Ellen McLarney talks about SOFT FORCE on ISLAMiCommentary

In the years preceding Arab Spring, when Mubarak’s authoritarian regime fell from power, Muslim women took a leading role in developing an Islamist presence in Egypt’s public sphere. Their success in opposing secular dictatorship hinged on their use of something called “soft force”, a women’s jihad characterized by nonviolent protest.

ISLAMiCommentary, a web forum for public scholarship based at the Duke Islamic Studies Center, recently interviewed Princeton University Press author Ellen McLarney about her new book, Soft Force: Women in Egypt’s Islamic Awakening.

From the book’s introduction:

Soft Force jacketOne of the most visible public faces of the 2011 revolution in Egypt was Asmaʾ Mahfouz, a young woman who posted a video blog on Facebook calling for the January 25 protest in Tahrir Square “so that maybe we the country can become free, can become a country with justice, a country with dignity, a country in which a human can be truly human, not living like an animal.” She describes a stark imbalance of power: a lone girl standing against the security apparatus of the state. When she initially went out to demonstrate, only three other people came to join her. They were met with vans full of security forces, “tens of thugs” (balṭagiyyīn) that menaced the small band of protesters. Talking about her fear (ruʿb), she epitomizes the voice of righteous indignation against the Goliath of an abusive military regime. “I am a girl,” she says, “and I went down.” The skinny, small, pale girl bundled up in her winter scarf and sweater speaks clearly and forcefully, despite a slight speech impediment, rallying a political community to action against tyrannical rule. Mahfouz’s vlog is not necessarily famous for actually sparking the revolution, as some have claimed in the revolution’s aftermath. Rather, she visually embodies and vocally advocates what the Islamic activist Heba Raouf Ezzat calls “softforce,”al-­quwwa­al-n­āʿima.

You can watch the interview here:

Read the full article here.

Ellen McLarney is assistant professor of Arabic literature and culture at Duke University.

The Muslim Brotherhood

j9948Our fundamental mission at PUP is to disseminate scholarship both within academia and to society at large. Sometimes the most illuminating background research for breaking news events is available in scholarly books from presses committed to the public interest. For better understanding of world events, we present this new book by Carrie Rosefsky Wickham:

The Muslim Brotherhood:
Evolution of an Islamist Movement

We invite you to read chapter one online:
http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s9948.pdf

The Muslim Brotherhood has achieved a level of influence nearly unimaginable before the Arab Spring. The Brotherhood was the resounding victor in Egypt’s 2011-2012 parliamentary elections, and six months later, a leader of the group was elected president. Yet the implications of the Brotherhood’s rising power for the future of democratic governance, peace, and stability in the region is open to dispute. Drawing on more than one hundred in-depth interviews as well as Arabic language sources not previously accessed by Western researchers, Carrie Rosefsky Wickham traces the evolution of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt from its founding in 1928 to the fall of Mubarak and the watershed elections of 2011-2012. Further, she compares the Brotherhood’s trajectory with those of mainstream Islamist groups in Jordan, Kuwait, and Morocco, revealing a wider pattern of change. Wickham highlights the internal divisions of such groups and explores the shifting balance of power among them. She shows that they are not proceeding along a linear path toward greater moderation. Rather, their course has been marked by profound tensions and contradictions, yielding hybrid agendas in which newly embraced themes of freedom and democracy coexist uneasily with illiberal concepts of Shari’a carried over from the past. Highlighting elements of movement continuity and change, and demonstrating that shifts in Islamist worldviews, goals, and strategies are not the result of a single strand of cause and effect, Wickham provides a systematic, fine-grained account of Islamist group evolution in Egypt and the wider Arab world.

Carrie Rosefsky Wickham is associate professor of political science at Emory University. She is the author of Mobilizing Islam: Religion, Activism, and Political Change in Egypt.