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  1. Transnational Diffusion and Cooperation in the Middle East, POMEPS Studies 21 [Download]

    Title: Transnational Diffusion and Cooperation in the Middle East, POMEPS Studies 21
    Author: Lynch, Marc
    Description: The Arab world never seemed more unified than during the incandescent days of the 2011 Arab uprisings. Tunisia’s revolution clearly and powerfully inspired Arabs everywhere to take to the streets. Egypt’s January 25 uprising that led to the removal of Hosni Mubarak taught Arab citizens and leaders alike that victory by protestors could succeed. The subsequent wave of protests involved remarkable synergies that could not plausibly be explained without reference to transnational diffusion. Bahrainis, Yemenis and Jordanians alike attempted to replicate the seizure and long-term encampments in Egypt’s Tahrir Square and protestors across the Arab world chanted the same slogans and waved the same signs. But what happened in the months and years after those heady days? Did similar processes of diffusion and cross-national learning shape the post-uprisings era? Did autocratic regimes learn from one another in the same way that protestors did? In June, more than a dozen scholars came together in Hamburg, Germany for a workshop jointly organized by the Project on Middle East Political Science and the German Institute for Global Affairs. The workshop closely examined learning, diffusion and demonstration across autocratic regimes during the Arab counter-revolution. The papers for that workshop, available here as an open access PDF download, closely examine the ways in which Arab autocrats did – and did not – learn from one another. Similarities do not, in and of themselves, prove that diffusion or learning have actually taken place. As German scholars Thomas Richter and André Bank emphasize, not everything that looks like diffusion is necessarily so. Many policy responses may simply be obvious tactics available to any reasonably competent political actor, not innovations that had to be learned. Authoritarian regimes hardly needed to be taught to torture or jail their own people, strip citizenship from dissidents, monitor social media, clear the streets of protestors or censor the media. The contributors to this collection go considerably further than past studies have done to show how significant learning and diffusion did take place among Arab regimes in the years following the uprisings. Demonstrating diffusion and learning requires careful attention to timing and sequence. It also requires scrutiny of the mechanisms by which ideas are transmitted, whether passively as actors observe events in the media, or actively as agents make direct efforts to spread those ideas. While direct evidence of the thinking and interactions between secretive autocrats may be hard to gather, these scholars carefully trace the timing and sequencing of these processes to show where learning and diffusion mattered. Such careful scrutiny of local conditions and the precise mechanisms of diffusion introduces healthy skepticism into the research agenda, but it does not lead to the conclusion that no diffusion occurred. Today’s Arab world is profoundly shaped by forces promoting transnational interactions, from pervasive social media and satellite television to weakening states, refugee flows, cross-border military interventions. The authors in POMEPS Studies 21 Transnational Diffusion and Cooperation in the Middle East have decisively advanced our understanding of these processes of diffusion and learning in regional politics.
    Keywords: Middle East, North Africa, Political Science, International Relations, POMEPS Studies, Arab Uprisings
    Date Uploaded: 08/08/2017
  2. Contemporary Turkish Politics, POMEPS Studies 22 [Download]

    Title: Contemporary Turkish Politics, POMEPS Studies 22
    Author: Lynch, Marc
    Description: Turkey has been in the news repeatedly in 2016, from the coup attempt of July to the subsequent government purges to its renewed fight against the PKK and crackdown on Kurdish populations. However surprising these developments may appear for an outside observer, they are deeply rooted in the history of the Turkish state, the evolution of the ruling Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP), and the complex identity politics of the region. In October, more than a dozen scholars of Turkish politics gathered at Rice University’s Baker Institute in Houston for a Project on Middle East Political Science workshop to delve into some of these underlying themes. The memos produced for that workshop have been published individually on the POMEPS website and the full collection is now available as a free download here. The authors in this collection provide rich context, new data, and sharp analysis of the nuanced challenges facing the country and the region today. The relationship between state and religion is one of the key issues to understand Turkish politics. Sebnem Gumuscu describes how competition between two main Islamist organizations evolved and influenced the government organization, somewhat paradoxically diminishing the checks and balances of the secular state that expedited the government’s ability to purge. Kristin Fabbe examines the direct and indirect ways religion and government interact and asks who might fill the bureaucratic void left by the Gülen movement. The religion-state nexus not only influences domestic affairs in crucial ways but its effects also shape Turkey’s stature within the regional. Once heralded as a shining beacon of democracy in the region, Turkey is now sinking on many indices of democracy and freedom. Ekrem Karakoc illustrates the fluctuating popularity of the Turkish model since the Arab uprisings in other MENA countries. Unsurprisingly, Islamist parties tended to look up to the success of the AKP more than