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Islamic Radicalism and Failure to Establish the Ideal Government

Submitted by on September 10, 2011 – 19:01No Comment

Seyed Abdolamir Nabavi

Institute for Social and Cultural Studies (ISCS), Tehran, Iran


Islamic Radicalism in the Arab World, despite many years of serious and constant struggles, has been unable to attain its most important goal: the establishment of Islamic government. Accordingly, this paper examines the causes of this failure, considering the experiences of Egypt. While most experts on Islamism have focused upon the adoption of a policy of continued suppression by the Egyptian government, and on the other hand, huge Western support for the country’s political elites, and have viewed these two variables as influential in the failure of the current in question, a different hypothesis can be proposed. On this basis, although the role the aforementioned factors play in this regard cannot be denied, “ambiguities” and “simplifications” towards the political and social questions found in the radical Islamists’ thoughts have been introduced as two significant factors explaining their failure to attain power and establish a Islamic government. In this respect, the thoughts and opinions of Seyed Qutb and Mohammad Abdussalam Faraj who are among the most salient theoreticians in this movement will be studied and analyzed.


Keywords: Political Islam, Islamic Government, Seyed Qutb, Mohammad Abdussalam Faraj, Radicalism, Terrorism.


Egypt is considered as one of the old bases of Islamism in the Arab world. Various Islamist groups have been formed in this country and proportional to their domestic conditions and also the prevailing atmosphere, they have been exerting influence on the social and political climate of the country. The most important aim of these groups, regardless of the extent of their influence, has been creating a new social and political order in this country, based on sharia. Obviously the fulfillment of this objective precipitates dismantling the incumbent political system and transforming its existing pattern of relations with Western countries and, in particular, the US.

Although the Egyptian Islamic groups have had their ups and downs in the past years, based on their approaches to achieve their set goals, they can be divided into two main currents: 1. Moderate groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, the oldest Islamic movement in Egypt, which have based their activities on the principle of “da’wa” (invitation) and gradual transformation. 2. Extremist groups such as Aljihad and Aljama’a al-Eslamiah which view “jihad” and armed struggle as the only feasible ways to attain their goals. It is quite apparent that none of these groups have achieved their goals, and the Islamists’ determined and sustained attempt, either moderate or extremist has not culminated in the establishment of an Islamic government in Egypt; neither the peaceful behavior of the Muslim Brotherhood nor the armed struggle of Aljihad and Jama’a al-Eslamiah has been efficient. In a significant transformation in the late 1990s “the ceasefire declaration” was issued by the imprisoned leaders of Aljjihad and Jama’a Aleslamiah and was endorsed by Sheikh Omar Abd al-Rahman who was in prison in New York at the time. According to this declaration the Islamists were requested to abstain from violence and armed attacks. Although this announcement was initially doubted and opposed by the leaders of the two groups, in 1999 Jama’a Aleslamiah officially announced that it would halt its military operations. Moreover in an interview in 2002, some of the imprisoned leaders talked about “rethinking their position” and “correcting their past blunders”. (1)

What is at issue here has been formed through focusing on the radical current based on the frustration and failure in fulfilling the objective­ – the establishment of an Islamic government. In other words, the question is why haven’t they succeeded in establishing their favorable political system and ideal government despite years of ceaseless struggle and armed activities? Interestingly, most radical groups deemed establishing an Islamic system in Egypt as the initial, and not the final step in the course of their struggle; they did not intend to merely seize the political system in Egypt, but they considered it as one stage of a lengthy far-reaching global struggle.

Many authorities on the issue of Islamism have paid heed to the failure of Islamists to attain their goals and most of them have highlighted the role of severe measures taken by Egyptian security forces and Western countries’ massive support of the government. (2) Although the significance of these two factors is not underestimated in this study, the role of another variable is underlined: “the main culpable factor in the radical Islamists’ failure to establish an Islamic system in Egypt has been the ambiguities and naiveties in their attitude towards social and political issues and the relations that govern the world. These ambiguities and naiveties could not offer an appropriate scientific method for transforming the existing relations.”

To test out this hypothesis, first the gap between the objectives and achievements is studies and afterwards the opinions and speculations of Sayyid Qutb and Abd al-Salam Faraj− as two of the important Islamic radicalism ideologue in Egypt− are reviewed.

The Gap between Objectives and Achievements

Radical Islamists have taken various measures to Islamicize the government and the society. These measures and activities, which were often violent, aimed to apply Islamic rules and principles to different aspects of people’s life, especially to their social and political life; this is because they deeply believe that “Islam is the solution”, and the only viable method to reach this goal is struggle and jihad. The common ground among the Egyptian radicals might be the point that they have seen themselves on the battleground of struggle between faith and unbelief (light and darkness) and have desired to change the relations governing the world. They have been hopeful and even assured that their struggle would eventually culminate in the victory of faith, the rule of God in the world and the realization of “utopia”.

Here the concept of “failure” should be briefly explained. This concept suggests that a movement is unsuccessful in attaining its goals and its activities and attempts do not bring about the desired results. A realistic inspection of the political arena of each country, however, reveals that no group has been capable of achieving all its objectives and generating all the favorable results. In other words, there is invariably a gap of some kind between the objectives and the intentions of a political activity and its results and achievements, because while political activists benefit from the existing means for pursuing their objectives, they have to take heed of their limitations and come to terms with the grim realities. Therefore a narrow gap between the goals and the achievements of a movement seems normal and usually expected, and it is not called “failure”. The term “failure” is most applicable when the achievements of a political activist or group are strikingly different from the expectations and predictions, and when the power and efficiency in changing the surrounding realities is gradually lost. To put it differently, what draws our attention in a particular period of time is the insignificance of achievements. However the question which may raise here is what yardsticks should be used here to measure one’s success or failure? How and by employing what criterion can we consider some given achievements significant or insignificant?

