The ‘Arab Spring’ or ‘Arab Awakening’ that began in Tunisia in 2010 and spread rapidly to several other countries in West Asia and North Africa has been the subject of intense debate and speculation. Most outsiders, however, have focused mainly on the conflicts sparked off by the ongoing churning between the Islamists and secular or liberal elements in these countries. But its effect on Islamism—or ‘political Islam’—has largely been ignored.
Former Indian diplomat and Islamic scholar Talmiz Ahmad, however, argues that “the principal competition” at present is between opposing streams of political Islam itself. In this new book, Ahmad tries to show how this competition among Islamists of different theoretical lineages and tactical persuasion is likely to shape the reality that finally emerges in many of these countries more than any simplistic conflict between Islam and the West.
According to him, Islamism has manifested itself over the last century in three broad strands: the (politically) activist tradition of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood that has also influenced other countries; the quietist Salafism of the Wahabiya in Saudi Arabia that prefers a certain aloofness from the political realm; and the radicalised strand of the latter represented by Al Qaeda and its affiliates, devoted to violent intervention. “None of the strands are monolithic, nor are any of their organisational structures or even belief-systems cast in stone,” Ahmad reminds us, indicating that the position taken by the competitors might change according to the new challenges or opportunities they face.
Therefore, what political shape countries in the region might finally evolve is still uncertain. But by running us through the origin and evolution of the debates and the relations amongst the competitors and other key players in ten chapters, the book gives the reader a good idea of what to expect.
Why is it relevant? That’s a no-brainer. Besides the cultural and geopolitical links, more than six million Indians live and work in WANA (West Asia and North Africa). Moreover, of course, it serves as the main source for our energy needs. Ahmad’s book is useful for anyone trying to understand WANA better and is a valuable addition to the ongoing debate in an area which is of vital global importance.