other groups. Yet the often-referenced secular/ Islamist dichotomy fails to get at the complexities of these movements and their relationships with power. The malleable use of identity is a recurring theme in this collection. Senem Aslan paints a fascinating picture of the diverse ways in which AKP leaders use public displays of crying. In a region where machismo and tough leadership dominate political discourse, this invoking of emotion and victimhood serves a unique purpose for a party that has been in power now for more than a dozen years. Kimberly Guiler also takes up this question of victimhood, examining the use of conspiracy theories in the wake of the July 2016 coup as the AKP attempted to centralize power and promote national unity. Esen Kirdiş shows how shifts in the AKP government’s identity can be measured by the shifts in its foreign policy, from moderate Western-facing at the beginning of its tenure in office, to increasingly more Islam and identity focused as its support and base grew and now to a nationalist orientation as its support is wavering. Lisel Hintz describes how the Republic Nationalist orientation of previous governments gave way to the Ottoman-inspired and Islam-focused inclusive politics that downplayed the importance of ethnicity, opening an all too brief window of opportunity for addressing the Kurdish question. In their analysis of female political representation, Abdullah Aydogan, Melissa Marschall, and Marwa Shalaby explore the effects of gender roles and norms on women’s nomination and winning at the local and national level offices. Counterintuitively, they find that national offices are more open to female representation than local levels. Expanding on the Kurdish question, Sabri Çiftçi illustrates the unique challenges to ethnic descriptive representation of Kurds in Turkey, especially in the context of conflict. The lack of demographic data remains a main challenge, but Avital Livny fills in the missing information gap with some innovative new survey data to measure Kurdish politicization. Şener Aktürk presents and analyzes several often-cited hypotheses about why the PKK ended its ceasefire in 2015, suggesting that foreign policy may have played a larger role than many believe. During this period of renewed war, Aysegul Aydin and Cem Emrence illustrate how curfews have been used not only as a means of civilian control but also selectively to punish areas that have voted for the Kurdish party and to entice voters who live in more competitive electoral districts. Güneş Murat Tezcür presents his unique dataset of Turkish foreign fighters leaving the country to join either nationalist struggles of Kurds or the religious call of ummah and caliphate, showing how these individuals are similar and very different and what this means for Turkish society. Useful for students, academics, and policy-makers alike, the pieces in POMEPS Studies 22 Contemporary Turkish Politics, offer a uniquely accessible yet nuanced analysis of a country in flux. Download it today.
    Keywords: Middle East, North Africa, Political Science, International Relations, Turkey, POMEPS Studies
    Date Uploaded: 07/27/2017
  3. Rethinking Nation and Nationalism, POMEPS Studies 14 [Download]

    Title: Rethinking Nation and Nationalism, POMEPS Studies 14
    Author: Lynch, Marc
    Description: You couldn’t swing a dead imperialist last summer without hitting an essay about the unraveling of the Sykes-Picot system in the Middle East. The bloody disintegration of Iraq and Syria seemed to have finally ripped apart the borders created by the British and French governments in the aftermath of World War I (even if the borders in question were actually forged at San Remo). It wasn’t just the rise of the so-called Islamic State spanning and erasing the Syrian-Iraqi border. The unprecedented, synchronized popular mobilization across borders during the early Arab uprisings of 2011 gave potent form to the ideals of transnational Arab political community supplanting the limits of nation-states. As the uprisings turned darker and most of the democratic transitions failed, new challengers to nation-states in the Middle East rose to the forefront: the Islamic State; the growing de facto independence of Kurds across Iraq and Syria, with ramifications extending into Turkey and Iran; the rise of sub-regional identities carried by heavily armed militias in failing states such as Yemen and Libya; unprecedented forced displacement moving millions of people within and across borders; and raging sectarianism dividing Sunnis and Shiites. These developments have not had a singular effect on national identities, however. While some states have collapsed, creating space for new subnational identities to challenge national cohesion, most have retrenched into a fiercer form of authoritarianism. Egypt’s military coup, for instance, has been sustained by the heavy-handed promotion of extreme nationalism. Many states in the Gulf have drawn upon sectarianism to consolidate support for their regimes in ways that could have an enduring impact on popular conceptions of national identity. Battles over the proper role of Islam in public life have reshaped political discourse from Egypt and Turkey (see Senem Aslan and Kristin Fabbe in this collection) and Tunisia (Elizabeth Young). Kurds imagine new political possibilities in very different contexts, as Nicole Watts demonstrates from Halabja and Serhun Al demonstrates through the historical experience of Turkey and Iraq. In February, therefore, I convened a Project on Middle East Political Science symposium with Laurie A. Brand at the University of Southern California to examine national identity in the face of such challenges. Their essays have now been released as Rethinking Nation and Nationalism, a special issue of POMEPS Studies, available for free download here. Continue reading on The Monkey Cage.
