Main Challenges Facing Islamic Movements In Recent History

Last years signaled a clear retreat in the Islamic movement’s course in Arab, Muslim and Western countries, concerning its presence on levels of reformist and change political action; we can  remember that, two decades ago, when the movement was rising and spreading, there were some who wrote and explained the factors and variables and analyzed the realistic reasons that led to that; nowadays, while it faces like any political and social phenomenon a state of political retreat after this rise, these analysts are called on to discuss the factors that lead to the retreat and to as k questions around its noticeable indications, and to analyze the aspects and reasons of the political stagnation of the groups and organizations that raised or tried to apply the slogans of the Islamic project.


If there were those who wrote in the 1970s and 1980s till early 1990s advising and giving views to review and self criticize from inside the Islamic movement, they are called on to continue the task in a deeper and more specialized way and with a broader degree of frankness after the aspects of retreat surfaced; we can say that writing about this has become a time necessity, because an experienced man should contemplates how the movement that was mandated by the Nation to carry the mission of reform and change and saw that it is the method for passing its cultural crisis to confront the Zionist project and Western challenges on the one hand and tyranny of domineering regimes on the other hand, how they have become suffering from a complete and complicated crisis that hinders them from carrying out this role and that duty. Doing this review proves that the movement realizes the nature and core of its message and its required reformist and change role.


It is needless- I think- to hold partial evaluations to political mistakes that the political reformist movements have committed and to recognize them inside specific and limited frameworks, but what is needed is a serious review for the political and Da’wa gains on the total and complete level, and to clarify the extent of the ability to respond to challenges imposed by the current time with all its variables..


The signs of retreat: One of the most prominent signs of the total retreat may be the way with which the Islamic movement tackle the list of challenges confronting it and that at least question its reformist and change roles and course nowadays, not to mention those related to the operation of making strategic decisions; the practical experiences of the Islamic political exercise led by some groups and organizations in the movement and through which they assumed power in countries like Iran, Afghanistan and Sudan, faces real challenges and problems, if it isn’t a failure in different degrees; the practical experiences of a political practice through participating in the executive and legislative authorities through the election processes and parliaments in countries like: Turkey, Jordan, Yemen, Kuwait and Egypt not to mention Pakistan and Southeast Asian Nations, are witnessing either repetition, stagnation or an actual retreat, and we think that the signs noticed by an analyst observing this phenomenon in this regard backs what we propose; also, the operations of political violence and fight that some movements considered as a means for a political change reached a deadlock according to them and some of their leaders declared stopping and retreating from them .


Guarantees of Objectivity: the writer knows that he is discussing a very delicate and sensitive issue which some would rather avoid discussing, or that we should not discuss it in publicly for various considerations; evaluating some of theses motives, but I believe in the opposite; what is required while discussing this sensitive issue is sincerity and objectivity which can be available through two guarantees :

First: the moral guarantee which materializes when the study covers a phenomenon that I personally noticed and experiencing.

Second: the academic guarantee which materializes when the researcher is specialized in the phenomenon which he is studying, giving objectivity and academic treatment as writing isn’t an entertainment or a hobby but a specialization.

Although the study has stable presumptions and indications on the detailed cases, it is interested in diagnosing the general epidemic that hit all sensitive regions and nerves in the body without details in an attempt of knowing the dimensions of the challenge to face it if they seek a real presence.


Islamic Movement ’s nature, defining concept, clarifying political phenomenon :

We will not debate in terms about defining that phenomenon that we will know practically and procedurally through distinguishing between three levels: the call (Daiwa), the movement, and the organization with their overlap and tangling; the call “Da’wa” is primarily an individual duty that every Muslim is supposed to exercise in speech and deed; it turns into movement when any duty of the call moves from being an individual conviction to a collective behaviour. This is what we call it the social expression or social body of the movement, the religious account which is considered the specific or vital field from which the movement is formed in its third level which emerges when the movement tries to make the call Da’wa take the shape of a country and a political regime; hence, the Islamic movement becomes the Islamic organizations groups that constitute the political expression of this popular or social movement; thus, the Islamic movement is the popular and social movement that emerges from a specific understanding of Islam as a call (Da’wa), and wants to make it take the shape of a country and at least a specific political regime in the first stage through a group of various means and tools which are within framework of the Islamic legitimacy .


