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Making the Enemy…Or Not

March 8, 2018

enemyAt the end of 2013, the Muslim Brotherhood had gone from being an organization whose members held the Presidency and the largest number of seats in Parliament to an illegal terrorist organization.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt’s patron in the region, also declared the MB a terrorist organization and sought to build a regional coalition in the Gulf to counter this newly-constructed threat.

But not everyone wanted to play ball. While the UAE followed the lead of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, and Bahrain were reluctant to redefine the MB as terrorists.

This is the fascinating story described and analyzed by May Darwich of Durham University in her article “Creating the enemy, constructing the threat: the diffusion of repression against the Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East” published in Democratization.

Darwich argues that the reasons for the different attitudes toward the Muslim Brotherhood are not to be found in religious and ideological distinctions,but rather in the different ways regional interests intersected with a regime’s internal domestic politics.

Here’s the abstract:


On 25 December 2013, the military-backed government in Egypt declared the Muslim Brotherhood to be a terrorist organization. A few months later, the Saudi Kingdom followed suit and attempted to build a regional coalition to counter this constructed enemy. Although the Saudi Kingdom, acting as an aspiring regional autocratic power, exerted pressure to compel other regimes to follow its lead, the recipient states varied in their willingness to converge. Whereas the United Arab Emirates followed the Saudi lead, Jordan, Kuwait, and Bahrain resisted the diffusion of repression against the Muslim Brotherhood to their domestic spheres. This article examines this variation in the (non-)convergence of repressive policies as an outcome of diffusion. While most explanations of how autocratic policies diffuse focus on either ideology or interest as drivers of state behaviour, this article provides a nuanced understanding of this phenomenon. Based on a neoclassical realist approach, I explore the variation in the convergence with fellow autocrats as the result of interaction between regional interests and regime autonomy vis-à-vis societal groups. By looking at autocratic diffusion of repression as a process lying at the intersection of regional and domestic spheres, this article contributes to the literature on the international diffusion of authoritarianism.


Darwich, May. 2017. Creating the enemy, constructing the threat: the diffusion of repression against the Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East. Democratization 24(7): 1289-1306.

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