    Keywords: Middle East, North Africa, Political Science, International Relations, Nationalism, POMEPS Studies
    Date Uploaded: 07/27/2017
  4. Reflections on the Arab Uprisings, POMEPS Studies 10 [Download]

    Title: Reflections on the Arab Uprisings, POMEPS Studies 10
    Author: Lynch, Marc
    Description: ‘Tis the season to reflect upon the course of the Arab uprisings. Over the last few weeks I have participated in three major workshops including nearly 50 scholars – and had to miss yet another in favor of a quick trip to Tunisia. It is not difficult to understand this intense urge to take stock, given the sorry state of the region and catastrophic results of virtually every one of the 2011 uprisings. The overblown criticisms of the field of Middle East political science over its failure to predict the uprisings have been thoroughly aired by this point. But what about the field’s performance during the Arab uprisings? Academics have written an unprecedented amount of real-time analysis and commentary over the last few years. What did we miss, misinterpret, exaggerate or rush to premature judgments about along the way? The first of the workshops focused explicitly on this question. I asked a group of the authors from my edited volume The Arab Uprisings Explained: New Contentious Politics in the Middle East to write short memos assessing their contributions critically after having another year to reflect. Those memos have been published as POMEPS Studies 10 Reflections on the Arab Uprisings. Their auto-critique is full of worthy observations: We paid too much attention to the activists and not enough to the authoritarians; we understated the importance of identity politics; we assumed too quickly that successful popular uprisings would lead to a democratic transition; we under-estimated the key role of international and regional factors in domestic outcomes; we took for granted a second wave of uprisings, which thus far has yet to materialize; we under-stated the risk of state failure and over-stated the possibility of democratic consensus. Read more on The Monkey Cage.
    Keywords: Middle East, North Africa, Arab Uprisings, Political Science, International Relations, POMEPS Studies
    Date Uploaded: 07/27/2017
  5. From Mobilization to Counter-Revolution: The Arab Spring in Comparative Perspective, POMEPS Studies 20 [Download]

    Title: From Mobilization to Counter-Revolution: The Arab Spring in Comparative Perspective, POMEPS Studies 20
    Author: Lynch, Marc
    Description: On May 3-4, 2016, POMEPS held a workshop, “From Mobilization to Counter-Revolution: The Arab Spring in Comparative Perspective,” in conjunction with Oxford University’s Middle East Centre at St. Anthony’s College and Department of Sociology. In recent years a great deal of attention has focused on the process of revolutionary mobilization. By comparison, the conditions under which revolutions fail remains less well understood – this in spite of the tendency for many of the initial gains of contemporary revolutions to prove ephemeral. The disappointing trajectory of the 2011 Arab Spring only underlines the need to better understand this important topic. During the Arab Spring, factional splits between Islamists and secular activists quickly turned into internecine strife, undermining revolutionary coalitions. These splits were, in turn, exacerbated by interventions from regional and international powers. Later, violent Islamist groups exploited revolutionary openings to advance their own agendas. In countries that did not experience revolutionary breakthroughs, authoritarian regimes adapted their repressive strategies in the face of border-crossing protests. This workshop brought together more than a dozen diverse scholars working on issues related to the Middle East in transition to explain and conceptualize these dynamics by bringing them into comparative perspective. Drawing from a wide range of methodological and theoretical perspectives, participants contributed short memos that examined topics like revolutionary failure, de-democratization, counter-revolution and authoritarian retrenchment.
