Stacey Philbrick Yadav, associate professor of political science, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Revisiting the other contributions, I am struck by two powerful binaries that seem to underwrite our approaches, despite differences among them. One is the distinction between the domestic and the international, and the other between the material and the ideational. My concern is that speaking of these as distinct variables that can be neatly isolated in causal explanation is arguably a methodological move among political scientists more than it is an empirical feature of the dynamics we are describing.
As Brotherhood ideas have spread transnationally, been localized and reworked, been institutionalized in different forms, been debated in local idioms, etc., should we understand these ideas as shaped by domestic or international political influences? Do the “same” ideas expressed in different contexts mean the same thing? When I read a biography of Hassan al-Banna in the pages of al-Sahwa in Sana’a in the early 2000s, did that convey the same message as a similar biography published in Cairo on the eve of Morsi’s election? Did it do the same work? When members of Islah met with Egyptian Brothers in Doha during Yemen’s transitional process, did this mark (simply/only) the spread of Egyptian Islamism across territorial borders? These are just a few prosaic (but real) examples of the conceptual messiness of the domestic/international distinction at the level of ideas.
It might seem like the domestic/international distinction is less messy when we talk about material factors, since flows of aid and investment do move across space in identifiable ways. Here, I would tend to agree with Samer Shehata that domestic struggles fueled the tumult that invited or even incentivized international influences. But Francesco Cavatorta reminds us of the role of a more amorphous process of “globalization” occurring outside of or alongside the interests of specific allies or blocs in the region or beyond. This brings to mind the wide literature on the role of satellite media and later social media as forms of resource mobilization in specific local struggles. So even here, the relationship between domestic struggle and international influence is, at best, recursive.
Lastly, there is the question of pragmatism vs. ideology. I am not convinced that reading regime elites as fundamentally self-preserving pragmatists means that ideology is irrelevant. If we accept Peter Mandaville’s contention (as I do) that local Islamist movements are organized as a demand for “something other than the prevailing order,” then regimes advancing that prevailing order are at least as “ideological” as those who oppose it. Theirs is a conservative ideology in the most literal sense of the term.
What interests me most, though, are those Islamists living and working in environments in which there is no single prevailing order against which to frame their concerns. The organizational and ideological fracturing of the Islamist field (including, but not limited to, dynamics of sectarianization) appears to be a consequence of the broader dissolution of the status quo within and across countries in the region, even if Islamists have played a role in that dissolution. This recursivity, as frustrating as it may be to our disciplinary conventions, is at the heart of Islamist politics–or simply politics–in uncertain times.