Philosophy, Religion and Science: Why Muslims Rebel: Repression and Resistance in the Islamic World

By Munson, Henry | The Middle East Journal, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Philosophy, Religion and Science: Why Muslims Rebel: Repression and Resistance in the Islamic World


Munson, Henry, The Middle East Journal


Why Muslims Rebel: Repression and Resistance in the Islamic World, by Mohammed M. Hafez. Boulder, CO and London, UK: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2003. xvii + 211 pages. Abbrevs. to p. 214. Bibl. to p. 241. Index to p. 251. $49.95.

In this book, Mohammed Hafez argues that "Muslims become violently militant when they encounter exclusionary states that deny them meaningful access to political institutions and employ indiscriminate repressive policies against their citizens during periods of mass mobilization" (p. xv). The book focuses primarily on Algeria and Egypt, but also includes useful overviews of Islamic militancy in Chechnya, Jordan, Kashmir, the southern Philippines, Tajikistan, and Tunisia. Hafez does not distinguish between Islamist revolts in predominantly Muslim countries, as in Algeria and Egypt, and those that involve resistance to domination by a foreign power (Chechnya) or by a non-Muslim majority (the southern Philippines). These are important differences.

Hafez rightly emphasizes that Islamist revolts cannot be predicted simply on the basis of social and economic conditions. Comparing economic and demographic data for Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia, he notes that there are no significant differences that could account for the very different evolutions of the Islamist movements in these countries during the 1990s (pp. 9-15). He quotes Trotsky's observation that "the mere existence of privations is not enough to cause an insurrection; if it were, the masses would always be in revolt" (p. 17). This point has often been made, but Hafez is right to emphasize it.

Hafez argues that political exclusion is typically a necessary rather than a sufficient cause of Islamist rebellion (p. 23). He argues that "preemptive state repression is likely to deter rebellious activity, even within a context of political exclusion, while reactive and indiscriminate repression promotes rebellion" (p. 23). In other words, repression can succeed if the movement being repressed has not yet mobilized largescale popular support. Once such large-scale popular support has been mobilized, repression tends to be counter-productive.

Hafez uses Algeria as one of his main examples to support his argument. The cancellation of the second round of parliamentary elections in January 1992 effectively forced Islamists to resort to violence. In 1994 and 1995, after widespread violent opposition had emerged, the regime did try to include/co-opt moderate Islamists without much success. Meanwhile it certainly did engage in indiscriminate and brutal repression. …

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