Academic Conference ERC WAFAW, “With or Without the Brothers”

Domestic, Regional, and International Trends in Islamism (2013-2015)

29-30 October 2015, CERI/Sciences Po, Paris. Organizing committee: Laurent Bonnefoy, François Burgat, Stéphane Lacroix and Bjorn Olav Utvik. Papers and debates will be in English and Arabic (with translation).


Over the last years, politics in the Middle East and North Africa have been shaped by impressive reversals of fortune. Month after month, journalists and analysts have all at some point depicted liberals, Islamists, soldiers, women, jihadis, and youth as the great winners of the “Arab spring”, before being later considered as likely losers. The root causes of the Muslim Brotherhood’s inability, since the fall of Muhammad Mursi in Egypt, during the second “round” of the Arab Spring, to cash in on the political capital originally accumulated thanks to their leading role in the opposition to authoritarian regimes and subsequently during post-revolutionary elections, still calls for substantial research. In parallel, the emergence of the so-called Islamic State has been a game changer, introducing new dynamics that need to be made explicit and analysed by academics. Far from meaning the end of political Islam, the Brothers’ setback is having lasting effects on the Islamist field. The object of this conference, organised by the WAFAW program in partnership with CERI/Sciences Po, IREMAM, IFPO, and Oslo University, is to look into the resilience of the Muslim Brotherhood despite its apparent marginalization and meanwhile how Salafi and Jihadi groups have too been affected by the developments that occurred after the Egyptian military coup of July 2013 and the establishment of the Islamic State in June 2014. The objects of the conference are multiple: to complete the study of the mechanisms generating “disillusionment with the Brothers”, and to better gauge the phenomenon’s importance. We aim to understand what has become of the “survivors” of the Muslim Brotherhood’s and of those Islamists who distanced themselves from the Brothers, often criticizing the concessions made by the latter while in power. The downfall of the Muslim Brothers since the Egyptian military coup is a far cry from having seriously damaged Sunni Islamism as a whole. It is no doubt possible that certain disillusioned Brothers may have called into question the “Islamist” dimension of their political commitment. It is however well established that a part of the “disillusioned”, whose numbers have yet to be quantified, have become even more radically “re-islamised” as of then. The path to radicalization and violence which they tend to follow leads them to walk in the footsteps of their “Jihadi” predecessors towards a rupture with the doctrinal accommodations which has enabled the Brothers to produce a pattern of “Islamic” recognition of democratic process. Over and beyond the deliberately depoliticized Salafi fringe, the importance of the concessions made by the Brothers in view of the necessities of being in office, when compared with their paltry gains, may well favour a significant shift in mobilizable resources playing into the hands of their direct historical challengers, i.e. of the Salafi, and/or further still afield, in terms of oppositional resources, of the jihadis themselves whether from the al-Qaeda generation or the one pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. The conference is structured around a set of issues. The five successive panels will focus on exploring the effects of political marginalization and repression of Islamists on their relationship to violence, investigating the level of resilience of Muslim Brotherhood networks after 2013 in Egypt and beyond, understanding the way Iraqi and Syrian dynamics have restructured jihadi movements, studying the effects of the emergence of the Islamic State on intra-jihadi rivalries, examining the reconfigurations of the broad Islamist field.