The socioeconomic dimension of Islamist radicalization in Egypt and Tunisia

The research project investigated the socio­economic causes of Islamist radicalism and political violence in Egypt and Tunisia after the Arab uprisings. It was conducted in close collaboration with the project „Socioeconomic Protests and Political Transformation: Dynamics of Contentious Politics in Egypt and Tunisia Against the Background of South American Experiences“.

Since the toppling of presidents Mubarak and Ben Ali in 2011, the political trans­formation processes in Egypt and Tunisia have taken very different paths, but both countries have seen the spread of salafism and its violent form, jihadism. In Tunisia, jihadist fighters in large numbers went abroad to fight for the Islamic State in Syria, Iraq or Libya. Jihadists have also been active within Tunisia, particularly in the border region with Algeria as well as with Libya but also targeted the coastal region. In Egypt after the ouster of Egyptian President Mursi, the Jihadist group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis started an insurgency on the Sinai Peninsula (now affiliated to ISIS as its Sinai province). Security forces in the whole country regularly become targets of attacks of various Islamist groups.

Sinai in Egypt and the Tunisian border regions with Algeria and Libya are both clear examples of socio­economically marginalized regions. The dire situation in these regions is often portrayed as the context against which one has to understand the radicalization of Islamists. Yet, the topics related to it like youth unemployment, lack of state development, and the dominance of the informal sector do similarly drive the mostly non-violent socio­economic contention of non-Islamist actors. Against this back­ground, the project addressed a series of related questions:

  • To what extent and how do which kind of socioeconomic grievances shape Islamist radicalization in Egypt and Tunisia?
  • To what extent is the radicalization of individuals and groups empirically associated with specific socioeconomic factors (unemployment, marginalization, etc.)?
  • What is the specific social meaning that Islamist groups attach to socioeconomic concerns? To what extent do Islamist groups offer plausible injustice frames that help make sense of perceived (socioeconomic and/or political) alienation and convert it into political violent action? 
  • What is the role of socioeconomic benefits or services offered by Islamist groups in radicalization processes?

To explore these questions, the project, first, brought together and systematically reviewed the existing research on Islamist radicalization and its socioeconomic dimension in Egypt and Tunisia as well as in the MENA region in general. Second, it collected and compared empirical data on (subnational) socioeconomic developments and processes of radicalization in order to identify potential patterns. Furthermore, expert interviews have been conducted in order to gain additional insights into the actual causal mechanisms that shape radicalization processes.

The project (2017-2018) was funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. Its results were published in a PRIF Working Paper by Clara Süß and Ahmad Aakhunzzada.

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The Socioeconomic Dimension of Islamist Radicalization in Egypt and Tunisia | 2019

Süß, Clara-Auguste/Aakhunzzada, Ahmad Noor Baheige (2019): The Socioeconomic Dimension of Islamist Radicalization in Egypt and Tunisia, PRIF Working Papers No. 45, Frankfurt/M.

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