Olivier Roy and post-islamism


les matins - Olivier Roy by franceculture

The above video, from the morning talk show on France Culture (a radio channel where the intellectual level is so high it is tantamount to being completely alien to typical US talk radio), features the "Islamologue" Olivier Roy, one of the best of the French school of academic specialists on Islamism. Roy is known for having coined, some 20 years ago, the failure of political Islam. In this show he discusses the post-uprising Arab world, making the following points:

  • Islamist movements like Ennahda in Tunisia and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt can no longer even be called Islamists, they are conservatives analogous to the religious right in the US. This is what he calls "post-Islamism" — much like socialist parties in Europe abandoned Marxism at some point in the 1970-80s, Islamist movements have abandoned a pure Islamist framework by combining "a religious reference" with democracy in a plural political space. They cannot impose themselves, and they do not necessarily deal with issues such as women's rights in terms of Sharia, but in terms of "family values."
  • He makes a difference between the above, which he calls "a product of the Arab Spring" and its democratic underpinnings, with the call for Sharia in Libya for instance not being a product of the Arab spring in that is is not in a democratic context, since Libya is now the product of foreign intervention in a civil war, with one side having taken power. He predicts the question of who wields power in Libya will be settled by the Kalashnikov rather than the ballot box.
  • He said Rachid Ghannouchi does not have a dual discourse, he has been quite coherent for 20 years and reminds listeners that when Ghannouchi was a political refugee, he was refused a visa by France.
  • The debate between Muslims Brothers and Salafis in Egypt will be key. The MB must now choose to align itself with Salafis or make its own beliefs distinct, much like the right in Europe must distinguish itself from the far right which accuses it of having abandoned core values. MB has not campaigned as an Islamist party as much as the party of order and stability.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.