    Keywords: Middle East, North Africa, Political Science, International Relations, Mobilization, Counter-Revolution, POMEPS Studies, Arab Spring
    Date Uploaded: 07/25/2017
  6. Women and Gender in Middle East Politics, POMEPS Studies 19 [Download]

    Title: Women and Gender in Middle East Politics, POMEPS Studies 19
    Author: Lynch, Marc
    Description: The barriers to women’s political participation in the Middle East have long preoccupied scholars and analysts. The Arab uprisings of early 2011 disrupted virtually every dimension of Arab politics and societies, forcing a systematic re-evaluation of many long-held political science theories and assumptions. The place of women in politics and the public sphere was no exception. The divergent experiences of the Arab uprisings and their aftermath have allowed political scientists to take a fresh look at many of these important questions. New data sources and a diversity of cases have energized the community of scholars focused on women’s public political participation. A Project on Middle East Political Science workshop in March brought together an interdisciplinary group of more than a dozen such scholars to critically examine these questions. The complete collection is now available for free download here. A wide-ranging political science literature on the challenges facing women’s political participation has highlighted variables such as Islamist movements, discourses of nationalism and citizenship, patterns of state development and cultural norms of patriarchy. But these broad claims often fail to account for disparities in women’s experiences not only among different states but also sub-nationally. The scholars in the POMEPS workshop have taken advantage of new data sources, new organizations and campaigns and variation to highlight the diversity of the experience of women across the region.
    Keywords: Middle East, North Africa, Political Science, International Relations, Women , Gender, POMEPS Studies
    Date Uploaded: 07/25/2017
  7. Evolving Methodologies in the Study of Islamism, POMEPS Studies 17 [Download]

    Title: Evolving Methodologies in the Study of Islamism, POMEPS Studies 17
    Author: Lynch, Marc
    Description: In recent years there have been dramatic changes in the Islamist landscape as Islamist political parties have drastically transformed, violent new groups have burst on the scene, and the proliferation of new media has changed access to information. But have political scientists and other scholars taken the time to step back and examine how these seismic shifts have affected our research methods, priorities, and arguments? On January 29, 2016, scholars gathered for the Project on Middle East Political Science’s 3rd Annual workshop on Islamist politics as part of our Islam in a Changing Middle East initiative. This year’s workshop focused on the methodological and conceptual issues in the study of Islamism. What assumptions underlying our research need to be problematized? How should we deal with the vast outpouring of information and evidence about these movements now available on social media? What do we mean by the term “Islamist?” Offering an incredibly rich set of reflections, the papers in this series challenge the utility of core concepts such as “moderation” and “radical Islam.” They investigate the operation of specific causal mechanisms such as repression, identity, and organizational structure. They consider how newly available sources of survey and social media data can change our research approaches and remind us of all we have learned. The excellent essays in POMEPS Studies 17 Evolving Methodologies in the Study of Islamism take up these questions. While no one claims to have come up with a single answer, this collection is an important first step in grappling with the complex puzzle of “Islamism” today. This critical and reflective scholarship will be useful for the novice student and experienced analyst alike. Read all the essays for free here.
    Keywords: Middle East, North Africa, Political Science, International Relations, Islamism , POMEPS Studies
    Date Uploaded: 07/25/2017
  8. International Relations Theory in a New Middle East, POMEPS Studies 16 [Download]

    Title: International Relations Theory in a New Middle East, POMEPS Studies 16
    Author: Lynch, Marc
    Description: The story of the Arab uprisings of 2010-11 has typically been told as a series of loosely related national stories, happening simultaneously but whose successes and failures were essentially determined by internal factors. Over the last few years, political scientists have made great progress evaluating the success or failure of each country’s uprising in terms of country-specific qualities such as types of domestic institutions, the nature of opposition movements, the wise or poor decisions made by leaders and access to oil revenues. The comparative politics literature on the uprisings has demonstrated real theoretical progress, sophisticated empirical analysis and useful—if too often ignored—policy advice. This comparative politics approach to the uprisings has always been problematic, though. The Arab uprisings began in transnational diffusion and ended in transnational repression and regional proxy wars. It is remarkably difficult to accurately explain the course of events in Egypt, Yemen or Libya without reference to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar or Iran. However, with but a few notable exceptions, the academic literature on the uprisings has been dominated by comparative analysis and country case studies, with international factors included as one among several variables, if at all. This seems odd. Why has there not been an efflorescence of international relations scholarship comparable to the impressive outpouring of comparative politics scholarship on the Arab uprisings? And if there were, what would it look like? To begin rectifying this gap, the Project on Middle East Political Science teamed up with Danish scholar Morten Valbjørn of Aarhus University to bring together nearly two-dozen American, European and Arab international relations scholars in May. The result of the workshop was an astonishingly rich set of essays from a wide range of theoretical perspectives, which are now available for free download here as a special issue in the POMEPS Studies series.
