Representing and contesting authenticity : understanding shifts in Salafi ideologies and identities in Tunisia and Egypt

  • Helen Lu Murphey

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


After the Arab Uprisings, Salafi movements that had previously exalted their separation from mainstream society mobilised to participate in political institutions. This thesis explores how Salafis in post-revolutionary Egypt and Tunisia addressed this development. It answers the following questions: How was the transition from social movement to party managed? What transformations in ideology or identity accompanied this shift? What effects did Salafi participation have on the political opportunity structure?

This thesis utilises an across- and within-case study comparison among four Salafi movements: Jabhat al-Islah and Itilaf al-Karama in Tunisia, and Hizb al-Nour and Hazem Salah Abu Ismail in Egypt. It adopts a Social Movement approach treating Salafi movements as imbricated in opportunity structures. Four opportunity variables are analysed: religio-political competition; relations between formal and informal politics, degree of polarisation and revolutionary reform. Using data extracted from the Facebook pages of each Salafi actor, the thesis explores how these variables were discursively interpreted through Salafis’ diagnostic, prognostic and motivational frames.

This dissertation finds that Salafis entered formal politics by emphasising either identity or ideology. The first trajectory involved forming a niche party based on ideology to advocate for a strict interpretation of religiosity, while de-emphasising Salafism’s counter-cultural aspects to ally with institutional actors. The other trajectory entailed adopting a populist master frame premised on an ‘outsider’ identity that embraced nationalist and revolutionary logics and reshaped the political field by reworking the secular-elite division into an elite-people dichotomy.

This thesis divides into four primary chapters. Chapter One situates the thesis within the literature on Salafism as an identity and ideology. Chapter Two presents the case for a social movement perspective on Salafi politicisation and outlines a typology of political Salafism. Chapters Three and Four discuss the Tunisian and Egyptian cases, presenting a comparative analysis of political Salafis’ responses to opportunity.
Date of Award28 Nov 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorAdham Saouli (Supervisor)


  • Islamism
  • Salafism
  • Social movements
  • Egypt
  • Tunisia
  • Populism
  • Niche parties

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 27 June 2028

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