Peter Mandaville, professor of government and politics, Schar School of Policy and Government:
I’m struck by how many of us found ourselves referring to concepts like “fluidity,” “fragmentation,” and “uncertainty” in feeling our way through this topic. This is undoubtedly a period of considerable upheaval and indeterminacy in the Middle East. We all clearly see significance in the regional split between, broadly-speaking, pro- and anti-Islamist bloc, even if we parse the question of ideology in different ways.
When I posited the idea that we might be seeing a shift in the underlying sociology that governs Islamist recruitment and mobilization, what I mainly had in mind is the question of how young people subject to forces of resurgent authoritarianism, localized manifestations of regional power rivalries, and a general disillusionment with politics will come to understand the meaning and significance of political Islam. I have a great affinity for Francesco Cavatorta’s “I am not entirely sure” position on this issue since the flux that characterizes so much of the region at present makes it particularly difficult to identify stable causal relationships among the many factors in play.
My reference to the debate on post-Islamism is driven by what Stacey Philbrick Yadav very aptly characterizes as the “fragmented Islamist field.” I do not anticipate the emergence at a scale of anything like Asef Bayat’s more normative take on post-Islamism as progressive politics; rather, at least for now, I think the dominant trend is non-affiliation. When I speak to young activists in the region, I hear from them more often than not a sense that conventional categories of politics and political ideology–secularist, Islamist, leftist, liberal–have little relevance today. The prevailing question is always whether you are with or against the regime. Under such conditions, I think Islamism functions as little more than a vague signifier or aspiration for a different-but-as-yet-undefined politics; something other than the status quo.
Finally, I do think Tunisia will be important to watch. If Ennahda manages to emerge victorious in the elections expected in 2019 and begins to work successfully with groups of different political stripes to actually address Tunisia’s deep-seated structural and socioeconomic problems, then we may see the emergence of a model that could have important demonstration effects elsewhere in the region.