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Salafism after the Arab Awakening by Francesco Cavatorta and Fabio Merone, editors

24 August 2018

Simon Valentine reads a study of the Salafi movement in Islam

THE Arab Awakening, also known as the Arab Spring, was a series of peaceful and violent protests that occurred throughout North Africa and the Middle East from December 2010 to mid-2012.

Within Islam, Salafism is a movement whose members try to emulate the prophet Muhammad and the Salafi, the pious predecessors usually associated with the first three generations of Muslims.

This book, containing essays written by various experts in Islamic Studies, considers the reaction of Salafism to the “people’s power” that brought about social change in the Arab Awakening.

In the introduction, and the first two of 14 sections, the theology of Salafism is explained with an appraisal of the different (often conflicting) groups within the Salafi movement. Salafism is divided into three main groups: quietists, those reluctant to get involved in politics; politicos, those willing to engage in peaceful political activity; and jihadis, those advocating violence.

Having discussed the nature of Salafism, the book then focuses on the way Salafis have undertaken political activity in different countries. Chapter 3, for example, considers Salafism in Egypt and the creation of the influential al-Nour Party. Other chapters consider Salafism in other countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Kuwait, Morocco, and Jordan.

In discussing Egypt and the al-Nour Party, the book considers an often overlooked aspect of Salafism, namely, the movement’s competition with the Muslim Brotherhood. This rivalry between the two groups is considered further in Chapters 5, 7, and 10, in the context of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Tunisia.

Using Tunisia as a model, chapter 12 considers gender issues and the place of women in Salafism. The conclusion is reached that Salafism, although a conservative movement, is not the exclusive domain of men.

After the final chapter, which looks at the politicisation process in quietist Salafism, the conclusion considers the relationship of Salafism and politics “in the fluid times that Salafis find themselves having to contend with since the Arab Awakening”.

This book, a first-rate appraisal of Salafism during and after the Arab Awakening, challenges stereotypical ideas, and, in so doing, stimulates much-needed debate in the study of Islam and politics.

Among other things, the book highlights how Salafis have recognised political participation as a means of bringing social change. It describes how Salafis have adopted sit-ins, demonstrations, and even social media (such as Facebook and Twitter) to achieve this goal.

Although Salafism is usually regarded as a destabilising factor because of its anti-democratic and illiberal views, the authors controversially argue that Salafism (by expressing Muslim grievances) might actually strengthen the democratisation process.

This book, essential reading for policy-makers and academics, would, however, be heavy going for the general reader.

Dr Simon Ross Valentine is a specialist in Islamic Studies presently working in Iraq.

Salafism after the Arab Awakening: Contending with people’s power
Francesco Cavatorta and Fabio Merone, editors
Hurst £40
Church Times Bookshop £36

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