Authoritarianism reconstituted: ‘hollow statism’ and the crackdown on Islamic movements in Sisi’s Egypt
This dissertation analyses state-society relations in Egypt, focusing on Islamic movements and their social and religious service provision, as a lens to track changes in the form of authoritarianism deployed under the Sisi regime. Theories of ‘authoritarian upgrading’ posit that since the 1970s, economic readjustments and reduced levels of state welfare led to the encouragement of non-state – often Islamic - actors to perform these functions to ease the burden on the state. Despite allowing degrees of social and political liberalisation, Middle East regimes maintained their hold on power by using ‘indirect’ bureaucratic measures to ensure these actors did not pose a political threat. This dissertation identifies a shift in this form of control through a revival of more ‘direct’ statism, in which a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood – and Islamic movements more broadly – signalled a reorganisation of state-society relations that reconstituted authoritarianism in a structure I call ‘hollow statism’. It shows that during the transitional period of 2011 – 2013, Islamic movements coordinated ‘self-organizational’ activities such as social welfare services, with ‘public sphere’ activities like mosque preaching, to further the Islamist cause during electoral cycles. Since the 2013 coup, the revival of statism has limited the prevalence of social and religious service provision by Islamic movements, either through nationalisation or an extension of the state’s institutional apparatus. These changes indicate that the political risks of ‘authoritarian upgrading’ had become too high, with new arrangements being put in place to reduce the reliance on private actors in service provision, and re-establish the state as the predominant actor in their place. The reorganisation of these relations between the state and Islamic movements indicates a more comprehensive form of direct state control as part of its reconstituted authoritarian regime, with echoes of the statism of the Nasser era. However, insufficient state capacity has meant Sisi’s regime has failed to achieve the desired levels of predominance for the state. By engaging critically with the intersection of the empirical practices and production of discourses that help sustain authoritarian rule, this dissertation develops the concept of ‘hollow statism’, to show how the Egyptian state compensates for its incomplete implementation of controls over Islamic institutions, by continuing to project the attainment of these goals discursively through public pronouncements. Based on a systematic review of open-source data including mainly Arabic-language newspapers and websites, data from Islamic associations’ web pages, statements and publications, with further data gathered from government ministries’ websites, this dissertation details the expansion of the activities of Islamic movements during the transitional period, and how the state curtailed these movements after 2013 by expanding its own infrastructure and denying them autonomous space to operate. This dissertation demonstrates how the Arab Uprisings created a juncture which has broken down existing theories relating to the role of non-state service provision in sustaining authoritarian rule. By investigating changing patterns of state-society relations between Islamic movements and the state, it contributes to our understanding of Islamic movement behaviour and dynamics during periods of transition, and also to explore the wider implications of these changes for theories of authoritarian adaptation after nascent democratization, applicable to other cases in the Middle East but also to studies of authoritarian regimes more broadly.