One way to measure one’s success is to carry out surveys and interviews. As we know all politicians and political activists try their best to influence public opinion and gain people’s support, this is because they largely depend on this variable to sustain their activities and maintain their ideology. Using the common method of surveying people and questioning them, we can assess one’s achievements and performance, and make the assumption that any change in the performance of political groups and activists, to a great extent, suggests their reaction to the sensitivities of public opinion. To reinforce the theoretical foundation of such a tendency we can turn to the views of authorities such as Ted Robert Gurr, who have tried to benefit from the empirical studies and quantitative research. (3) For instance, one of the most famous surveys employed by Gurr belongs to Hadley Cantril, which was conducted between the years 1957 and 1963.  This study which was carried out in 14 countries was intended to assess the difference between the real status of the interviewees and their personal aspirations.  (4) This study is evidently concerned with the concept of “relative deprivation” and consequently with the extent of public dissatisfaction and mutiny. Also it is obvious that such a study indirectly deals with the function of a political system and the capacity of the dominant ideology.

Surveys of this sort are vastly popular nowadays and the more accurate the data are, the more valid the results will be. However, the problem is that these public surveys and this field of study which is more inclined to social psychology, have their special limitations and therefore we might not be able to make use of them in answering the important question raised earlier (what  criteria can be used for assessing one’s successes and failure?). Undoubtedly, figuring out the relation between two variables of judging public opinions and noticeable changes −not tactical ones− in performances necessitates comprehensive empirical studies and simultaneous inspection of several variables, which lies outside the scope of this study. Therefore we should conduct the study differently, that is, instead of focusing on public opinion and surveying a bigger society, we ought to concentrate on assessing the political groups or activists themselves. In other words, the necessity of change is discussed from political activists’ viewpoint and not the bigger society; nevertheless once again it is assumed that an extensive change in political activists’ performance can suggest a reaction to the public opinion sensitivity and an attempt to survive. It seems that Geshunder’s elaboration on protest social movements provides us with the appropriate ground for this point of view and study priority. 

According to Geshunder’s theory when a protest social movement fails to bring about its desired changes, people’s reactions would turn out to be a change in their understanding; “in other words, when people abandon hope of changing the environment, they change themselves and adjust their own understandings to their understandings of the real world, or after developing a new understanding they foster this belief that essentially changing the system is futile and pointless.” (5) Cantril also brings up the concept of “frustration” and declares,“we get frustrated when we feel that a contradiction has unfold between the meaning we assign to a particular condition now and the meaning we used to assigned to it, the one which no longer conforms to the newly-emerged condition.” (6)

From what we discussed above it can be concluded that when political groups and activists feel frustrated with their ability to influence the external environment, and sense that they have lost “the ability to influence and change”, they might gradually abandon the political arena or start to redefine their goals or approaches. Therefore, whenever the necessity of redefining goals and approaches arises it can be concluded that most likely the desired results have not been obtained or they are not in accordance with the expectations. In such situations various interpretations of ideology and more practical and economical approaches are weighed against each other. However this competition can suggest the amount of flexibility of a movement and its ideology.

Moreover the aforesaid conclusion can be questioned, because since the external environment is permanently changing, and this change is so serious at times that redefining goals and approaches is unavoidable, transforming social and political activities is inevitable and even indispensible. To put it differently, social movements are obliged to make some changes in their performance with regard to the external changes; and essentially these changes demonstrate their practicality and flexibility. Hence changes should be regarded as reliable criteria.

Although the objection above is well-founded, it does not undermine our argument because changes are brought about in a logical sequence. If movements assess their performance as successful and satisfactory that is because they feel a less pressing necessity to adapt to the external environment, especially because the outstanding results can be highlighted as a support for the correctness of the chosen approach. When the achievements are unsatisfactory and, as Cantril puts it, when “there is a contradiction between the meaning we assign to a condition and the one we previously assigned to that condition”, fundamental changes, especially reassessing the goals, seem indispensible. The reassessment shows an attempt to overcome confusion and crisis. Therefore every change will not be regarded as a valid and reliable criterion; only those changes in politics which are “essential” and concern goals and approaches are of importance.

The kind of change is also crucial: sometimes changes are “active” and sometimes they are “passive”. Te first kind shows a will to change and the latter can be construed as a compulsion to change. In the first case, the movement enjoys more freedom of action and has a greater ability to influence the external environment, but in the second case obstacles and limitations seem more conspicuous, and the environment is more influencing than influenced.

If we appraise these two points, that is, the sequence and the kind of change, we find out that there are some stages in the course of a movement’s existence which are held as “turning points”; this means that it is indispensible for that movement to carry out some profound transformations to continue its existence and these transformations are only feasible through redefining their objectives and providing novel interpretations to fulfill the potentials of the chosen ideology. (7) To put it differently, instead of changing the world on the basis of their understanding, people embark on changing or modifying their understanding of the world. Obviously such a measure is vital to overcome frustration and regain the ability to exercise influence. Without doubt a successful movement always experiences some changes but the ability to influence the external environment causes this power to be employed better, and shaping the environment in accordance with one’s objectives will take precedence over making changes from within, that is, changing objectives or approaches. In fact, success or getting close to favorable results will render changing approaches or reassessing objectives pointless.

