From Independence to Revolution

Egypt’s Islamists and the Contest for Power

Part of the Urban Conflicts, Divided Societies series
February 2017 9781849047050 264pp


From Independence to Revolution tells the story of the complicated relationship between the Egyptian population and the nation’s most prominent political opposition — the Islamist movement. Most commentators focus on the Muslim Brotherhood and radical jihadists constantly vying for power under successive authoritarian rulers, from Gamal Abdul Nasser to General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Yet the relationship between the Islamists and Egyptian society has not remained fixed. Instead, groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, radical jihadists and progressive Islamists like Tayyar al Masri have varied in their responses to Egypt’s socio-political transformation over the last sixty years, thereby attracting different sections of the Egyptian electorate at different times.

From bread riots in the 1970s to the 2011 Tahrir Square uprising and the subsequent election of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi in 2012, Egypt’s Islamists have been countering authoritarian elites since colonial independence. This book is based on the author’s fieldwork interviews in Egypt and builds on comparative political approaches to the topic. It offers an account of Egypt’s contesting actors, demonstrating how a consistently fragmented Islamist movement and an authoritarian state have cemented political instability and economic decline as a persistent trend.


In this meticulously researched book, Kennedy examines the many faces of Islamism in Egypt and the dialectical relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood, the most powerful Islamist trend, and the authoritarian nationalist state. Conceptually rigorous and empirically rich, From Independence to Revolution highlights the multiple dualities in Egyptian politics and the fierce struggle for power which has led to an arrested social development. Kennedy’s book deserves wide readership.‘ — Fawaz Gerges, Professor of International Relations, London School of Economics, author of ISIS: A History

‘In this well-researched book, Kennedy tracks the testy relationship between the various strands of Egyptian Islamism and the bureaucratic-authoritarian orders of Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak. In her focus on Islamism’s ideological and strategic shortcomings, Kennedy advances our understanding of Egypt’s religio-political landscape, including the contentious events that led to the downfall of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013.’ — John Calvert, Professor of History, Creighton University, author of Sayyid Qutb and the Origins of Radical Islamism

Kennedy provides a theoretically informed and readable account of Egyptian Islamism. The book’s strength is to locate the evolution of distinct Islamist trends within Egypt’s shifting economic, political and social terrain. Kennedy develops a convincing argument to explain why Islamism was unable to capitalise on the opportunity presented by the fall of the Mubarak regime in 2011.’ — Ewan Stein, Senior Lecturer in International Relations, University of Edinburgh, and author of Intellectual Dynamics in the Middle East and North Africa

From Independence to Revolution is a superb account of Egyptian Islamism and its interactions with the state. Kennedy adeptly deploys Gramscian concepts to provide the reader with a theoretically informed study of how to understand Islamism in Egypt. It is this novel theoretical approach that makes this such a significant contribution to the study of an important phenomenon.’ — Francesco Cavatorta, Associate Professor, Université Laval in Quebec, Canada, co-editor of Salafism After the Arab Awakening

‘Informed by the writings of Gramsci, this work by Kennedy…provides incisive analysis of Egyptian politics since 1952, notably of the role of Islamist movements. The author shows how none of the varieties of Islamism, which he classifies as conservative, radical, and progressive, has succeeded in establishing the sort of overall consensus…that allows governing through democratic means. This is an important study, based on extensive research (including interviews). It will be essential reading not just for students of contemporary Egypt and of Islamist movements, but also, in light of its theoretical treatment of central concerns of comparative politics, for many others as well.’ – Choice



Gillian Kennedy is a lecturer at the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Southampton. She has a PhD in Middle Eastern Politics from King’s College London and was previously a Leverhulme Fellow there. She has had articles published on Open Democracy and in the Montreal Review, as well as appearing as a regular commentator on Egyptian politics for BBC Newshour.

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