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Exclusion-moderation in the gulf context: tracing the development of pragmatic Islamism in Kuwait

Freer, Courtney (2017) Exclusion-moderation in the gulf context: tracing the development of pragmatic Islamism in Kuwait. Middle Eastern Studies. pp. 1-21. ISSN 0026-3206

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Identification Number: 10.1080/00263206.2017.1357031


While considerable existing scholarship examines the degree to which Muslim Brotherhood affiliates have toned down their religious rhetoric to compete in electoral politics, very little of that discussion centres on how Brotherhood movements react when political space narrows. Even fewer studies have examined the recent behaviour of the Brotherhood affiliate in Kuwait. In this article, we demonstrate how the Kuwaiti Muslim Brotherhood has, in the face of increased government surveillance and restriction of political space, moderated its Islamist agenda to become part of the broader opposition agitating for structural political reforms, often at the expense of the traditional agenda of Islamizing society. Scholarship about the involvement of Islamist groups in electoral political systems has traditionally concerned the degree to which Muslim Brotherhood movements in states like Egypt and Jordan have accepted rules of the prevailing political systems rather than seeking to dismantle them. Much of this existing literature thus argues that, to remain important players inside political institutions, Islamist organizations ‘moderate’ their agendas, or focus increasingly on broad-ranging issues of reform and decreasingly on measures to Islamize society through the implementation of conservative social programmes. In the states usually examined, Islamist parties have long been considered important opposition movements due to their ability to take advantage of the limited openings for institutionalized political participation and due to their provision of welfare services to citizens when the state cannot provide such goods. The Kuwaiti Muslim Brotherhood, despite playing a major role in voicing dissent, is distinct. Because it has not been required, aside from during the Iraqi occupation, to provide materially for its supporters to gain a following, the Kuwaiti Muslim Brotherhood has tended to rely on social outreach and education more broadly and, in recent years, on its political platform, to garner popular support. While the Kuwaiti Brotherhood does not provide welfare services since these are provided by the government, it does far more than merely participate in elections; it has, since 1951, inserted itself into society at the grassroots by sponsoring a variety of social activities, common among Islamist groups in the rentier states. Such pursuits, significantly, help bolster electoral support – perhaps the key means of doing so in a restrictive political environment where open campaigning and political parties are outlawed. Both hizb (political party) and harakat (movement) thus have proven instrumental in bolstering the Kuwaiti Ikhwan's (brothers) political stature. As Shadi Hamid explains, ‘where one [the harakat] is governed by more explicit religious concerns as well as an overwhelming concern with self-preservation, the other [the hizb] is driven more by political imperatives’. Because the Kuwaiti Brotherhood cannot, however, demonstrably improve its followers’ economic well-being, due to overwhelming state largesse, it uses other means of boosting its popularity. As Hootan Shambayati explains Islamist activity in rentier states, ‘under normal conditions challenges to the state are economically motivated. Under rentier conditions, however, moral and cultural issues form the basis of the challenge’. In recent years, as political space has become more restricted, the hizb has become increasingly dominant in the Kuwaiti case; strictly political issues like demands for a law legalizing political parties and an elected prime minister have come to take centre stage, rather than the social policy issues on which the Kuwaiti Brotherhood (both hizb and harakat) initially focused attention. Such political bloc domination is particularly clear in the Kuwaiti case, where the vast majority of citizens is not reliant on the harakat for material or welfare provisions. In what follows, we survey the existing scholarship to determine how it fails to account for what is observed in Kuwait before turning to tracing how the Brotherhood in that state has increasingly come to resemble secular opposition parties and thus has ‘moderated’ itself in the face of state restriction.

Item Type: Article
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Additional Information: © 2017 Taylor & Francis
Divisions: Middle East Centre
Subjects: J Political Science > JQ Political institutions Asia
Date Deposited: 30 Nov 2017 14:40
Last Modified: 20 Jun 2024 04:42

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