Asef Bayat, Professor of Sociology and Middle Eastern Studies at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:
I appreciate very much the contributions of my colleagues to this roundtable. At the cost of disregarding their nuanced interventions, I highlight two broad arguments. The first, proposed by Nathan and Jillian, is that repression against Islamists in the aftermath of the Arab uprisings is likely to radicalize them. The second, suggested by John, is that the binary of ‘secular’/‘religious’ in the post-Arab Spring is no longer tenable.
There are certainly indications that after the Arab uprisings many Islamists have become more restless, impatient, and inclined towards the use of revenge and violence; there is also evidence that their strategy of participating in the political institutions or elections is giving way to a strategy of attacking the state or even wanting to dismantle it. But, as Nathan confirms, this seems to be the case in the Egyptian scene where the Muslim Brothers have been the subject of extraordinary repression since the 2013 coup. Otherwise beyond Egypt, political work and da‘wa still matter among Islamists in the Muslim world, for instance in Indonesia, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and among Iranian reformists.
But this is still one side of the story of repression. The other side is that repression and constraint, as I suggested earlier, may also ‘moderate,’ in that it may compel actors to rethink their older strategy and pursue a more ‘realistic’ course of action in order to survive and continue their activities until a more favorable opportunity arises to expand. Islamists in the pre-AKP Turkey seemed to pursue this strategy in the face of the challenges posed by the military and secular establishment. In Egypt, after Nasser’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement did not wholly go for violent revolution to dismantle the Egyptian state; in fact, the main trend remained reformist and gradualist. It took more than a decade, when after the defeat in the 1967 war with Israel a new generation of Islamists emerged who broke away from the reformist path to pursue violent revolutionary strategy; I am referring to trends like al-Gama‘a al Islamiyya, the Islamic Jihad and others.
Jillian’s emphasis on individual biographies of Islamists (or members of any other political organization, for that matter) to see when and why they join or leave the organization is very important; and our research would benefit much from such detailed information. But there is also something powerful and plausible about the broad category of ‘generation’ in the sense of Manheim—the idea that Islamists, despite their diverse biographies, may share a common experience caused by an important historical event, like the Arab Spring or the Raba‘a al-‘Adawiyya massacre in Cairo. In this sense, Nathan has a point that a generational gap actually is happening among Islamists. But whether or not the new generation is wholly adopting a more radical vision and strategy is debatable.
Finally, John’s critique of the simple binary of ‘religious’ vs ‘secular’ is well-taken –the idea that a ‘secular’/‘religious’ divide in the post-Arab Spring is not tenable. But this needs a clarification – religious and secular at what level, in what domain, personally or politically? John writes: “When Islamists in Tunisia, for example, work within a coalition government and adopt positions that are not within the bounds of a strictly defined Islamism, they are described as somehow being less religious…… However, …Rashid Ghannouchi’s ‘Muslim democrats’ are not necessarily less religious.” This is very true, if the reference is to the personal belief of the ‘Muslim Democrats.’ But it would be a different matter, if John referred to the form of the state that Muslim Democrats advocate. The state form that al-Nahda’s Muslim Democrats advocate is in fact ‘non-religious,’ according to Ghannouchi. In sum, the most diehard opponents of religious polity may well be very religious people.