Understanding the Political Economy of Islamic Movements
A large crowd attended the lecture of Professor Joel Beinin, entitled
"The New Global Economy and the Political Economy of the Islamic
Movements," sponsored by the Center for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies
(CAMES) and held on May 16. Beinin, who teaches history at Stanford University,
has made an extensive study of Egyptian labor movements and the Israeli
conflict. He will be continuing his work at the American University in
Cairo this coming fall.
Beinin's talk had wide scope-he discussed over thirty years of history
and covered a range of political, religious, economic, and social issues.
Using the example of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as the model of a
political movement that grew from specific social and economic situations,
Beinin created a comprehensive picture out of a complex network of factors.
One of the first myths Beinin dispelled was that Islamist movements are
not necessarily in opposition to existing political and economic structures,
but are often diverse social movements. Illustrating this point, he traced
back to the 1970s and suggested that the power and popularity of the Muslim
resistance movements were chiefly derived from the social capital existing
in the network of Islamist businesses. He cited the oil boom and bust
cycle as a concrete example of how dissenting political voices found economic
power. Though excluded in their native land, exiled members of Egypt's
Muslim Brotherhood found a home in the oil industry in Saudi Arabia, and
now hold a large portion of business.
Continuing with the example of Egypt, Professor Beinin defined the different
sectors within Egyptian society and economy after the oil crash in 1985.
With Gulf oil money behind them, the Muslim Brotherhood and connected
families became the emerging entrepreneurs, a kind of "new Islamist
business class." At the same time, many students and recent graduates,
frustrated by the lack of sustainable wage jobs in the private sector,
were also forced abroad and added their discontented voices to form the
base of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. Combined with its alliance with
the industrial workers, the Muslim Brotherhood stands as an example of
a political movement made strong by the economic factors that united different
Putting his lecture to further political application, Beinin pointed out
that "America only knows the axis of good and evil, not the underlying
support systems within Islamic movements." Thanks to his research,
Beinin helps widen understanding of this over-simplified phenomenon.