    Keywords: Middle East, North Africa, Political Science, International Relations, Theory, POMEPS Studies
    Date Uploaded: 07/25/2017
  9. Islam and International Order, POMEPS Studies 15 [Download]

    Title: Islam and International Order, POMEPS Studies 15
    Author: Lynch, Marc
    Description: Islam has rarely been far from the center of the world’s political and security agenda in the decade and a half since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack against the United States. The range of issues to which Islam has been deemed central is staggering, from transnational terrorism and counterinsurgency in Iraq to the possibility of democracy in the Middle East. These long-running debates have been galvanized over the last few years by the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, shocking acts of terrorism from Paris to Tunisia, and the failure of the democratic experiment with Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt. In April 2015 the Project on Middle East Political Science and the Transatlantic Academy hosted a workshop for a sustained discussion of emerging questions on Islam and international order. The two-day workshop brought together a broad, interdisciplinary group of scholars, including area specialists and generalists, from the fields of political science, religious studies and history. The workshop, part of the POMEPS Islam in a Changing Middle East initiative, built on the Transatlantic Academy’s 2015 theme of religion and foreign policy. Peter Katzenstein of Cornell University, in his keynote address, put the question of Islam squarely within the racial and civilizational politics of a declining American imperium. This historical and global perspective provoked a wide-ranging discussion. Islam has played many roles in many different regional and global political orders, as Cemil Aydin, Bruce Lawrence and Jonathan Brown evocatively explained. And, as Amitav Acharya forcefully argued, Islam has routinely frustrated the expectations of popular grand theories of world order. The workshop ranged widely over the question of how to think about Islam within global, regional and domestic political arenas, from a diverse range of empirical cases and theoretical literatures. Can Islam really be understood as an actor, with interests and a coherent identity? Is there something unique about Islam that prevents it from being treated theoretically like other cultural traditions such as nationalism, ethnicity or ideology? Should Islam be seen as a causal variable or as a context through which actors pursue their interests and fight their political battles? What are we doing, conceptually and politically, when we describe political thought as “Islamic political thought,” movements as “Islamic movements,” or democracy as “Islamic democracy”? The essays prepared for this workshop are available here as POMEPS Studies 15. Several key themes ran through the discussions. First, several of the memos specifically focus on the emergence of the Islamic State. Marc Lynch surveys the central analytical arguments that have been deployed to explain the Islamic State Caliphate’s development, noting the very different policy responses each might elicit. Barak Mendelsohn and Reyko Huang evaluate the Islamic State in the history of jihadist groups and insurgencies, and Lawrence Rubin argues that ideational balancing will prevent the Islamic State from becoming a normal state. Second, many of the authors explicitly consider how political science has – or has not – been able to explain the relationship between religion and politics. Contributions from Lynch, Nora Fisher Onar, Elizabeth Shakman Hurd and Jillian Schwedler highlight the importance of the context – or frames in Fisher Onar’s words – of how scholars discuss religion and governance. Third, several of the authors look at the dynamic at play between Islam and the state. Nathan Brown urges scholars to rethink the state’s relationship to religion. Jocelyne Cesari lays out a sophisticated typology of the incorporation of Islam into state institutions, and Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar teases out the role of state Islamic rhetoric. John Owen compares the debate over the prospects for Islamic democracy to similar debates in European history, while Daniel Philpott makes a comparative analysis to demystify the notion that Muslim countries are unreceptive to religious freedom. Fourth, several authors focus on the experience of Islamist political movements in the region. Muqtedar Khan prescribes five reforms that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood should undertake, and Rory McCarthy looks to Tunisia to answer, what happens when Islamists lose an election? Together, the essays collected in “Islam and International Oder” offer a diverse, informed study that should help scholars, journalists, policymakers and the public evaluate the immense changes in the Islamist political scene.