Now it is time to raise the question, why some movements are more successful than others? Although all movements use all their ability and potentials, why do just some of them attain their objectives? This fundamental question has served as the starting point of many discussions in social movement theories. For instance, what is at issue for Zeld and McCarthy is “how movements are made efficient and how they get involved in mobilizing more people and in a more efficient way. So their main question is why some movement are more successful than others?” (8)

To answer the above question we need to pay attention to both the internal and external spheres. By external spheres we mean the environmental opportunities and problems, like rivals’ conduct, and the limitations imposed by them and also the pros and cons of alternative thoughts and ideologies. It is quite clear that sometimes there are appropriate/inappropriate opportunities for a movement to take advantage of in operational environment which can result in the successfulness/unsuccessfulness of that movement; the conduct of the Egyptian political system in the Islamists’ shift from their internal affairs to Afghanistan’s crisis and the necessity of “jihad against unbelievers” can provide a good example for the ruling elite to benefit from. Consequently the majority of Islamist groups became, directly or indirectly, engaged in Afghanistan’s affair and, to the Egyptian government’s satisfaction, they gave priority to it over their own internal affairs. (9) The violent repression of the Egyptian Islamists by security forces can be considered as a kind of environmental limitation and should not be ignored. This sort of repression raised the cost one has to pay for anti-regime political activities.

Alongside the external factors, domestic issues can play a key role in assessing the success of a movement; for example, the nature of the thought which guides actions cannot be neglected. As we will see, what draws attention to itself in the Egyptian extremists’ thought is their surprising naivety about the social and political issues and the international relations. This naivety is quite apparent in the nature of their proposed solutions for problems, and their way of changing the existing relations. As Sayyid Qutb had hoped:

“First establish an Islamic society in which Islamic principles
and rules are enforced then you will see how Islam will rule. (10)                                            

On the other hand, the structure of a movement can have inevitable outcomes in the arena of practice. If we reexamine the theory of Zeld and McCarthy, and the theories of mobilizing sources in general, we realize that success has been essentially regarded as a function of “the degree of transparency in defining organizational objectives and the efficiency of the existing sources”. (11) Unlike some theoreticians of source mobilization, we should not exaggerate the importance of organizing, and underestimate the role of other variables and we ought to accept that the structure, the hierarchy and the internal issues of a movement clearly influence its successfulness or unsuccessfulness; this is because thoughts and ideologies are thus put into practice and they certainly move away from their pure and abstract state.

Based on what discussed so far now we can review the experiences of the radical Islamists in Egypt and analyze their failure to attain their objectives in a certain way. In this analysis we focus on the content of Islamists’ thought and its transformation due to confrontation with environmental opportunities and problems. Needless to say, radical Islamism in Egypt draws heavily on the ideas of individuals such as Sayyid Qutb and Abd al-Salam Faraj, (12) and what is emphasized here is that from the very beginning the naïve attitude of these thinkers and their followers towards politics has played a part in their failure and their poor record of achievements. In other words, their attitude towards society and social and economic relations was somehow unsophisticated, and its inefficiency was conspicuous in its confrontation with the real world.

Perhaps evaluating radical Islamists’ record does not entail much analysis and reflection; they not only failed to establish the rule of God in the world, but also were unsuccessful in establishing an Islamic government in their own country. The transformation in their method of activity, the changes in the geographical scope of their struggle, and their relations with other groups and organizations have not been fruitful. Even their serious attempt to win people’s hearts and minds, and attract more followers has not culminated in a much impressive achievement. Undoubtedly, this failure is partly due to the Egyptian political system’s conduct. By adopting the so-called “iron fist” policy Egyptian authorities dramatically increased the costs of such activities and repressed any movement rigorously; moreover they were supported both tacitly and openly in the region and the world. For instance, in 1994 some American authorities backed the Egyptian government’s fight against terrorism and stated that, “democratic values and the respect for human rights might be sacrificed here”. (13) Clearly by adopting violent armed activities, some Islamists in the early 1980s entered an arena whose outcome was predicted well in advance. During the last two decades Egypt has been able to undermine the military power of the extremist groups and arrest most of their leaders or put them to flight. Although these groups have managed to launch some serious attacks and take the government by surprise at times, they have not been able to threaten its survival. More interesting is that the Islamist groups have intensified their efforts whenever the ruling authorities decided to create a less oppressive political atmosphere and be more lenient with the critics and opposition. (14) Although the Egyptian government’s vigorous and uninterrupted repression is grave and undeniable, it does not seem that the radicals’ failure is solely rooted in it. As a matter of fact, the main argument in this study is that the failure of these groups is mainly the outcome of the content of their thought and ideology. Therefore it can be claimed that the concepts which have directed the extremists’ conduct, have been naïve and incompatible with Egypt’s internal and external affairs. It seems that some of Zaki Milad’s ideas would be of great help here: 

                                     The contemporary Islamic thought found itself in a closed, stagnant    
                                     condition where relation with reality was treated as peripheral, and     
                                    this precipitated the loss of actual influence over reality. Some of         
                             the Islamic trends of thought totally lost touch with reality and some          
                             others adopted a confrontational and inflexible approach to them.    
                                    Thus the relation of the contemporary Islamic thought with reality      
                                     has generally involved risk and crisis. (15)

From this viewpoint it can be said that although these thoughts have managed to generate a zest for “mobilization” and “movement”, eventually they have been useful neither for “dominating” nor “managing” the world. It has paved the way for embracing thoughts which seemed less costly and more compatible with the social-cultural characteristics of people. To demonstrate this point, the ideas of Sayyid Qutb and Abd al-Salam Faraj, as two of the important Egyptian extremist theoreticians, are studied here.