Consequently, we do not mean a specific group or movement, but we believe that academic description and analysis to challenges can be applied on all with relative degrees according to this concept of the Islamic movement that I defined.


Equations of challenge and response: the main problem of the issue is around defining the nature and trends of the nature between the challenges confronting the Islamic movement and hindering its reformist political efforts and on the one hand, and the level of responses that the movement gives over these challenges and their kinds on the other hand, we can answer them through handling four variables:


First: defining the nature and essence of the current challenges, and their levels.

Second: understanding the historic experience regarding attitudes of change and reform in various political and social movements.

Third: Understanding the nature of the conflict that the movement is facing and its equations.

Fourth: Defining the extent of responses that the movement gives towards those challenges, and will be limited here to clarifying an analytic list of the most important of these realistic challenges.


The main challenges that face the movement nowadays


These challenges emerge from three interactive levels taking into account that some of these challenges face the Islamic movement and face also other groups that press for the issue of cultural and doctrinal identity and difference about the dominant civilization:


International and regional environment

First level: the challenges resulting from international, regional and organizational environment; they can be summarized in four main challenges as follows:

1- The challenge of submitting to US and Western domination :

This challenge is clear to the extent that it is agreed among most researchers that most Arab and Islamic strategic decision making is determined by The United States in most crucial and key issues (the conflict with the Zionist entity is a top example); also, the file of the Islamic movement and the strategy of dealing with it is considered one of the main files listed in the relation of most regimes with The United States which all consider them as the strongest threats to US domination and interests in the region; does the Islamic movement have a view towards the way of dealing with this challenge which no longer an external challenge in most countries, and it is now forming most internal policies towards the movement?.


2-The challenge of a settlement with the Zionist entity:

The Zionist entity has a stable view and strategy to deal with the regional issues and it realizes clearly that its real enemy is the Islamic movement which has a popular dimension; reading the decisions of Sharm Al Sheikh Summit and what Foreign Minister Shimon Peres wrote, we can find this clearly demonstrated; he considered the so called terrorist and fundamentalist movement as ” the common enemy of Israel and ruling regimes in the region “; the exercises of the Palestinian Authority towards both Hamas and Islamic Jihad Movements are within the so called security coordination are clear examples in this regard; does the Islamic movement as a whole, nay the movements that lead the resistance’s option, have a full view for the future of the issue within framework of the equations of the status quo, and its origins and the methodology that it abides by?


3- The challenge of the regimes’ relation with the Islamic movement:

Most ruling political regimes relatively consider the Islamic movement their arch enemy and main challenge nowadays; therefore, its social and political presence ranges between ” a legal ban” and ” a calculated actual permission “, and the security apparatus is mostly considered a tool for dealing with it through a security blockade consisting of arrests, detentions and aborting and stopping activities; if some see that the movement has decided to choose the political participation as a strategic option, has the movement stopped to evaluate to what extent this option is serious regarding realizing their targets, and achieving the wished-for change, or that the participation has become a tool for keeping situations as they are and the movement turned into just an easy digit in the political equation?


4-The intellectual, information and political challenge to the phenomenon of globalization:

Stereotyping and Americanization are one of aspects of globalization and is opposite to the idea of ” international ” which is one of the axes of the Islamic movement; its effects include, in addition to stereotyping, dissolving the national identity and at the same time highlighting the logic of ethnic and religious minorities, another kind of challenges to the movement requiring a specific kind of response.

Also, the communication revolution imposes a challenge related to ” the kind of information ” and a possibility of controlling monopolizing it and also the content of information, who defines and possesses it …And so on.


Does the Islamic movement possess a specific and clear view to deal with the globalization logic with challenges imposed on it and on its societies, the opportunities of political and other than political action and that it affords.


