth that the two Palestinian Islamist movements had no significant ideological differences in the 1990s. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Islamist Movements in the Middle East)
Article
Islamism, Islamic Modernism and the Search for Modern Authenticity in an Imaginary Past
Religions 2021, 12(11), 1005; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12111005 - 16 Nov 2021
Viewed by 909
Abstract
How to be authentically modern? This was the pervasive question behind the ideological elaborations of numerous religious and nationalist movements toward the end of the nineteenth century. Many of them attempted to find the answer in an imaginary past. This article claims that [...] Read more.
How to be authentically modern? This was the pervasive question behind the ideological elaborations of numerous religious and nationalist movements toward the end of the nineteenth century. Many of them attempted to find the answer in an imaginary past. This article claims that Islamist movements are not an exception, but rather an affirmation of this rule. The orientation towards a “golden age” of Islam and its allegedly authentic Islamic way of life has been a crucial feature of Islamist thought across all national, sectarian and ideological divides. The article traces this invocation of the past historically back to the construction of specifically Islamic forms of modernity by representatives of Islamic modernism in the second half of the nineteenth century. Interpreting their modernist thought in the context of more global nineteenth-century concepts and narratives, the article argues from a comparative perspective that Islamic modernism laid the foundations for the ways in which Islamist thinkers have constructed both individual and collective forms of Muslim identities. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Islamist Movements in the Middle East)
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