Islam and the Arab Revolutions

Publication Year



Usaama Al-Azami (Ph.D. 2018)

  • An original examination of the role of religious scholars in either supporting the Arab revolutions or advocating their repression.
  • With particular focus on Egypt, al-Azami traces the public engagements and pronouncements of several prominent scholars.
  • Considers how the engagements of counter-revolutionary scholars have precipitated a crisis of authority among their followers.

The Arab revolutions of 2011 were a transformative moment in the modern history of the Middle East, as people rose up against long-standing autocrats throughout the region to call for 'bread, freedom and dignity'. With the passage of time, results have been decidedly mixed, with tentative success stories like Tunisia contrasting with the emergence of even more repressive dictatorships in places like Egypt, with the backing of several Gulf states.

Focusing primarily on Egypt, this book considers a relatively understudied dimension of these revolutions: the role of prominent religious scholars. While pro-revolutionary ulama have justified activism against authoritarian regimes, counter-revolutionary scholars have provided religious backing for repression, and in some cases the mass murder of unarmed protestors.

Usaama al-Azami traces the public engagements and religious pronouncements of several prominent ulama in the region, including Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Ali Gomaa and Abdullah bin Bayyah, to explore their role in either championing the Arab revolutions or supporting their repression. He concludes that while a minority of noted scholars have enthusiastically endorsed the counter-revolutions, their approach is attributable less to premodern theology and more to their distinctly modern commitment to the authoritarian state.

Reviews and Awards

"A comprehensive account and analysis of how the events of the Arab Spring unfolded among the ranks of the ulama. Indispensable for anyone wanting to understand the fault lines which will dominate the Muslim world for years to come."-- Jonathan A. C. Brown, Professor of Islamic Civilization, Georgetown University

"Ten years after the Arab Spring, little attention has been given to the important role of religious scholars. Al-Azami's excellent book provides an extensive analysis of a myriad of discourses and political alliances. A must-read for researchers of modern Islam and Middle East studies."-- Heba Raouf Ezzat, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Ibn Haldun University

"Literature on the Arab Spring is vast, but a novel perspective and original dimension is rare. Al-Azami's book accomplishes both. He succinctly illustrates that the Arab Revolutions were also an epistemological battle, in which the ulama played a pivotal role. A quintessential read."-- Wadah Khanfar, former director general, Al Jazeera Media Network, and President, Al Sharq Forum

Oxford University Press