The Arab Uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region at the end of 2010 initiated a new phase of political activism and continue to rock decades-old establishments in the region. During this turbulent period, Islamist movements have found a convenient political and ideological environment in which to flourish. It is clear that Islamist movements today are not the same as years ago and in Islamists and the Politics of the Arab Uprisings: Governance, Pluralisation and Contention, Hendrik Kraetzschmar and Paola Rivetti revisit the challenging journey of Islamism(s) over time by asking the question; ‘What are the regional and domestic impacts of the Arab Uprisings on Islamist political organizations?’ Hendrik Kraetzschmar is an Associate Professor in the Comparative Politics of MENA at the University of Leeds, and Paola Rivetti is an Assistant Professor in Politics of the Middle East and International Relations at Dublin City University. In this book they provide answers to their question on a country by country case.
The book consists of four main sections, comprising of nineteen chapters alongside an introduction and conclusion. The first section deals with Islamist movements in power in various countries. It discusses their struggle to compound ideological consistency and the practical needs in economic and political governance, as well as the emergence of other forms of Islamist opposition. The chapters in the second section move beyond the simplistic secular-religious binary by critically engaging in issues of secularity and religiosity in the complex of relations among Islamists, ruling elites, and secular political parties. In the third section, the perception of Islamism as a unitary category is challenged and explanatory examples of the various Islamist movements in the region are given. The final section, entitled ‘The Sunni-Shi’a divide’, assesses sectarian discourse and conflicts in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria, emphasizing the process of the sectarianizing conflicts as well as attempts to de-sectarianize by rejecting the primordialist approach towards sectarian conflicts.
Islamists and the Politics of the Arab Uprisings: Governance, Pluralisation and Contention is a timely contribution to the literature about political Islam and Arab uprisings, and draws a comprehensive picture of the complex emerging and transforming dynamics following the outbreak of uprisings in the MENA region. The decision to analyse a great variety of Islamist activities, whether in the form of formal party politics or informal movements in various socio-economic contexts, reveals how Islamist references are continuously shaping the language of political activity (in either government or opposition form). This can also be seen in the discourse and practices of secular actors. Assessing the role of intra-Islamist rivalries in the rise or fall of Islamist politics’ effectiveness or legitimacy is an important contribution to the field in terms of showing the complexities of relations among Islamists.
Each chapter explicitly shows the pluralities within Islamist politics and broadly discusses contending Islamist approaches to the state, ruling elites, secular politics, society, economic and political governance, as well as cooperation and conflict perceptions. In order to identify the multiplying paths of the Islamist movements it is quite important to recognize the contextual boundaries of any particular movement and not to neglect the material distribution of power which is organized and institutionalized in domestic politics. A relational approach taken by the authors in many chapters contributes to the de-centring of Islamist actors and recognises the significant role of inter-subjective relations as well as the role of state formation, political authority, economic systems, and external influences.
However, the authors deal with separate cases in their own contexts without giving reference to some shared aspects of Islamism. Analysing nineteen case studies in eleven countries provides a comprehensive narrative on Islamist politics and the Arab Uprisings, but at the same time undermines the consistency of the book due to the lack of strong connections between the chapters. As an example; while the cases of ISIS (Chapter 4) and the Islamic left in Turkey (Chapter 7) are both discussed under the title of economic and political governance, they have no connection to each other, and nor does the Arab Uprising provide a common denominator for these two cases.
Another weakness of the book is the lack of room for the historical construction of settings which would lead readers to engage with the questions; ‘How has Islamism in its various forms successfully dominated the political activism in the region?’ or ‘Why do secular parties/ groups have to prove that they are not anti-religious?’. Similarly, the book does not address theoretical questions such as ‘Is it possible to be a Muslim but not Islamist?’ in the current Middle East political configuration. The reproduction of the idea of religious accountability, which also encapsulates mainstream secular politics, should be historically contextualized in order to avoid another kind of exceptionalism trap (‘secular Muslim’ exceptionalism). In fact, authors in this book reject exceptionalist thinking in their approaches to Islamist movements, as is clearly underlined by the editors Paola Rivetti and Hendrik Kraetzschmar in the beginning of the book (Page 3).
Overall, the book fills a gap in current literature by opening new debates on several cases which have been largely neglected. It will also attract further research on the different faces of Islamist movements in new organizational forms and their discourse. This will in turn reveal hybrid movements which are not categorized simply as Islamist or non-Islamist because of the role, to varying degrees, of current Islamic references in many segments of political, social and economic life.