Between Religion and Politics

As Islamist movements in the Arab world become more politically active, they are struggling to pursue their moral and religious agenda under unfriendly or repressive regimes.
Published September 21, 2010 by Washington
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As Islamist movements in the Arab world become more politically active, they are struggling to pursue their moral and religious agenda while navigating daily political tussles. In the face of repressive regimes, they have achieved some popular support, but enjoyed few—if any—concrete successes, write Nathan J. Brown and Amr Hamzawy in their new book Between Religion and Politics.

As a result, Islamist movements in Egypt, Morocco, Yemen, Jordan, Palestine, and Kuwait have failed to satisfy their political and religious constituencies. In the coming years, Islamist movements are likely to scale back their political engagement. 

Key Challenges for Islamists:

  • Engage constituents. Despite poor returns in the short run, Islamists should convince their base of the value of political participation.

  • Balance religion and politics. Movements need to find a sustainable balance between pragmatic political platforms and ideological convictions.

  • Better organize proselytizing and political efforts. Islamists must rethink the relationship between political and religious activities to better serve both ends.

“We expect Islamists to compete in subsequent parliamentary elections,” the authors write. “But we also expect that they will place fewer of their hopes (and, in some countries, perhaps fewer of their energies) in a parliamentary strategy, instead contenting themselves for the foreseeable future to reap the limited gains that parliamentary activity offers without viewing it as the sole or even primary strategy for realizing their vision of Islamic reform.”

Reviews for this publication

Two of the most respected and keenly observant analysts of Islamist movement politics in the Arab world have written a compelling book which explores the dynamics and consequences of Islamist groups’ participation in the parliaments of Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Yemen, and the Palestinian Authority. In a series of lucid and engaging case-study chapters, the book highlights the impact of such participation on Arab political systems and the changing character of Islamist groups themselves. The insights it offers make it essential reading for scholars, university students, and policy-makers alike. I look forward to assigning it in my courses!

Carrie Wickham, associate professor, Department of Political Science, Emory University


In this thought provoking tour de force Brown and Hamzawy vividly synthesize an up to date and lucid balance sheet of the political participation of Islamist movements. Conceptually solid and empirically richly informed by various country-based cases, this work is certainly a must read for all those who are interested in Islamism.

Khaled Hroub, director of the Cambridge Arab Media Project (CAMP) at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge

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