The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

The rise of informal Islamists

The Advent of “informal” Islamists - Khalil al-Anani | The Middle East Channel:

The fragmentation of the Islamist scene in Egypt is a hallmark characteristic of the post-Hosni Mubarak era. After stagnation and dominance by one force, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), the Islamist scene has been drastically reshaped. More than 15 Islamists parties have officially or unofficially emerged after the revolution. Myriad Islamists have overwhelmed the public sphere freely and painlessly. And a parliament dominated by Islamists is in commission. It seems the lure of politics has immersed Islamists.

However, while many are preoccupied by the "rise" of the Muslim Brothers and the ultra-conservative Salafis, "informal" Islamists are stepping into politics vigorously and freely. They are not officially affiliated with any Islamist movement. Nor are they keen to establish their own organizations. Ironically, they shunned joining any of the new Islamists parties. Moreover, whereas "formal" Islamists, for example, the MB, ad-Dawa al-Salafiyya, and ex-Jihadists, rushed to formal politics, "informal" Islamists prefer to play outside the official framework. They vividly operate in the new and expansive religious market that has flourished in Egypt since the revolution.

Good piece drawing attention to the fact that Egyptian Islamism has gotten a lot more complicated (or rather that its complexity has been brought to the fore by the removal of security constraints) and that independent actors such as prominent sheikhs can have a large political impact outside of formal institutions. Most interesting, as Khalil puts it, is that informal Islamists "target the members of "formal" Islamist organizations" — as we're seeing in the difficulty the Muslim Brotherhood and the Nour Party are having in endorsing a presidential candidate without alienating their base.

Here's an excerpt from something I am in the middle of writing that touches on this:

The two biggest Islamist trends, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi movement, performed well in the parliamentary elections but face much greater problems in advancing a candidate of their own for the presidency. As the dominant parties in parliament (through the Freedom and Justice Party and the Nour Party respectively) they face multiple dilemmas: whether to choose a candidate among their leaders or a figure that has broader appeal, whether to back a candidate who is strongly independent and critical of SCAF or someone more conciliatory and controllable, and most of all how to resolve the divisions that exists among their bases and their leadership over who might be an appropriate figure.

This was evident in the Salafists' reluctance to choose a candidate and in the Muslim Brothers' back–and–forth or the selection of a candidate. The problem is particularly acute for the Brothers: both leading Islamist contenders (Aboul Fotouh and Abu Ismail) come from opposite ends of the Islamist spectrum, both have ties to the Brotherhood, and both are perceived to being uncontrollable by the group's leadership. This is probably why the Brotherhood is now trying to build internal consensus around a prominent external figure (Tareq al-Bishri, the prominent Islamist intellectual, has refused; so has Secretary General of the Arab League Nabil al-Arabi; Mansour Hassan is uncertain and head of the Supreme Council of the Judiciary Hussein al-Gheriani appears to be the favorite candidate but would be a late-starter with little name recognition.)

This is a really, really, big problem for the MB and the press is relaying on a daily basis their changes of mind, including the strong resistance from within to simply doing the obvious and nominating Khairat al-Shater for the presidency.