Political Islam has become the most important ideology in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and has experienced major transformations over the last several years. This especially applies to Sunni Islamism, which gained power through elections in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya after the overthrow of the respective authoritarian regimes in 2011. In Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, a candidate from the Muslim Brotherhood, even became the president of the state; however, his government failed within a year, a setback for Sunni Islamism in the MENA region. However, political Islam has not lost importance since then but has changed its shape and experienced massive fragmentation processes. Today, Islamist political actors are engaged in very different contexts, ranging from government participation (Tunisia, Turkey) to harsh repression (Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia) and civil war (Syria, Libya, Yemen).
At the same time, various camps have been using political Islam to legitimise their actions: authoritarian regimes such as Iran and Saudi Arabia to maintain their power; opposition movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizbullah, and Hamas to justify their ideology and their domestic approach; and Salafist and jihadist groups to promotetheir worldviews at the regional and global levels. The Islamic State (IS) has gained particular prominence for its extremely violent actions against civilians, which it has conducted to expand and secure territorial control in Iraq and Syria. Yet, as the sharp conflict between Turkey’s incumbent Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Gülenists demonstrates, Islamist fratricide and the political dynamics at play are equally important.
The GIGA has been studying the following questions for years. Its experts have contributed significantly to the understanding of Islamism in the Middle East and North Africa.
- How do Islamist actors act on the political stage and within civil society, and what means do they adopt to reach their intended publics?
- What worldviews do they present in their programmatic writings, and how do these differ from the positions held by official Islamic authorities and bodies that are commonly affiliated with local regimes?
- In what contexts do Islamists legitimate or reject violence? How do their ideas affect society?
- How are the various Islamist groups linked to each other in transnational networks, and how do they cooperate or compete with secular actors and amongst themselves?