Published online by Cambridge University Press: 26 July 2011
Religious actors and religious language are not absent from the Arab revolutions, but a striking feature of these movements is that they depart from Islamist identity politics, which tended to portray the problems of the Arab world as the result of Muslims’ betrayal of their religious identity. Slogans referencing Islam are remarkably few, even in contexts like Egypt where Islamist movements are an important organized political force. Similar to many Islamist activists, the youth who initiated these movements are exasperated by growing economic inequalities. Unlike the former, however, they do not feel the need to frame this issue in religious terms, but rather mobilize universal notions such as democracy, freedom, justice, and equality. This is the case even in societies with sharp religious divides such as Bahrain, where the overwhelmingly Shiʿi demonstrators oppose a Sunni-dominated regime. Regardless of whether the uprisings will succeed in achieving a genuine regime change, new political movements are likely to emerge that focus on political freedom and the reduction of social inequalities rather than projects maintaining Islam as a solution. The question remains whether this trend simply went unnoticed by the majority of the scholarly community working on the Middle East or whether it is something that emerged in the dynamics of the uprisings themselves. Either way, the phenomenon must now be analyzed. Does it mean a decline of the Islamist ideology? Will it permit an empowerment of existing liberal political movements? Of trade unionism? What does it reveal about the integration of the Middle East within global political trends?