    Keywords: Middle East, North Africa, Political Science, International Relations, POMEPS Studies, Islam
    Date Uploaded: 07/25/2017
  10. Islamism in the IS Age, POMEPS Studies 12 [Download]

    Title: Islamism in the IS Age, POMEPS Studies 12
    Author: Lynch, Marc
    Description: The “IS-ification of Islamist politics,” in Khalil al-Anani’s felicitous phrase, has reshaped the ideological and strategic incentives for Islamist groups and their adversaries. It has also posed a new challenge to the categories, concepts and expectations of the academics who study them. In January, the Project on Middle East Political Science brought together more than a dozen leading scholars of Islamist movements to discuss the Islamic State and its effects on the broader terrain of Islamist politics. Some of the papers prepared for that workshop have been published on The Monkey Cage already and all are now collected into a new edition in the POMEPS Studies series “Islamism in the IS Age,” available for free download here. The challenge posed by the Islamic State can be broken down into a number of discrete areas. First, there is the effort to understand the nature of the group itself: its ideology, its organization and its likely future prospects. Second, there are questions about its relationship and impacts upon other groups, from the very similar (al-Qaeda) to the essentially different (the Muslim Brotherhood). Third, there are important analytical questions about the relative significance of ideology, institutions and strategic competition. It is useful to be precise about which of the arguments that consume the public sphere, such as how “Islamic” the organization is, really matter. The same is true of whether the analytical categories such as the “moderate/radical” divide or the distinction between Salafi-jihadists and mainstream Islamists still offer useful leverage. While its novelty and long-term significance may well be overstated, the Islamic State has indisputably reshaped the region’s strategic and intellectual agenda. Its rapid capture of territory through large swathes of Iraq and Syria and declaration of a new caliphate provoked a military response from the United States and have become the principle focus of a broad international coalition. It poses an intriguing ideational challenge to the norms of state sovereignty that underlie international society. Its penchant for broadcasting barbaric spectacles such as decapitations and burning alive of its hostages galvanized the attention of a horrified world. The Islamic State has built a seemingly robust proto-state in the territories it controls, and has seemingly established affiliates, with varying degrees of success, in areas such as Egypt’s Sinai and Libya. Its ability to attract foreign fighters and seeming appeal to certain radical trends has provoked a new round of alarm over domestic radicalization and terrorist threats. All of those effects are exacerbated by the frenzied media coverage of these developments in both the West and the Arab world. How novel is the Islamic State, really, and how significant will its emergence ultimately seem? A great deal of the popular analysis of the group has focused on its distinctive ideology, along with lurid accounts of its indoctrination methods, internal organization and claims to Islamic authenticity. Much of this analysis seems to proceed in an analytical vacuum, with little attempt to compare the details of the Islamic State to the experience of other insurgencies. It has become common to present the Islamic State as something unique in world history, an exceptionally ideological actor with unprecedented state-building capabilities and an uncanny ability to inspire new followers and recruits from around the world. Yet, the Islamic State is hardly the first insurgency to seize territory and seek to govern it through the exploitation of local resources and the attraction of external support. In his contribution to the symposium, Quinn Mecham makes a compelling case that, ideology aside, the Islamic State has established a relatively high degree of stateness already. It is less obvious what to make of this, however. Controlling territory and behaving like a proto-state are, after all, entirely conventional insurgency behaviors. As Megan Stewart has found, since 1945 roughly one-third of all insurgencies have provided health care and education, and “once an insurgency acquired territory, nearly 49 percent would ensure that the civilian population received education or medical care.” Instead, we need to focus on what kind of insurgent governance this is, and how robust it is likely to prove. Zachariah Mampilly observes that ideology tends to matter less in determining the extent and nature of rebel governance than the conditions on the ground and especially the relationship between the rebels and the society over which it holds sway. On those grounds, things look less promising for the Islamic State. Ideology creates a “distinctive governance problem” for jihadist groups, argue Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Amichai Magen, that they “will struggle mightily to address in the longer term.” Reports of the growing use of intimidation to control restive local populations should be taken with several grains of salt, as strategic communications campaigns ramp up. Still, such reports seem like a leading indicator of declining legitimacy and consent, raising the costs of internal control and the likelihood of internal challenges. Nor are the other key features of the Islamic State especially distinctive. Many non-state violent actors have deployed extreme, public violence for strategic purposes, whether to intimidate local populations and foreign enemies or to maintain the morale of its members. The indoctrination of members into an esoteric code of beliefs is a mainstay of insurgencies, from the Marxist-Leninist movements of the Cold War to Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers to the personalistic cults in many African rebellions. Perhaps the most novel element of the Islamic State is its ability to attract foreign fighters to its cause. However, as David Malet has shown in exquisite detail, even this has precedent in past insurgencies and could prove to be as great a