Islamists on Islamism: An interview with Rabih Dandachli, former leader in Lebanon’s Gamaa al-Islamiyya

Lebanon's flag flies in front of damaged windows at the Starco building in front of the site of a bomb blast, which killed Lebanon's former Finance Minister Mohamad Chatah, in downtown Beirut December 28, 2013. Chatah, who opposed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was killed in a massive bomb blast on Friday which one of his political allies blamed on the Shi'ite Hezbollah militia. Former prime minister Saad al-Hariri accused Hezbollah of involvement in the killing of Chatah, his 62-year-old political adviser, saying it was "a new message of terrorism". REUTERS/Jamal Saidi (LEBANON - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS) - RTX16VMI

We continue here Brookings’s ongoing video interview series with Islamist leaders and activists, as part of our Rethinking Political Islam initiative. We asked each participant to discuss the state of his or her movement and reflect on lessons learned from the crises of the Arab Spring era, including the rise of ISIS, the Syrian civil war, and the 2013 military coup in Egypt. We will release these videos over the coming months as part of our “Islamists on Islamism today” series (for our previous interviews, see here and here).

During our trip to Istanbul in April 2016, we had a wide-ranging conversation with Rabih Dandachli, formerly the head of the political bureau of the Beirut office of Lebanon’s Gamaa al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group), a Sunni Islamist organization that is often considered the country’s Muslim Brotherhood analogue. 

Dandachli opens the conversation by discussing a paradox: the need to assert his party’s Islamist character in a crowded political field without alienating non-Muslims and non-Islamists. Later, he discusses the appeal of ISIS and the need to speak frankly about religious factors. He argues that, despite the group’s distortion of scripture, young people may be attracted to the organization due, in part, to a fixation on Islam’s earliest days. Dandachli also reflects on the militarization of politics in Lebanon, arguing that governance failures, skyrocketing refugee populations and spillover effects of the Syrian civil war are all dangerous contributing factors.

Check out the full interview here.