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The original Islamic movement was heavily politicized and aimed at political power. And the resistance in North Africa / West Asia / Indonesia against the early plunder of the colonial powers usually took the form of Sufi brotherhood. Consequently, it was natural that a more long-term organized resistance to the colonialists in these countries would be based on Islam as a unifying force.

The first attempts were made in Egypt and Iran around the turn of the century 1900. In Iran, a broad movement influenced by both Islam and European republicanism had already attempted a revolution in 1905 due to the regime’s concessions to the British Empire. In Egypt it took longer time. It was also there the theoretical foundations were formed, partly by Iranians in exile after the revolution was crushed by the colonial powers.

The first Islamist organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, was Egyptian. It organized trade unions, cooperatives and resistance against the British colonial rule from the 20th century onwards. A branch, the Qassamites, was formed with the same purpose in Palestine in the 1930s and was the leading force there in the uprising of 1936-39, which, however, ended in defeat. A mobilization in Egypt in 1949, organized by the Muslim Brotherhood, was also crushed.

After these defeats, populist military officers took over the hopes of anti-colonial development, but after these had failed, the Islamist movements gained momentum again. The decisive impetus came from all the spontaneous revolts against austerity measures imposed on governments by the IMF to collect debts to the transnational banks. It was Islamist movements that then built up self-help organizations that came into being when the state welfare agencies were abolished.
In this first phase, the focus was on justice and welfare for the poor. That was the theme of the 1979 Iranian revolution, in which Islamists played a key role in coordinating the originally rather spontaneous movement. It was also the focus of Islamism in Algeria in the 80s and 90s, where the rulers were most interested in living in a pseudo-European abundance.

But as time went on, other interests took over. The revolution in Iran (pictured) was bureaucratized as all state regimes must be, and the movement in Algeria was crushed by a bloody military coup. The popular welfare organizations had to be funded, and the money came from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. They were not interested in any justice. Consequently, nationalist self-assertion and good old patriarchalism and moralism came to the fore instead, a development that gained special strength due to the militarization of the movement in Afghanistan.

Olivier Roy: L'échec de l'Islam politique, Édition du Seuil 1992
François Burgat & William Dowell: The Islamic movement in North Africa, University of Texas 1993.


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