Political Islam: Conceptualising power between 'Islamic states' and Muslim social movements
The Muslim, and especially the Arab, world has, since the 2011 Middle East and North Africa (MENA) uprisings, experienced a series of tumultuous events. These events are likely to leave an indelible mark on the pages of Islamic, Middle Eastern, and world history. The massive changes in the region began with the initial uprisings in 2011 that led to the downfall of ‘presidents for life’ in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, and included the rise of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The group aims to undo the post-Ottoman architecture of the MENA region, as determined by the Sykes-Picot agreement and the post-Berlin Conference scramble for Africa. These developments over the past four years have resulted in the MENA region, and the Muslim world more generally, experiencing a profound conceptual rethinking, including a re-evaluation of notions of global ethics, citizenship and democracy, capitalism and economic development, imperialism, and liberation.
At the heart of much of this rethinking (and the attempts to prevent any rethinking) have been various models of political Islam. The phenomenon has also been central to the continuing unfolding of events in the region and despite setbacks in certain respects – such as the coup in Egypt, Political Islam will continue to be influential in any reshaping of the MENA region, affecting developments not only in those countries and among those actors that blatantly experienced or participated in the 2011 uprisings, but also others, such as the those involved in the Palestinian struggle. Not understanding of the region is, thus, sufficient without an understanding of Political Islam in general as well as the way in which it plays itself out in different national (or transnational) contexts.
In light of these developments and the role of Islamists within them, the Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC) will host a diverse group of scholars to deliberate and debate some of these profound changes, with Political Islam as the central focus. However, departing from the usual tendency of conceptualising ‘Political Islam’ as a phenomenon that describes Islamic ideological groups that are better understood as social movements or political groups in opposition to the status quo, the conference will discuss Political Islam as a label that covers various forms of Islamic legitimation of state power or political action. It will, thus, not only discuss the paradigmatic Muslim political actors such as the Muslim Brotherhood and groups linked to it organisationally or ideologically, but also the ways in which ruling regimes such as those in Saudi Arabia, Iran and other countries, or proto-regimes such as the Islamic State group, mobilise Islam for their political thought and action. The conference will examine how various Muslim political actors understand their relationship to the issue of political power, and how they use Islam to legitimate this relationship.
Beginning by engaging some of the broad theoretical and historical issues that relate to discussions on Political Islam, the conference will also include discussions focused on specific political regimes or groups and their positioning on various themes such as social work, democratic bargaining, and rationales for armed struggle. It will include a discussion on (anti-apartheid) Political Islam in South Africa, and locate that phenomenon within the broader context of Political Islam globally.
The conference will result in the publication of a volume consisting of papers presented, and it is expected that both the conference and the resulting book will contribute to and initiate a series of discussions on the future of Political Islam in its varied manifestations.