Sayyid Qutb

Focusing attention on Sayid Qutb’s thought seems well-reasoned and fully justified. Although he was executed in 1966 by the government of Jamal Abd al-Naser, Sayyid Qutb’s ideas continued to dominate the thought and actions of the Egyptian jihadist groups for a long time, and his book Ma’alem fi al-Tariq (Milestones), turned into a manifest for most Islamist movements. (16)

Sayyid Qutb’s role is quite remarkable in that he managed to fill the vacuum left following the death of Hassan al-Bana, (17) and “as a militant ideologue he made the transformation of the feeble fundamentalism of the Muslim Brotherhood to the young extremism of the 1970s possible”. (18) In Dekmejian’s words he established a link between the Muslim Brotherhood on the one side, and the three extremist groups of Aljihad, al-Jama’a al-Eslamiah (al-Takfir val-Hijrah) and the Islamic Liberation Organization (the Army Academy Group), on the other. (19) In addition to Sayyid Qutb’s written works, which in a direct and persuasive manner highlighted the necessity of overthrowing ignorant governments and establishing a truly Islamic government, his death had a profound impact on the Egyptian youth. All these factors caused him to remain an ideologue for the radical activists in the following decades; moreover his works served as the theoretical basis for their activities.  It is no exaggeration to claim that his writings, along with those of Abd al-Salam Faraj, provided many of the radical Islamists in the 1980s and 90s with a conceptual framework.

Here the points highlighted by Sayyid Qutb are listed. The basic principles of his thought are as follows:

  1. The social-political system dominating the contemporary Islamic and non-Islamic world is an ignorant system intermingled with sinfulness, injustice, suffering and the denial of divine guidance of Islam.
  2. It is the devout Muslims’ duty to transform the ignorant society and revive Islam through invitation and combative jihad.
  3. Devoted leading Muslims are responsible for turning the ignorant society into a true Islamic society.
  4. The ultimate objective of the fully committed Muslims must be establishing the rule of God in the world so that all sins, sufferings and stresses are brought to an end. (20)
  5. It can be said that he takes social reality as an endless vivid contrast between Islam (light) and ignorance (darkness), and to elaborate on this issue and provide a solution he offers a literal interpretation of Quranic verses and hadiths[1]. Sayyid Qutb’s description of the two worlds rules out any possibility of compromise or negotiation, and he found himself responsible for “Islamic awakening in order to establish the rule of Allah on the Earth”. (21)  What is interesting in Sayyid qutb’s ideas is that he sees human being on the verge of a precipice and in desperate need of help, and he deems the Islamic instructions and precepts as the eternal salvation:  

Now in the most critical era and at a time when we are overwhelmed
with chaos and confusion it is time for Islam and Muslims to play their role. (22)

He also simply rejects and refutes the present political and cultural systems, both eastern and western, and regards them as ignorant. Hence the Islamic state is established provided that Islamic sharia is adopted, and any society or government which is not founded on sharia is regarded as ignorant, even if Muslims live in there. For the same reason he views all the societies in the world as ignorant. Although he regarded the Egyptian government as ignorant, he tried to maintain a good relationship with religious institutions, especially al-Azhar, and strengthen his legitimacy.

The fulfillment of the above-mentioned objectives, that is, Islamic resurrection, requires that diligent and devoted Muslims commit themselves to it:

There must be a pioneer who rises amid the ignorance which
is widespread in the world. He should be able to make the right
 decision as to when to withdraw from the ignorant society and
when to develop relationship with it. (23)

 Sayyid Qutb’s “pioneer” should first and foremost grow to “spiritual maturity” so that he can embark on the battle against ignorant society and government on the next stage. What is meant by spiritual maturity is that he should be inspired by Quran, and found his thought on it; also he should start spiritual purification at the same time. Then he is responsible for bringing about transformation in society. (24) These two stages follow the lead of Prophet Muhammad in activity and promotion which should be closely followed by the leading Muslims now. According to Sayyid Qutb leading Muslims should arm themselves with thought and battle (the Holy Quran and Weapon) (25) and use invitation (da’wa) and jihad for bringing about transformation; a transformation that is aimed at making “preparations for the resurrection of people” (26) and eventually results in the sovereignty of Islamic precepts and sharia in the world. (27)

Sayyid Qutb’s thought, which was briefly outlined above, clearly contains plenty of ambiguities and contradictions. Some of these ambiguities and contradiction which have practical consequences are as follows:

  1. Sayyid Quts puts a great emphasis on the concept of sharia, but does not explain how it should be implemented, and also how it should be adapted with the requirements of contemporary life and the new achievements of human beings; in other words, he holds to the assumption that “Islam is flawless” and never transcends belief. This causes his thought to possess a static quality which makes critics and reviewer of his thought maintain that what he reckons as sharia cannot adapt itself with today’s world. As Hisham Sharabi has aptly put it, from this viewpoint, the issue of modernity is resolved neither through the practical solution of dealing with it directly nor through avoiding a direct encounter. (28)
  2. Sayyid Qutb’s perspective would bring about more “division” than “unity”. His description of devoted leading Muslim would not only keep out those who believe in other religions but also exclude many of the Muslims. We need to bear in mind that he believed:

A society whose laws are not based on sharia is not Islamic,
 even if its members consider themselves to be Muslim
of fervently pray, fast or go to Hajj. (29)

Without doubt his viewpoint attracts many but at the same time arouses considerable opposition and provokes great hostility from the very beginning.

