Ulema and the Arab Spring: Toward a Comparative Sociology of Intellectuals

Muhammed Amasha

Saturday, December 25, 2021 4:00 PM Salon: ŞAKİR KOCABAŞ SALONU



"As soon as the Arab Spring erupted, the ʿulamaʾ engaged with its uprisings, though with divergent stances.  During the last decade, a body of literature has developed to explain these stances and their divergence. This thesis focuses on three key Egyptian ʿulamaʾ (Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Ahmad al Tayyib, and Ali Gomaa) and their stances primarily on Egyptian politics (2011-2013) in addition to other Arab uprisings. Providing new empirical data and using Mill’s method of difference, I demonstrate the insufficiency of the literature's explanations. Drawing on the sociology of intellectuals and Pierre Bourdieu’s theoretical framework, I  provide an alternative explanation arguing that understanding the ʿulamaʾ’s politics requires studying their fields, habitus (shaped by their field position, early experiences, primary networks, and intellectual activities), and interests. The ʿulamaʾ’s major interest is to occupy a high position in the ʿilm field vis-à-vis their competitors. When the ʿulamaʾ occupy a high position in their field and the field of power, they hardly  support regime change or anti-regime uprisings, and vice versa. The ʿulamaʾ’s evaluation of their position in the field and their strategies to enhance their position are to be understood by studying their habitus. Early experiences are crucial to understanding the ʿulamaʾ’s general tendencies, especially toward politics. Their primary networks also constitute a structural constraint on the ʿulamaʾ’s habitus, shaping their perceptions and, therefore, stances. Finally, while intellectual activities have an impact on the ʿulamaʾ’s habitus, it seems that it has less explanatory power for the ʿulamaʾ’s politics, compared to other factors."




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