Secularism Confronts Islamism: Divergent Paths of Transitional Negotiations in Egypt and Tunisia
Date: 12 October 2020
University of Exeter
PhD in Arab and Islamic Studies
The secularist-Islamist conflict proved to be a major hindrance in front of democratisation and a main source of political instability in the Middle East. Therefore, this thesis is an attempt to obtain a clear understanding of the transitional negotiations between the Islamists and secularists in the Arab Spring countries, namely: Egypt ...
The secularist-Islamist conflict proved to be a major hindrance in front of democratisation and a main source of political instability in the Middle East. Therefore, this thesis is an attempt to obtain a clear understanding of the transitional negotiations between the Islamists and secularists in the Arab Spring countries, namely: Egypt and Tunisia. The main research question is: Why did the Islamists and secularists in Tunisia manage to reach a political compromise while they failed in Egypt? This entails answering three questions: What do Islamism and secularism exactly mean in the context of the Arab Spring? Who negotiated with whom on what during the transitional period? And what were the determinants that shaped the negotiation process and affected its results? First, it is argued in this thesis that Islamism and secularism are two sets of competing political ideologies – or worldviews in their extreme versions – with contesting projects for modernisation and rationalisation of religion. Both are not static mutually exclusive categories; instead, they are grand concepts or banners, under which different tendencies and orientations gather. Second, the root causes of this conflict in the case studies can be summarised in three main issues: the political arrangements for power-sharing during the transitional period, the poor performance of the Islamist-dominated governments, and ideologically-driven disagreements during the constitution-making process. The articles related to the political and social role of Islam, whether and how the Sharīʿah should be enshrined in the constitution, the universality of human rights, and the freedom of consciousness and faith, among many other issues ignited severe secularist-Islamist polarisation in Egypt and Tunisia. Third, three sets of variables have shaped the transitional negotiation between the Islamists and secularists in Egypt and Tunisia: the macro-structural variables related to the secularist nature of the pre-transition regime and the role of the military institution in the transitional administration, the meso-structural variables related to the balance of power between the negotiating parties and the degree of maturity and autonomy of the civil society organisations, and the micro-agential variables related to the degree of the negotiating elites’ inclusiveness, legitimacy, capacities, and pragmatism.
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