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About Rethinking Political Islam

Rethinking Political Islam is an innovative initiative designed to generate and shape new public debate on how to think about Islamist movements after the Arab uprisings.

The Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World (IWR) has launched a new project entitled, “Rethinking Political Islam.” The two-year project, funded by the Luce Foundation, aims to better understand commonalities and differences in how mainstream Islamist groups have evolved in light of the unprecedented recent developments in the Middle East. Spanning ten Muslim-majority countries, researchers will consider the range of Islamist responses to the Egyptian coup of 2013, the emergence of pro vs. anti-Muslim Brotherhood geopolitical blocs, and the emergence of ISIS.

Over the course of the project, IWR researchers will develop a series of country-specific papers focusing on Muslim Brotherhood branches and other mainstream Islamists in countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Syria, Morocco, and Kuwait. Based on extensive field research in their countries of focus, paper authors will consider a wide range of issues, including: the viability of gradualist vs. revolutionary approaches to change; to what extent mainstream Islamists are contemplating the use of violence to achieve their political goals; how long-established Islamist groups have responded to the rise of new social movements claiming an Islamic identity, including Salafi groups; and how Islamists think about and relate to major international actors, including the United States and Europe.

The project will be overseen by IWR Director William McCants and Fellow Shadi Hamid.

One of the most innovative aspects of this project is its focus on promoting collaboration and breaking silos of country expertise. The Rethinking Political Islam project will provide a venue for leading experts to learn from other country cases and think more “regionally” about the evolution of mainstream Islamists.

The second half of the project will focus on gathering perspectives directly from Islamists themselves. The project co-principals will convene a dialogue meeting that will bring together Islamist intellectuals and political leaders from a diverse range of countries. Participants will reflect on their experiences of engaging with Western governments and other international actors in recent years.

The project will also examine the increasingly fraught and sensitive questions around the role of ideas and ideology in the world of political Islam, an issue which has come to the fore in light of ISIS’s rise and tense intra-Islamist debates. The goal is to generate and shape new public debate on how to think about Islamists within the foreign policy process.

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