  1. It is not clear how to separate oneself from the ignorant society; moreover it is not clarified how should be the relation between the leading Muslims and those living under the ignorant system of life. Does separation from society mean a complete break with it or is a certain degree of relation permitted? How should the relation be and who should manage it?
  2. The most prominent feature of Sayyid Qutb’s utopian state is that it is governed by Islamic sharia and eventually human beings abide by the rule of God, and not that of human. The problem is that, in essence Sayyid Qutb’s desired government is not different from the existing governments. In other words, as Sharabi has pointed out, the same patriarchic quality is retained both in society and government: (30)

As fundamentalism violently overthrows the patriarchic society
 (or perforce devastates it from within), it stubbornly returns to
authoritative patriarchy. (31)

Now it is can be asked if such a transformation can be regarded as fundamental or not. (32)

Yet more fundamental objections can be raised to Sayyid Qutb’s thought, as some were raised by his opponents and critics at that time. The points highlighted above are those which have practical implications. We can claim that these weaknesses were among those which gave rise to radical Islamists’ failure. It should be noted that as it is expected, Sayyid Qutb’s thought is not going to contain all the stages of struggle from the beginning to the end; neither is it going to answer all the possible questions precisely and in detail, but the problem is that some basic issues which are very important in determining the objective and method of struggle have remained ambiguous and this left Sayyid Qutb’s followers confused. In fact the naivety and the gaps in Sayyid Qutb’s thought permitted varying understandings and interpretations of his writings. Some people like Shokri Mustafa and his followers gave prominence to spiritual purification and separation from ignorant society and founded small interdependent groups to avoid the effects of existing relations. Some other prioritized struggle with ignorant government (groups like al-Jihad and The Islamic Liberation Organization). While the first interpretation denounced both society and government, the second trend attached more importance to overthrowing the ignorant government, and tried to obtain political power and establish an Islamic government quickly and even through violent means. However, neither of these two trends was successful in the end, a result which, we can claim, was predetermined well in advance.

The approach of Jama’a al-Eslamiah will not be discussed here; this kind of approach is important and can be studied further, however, it belonged to the 1970s, and soon turned out to be very inefficient. (33) Instead, what is of more importance here is the second interpretation, by Abd al-Salam Faraj, which was the basis for some Egyptian Islamists’ activities in the 1980 and 90s. Faraj, as Sivan has put it, became “the most eloquent expounder of doctrinal teachings for the youth in the 1980s”. (34)

Muhammad Abd al-Salam Faraj

Muhammad Abd al-Salam Faraj’s famous book Al-Faridah al-Gha’ibah (The Neglected Duty) is in some way a continuation of Sayyid Qutb’s ideas. The most prominent point underscored by him in this book is the concept of jihad which he holds as the sixth pillar of Islam. By focusing on the concept of jihad, he intends to remove the ambiguity and brevity in Sayyid Qutb’s argument and develop a practical plan for saving Islamic society. To highlight the prominence of his thought it suffices to note that his book became the constitution of the group “al-Najoun Min al-Nar” which is regarded as the immediate successor of al-Jihad. In the 1980s this group assassinated some prominent government officials, but achieved no real success in the end.

Abd al-Salam believes that the fall of Ottoman Empire in 1924 was the final phase in the weakness and decline of Islamic societies which led to the disappearance of Islamic laws and the dominance of new Tartars. He argues that all attempts to enforce Islamic laws have been futile; neither has the peaceful behavior of The New Muslim Brotherhood been effective, nor the isolationist method of Shokri Mustafa’s group, which was based on the first interpretation of Sayid Qutb’s ideas discussed above. Therefore:

  1. As assigned by God and sharia it is the duty of every Muslim to make endeavor to establish an Islamic state. Fulfilling this duty is contingent on the declaration of jihad against the leaders of Islamic countries.
  2. The Islamic countries’ leaders who defy Islamic laws are considered apostates, even if they claim to be Muslim.
  3. Cooperating with a heathen (unbelieving) ruler, even one who claims to be a Muslim is sinful. Therefore Muslims should give up governmental positions and avoid military service.
  4. Constant jihad against heathen governments is the best and the only way to abolish an ignorant society and revive Islam.
  5. Armed struggle is the only acceptable form of jihad.
  6. Peaceful methods such as emigration (Hijjrat) or founding parties are clear manifestations of fear and stupidity.
  7. First we should wage jihad on the local enemy (non-Islamic countries).
  8. Since jihad is obligatory for every Muslim (vabejeb e eini), no excuse, not even illiteracy, can be offered to evade it.
  9. Refraining from jihad is the main reason for the humiliation, decline and division of Muslims.
  10. The most powerful believers, who are more pious and hold God in great awe, must assume the leadership of Muslims. The leader should be elected by people, and then obeyed by them.
  11. God has set five eras in the history of Islam: the eras of Prophet Muhammad(s), Caliphs, kings, dictators and the present era in which dictators will be overthrown and people will be under the supervision of a system similar to the one in Prophet’s society. (35)

Here some objections that can be made to Abd al-Salam Faraj’s ideas are discussed; the ambiguities and naivety that, in practice, prevents the fulfillment of the wills and objectives set by Faraj and those who share the same attitude, are as follows:

