'Identity and a Modern State'. The political evolution of the Salafi movement in Egypt through a social movement theory perspective

Bachelor Thesis, 2016

51 Pages, Grade: A-


Table of Contents

1. Introduction
1.1 Review of literature
1.2 Conceptual Framework
1.3 Outline of study

2. Chapter One :
2.1. Introduction
2.2. The influential quietists
2.3. From theory to practice
2.4. Conclusion

3. Chapter Two:
3.1. Introduction
3.2. From Quietism to activism
3.3. From theory to practice
3.4 .Conclusion

4. Chapter Three :
4.1. Introduction
4.2. The call at crossroads
4.3. From theory to practice
4.4 .Conclusion

5. Concluding Remarks

6. Bibliography


'Identity and a Modern State ' or 'هوية و دولة عصرية', was the official slogan adapted by the first Salafi Al-Nour party during the Egyptian revolution of 2011. This remarked only as the beginning to the politicization process of the Salafi orientation in Egypt. On July 3 2013, however, the military intervened and deposed the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, the first elected Islamist president in a modern Egyptian discourse (Stein , 2014). This research study will focus on the reasons why Egyptian Salafis have integrated themselves into politics in the first place and attempt to conduct recommendations for future activities.

The methodology used in this paper will not be limited to secondary sources but as well include a variety of primary sources including different newspapers like : Al-shorouk and Al Masry . It will also be analyzing the main Salafi website Ana-Salafi to extract discourse throughout the time periods discussed .

Review of Literature:

The literature presents different analysis of the underlying causes for Egyptian Salafi integration politics. Brown (2011) , Awad (2014) and Gauvin (2010) argue that the reasons remain due to theological missions. They argue that Salafis, today, are pursuing the mission of restoring the prophets time through the process of political power which is mainly guided by the pursuit of Sharia establishment.

However, Racimora counter-argues these notions of political integration for the sake of ideology through a presentation of discourse during the revolution . When Demonstrations took the streets in Egypt at the beginning: prominent Salafi leaders at the time stated that the uprisings were unlawful and sinful in nature. Examples of these official revolutionary opposing statements included the cleric Mohamed Hassan who called for an official constraint in a public sermon to keep the country at-rest. Another example would be Mustafa el Adawi, a Salafi scholar who announced publicly on Egyptian Television that Muslims must return to their homes and give up the protest to avoid the killings of other Muslims. Others detailed these statements by using several Islamic references that condemn those who died in the revolution as ineligible for martyrdom (2013). Hamming also elaborates on the negation of Salafi politicization on the grounds of theology by simply stating that the evidence was rooted within the philosophical claim that the Salafists made which argued that “now is not the time for ideology” ,followed by the increased change in orientation and adoption of practicality measures (2013).

Olav-Utvik complements the focuses of Hamming and Racimora by arguing that the underlying causes of Salafi politicization are rooted in the fear of exclusion and limit of tolerance that the Muslim Brotherhood would project upon the Salafist Movement, if they were to win the elections (2014). Durie (2013) and Rubin (2011) added that the fear does not stop at exclusion but is also directed towards the MB's less strict ideological stand points and their flexibility implementing ideas form the west that might fit the Islamic societies.

A common argument in literature links political and state openness to the Salafi politicization process . Al-Anani (2013) , HØIGILT (2014) and Zaghlul (2012) researches state that the Egyptian revolution paved way for a window of political openness that in return encouraged the Salafis and others to engage in politics . In fact , Al-Anani attempted to explain some of the contradictions within Salafi discourse, that Racimora and Hamming have remarked earlier by stating ; "When the popular uprising against the Mubarak regime erupted al-Daw‘a al-Salafiyya criticized protesters and called on the Salafis to refrain from participating in the demonstrations. However, the success of the uprising pushed some of the Salafi scholars to rethink and change their position toward the uprising" (2013). Accordingly, Salafis have become more rationalized due to the new reality in Egypt. " They have realized that politics is the only way to achieve their goals in maintaining an Islamic identity of Egypt, thus having a more Islamic Egypt. This has led to their argument that political participation, despite its existence within the framework of democracy" (2013). The revolution and the availability of access to the system thus according to these scholars was the main reason that highlighted the awakening of a politicized Salafi movement. This argument can be further demonstrated trough the political opportunity theory .

Political opportunity has often been argued in cases of radicalism, political integration and shifts in political orientations . Dobson (2001) , Tarrow (1996) , Gamson (1975) , Fireman (1982) and Brockett (1991) take value in political opportunity structures to explain the different changes in socio- political groups like the Egyptian Salafis . This paper will be taking in consideration the issue of political opportunity theory and arguing that the political openness of the Egyptian revolution prompted the Salafi integration into politics .The main conditions of the theory and how they link to the case study will be identified in a conceptual Framework .

