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Book review: Databasing Islamic Movements Worldwide

Sameh Eid attempt to compile a basic database of Islamic movements worldwide, aiming to pave the way to more in-depth research, is shallow

Mahmoud El-Wardani, Wednesday 13 Mar 2013
Marased Series
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Al harakat al islameya fil a’alam (Islamic Movements in the World) by Sameh Eid, Alexandria: Marased Series – Bibliotheca Alexandrina, 2012.
The Future Studies unit of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina continues its publishing of peer-reviewed papers, entitled the Marased Series; the last of which focuses on Islamic movements. The title may be striking as one might imagine large volumes covering such a topic, yet only the last three pages are devoted to it.

The study argues that participation by Islamic movements in the Arab revolutions was not by choice but rather by a reality dictated by the speedy progression of the revolution, which everyone wanted to catch up with.

The Al-Nahda Movement, for example, was the last to actively engage in the revolution in Tunisia; similarly, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt joined in late. Islamists played a very small part in the revolution's origins.

Although some figures of the Islamic movements were present at the beginning of the revolution, they were moved by the general revolutionary atmosphere and not separate from it, thus none of these movements monopolized the space. It was left wide open for a number of Islamist movements that eventually included the Salafists and Jihadist in Egypt for example.

The study then moves to analyze the situation of the Islamist movements in some African nations, without clarifying the purpose for the choice. Libya, Tunisia and Yemen are included, but not Egypt, while India is also discussed despite being in Asia.

The paper refers to the history of Al-Nahda, describing how it started as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, announced its presence publicly in 1981, and then was persecuted and oppressed throughout the reign of Ben Ali. Its leader, Ghanouchi, was banished to Britain for the whole period and returned only after the revolution.

The Al-Nahda platform, the paper argues, aimed for inclusion and tolerance with all other political movements, Secularists included, and based on respect for human rights and women, promising to honour all the international commitments of Tunisia with the world. The recent assassination of Tunisian opposition leader Beleid would point to this study being over optimistic.

Islamists in Libya on the other hand, also suffered enormously under Gaddafi rule, yet there’s little solid information about the weight and size of the political Islam block.

Half the study is dedicated to Islamist movements in East Africa, including Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan, yet each is only quickly touched upon, mainly owing to the lack of information available on the Internet.

The study ends at the post-Arab revolutions phase, stressing that the Islamist movements are required to present a roadmap on their relations with other parties to secure their own identity, and to settle its dispute with other currents such as the Arab Nationalist current that doesn’t stand against religion but disputes current Islamist behaviour.

The last pages reveal the intention from the title, where Eid states that the Islamic movements are various and exist in all corners of the earth; however, documented and recorded information of them is lacking.

The Bibliotheca started this project to set up a database of the movements. This paper attempts to provide a basis for this, offering the reader “essential information and analytical discussion for the basic thoughts, values and concepts etc.” Despite the optimistic target, what is shared in this study is basic and disconnected pieces of data that would be used as an outline for further studies and not really as a “study on Islamic movements” as it claims to be.

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