Radical Arab Nationalism and Political Islam

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Lahouari Addi
Anthony Roberts
  • Washington, DC: 
    Georgetown University Press
    , July
     288 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Political expressions of Islam (especially but not exclusively in its violent forms) have received a considerable amount of attention in recent years. One common difficulty when debating Islamist-inspired violence and political Islam is the tendency to take an ahistorical approach to the topic. Not taking into account the historical context, in which current forms of political Islam arose, can prevent a deeper understanding of the causes and dynamics of the issue. 

Lahouari Addi is a professor at the Institute of Political Studies at the University of Lyon (France) and a research fellow at the Research Centre in Social and Cultural Anthropology in Oran (Algeria). In his latest publication, Radical Arab Nationalism and Political Islam, he discusses political Islam and the current socio-political state of large parts of the Middle East and North Africa by examining it together with the other great ideology that has shaped the postcolonial Arab world: radical Arab nationalism. 

Addi traces the origins and evolution of both ideologies and highlights their “dialectical relationship” (7). His starting point is the question of why radical Arab nationalism failed despite the popular support for Arab nationalist leaders such as Gamal Abdel Nasser. He discusses how the main failure of the Arab nationalists was their approach to modernization, which they saw as a “technical and administrative task” (5). Addi argues that by approaching modernization that way, the secular republics that were inspired by radical Arab nationalist principles overlooked the cultural foundations of modern states. Failing to involve civil society and the people, the states (which instead implemented authoritarian systems) did not succeed in achieving national cohesion and civil peace. When the republics could not deliver on the promises of social protection and economic prosperity in exchange for political authoritarianism, they lost legitimacy.

Addi does not simply offer a historical analysis in this book. He also hones in on the current situation and on developments since the so-called Arab Spring in particular. In this context, his discussion of how the different forms of states in the modern Arab world (including secular republics and more conservative monarchies) have responded to the challenge of reconciling religion and politics is particularly enlightening. He sharply analyzes the different ways in which republics and monarchies in the Arab world have attempted to counter (violent) Islamists and their claims to power. 

While Addi’s publication focuses on the Arab world, he also discusses related developments in other states of the region, including notably Iran and Turkey. Moreover, Addi’s analysis is further enriched by his highlighting of the role Europe has historically played in the region and by comparing and contrasting state-building in Western Europe and the Arab world.

Another strength of the book is its interdisciplinary approach. Having been trained in sociology and economics in Algeria and France, Addi has held positions in sociology, politics, and anthropology in Algeria, France, and the United States. While he approaches the topic from a political-sociological perspective, the author discusses historical, cultural, political, and economic factors throughout the book, which allows the reader to appreciate the complexity of the issue.

Addi perceives civil society, social equality, freedom of thought, and civil rights to be universal values. However, it is slightly irritating that he seems to consider these to be “European innovations” (252). This criticism aside, Radical Arab Nationalism and Political Islam offers a well-written, sharp analysis of radical Arab nationalism and political Islam. 

While the historical approach Addi adopts in this book is not new in academic debates on political Islam in the Middle East, it is much needed in the current climate. Written in an accessible style and organized effectively, the book is likely to be of use to researchers, students, journalists, and readers with a general interest in the history and politics of the Middle East and North Africa; religion and politics; Islam and democracy; and nationalism.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Jennifer Philippa Eggert is Researcher and Practitioner working on political violence, Islamism and violent extremism in Europe and the Middle East. Her book on the Lebanese civil war is expected to be published in late 2018.

Date of Review: 
October 2, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Lahouari Addi is a professor at the Institut d'études politiques at the University of Lyon, and research fellow at the Centre de recherche en anthropologie sociale et culturelle in Oran, Algeria. He is the author of numerous books and articles on North Africa and political Islam, including Deux anthropologues au Maghreb: Ernest Gellner et Clifford Geertz and L'Algérie et la Democratie. - See more at: http://press.georgetown.edu/book/georgetown/radical-arab-nationalism-and....


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