Conceptual Framework:

Social Movement theorists have long emphasized the importance of political opportunity structure and theory due to its significant relation to collective action. Political opportunity seeks to analyze how its changes aid to the acceleration or deceleration of collective movement. Its structures come from different sources including change in international structures and change in domestic policies or regimes. The theory itself focuses on four main conditions propitious for the rise of social movement activity that will be referred to throughout the paper : (1)The degree of openness of the political system, (2)the institutional strength of the state,(3) the instability of alignments of power and (4) the availability of elite and ally support (Wiktorowicz,2004).

Degree of Openness of the Political System

The first and most important factor to be examined is the degree of political openness .When the political system is open, even partially ; people are have more incentive to engage in politics . According to Tarrow, “access to participation is the first important incentive for collective action” because “rational people do not often attack well-fortified opponents when opportunities are closed. But gaining partial access to power provides them with such incentives” ( 1996 ). Many scholars have articulated the importance of political openness versus political repression within a state to explain political opportunity theory . In fact Wiktorowicz argues that there is much debate on the different dimensions within political opportunity theory but very few scholars have excluded the variable of state repression within the scope of their research (2004) . He also states that theoretically little agreement has been reached regarding the logical consequences of state repression on movement mobilization . Some academics contend that state repression makes the act of collective participation unlikely due to political fear (Tilly 1972). while others contend that state repression generates frustration , radicalism and collective rebellion ( Gamson , Fireman and Rytina 1982; Goldstein 1983 ; White 1989). Wiktorowicz chose to reject these two perspectives on empirical grounds because the historical discourse presents multiple examples where repression both provokes and limits insurgency ( Zimmer – Mann 1980 , Khawaja 1993) . A series of investigated attempts to solve the paradox of state repression lead to the focus on two main variables: Timing and targeting. Starting with Timing , Repression is generally timed under two circumstances ; either preemptively or reactionary . Preemptive repression describes a repression that was timed when opposition movements haven’t had the opportunity yet to gather supporters and mobilize their actions much like during a state of emergency . Reactionary repression describes a repression timing in which opposition has already gained access to political movement much like during revolutions ( Brockett 1991) . Repression targeting is also carried out under two forms : discriminant and indiscriminate . Discriminant targeting is where the state represses certain groups and their leader . Indiscriminant targeting represses a much wider scope of people on the other hand , including supporters and civilian sympathizers of the movement (Mason and Krane 1989). The argument reached here by Wiktorowicz is that State repression when its reactive and indiscriminant will encourage political participation while on the other hand when its discriminant and preemptive it deters political escalation. Throughout this paper, the degree of political openness will be considered as a fluid factor that changes according to the time periods addressed. Where the Mubarak regime period (Chapter 1) is articulated as a state of high discriminant repression towards politically active Islamists . And the 2011 revolution (Chapter 2) on the other hand, represents a level of state repression that only lasted in a reactive manner evident within the increase force of (SCAF) at the beginning of protest; which further demolished at the ousting of the regime.

The institutional strength of the state

Access to institutions relates to the degree of political openness. The institutionalized political system refers to the formal set of institutions in the state : parliament , government ministries , military , police force and all policy implementing agencies (Kitschelt 1986) ." System accessibility is important for investigating levels of violent contention because it ears directly on the question of reform verses revolution" (Wiktorowicz, 2004). And when policy implementing agencies are strong within a politically repressed system, political openness is even more difficult to achieve . This paper will be focusing on three main institutions throughout the referred time periods: The Supreme Constitutional court , The Police Force and The military. Each of these institutions have affected the scale of political openness in Egypt greatly which eventually resulted in the change of political activity carried out by the Salafis .

The Instability of Alignments of Power

The third of the four major structural elements of political opportunity theory is the degree of stability of the ruling power alignments. The instability of alignments can cause for political opening and manipulation of the system . In most democratic systems this is seen through electoral process . The changing forms of governments and the constant participation of opposition groups encourages challengers of the system to exercise marginal power through legitimate means (Tarrow, 1996) . Authoritarian regimes on the other hand exude shifting alignments through other portrayals . Alignments in most authoritarian regimes are measured through the division or lack of division of the ruling elite . Division amongst the elite is pointed as an enormously important element of political opportunity theory by Jenkins and Perrow (1997) .Conflicts within and among power alignments can encourage political participation and contention outbreak . In fact Tarrow argues that " Division among ruling elites not only provide incentives to resource poor groups to take risks of collective action , they encourage portions of the elite that are out of power to seize the role of tribunes of the people " (1996) . Meyer and Staggenborg mention that “movement-countermovement conflicts are most likely to emerge and endure in states with divided governmental authority” because “policy advocates on both sides of an issue are likely to encounter a mixture of governmental support and opposition from different levels and branches of government” (2007) . Historical examples of elite divisions and divided government authority aiding to resources of emerging movements are numerous . McAdam elaborates on this factor, calling it the “stability or instability of that broad set of elite alignments that typically undergird a polity” (1993).The political elites in this paper shift according to the time period addressed as it will highlight the direct relation between the stability or instability of ruling power and the escalation of Salafi political activity . Highlighting the revolution (Chapter 2) as the main instable alignment time period that resulted in the manipulation of Salafi integration within the political sphere and the establishment of the Al-Nour party. While also representing the stability of alignments during the Mubarak regime ( Chapter 1) and the current El Si-Si regime ( Chapter 3 ) and the overall affect it has on the Salafi political activity .

