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The Transformation of the Islamist Discourse


Chair: Prof. Fawaz Gerges (the London School of Economics and Political Science)

David Warren (University of Manchester)       

Developments in an emerging fiqh of citizenship: The contribution of Yusuf al-Qaradawi      

In the wake of the recent electoral successes enjoyed by Islamic political parties in Tunisia and Egypt, there has been a renewed focus on emerging methods of understanding the Qurʾan and Sunna that are not only authentic and relevant to new political contexts, but also recognise the contemporary sensibilities of both Muslim and non-Muslim citizens. 

This paper explores Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s approach to an emerging model of citizenship that leaves behind sensitive terms such as “jizya” (poll tax), and looks to the first “constitution” between the Muslims and Jews of Medina as a model for a social contract that recognises not only citizens’ differing religious identities, but also their common rights and obligations alongside their shared sense of national belonging (muwatana). Particularly noteworthy is the suggestion that these founding bases for a shared national belonging apply to not only non-Muslim minorities in the Middle East, but also Muslim minorities residing in Europe, as seen in his 2010 publication al-Watan wa’l-Muwatana (The Nation and National Belonging), which leads to intriguing comparisons between his understanding of the theory of liberal secularism and an Islamic state. 


Magda  El-Ghitany (New York University)

One space, two conversations? Salafism in the post-revolutionary Egyptian public sphere

The intensive visibility of Salafism in Egypt following the January the 25th revolution sparked sentiments of deep anxiety in the Egyptian public sphere. It is true that since the beginning of the Islamic revival in the late 1970s, political Islamism, with its heterogeneous movements, constituted an influential force on the Egyptian street. However, the Egyptian media made sure to keep the voices of political Islamism silent. Following the revolution, Egyptians could hear Islamists openly expressing themselves for the first time, and protesting for the implementation of Shar’ia law. The Salafis’ “Friday of unity and popular will” protest, that took place on July 29, 2011, is one particular moment that sparked media debates that were reflective of the moral manic that met such Salafi visibility.

In this paper, I examine how the question of political Islam is being debated in the public sphere of post-revolutionary Egypt. By paying attention to the terms of the debates that took place between Egyptian Salafis and liberals in the visual media sphere, I provide a non-teleological reading of this moral panic that accompanied the ‘new’ rise of Salafism. I problematize an explanation that grounds itself within the religion/secularism binary and I underscore the complexity characterizing the ‘new’ role Salafism assumed in post-revolutionary Egypt and its relationship with particular conceptions such as nationhood. I relate these debates to the nature of Islam as a “discursive tradition,” as conceptualized by Talal Asad (1986).

In pursuance of this goal, I draw on analysis of Egyptian TV talk shows, ethnographic accounts, and literature on religion, secularism, modernity, the public sphere and subjectivity. I answer some central questions: What are the liberal/secular normative assumptions about the Salafi subject(s)? What naturalizes and de-naturalizes Islamists’ presence in the Egyptian public sphere? What does this tell us about the modern public sphere and liberal/secular subjectivities in the Egyptian context?

Shay Malki (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)

Debating the state:  Discourses on the Islamic state in Egypt and Tunisia following the Arab Spring

The complex events named the ''Arab Spring", which began in December 2010 with the overthrow of Zin al-Abeddin Ben Ali in Tunisia, spurred a series of uprisings that radically altered the political, social and economic landscapes of the Middle East and North Africa. Following the fall of Ali's Tunisia and Mubarak's Egypt, vibrant discourses evolved concerning the nature of a future Islamic state. Whereas the first was between secular circles and Islamist currents, the second was within the Islamic movements themselves. While this paper deals primarily with the latter, it also wishes to distinguish between Islamic movements' rhetoric regarding the term 'Islamic state' and actual political steps intended to achieve its realization.

Thus, it is interesting to find different interpretations of the concept 'Islamic state' within the same movement. Whereas the secretary general of the Tunisian Islamist Nahda party declared that “Tunisia was entering the sixth caliphate”, another member affirmed that “[the party's] priority is to build a democratic state that is irreversible”. Another example is evident in the statement of a former member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood that “the state should avoid interpreting or enforcing Islamic law”.   

By analyzing newspaper articles, parties platforms and research articles this paper also addresses the rising tension between moderate Islamist currents and their Salafi counterparts in this regard, as well as the nature of the discourse in every country based on its particular socio-historical heritage.    


Tareq  Baconi (King’s College London)

Hamas: A case study

Hamas offers a powerful case study for investigating the present tumultuous environment of the Middle East. Born out of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas predated the current rise in political Islam across the Arab world through its election victory in 2006. Lessons derived from the ‘Western’ policy of engagement with Hamas post its election victory are relevant to current policy-making efforts for engagement with political Islam. Hamas’ own experience in governance in Gaza also provides insight into the role of political Islam in power. These comparisons need to be caveated due to the anomalous Palestinian experience. More importantly, Hamas’ engagement with the ‘Arab Spring’ speaks of the nature of the change taking place. Long a resistance movement, leadership within Hamas leveraged the uprising to disavow resistance. Despite causing internal divisions, such actions shed light on how the discourse on resistance is being shaped by the changing power dynamic in the region.

I will adopt a historical reading of Hamas from 2005 to draw out lessons which might be relevant to the region now. I will use this insight to offer hypotheses for Hamas’ current strategy of engagement with the region, and the implications that has on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


BRISMES Graduate Section,
2 Jun 2012 02:19
BRISMES Graduate Section,
2 Jun 2012 02:21