  1. Perhaps Abd al-Salam has shown originality only in his highlighting of the concept of jihad, and thus he has somehow resolved the ambiguity in Sayyid Qutb’s ideas about establishing Islamic society and government. His other writings are not original at all and the texts he invokes “are not reliable enough to be employed is describing the contemporary Egyptian society or government”. (36) The writer is so preoccupied with prioritizing political power that he remains unaware of the realities of the Egyptian society and loses touch with them. This is what Zaki Milad has also highlighted.
  2. As Gilles Kepel has put it, Faraj “pushes history aside to the benefit of reviving myth, while Muslims adjust themselves with the history Islamic societies. They may think of this history as a counterfeit copy of the original model, but the fourteen centuries passed by (including the present century), would never seem unfamiliar to them. To most Muslims referring to the era of Prophet and Rashedin Caliphs does not necessarily entail devaluing the existing order”. (37) Thus Faraj, Sayyid Qutb and Shokri Mustafa’s account of the history of Islamic societies, which is listed under headings such as the myth of deviation and the myth of utopia (38), was in direct contradiction to the interpretation of Muslims who were addressed. This contradiction was so apparent that only few people were attracted by this message. That is why in spite of widespread discontent only a limited number of people were swayed by these ideas.
  3. Abd al-Salam Faraj’s book, like that of Sayyid Qutb, not only did not increase the number of adherents and advocates, but also incurred enmity. His description of the devoted Muslims and his fondness for the concept of jihad has increased the number of critics and opposition and has also failed to build any coalition with other groups and forces in order to expand its social base.
  4. Although Faraj’s thought is intended to establish an Islamic government, it remains teleological in practice and leaves the attainment of result to God. In fact he does not clarify what should be done after killing the apostate ruler and replacing him with another person, and only points out that God’s interference will prevent it. I his opinion after taking a practical measure we should await public propitious reaction, as God has promised, and this teleology is so strong that that he does not outline the structure and characteristics of the Islamic government he bears in mind. He states that they are not responsible for its outcome (the establishment of Islamic government) at all. Interestingly enough, in its practical move to seize the political power (Sadat’s assassination on October 6, 1981), al-jihad had no practical plan as its next step, and had just decided to set up a religious assembly and a parliament. In comparison to Sayyid Qutb’s views, this can be regarded as a backward step because Sayyid Qutb had at least opened up some serious detailed discussion on the structure and characteristics of Islamic society and government.

As stated earlier in Sayyid Qutb’s case, Abd al-Salam is, likewise, not expected to clarify all the issues and problems of the Islamic movement and provide them with answers and solutions. Also he is not expected to set up a philosophical discussion; nevertheless as a political activist he should discuss the problems openly and clearly and outline practical ways for obtaining the objectives. But the problem is that his naivety is so extreme that from the very beginning, attaining the objective seems impossible. For instance, blind resort to teleology and God’s promise cannot be simply neglected it is also it is not clear why, based on this presumption, he theorized that “people advocate jihad and they are just awaiting an efficient leader and the signal tor starting the operation”. (39)

It is surprising that the above-mentioned point went unnoticed by some members of al-Jihad. Before Sadat’s assassination Aboud el-Zomor emphasized that that they should postpone the operation because he could detect no relation between the assassination of the president and the outbreak of a popular revolution. “He believed that it would take at least two years for the organization to both assassinate the president and take the opportunity of using it as a stepping stone to the process of establishing an Islamic government”. (40) Eventually, Abd al-Salam Faraj stated in court that Sadat’s assassination was an important lesson that should be learned by potential Pharaohs, and he had intended to give the rulers a warning at that stage. (41) To put it differently, the earnest endeavor to establish the rule of Allah on earth was reduced to establishing an Islamic government in Egypt, and this objective also turned to be an attempt to teach Sadat’s successors a salutary lesson!


One of the most serious problems of radical Islamists’ thought, as Zaki Milad has put it, is that it loses touch with reality and adopts an inflexible approach to it. Believing that “any significant transformation should emerge from the barrels of guns”, (42) they ignored facts like military and security capabilities of the government, the conditions of the region and the cultural and social characteristic of society and brought about their own failure in the end. According to Farhang Rajaee the problem lies in the fact that:

For Muslim combatants, in the arena of politics one cannot communicate through
 the language of Feqh and transactions and negotiate its different aspects. Politics
is the arena for stabilizing and fulfilling major Islamic principles… politics leaves
us with only one way: judging the changes and the people, and waging jihad based
on that judgment. (43)

Perhaps one could say that they could find no way other than military action, and also Abd al-Salam’s argument implies that other methods were tried but to no avail. He, like many other radical Islamists, maintains that since other approaches such as emigration, invitation, passive struggle and also peaceful political struggle have produced no impressive results, a new approach should be adopted. Also the reverberations of the Iranian revolution reinforced such a tendency. Based on the existing evidence and documents about Jama’a al-Elamiah, Hafez and Wiktorowicz argued that this group “were not born violent”, but it was due to certain circumstances that they resorted to armed struggle. (44) A relevant document from this group indicates that turning to violence was a reaction to the imprisonment and torture of Islamists and their wives and mothers. Moreover whenever government lessened its repression, Islamists inflicted less violence, a point which is underlined by Hamid Ahmadi. According to him the variable of repression and state pressure, along with some other variables, influenced the nature of Islamists’ collective action: the more repressive the government became, the more violent the Islamists’ reaction was, and whenever government created an open political climate and encouraged public participation, less violent armed confrontation took place. (45)

Although the ideas discussed above are quite well-founded, the main argument here is that the naivety and contradictions in their ideas, and as Takeyh has put it, “ideological incoherence” (46) have posed the main problems for the radicals. Their preoccupation with seizing political power and establishing an Islamic government through jihad had been so obsessive that they were not capable of developing a realistic picture of the local and international condition of Egypt. Interestingly some extremists had made up their mind well in advance and paid no heed to Abd al-Salam’s writings and eventually collected most copies of it from bookstores. Karam Zohdi, who did not have a high opinion of Faraj, declared that the book Al-Faridah al-Gha’ibah (The Neglected Duty) contained no new ideas, and only some various discussions had been collected in that. (47) Therefore the new approach (taking up armed struggle) was the informed choice of, at least, extremist leaders and had little to do with government performance, and was essentially incompatible with the realities of the Egyptian society and government: on the one hand the government’s conduct (constant repression of the extremists and occasional leniency towards minimalists), along with foreign support for these measures did not provide the extremist  with a favorable climate, and on the other hand , “pharaonic determinism of history, cultural evasion of confrontation with the power of government, and also fear of social insecurity” (48) discouraged people’s support of their armed activities. That is why two decades of armed struggle, by Jama’a al-Eslamiah and al-jihad and other groups like Alnajun Min Alnar had no clear results, but instead “mobilized people’s support for the government’s anti-Islamic plans”. (49)

