Revisiting cleavage structures: Islamic parties and nation-state formation in the Arab world

Revisiting cleavage structures:
Islamic parties and nation-state formation in the Arab world

Article received: 2023.01.17. Accepted: 2023.03.07

DOI: 10.17976/jpps/2023.03.05

For citation:

Kudryashova I.V., Kozintsev A.S. Revisiting cleavage structures: Islamic parties and nation-state formation in the Arab world. – Polis. Political Studies. 2023. No. 3. P. 50-69. (In Russ.). EDN: OIGRBM

The study was supported by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research, project No. 20-011-00922 а “Arab states after the ‘Arab Spring’: paths and dynamics of political transformations”.


Arab Spring, a series of pro-democracy uprisings that took place in the Middle East and North Africa, marked a new phase of Arab political process. Islamic parties and movements, struggling for equal access to the ballot, became an active participant in the mass protests and achieved significant electoral gains in a number of Arab countries. However, within a few years, ruling regimes managed to gradually suppress the opposition and remove Islamic movements from political arena or put them under state control. In some Arab countries, the prolonged crisis has led to an upsurge in violence and the collapse of government institutions. Do these disappointing results indicate no political prospects for the Islamic parties? In other words, is the activity of such organizations consistent with the nation-state project implemented in the region? We attempt to find answers to these questions by applying comparative and historical sociology analysis. We use as our main analytical tool Lipset and Rokkan cleavage theory that links the structure of socio-political conflicts in Europe with the logic of party system formation. We also believe the centre-periphery framework developed by Rokkan has explanatory value for the analysis of the Arab state and political parties’ formation. In this study, we propose two hypotheses: (i) the statechurch and centre-periphery divisions play a major role in the hierarchy of cleavages in Arab societies (in Arab cultural and political contexts, the former emerges as the divide between the country’s nation-state project and so-called Islamic state model); (ii) the cumulative effect of these two cleavages continues to define the political agency of Islamic parties. To test these hypotheses, we analyse the institutional competition between the three political forms (empire, nation-state and Islamic state model) after the start of Tanzimat reforms in the Ottoman Empire and the politicization of social cleavages in the Arab states under the League of Nations mandate system. The study confirmed the explanatory potential of the above-mentioned concepts in a non-Western socio-political environment; the hypotheses put forward were verified, and the topic was further developed. In particular, we have noted that due to their links with the Muslim communities and the polysemantic language of the Qur’an, Islamic parties have been able to reconceptualize urban-rural, workers-owners and newer cleavages.

Ottoman Empire, Arab periphery, modernization, socio-political cleavages, institutionalization of cleavages, Arab nation-state, Islamic model, Islamic parties.


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