Islam and the Arab Revolutions

The Ulama Between Democracy and Autocracy

August 2021 9781787383944 392pp


The Arab revolutions of 2011 were a transformative moment in the modern history of the Middle East, as people rose up against long-standing autocrats throughout the region to call for ‘bread, freedom and dignity’. With the passage of time, results have been decidedly mixed, with relative success stories like Tunisia contrasting with the emergence of even more repressive dictatorships in places like Egypt, with the backing of several Gulf states.

Focusing primarily on Egypt, this book considers a relatively understudied dimension of these revolutions: the role of prominent religious scholars. While pro-revolutionary religious scholars justified activism against authoritarian regimes, counter-revolutionary scholars have provided religious backing for repression, and in some cases the mass murder of unarmed protestors.

Usaama al-Azami traces the public engagements and religious pronouncements of several prominent scholars in the region, including Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Ali Gomaa and Abdullah bin Bayyah, to trace their role in either championing the Arab revolutions or supporting their repression. He concludes that a significant consequence of counter-revolutionary scholarly engagements has been the precipitation of a crisis of authority among their followers around the world, including among Western Muslims.


Usaama al-Azami is a departmental lecturer in Contemporary Islamic Studies at the University of Oxford. He completed his BA in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Oxford, his seminary training at Al-Salam Institute, and his MA and PhD in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. He specialises in Islamic political thought.

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