weakness as an advantage as travel to its territories becomes more difficult and local populations grow resentful of foreigners. This does not mean that the Islamic State is not formidable. Many of those earlier, similar insurgencies lasted for decades. But it is useful to recognize the Islamic State as far less unique than usually portrayed, with many of the same strengths and weaknesses of comparable territorially-rooted insurgencies. From this perspective, the Islamic State may be likely to crumble far more quickly than conventional wisdom suggests. As life in its territory grows harsher and lines of division emerge between foreign fighters and local populations, the Islamic State will likely have to expand the share of resources devoted to forcefully maintaining local control. The initial appeal of the Islamic State rested to a considerable degree on its momentum and carefully cultivated aura of invincibility, which seemed to confirm its divine provenance in the eyes of potential fighters. Now that it is mired in a hurting stalemate, losing ground in Iraq while grimly holding on in Syria, such appeals to invincibility are less persuasive. Its extreme savagery has increasingly alienated mass publics, whom do not seem to share the conviction of Western analysts that it represents anything to do with genuine Islam. This brutality does have the benefit of simultaneously mobilizing the most radical potential recruits into action, however, as can be seen in the rising numbers of reported foreign fighters flowing to Syria and Iraq. Whether the pool of admirers shrinks faster than extremists are mobilized or replenished will be a crucial measure of the success of the Islamic State’s strategy. The collapse of the Islamic State would be something to welcome, of course. But this should not be equated with either the disintegration of the underlying organization or with the disappearance of broader jihadist ideas and ideologies. The organization may persist longer than its state, going underground following the defeat of the state as its predecessor al-Qaeda in Iraq did following setbacks in the late 2000s. Its members, and the foreign fighters which fuel it, might simply transfer their allegiance to one of the many available jihadist groups fighting in Syria’s grinding, fragmented and multipolar civil war, leading to little real change in that conflict. The same is true for shattered states like Libya’s or Yemen’s. Failed states, intense sectarian conflicts and repressive regimes are fertile ground for the growth of jihadist movements, and all those ingredients seem likely to be bountiful in the coming years. Variants of jihadist insurgency will almost certainly continue to fight in these arenas regardless of the fate of the Islamic State. It is in the realm of confronting jihadist ideology that trends are the least promising. The currently favored strategy, which combines autocratic repression with the official promotion of “moderate” Islam and the conflation of very different movements under the banner of “terrorism,” is likely to make problems worse. Radicalization is driven less by Islamist ideas than by failures of both governance and popular uprisings and the elimination of nonviolent alternatives. The Islamic State gained traction, recall, in a distinctive regional political environment shaped especially by extensive public regional mobilization in support of a sectarian Syrian jihad and the July 3, 2013 military coup in Egypt that brought down the elected government of President Mohamed Morsi. The coup and subsequent regional wave of intense repression of the Muslim Brotherhood ended an extended period of the open political participation by mainstream Islamist movements, discrediting the idea of such democratic inclusion for the foreseeable future and marginalizing the advocates of mainstream political strategies. The regional environment after the failure and perversion of the Arab uprisings is deeply hostile to any public role for non-violent Islamists and highly conducive to radical movements of all flavors. It is a potentially fatal flaw in the emerging strategy that the Arab world’s autocratic resurgence and proxy wars are constantly replenishing exactly the pool of potential extremists which the counter-IS strategy hopes to drain. The Islamic State’s appeal beyond Syria and Iraq should be understood within the political context of the advantage of the chaos and poor decisions that followed the Arab uprisings. The failures of attempted transitions toward democratic governance, along with the region-wide repression of mainstream Islamists and secular activists, have been a strategic gift to al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and other extremist trends. The failure of almost all of the Arab uprisings, with the sole and partial exception of Tunisia, has badly undermined the idea of the possibility of peaceful political change. The horrors of collapsed states and civil war in Libya, Yemen and Syria hang over all political life. None of the underlying drivers of those protests have been resolved and many – from personal insecurity to economic misery – have deteriorated. Focusing on Islam to the exclusion of these vital issues of governance, democracy and economic opportunity will guarantee failure. Encouraging or tolerating repression in the name of counter-terrorism will only fuel the grim cycle of repression, protest and radicalization. Put bluntly, the anti-Islamist campaign being waged by Egypt and the Gulf states that combines fierce repression with the promotion of “moderate” Islam is likely to badly fail: The Islamic messages will have no resonance with intended audiences, while abusive autocracy will continue to drive alienation and rejection of an illegitimate order. The indiscriminate crackdown on Islamists of all stripes, as many of the essays in this collection point out, is likely to change enduring features of their organizations, ideologies and strategies. The crushing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and its repression across the region has radically debilitated its organizational structure and discredited its ideology. That some of its members are now turning to, welcoming or inciting violence is hardly surprising given the political context; hopefully, some