Although Islamic groups’ armed struggle undermined government’s (an opponent’s) authority at times, it strengthened moderate groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood (another opponent) and paved the way for their involvement in political negotiation. Today, “only a few of them believe that our power is the range of our Kalashnikovs”. (50) While the role of violent ceaseless repression by the Egyptian security forces is not denied, the main problem has its roots elsewhere. Extremists presumed that their armed struggle would generate favorable public reaction but their prediction never came true. In fact their continuous violent conduct filled the religious middle class with fear (51), and this provided the government with grounds for more repression. Public opposition rose dramatically, especially in the case of Luxor Massacre (1997), and the influential newspaper Al-Ahram stated that “if this is what they are doing to gain power, what will they do when they attain positions of power?” (52) It should be noted that the success of political groups, in any given situation, largely depends on the amount of public support they can secure.

Clearly the mounting pressure of public opinion was among the key factors which compelled Jama’a al-Eslamiah to agree to a ceasefire and stop launching attacks on civilians; it also forced al-Jihad to change the range of its struggle. It was quite evident that “violence cannot change the politicians, and despite their satisfaction with the oppression and their objections to it, the public do not support them (the Islamists).” (53) After two decades of armed struggle, the extremists not only could not change the government or even their conduct in line with their own attitude, but also lost the support of public opinion completely.

 support for the government’ other groups like Alnajun Min Alnar had no delist  with a favorable climate, and on te other hand


1. Interviews with the imprisoned leaders were published on June 21 and 28, 2002 in Al-Mosavar and were later made into a book in September 2002. See: Mustafa Kamel Al-Sayyid, “The Other Face of the Islamic Movement” Working Papers, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, No.33, p.16.

Karam Zohdi had another interview with Al-Mosavar which was published in two parts on July 15 and 16, 2003. In this interview he publicly called Sadat and the security forces killed in the clashes, ‘martyrs’. See: International Crisis Group (ICG), “Islamism in North Africa II: Egypt’s Opportunity”, Cairo and Brussels, April 20, 2004, p.8.

2. For example see: Gilles Kepel, the Prophet and Pharaoh (New Islamic Movements in Egypt), translated into Persian By Hamid Ahmadi, Tehran: Kayhan Publications,1366, and: Gilles Kepel,  Jihad: the Trail of Political Islam, translated by Anthony F. Roberts, London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2002, chapters 4 and 12.

3. Ted Robert Gurr, Why Men Rebel, translated into Persian by Ali Morshedi Zad, Institute for Strategic Studies,1377.

4. Ibid., pp. 109-116, quoted from: Hadley Cantril, “Sinitio, ergo Sum: Motivation Reconsidered, Journal of Psychology, LXV, January, 1967, pp. 91-107.

5. Stan Taylor, Social Sciences and Revolution, New York: St. Martin Press,1984, p.53.

6. Ted Robert Gurr, ibid., p.52 Quoted from: Hadley Cantril, Op.cit., p.99.

7. Basically “the more powerful people get, the less they are affected by social realities (structure) and the more they influence the structure”. See: Rahman Qahreman Pour, “khatami and the Process of structure-Agent Interaction”, Bardasht e Aval, No. 10, Mehr 1382, p.54.

8. See: Ron Eeyrman and Andrew Jamison, Social Movement: A Cognitive Approach, University Park, P.A.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991, pp.13-24.

9. To read more on this, see: Muhammad Salah, “the Untold Story of Islamic Radical Movements”, part one, translated into Persian by Sayyid Mahmoud Bojnourdi, Middle East Studies Quarterly, No.28, winter 1380.

10. Sayyid Qutb, What Do We Say?, translated into Persian by Sayyid Hadi Khosroshahi, Tehran: Islamic Culture Promotion Center,1370, p.48.

11. Ron Eeyrman and Andrew Jamison, op.cit.

According to McAdams and others, the institutional theories or the mobilization of resources are divided into two groups of the mobilization of resources or organizational type (Zeld and McCarthy and Obershall’s attitudes), and the political process or political contradiction type (McAdam and Tily’s attitudes). The first group place emphasis on organization and establishment in social movements. To read more see: Homeira Moshirzadeh, A Theoretical Introduction to Social Movements, Tehran: Imam Khomeini and Enqelab Eslami Institute, 1381, pp.143-159, Keith Nash, Contemporary Political Sociology: Globalization, Politics, and Power, translated into Persian by Mohammad Taqi Delforouz, Tehran: Kavir Publications, 1380, pp.144-162.

12. A subject that can be expanded and analyzed further is how profound the extremists of the two countries are influenced by the leftist and third-world ideas at this time. Many analysts have rightly pointed out that ideas of extremist ideologues towards government and society and their analysis of the existing political-social relations is affected by the leftist third world tendencies. For instance see: Mehrdad Mashayekhi, “The Metamorphosis of Basics of Politics and Intellectuality in Iran”, Aban 8, 1382, at www.iran-emrooz.de.

He has highlighted these qualities as belonging to the political climate of Iran at the beginning of Iranian Revolution; however they seem applicable in other cases.

13. Robert H. Pelletreau, “Recent Events in the Middle East”, Statement before the Subcommittee, Washington DC: June 14,1994, U.S. Department of State Dispatch, Vol. 5, No,25, June,1994,  p. 411.