The Social Context

The second level: the challenges resulting from the social context in which the movement is acting; it can divided to four :

1- Popularity of the Islamic movement:

It hasn’t been academically proved that the conviction of the Nation’s public opinion sectors that the Islamic movement and what it offers are the required alternative to address their needs or whether reform and change are possible; the available indications in this respect from the election processes until now shows that the movement obtains even at best 20 % to 25 % of the support of the nation sectors; of course, we do not rely so much on the reflection of the elections as an indication due to the organized rigging marring it, but it may be the available measure at the public level until now; anyway, a reform or a change can’t take place only on the basis of interest and sympathy; also, betting on constant attitudes from the public opinion or permanent features is a matter that needs academic evidence; to what extent has the Islamic movement studied its popularity nowadays, and is it the real popular power or it is the most organized power? does the silent or oppressed majority necessarily back the Islamic movement?; does the political sympathy in elections means a political position necessarily supporting the movement or it can be just a hatred towards the other, not necessarily a love to the movement?? Does the Islamic movement has conclusive answers for these many questions?


2- Elitism of the Movement:

The Islamic movement is considered a relatively organized power in its societies; nevertheless, it is ” taking into consideration size and position” still an elite concentrated on social classes and sections, and specific cultural fields, with specific features in terms of their characteristics, ability to change and in terms of its capabilities and effectiveness; broad sections of this elite group are already made use of and employed in other projects which may be competing or opposing the Islamic movement; all that indicates that it is generally weak to the extent that it can’t give the required response; has the Islamic movement reviewed the studies analyzing the social bases of itself and its leaders, and explained accordingly its capabilities to change and to have a political action, and explained also the ability to contain it in this framework? Has it tried to get out of this elitist scope in order to be a popular movement ?


3- Seeing the movement as part of a modernist project of a Westernized country:

This challenge is different, as it looks at the Islamic movement as a marginalized part in the structure of a ” modernist country ” and of its modernist elite; however, it differs with and opposes it; this is because it hasn’t been founded and hasn’t developed founded in the institutions of a normal Nation and can’t be considered an extension of them, like mosques and endowments, and traditional religious universities embodying the Islamic idea; it is basically found in modernist sections and buildings in the state’s modernist institutions which is shunned by the Nation’s base, according to proponents of this argument; does the Islamic movement has a view for contacting the nation’s original institutions, to what extent can this view address the practical exercise?


4- The pioneering or leading role in the society :

The Islamic movement introduced itself as being a leader to reform and change in its societies according to general slogans; there were degrees of conviction towards this in some Arab and Islamic societies; the phenomenon has started to take shape during the last two decades in which the movement experienced- partially with differing degrees- participations or overcoming; during them, the movement did not succeed in introducing down to earth models for the wished for reform and change ( regardless of the causes which some of them are out of the control of the movement), even the cases introduced as being models for the successes of Islamic movement on the national level, like Afghanistan, Sudan, and Iran, the current rows, conflicts and retreats that they suffer from are obvious; concerning the Islamic movement participating in the political action, its achievements in terms of reformist and change action are weak. Has the Islamic movement studied the reasons of the retreat of this role? Has it analyzed the caused of the failures that its experiences witnessed in this regard ?


Seven challenges resulting from the movement


The Third Level: the challenges resulting from the Islamic movement and they can be summarized in seven main variables:

1- The view” and ” the project”:

The Islamic movement needs a clear methodic and specific view to deal with the ruling political authority and the ruled society and it needs a political reformist or change project; in this regard, we can academically distinguish between two issues: First: the reform and change action on the one hand, and the view controlling it and defining its paths and organizing its trends on the other hand; no serious analyst can deny that there are cultural reformist and political actions carried out by the Islamic movement, but the problem is that they don’t often result from a specific view, hence it does not eventually serve clear and specific targets; this absence makes its capacities actually invested in contradictory targets and projects and to justify policies opposing the Islamic movement itself.