The Availability of Elite Support

Related to the division of the ruling power elites is the availability of elite allies and support. Social movement theorists have always recognized elite support as an important political opportunity element ." Elite allies offer political opportunities by enhancing a group’s political leverage and power." (Tarrow , 1996 ) . William Gamson conducted research that co relates political allies with social movement successes , claiming that the absence of such alliances often dictated the success of movements ( 1975 ). When Jenkins and Perrow discuss the divisions among elites, they also focus on elite allies as well stating that elites change the options for political action by providing assistance within the system , "acting as…guarantors against repression or as acceptable negotiators” and eventually change the political opportunity structure (1977). The political allies that this paper will refer to are the Muslim brotherhood. Ever since the Nasser Regime , Islamists have had very little power in Egypt however the 2011 Revolution changed that notion (Chapter 2) . In order to keep up and compete with the Muslim on both grassroots educational and political levels the Salafis have integrated in politics . And even though the Salafis and the MB never actually saw eye to eye but the very fact that an Islamist party was in power for an entire year changed the political options within the system and paved way for more political opportunity. The alliance I this case refers takes an ideological form . This paper also reflects on the political rise and fall of the MB as Islamist allies and its direct effect on the Salafi political activity . With most of the MB put behind bars in the El-Sisi system (Chapter 3) the Salafis have no other option but to resort to pragmatism and moderation.

Outline of Study

Using the conditions of the political opportunity theory, This thesis will link the Salafi activities in Egypt with a more special focus on the Nour party to the conditions mentioned above .It will attempt to explain such activities of the Salafis at three different time frames , in light of a social movement theory perspective. Each chapter will follow a consistent flow in its division . They will mainly be divded into two parts , the first will provide an overview of the nature of activities conducted by the case study during the time period discussed . The second section apply these activities to the four conditions of the theory and provide an analysis that would explain the activities previously mentioned in the first segment . This thesis will include three main chapters/time frames . The first Chapter will discuss the Salafi movement under Mubarak and explain its overall political quietist attitude. The Second Chapter will discuss the time of the revolution and the one year of the Morsi regime where the Salafi group took a more politicized turn and established the Al-Nour party . The third and final chapter of the body will discuss the time period since the 30th June coup of 2013 to present day Egypt , describing the different divisions in Salafi factions that occurred .

Chapter One :

"The true victory is the victory for democracy and pluralism": The Salafi movement under the Mubarak Regime .

" The true victory is the victory for democracy and pluralism" (Mubarak , 1993). Prior to the 2011 uprising in Egypt and especially under the Mubarak regime , Islamist political activism was in crisis . The two main groups that were generally dominating the Islamist scene were not participatory in the political sphere and the one group that was ( The Muslim Brotherhood) was restricted in its realm of official political influence. Thus with the interlinked factors of a fractured Islamist front , minimal political openness and a stable ruling regime all explain the non political approach that the Salafi movement represented at the time through a social movement theory perspective.

This chapter will be divided into two main sections . The first section will briefly examine the history of Salafi emergence in Egypt , examine the activities of the Salafi movement under the Mubarak regime ( describing their grass-root educational level approach verses their non-political participation) , compare their activities to their more political counterparts : The Muslim brotherhood . And finally will undertake a discourse analysis examining some of the Salafi statements and literature introduced during the Mubarak regime. This will be used for future comparative discourse measures that will be presented throughout the different time periods researched in this thesis. The Second section will link the Salafi activities and discourse to the conditions of the political opportunity theories four conditions and attempt to explain such activities in light of a social movement theory perspective.


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'Identity and a Modern State'. The political evolution of the Salafi movement in Egypt through a social movement theory perspective
Political Islam
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ISBN (Book)
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Salafis, Salafi Al-Nour, Egyptian Revolution, Egypt
Quote paper
Omnaya Abouzaid (Author), 2016, 'Identity and a Modern State'. The political evolution of the Salafi movement in Egypt through a social movement theory perspective, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/337164


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