14. According to Hamid Ahmadi, repression and coercion have been among the variables which facilitate violent collective action in Middle East Islamic countries: nevertheless political reforms and encouragement of public participation have reduced violent collective actions. To read more see: Hamid Ahmadi, “the Future of Islamic Movements in the Middle East,” Middle East Studies Quarterly, No, 14-15, summer and fall 1377, p. 75.

15. Zaki Milad, “Changes and the Course of Contemporary Islamic Thought”, translated into Persian by Muhammad Jom’e Amini, Political Science Quarterly, No.18, summer 1381, p.230.

16. Gilles Kepel, Op.cit., p.35.

17. Ibid., p.35.

18. Hrair Dekmejian, Islam in Revolution: Contemporary Islamic Movements in the Arab World, translated into Persian by Hamid Ahmadi, Tehran: Kayhan Publications,1377, p.165.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid., p.166-167.

21.  Ibid., pp.168.

22. Cited in: Gilles Kepel, Op.cit., p.43.

23. Ibid., p.45.

24. Ibid., p.54.

25. Ibid., p.57.

26. Ibid., p.45.

27. To learn more about the other aspects and features of Sayyid Qutb’s attitude see: Sirous (Rouholla) Souzangar, Political Ideas of Sayyyid Qutb, Tehran: Islamic Revolution Documents Center Publications, 1383.

28. Hisham Sharabi, Neo-Patriarchy: A Theory of Distorted Change in Arab Society, translated into Persian by Ahmad Movaseqqi, Tehran: Kavir Publications, 1380, p. 223.

29. Cited in: Gilles Kepel, the Prophet and Pharaoh (New Islamic Movements in Egypt), Op.cit., p.65.

30. Hisham Sharabi, Op.cit., p.230.

31. Ibid., p.38.

32. In their study of the experience of Islamists in Algeria, Kazemi and Norton pointed out that, “following the catastrophe of Algeria, the middle classes of Arab countries got less interested in democracy. A large group of the people in the region shared the belief that the main challenge is between two different kinds of authoritarianism, and not Islamic autocracy and democracy”. See: Farhad Kazemi and Augustus Richard Norton, “The Political challenges to Middle East Governments in 21st Century” in New Frontiers in Middle East Security, edited by Lenore G. Martin, translated into Persian by Qadir Nasri, Tehran: Institute for Strategic Studies, 1383, p.168.

33. To read more see: Gilles Kepel, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam, Op.cit., pp. 84-85.

34. Emmanuel Sivan, Radical Islam: Medival Theology and Modern Polities, New Havan: Yale University Press, 1985, p. 127.

35. In summarizing Abd al_Salam Faraj’s ideas, the following sources have been used:

David C. Rapport, “Sacred Terror: A Contemporary Example Islam” in Origins of Terrorism: Psychologies, Ideologies, Theologies, States of Mind, Edited by Walter Reich, Washington D.C.: The Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1998, PP. 103-130, John L. Esposito, Unholy War, Terror in the Name of Islam, New York: Oxford University Press, 2001, pp.62-64; Johannes Jansen, The Neglected Duty: The Creed of Sadat’s Assassins and Islamic Resurgence in the Middle East, New York: Macmillan, 1989.

36. Gilles Kepel, the Prophet and Pharaoh (New Islamic Movements in Egypt), Op.cit., p.239.

37. Ibid., p.279.

38. An interesting theoretical discussion was generated by Lover about these myths, see: Robert H. Lauer, Perspectives on Social Change, translated into Persian by Kavoos Seyed Emami, Tehran: Center for Academic Publication, 1373.

39. Mokhtar Hoseini and et al., The Strategic Assessment of Egypt, Vol. 1, Tehran: Abrare moasere Tehran, p.243.

40. Gilles Kepel, the Prophet and Pharaoh (New Islamic Movements in Egypt), Op.cit., p.259; also see: David C. Rapport, Op. cit.

41. David C. Rapport, Op. cit.

42. Robert H. Lauer, Op.cit., p.142.

43. Farhang Rajaee, Contemporary Political Thought in the Arab World. Tehran: Center for Scientific Research and Middle East Strategic Studies, 1381, p.150.

44. Mohammd M. Hafez and Quintan Wiktorowicz, “Violence as Contention in the Egyptian Islamic Movement” in Islamic Activism: A Social Movement Theory Approach, Edited by Quintan Wiktorowicz , Bloomington: Indiana University Press,2004, p. 79.

45. Hamid Ahmadi, “ The Future of Islamic Movements in the Middle east: Developing a Theoretical Framework”, Middle Esat Quarterly, No. 14-15, 1377 p. 84-87.

46. Ray Takeyh, “Reality Bites: Is Islamism Dead?” The Review, July, 2002, p.6, at: www.aijac.org.au2001/267/essay.html.

47. Gilles Kepel, the Prophet and Pharaoh (New Islamic Movements in Egypt), Op.cit., p.234.

48. Hrair Dekmejian, Op.cit., p.332.

49. Ray Takeyh, Op.cit, p. 30.

50. Immanuel Sivan, “Why Radical Muslims Aren’t taking over Governments”, MERIA, Vol.2, No.2, May 1998, p. 3, at http://meria.idc.ac.il/journal/1998

51. Gilles Kepel, “the Ups and Downs of Political Islam in an Interview with Gilles Kepel”, Goftego Quaterly, No. 29, 1379, p.152. (Persian)

52. Ray Takeyh, Op.cit., p.30.

53. Ridwan al-Sayyid, “ Islamism and Reformative Renaissance”, translated into Persian by Majid Moradi, Pegah Houzeh, No. 91, Esfand 17, 1381, p.20.

[1] For this he came under heavy criticism. Many critics found fault with his literal interpretation, and argued that there are no strong Quranic or narrative foundation for this inference.

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