enterprising PhD student is currently doing a rigorous study of violence following military coups that might help determine whether Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has been involved in more, less or about the same as is typical. What is clear, though, is that whatever firewall the Brotherhood once offered against violent extremism has now mostly crumbled, with the ideological underpinnings discredited and the organizational structure disintegrated. Khalil al-Anani notes that the rise of the Islamic State “coupled with the crackdown against the Brotherhood has created divisions and rifts within the Brotherhood, triggering intensive debates between the leadership and youth.” Mokhtar Awad and Nathan Brown point out the mutually reinforcing nature of state repression and this disaggregated extremist turn in Egypt. This plays out differently in diverse national contexts of course. In the Gulf, as Kristin Smith Diwan demonstrates, the regional crackdown is closing down long-standing channels for public engagement and political influence for mainstream Brotherhood movements, which already face challenges from Salafi movements in attracting youth. In Syria, as Raphaël Lefèvre observes, the Brotherhood has floundered as other more radical insurgency factions have taken the lead. Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood has divided acrimoniously, while Yemen’s Islah movement has struggled to maintain what Stacey Philbrick Yadav calls its version of “Islamist Republicanism.” Few Islamist movements are likely to remain unchanged by the events of the last few years. Current trends in public rhetoric do the anti-IS struggle no favors. The public conflation of groups such as al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Muslim Brotherhood in today’s political rhetoric contributes to the blurring of once clear lines and likely facilitates recruitment into new violent extremist movements. In some cases, such as the anti-Islamist campaigns in the Gulf and post-coup Egypt, the conflation of distinct groups serves the strategic interests of regimes. In others, it represents genuine analytical confusion. As Anani points out, the equation of the Islamic State with other Islamist trends serves the interests of both hostile regimes and of the Islamic State. In either case, the potential risks are enormous – from the radicalization of previously mainstream groups to the triggering of unnecessary clashes of civilizations. The push to name the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization is an analytical step backward, one which the British government at least has reportedly declined to take. The Muslim Brotherhood, for all the many issues to be raised with its ideology and discourse, typically served as a competitor with and a firewall against recruitment into violent jihadist groups. Its tight organizational structure maintained discipline and ideological focus among its members. The Brotherhood, like most successful organizations, jealously guarded its place within Islamist politics against potential competitors such as al-Qaeda. Today, following Egypt’s military coup, that organization lies in tatters, with much of its leadership in prison and its strategy of democratic political participation discredited. As a result, as Awad and Brown observe, “a substantial reorientation of the Brotherhood may be underway, which could lead back to ideas its leaders had attempted to root out for decades.” This does not weaken jihadist movements such as the Islamic State, but rather strengthens them by removing a traditional mainstream alternative to jihadism. The analysis here focuses heavily on institutions and political strategy. What about Islam itself? Ideology, identity, discourse and rhetoric do matter enormously in politics. High profile recent arguments over the authenticity of the Islamic claims of the Islamic State have not been especially edifying, however. Of course the Islamic State presents itself as Islamic and draws on an elaborate edifice of Islamic references to buttress its case, attract supporters and wage political war on its rivals. Some Muslims agree with all or part of its self-presentation, as Joas Wagemakers notes. But the more important reality is that the overwhelming majority of Muslims find the idea that the Islamic State or al-Qaeda represent their faith to be offensive and absurd. There is little evidence that Muslims view the Islamic State’s claim to represent a new caliphate as anything other than a bad joke. The response of Muslims themselves to claims about their religion should matter far more than textual exegesis. Ultimately, as Peter Mandaville might suggest, Islam is what Muslims make of it. Muslims might someday be driven into a world in which the Islamic State represents their faith, but that is not today’s world. That has also been a core strategic problem for groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, which generally understand that most Muslims don’t agree with its ideas, strategy, tactics or vision. Its acts of savagery sought in part to overcome the reality of their own marginality by inviting retaliation and polarization that remove the option of co-existence and moderation. Terrorism has aimed to drive a self-fulfilling prophecy of existential conflict from which Muslims, as much as non-Muslims, can not escape. As I noted in a recent appearance before the House Armed Services Committee, preventing a spiral toward a clash of civilizations should be a basic lodestar for an effective response to the Islamic State – and that means seeking to quarantine its ideology and expose its marginality, not artificially inflating its claims, while working to address the underlying political and institutional problems really driving people towards extremism. The essays collected in “Islamism in the IS Age” cover a wide range of arguments and perspectives. They do not all agree with my own analysis presented here. Taken together, they offer a rich and incisive collection of analytical perspectives on the current state of Islamist politics and movements. Read all the essays here.
    Keywords: Middle East, North Africa, Islamism, Islam, Political Science, International Relations, POMEPS Studies
    Date Uploaded: 07/24/2017