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Thesis defence

Salafism in Tunisia: Trajectories of Political (Dis)Engagement (1970-2021)

Add to calendar 2023-06-27 10:00 2023-06-27 12:00 Europe/Rome Salafism in Tunisia: Trajectories of Political (Dis)Engagement (1970-2021) Hybrid (Seminar Room 2 & Online) YYYY-MM-DD


27 June 2023

10:00 - 12:00 CEST


Hybrid (Seminar Room 2 & Online)

PhD thesis defence by Théo Blanc

This dissertation sets out to explain why and how Salafis choose to participate in institutional politics after the Arab revolutions. Existing explanations relying on the opportunity-inclusion approach cannot account for the variation in pathways taken by different Salafi groups facing the same structural opportunities. This is because they overlook motivations to mobilise (the subjective why), reasons to choose one form of mobilisation over another (the subjective how), and the right timing to do so (the subjective when). I argue that the alternative is to trace the genealogies of the different Salafi groups in the long term to explain their respective preference and choice for a specific form of mobilisation before and after the revolution. Only by re-connecting and articulating the pre-revolutionary and post-revolutionary Salafi scene can one make sense of its post-2011 transformations. 

I propose to do so through a comparative case study of three Salafi groups in Tunisia, a country that experienced a decade-long process of democratisation (2011–2021) that is unique in the Arab world: the Salafi-Jihadi revolutionary group Ansar al-Sharia, the political Salafi group Jabhah Islamiyya (later Jabhat al-Islah party), and a group of scholastic sheikhs joining the electoral coalition Itilaf al-Karama. My analysis contributes not only to understanding how Salafism took root in the country but also how it crystallised into different currents that engaged into diverging trajectories of political (dis)engagement. Key to understanding actors’ trajectories is their respective (subjective) perception of the revolution and interactions with the Islamist current embodied by Ennahdha, a pivotal Islamic and governmental actor. Tracing actors’ respective genealogies in the long-term thus sheds light on their distinct understanding of the political, thus leading to identifying different models of political Salafism and politicisation trajectories and ultimately to contributing to the conceptualization of politicization. The diversity of trajectories does not prevent, however, a certain convergence towards post-Salafism, understood as the revision of Salafis' modalities of engagement with both state and society towards non-exclusivism and the prevalence of political over religious objectives.

Théo Blanc is a PhD candidate at the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence and a postdoctoral fellow in the ERC project MENA-PERC based at Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna (Pisa). He is also associate researcher with the Mediterranean Platform at LUISS University (Rome). His research interests encompass Salafism, Islamism, Jihadism, party politics, and political elites. His publications are featured in The International Journal of Middle East Studies (co-author), Third World Thematics: A TWQ Journal, Middle East Law & Governance (co-author), Journal of Political Ideologies, Sociology of Islam, L’Année du Maghreb, Revue des Mondes Musulmans et de la Méditerranée (REMMM), Lectures (ENS), and Confluences Méditerranée.


Olivier Roy (EUI)


Charlotte Emily Florence Bufano (EUI)


Associate Professor Stéphane Lacroix (Sciences Po)

Prof. Asef Bayat (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

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