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Al-Qaeda’s grievances in context: Reconciling sharia and society


international_relationsJournal abstract

At a time when political debate in the West is preoccupied with the perceived impact of extremist ideas on individuals who embrace or support terrorism, this article uses the publicly articulated grievances of Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda’s most prolific ideologue, as a case study to examine how a globally focused and distributed extremist narrative matches political realities on the ground. The approach of the article is to compare two political processes: the approach of Islamist extremists, as represented by Zawahiri, to constitutional reform as articulated through public appeals to potential supporters versus the reality of constitutional amendments and evolution of fundamental law in the Middle East and South Asia. Incorporating insights from studies on law and society and International Relations, the article demonstrates how Zawahiri’s interpretation of religious law emphasises wholesale adoption of sharia while the process of legal reform has invariably resulted in the creation of legal hybrids, mixing Islamic and non-Islamic legal traditions. This is not an article about theology or religious law but an effort to dissect the public relations of an international terrorist movement. The analysis pays particular attention to events in Zawahiri’s native Egypt, where evolving grievances concerning a series of constitutional amendments – including those following the Arab revolutions and the toppling of Mohammed Morsi – are assessed.

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