Second: the academic discrimination between the integrated political project on the one hand, and the election agendas that the movement has in most countries in which it exercised syndicative and political action; therefore, the movement should recognize that it did not offer an integrated political project for reform and change on international or national levels. Of course, there are justifications for this, some of them are acceptable; this does not mean that there are no general ideas around most of the political views derived from the movement heritage but it needs to be reviewed. In sum, the Islamic movement in general did not lay down its political reform and change project in a specific and clear language suitable for addressing the challenges that it faces at the time being.


2- The leadership

Most current leaders of the Islamic movement have the characteristics of the ruling leaders of the regimes that they oppose; both of them have common features and characteristics and face similar crises that some of them are related firstly to the legitimacy of their assuming leadership and are related secondly to their right and worthiness to remain in them and thirdly: the legitimacy of their achievements and the efficiency of their performance in their roles… and so on; there is no specific and clear ways for circulating power; also, most leaders belong to the founding generation and the leadership hasn’t been given to other generations to test to what extent the movement is an institution; also, most leaders reach their positions and keep them in ways lacking real consultation; also, their exercises lack the roles which the leaders of reformist movement are supposed to carry out; consequently there are questions regarding turning from ” leadership ” into “presidency” and from the legitimacy based on ” a historical experience ” to the legitimacy based ” actual achievement” and commitment to building real consultative institutions.


3- The organizational and administrative challenge:

It is a challenge that reflects a crisis which realistic factors contributed to making and there is no room for analyzing them here; it is a multi-level crisis whose core is that the movement changed into an organizational administrative institution so that the organizational side swallowed other key sides; this organizational and administrative challenge is very serious because ” the organizational and administrative factor is a tool for moving the project from the movement to practical and actual real world.


4- The contradiction of views regarding targets and methods of reform and change:

The phenomenon generations is normal and all societies and human groups including definitely the Islamic movement, know it as a social movement; but the crisis here is not related to the presence or absence of generations, but is related to the nature of the relation between them; one of the merits of the Islamic movement is that it is a movement with continuous generations; at least, there are several generations inside its structure differing with differing countries; the problem isn’t related to the presence of a generation conflict inside the movement on leadership or any other issues circulated by some superficial studies; the problem is that these generations bear what is more serious on the future of the movement itself: a group of different concepts and contradictory and inconsistent views about the features of reform and change; also, they carry many different views about the nature of conflict and the challenges that face the movement and also different methods for dealing with and responding to them; thus, there are, inside a one single movement, movements and groups differing in degrees reaching limits of contradiction sometimes; this challenge may fade under pressures of external challenges that afflict the movement, but they are present in all cases and it can appear at a historical moment and explode in specific contexts .


5- Low quality and level of the new generations:

The new generations which have been recruited particularly during years of the last decade suffers according to several indications from problems that don’t lie only in the clear retreat in quantity but in addition to that, the quality and level of the new members has also witnesses a retreat which may be attributed to the ambiguous bases according to which the recruitment and promotion take place, and not developing educational programs and activities and their harmony and also the ineffective organizational forms through which these programs and activities are practically taking place, and which seriously need to be reviewed and renewed, specially because the social context in most Arab and Islamic is deteriorating in general.


6- Respecting specialization:

The Islamic movement respects specialization greatly in its theoretical writings but exercising this even in the activities which are considered specialized in their nature, hasn’t experienced this on the ground, because the procedural and bureaucratic mind often controls.


7-Intellectual reference leaders:

The Islamic movement is suffering nowadays from a huge decrease in the leading generation on intellectual and reference levels, something that some expressed that the movement has a big body and a small head; if we think the age of individual extraordinary diligent references is over, the reformist movements are creating this through think tanks specialized future research and thinking, something that the movement and the experiences haven’t tested their ability to withstand and exist, not to mention their production and creativity.

These are examples of the challenges raised in front of the Islamic movement; we have only described them here as a prelude for analyzing their causes later because it is a very vital issue.



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Amr Al-Chobaki, Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies – Cairo, Egypt