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Researcher of the Month, May 2024: Doha Abdelgawad

Researcher of the Month

Dr Doha Abdelgawad is currently Teaching Fellow in Religious Studies with specialisation in contemporary Islam in the School of PRHS and a member of CRPL.

Tell us a little about your ‘research journey’ – how did you get to where you are right now? 

It all started in 2011; a moment of political euphoria in the Middle East. With Islamists’ rising political power in Egypt and other Arab countries, researching political Islam emerged as a timely and compelling subject that hooked me with a personal interest in reading and writing about Islam and politics. I followed this personal passion during my PhD at the University of Warwick, where I developed my research profile as an interdisciplinary scholar working on the boundaries of political sociology, Islamic studies, and the comparative politics of the Middle East. Seeking an employment opportunity in the UK, I found myself teaching Islam and politics, with a focus on the Middle East first at the University of Chester (2022-2023) and later in PRHS at the University of Leeds (2023-2024).

Who, or what, sparked your interest to work on your particular research area? 

Embarking on a personal quest, I was interested in understanding Islam’s position on secularism, state, political activism and violence. During my undergraduate and MA study in Cairo, I found myself also grappling with questions related to authoritarianism in the Middle East. My curiosity was particularly piqued by the viewpoints of Islamists on these matters and the contentious relation between Islamic law and secular models of governance. As a Muslim and an Arab, born and raised and also taught politics in Egypt, I felt a profound emotional and nationalistic connection to these themes.

What are you currently, or about to start, working on? 

My book Unheard Voices of Young Egyptian Brothers: Political Disengagement and Radicalization after 2013 is set to be published this summer by I.B. Tauris Bloomsbury. The book is built on an updated version of my PhD thesis and it examines the impact of the 2011 Uprising and 2013 Military Coup on Islamists’ positionalities towards violence and political activism. In addition, I have two articles that are currently under review by the Journal of Religion and Politics and the Journal of North African Studies. The unfolding events of the war on Gaza have redirected me back into my home research territories as I am planning to embark on a new research related to the change in the Egyptian security strategy towards the Arab-Israeli conflict after the 2013 military coup. I am also interested in exploring the impact of the War on moderating Hamas - as a military Islamic movement – on political discourse. At this stage of early career development, I am keen to be back into the politics of the Middle East, either through teaching or research.

In what way(s) do you feel your research examines the role of religion in public life and the relationship between the two? 

My research has contributed to developing in-depth understanding of Islamists’ political dynamics and how their discourse has evolved in the light of multiple political changes in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. My work attempts to challenge stereotyping and orientalist understandings about Islamic political groups. In my latest publications, I aim at transcending binary understanding of ‘moderate vs radical’ political Islam and to provide more complex readings of Islamist political rhetoric and strategies. For example, in one of my articles, currently under review, I show how Islamist lay members share a lot with many of the Western critical leftist voices regarding the flaws of liberal democracy. In my article on the radicalization of the Muslim Brotherhood members in Egypt, I explore how the violent choice is strategically calculated, restricted by manifold political and ethical considerations. Through this work, I seek not only to challenge academic orientalist assumptions concerning Islamists, violence, and democracy but also to interrogate prevailing public discourses on Islam and human rights prevalent in Western media forums. My approach is not apologist but rather seeks to provide an in-depth examination of underrepresented dimensions of political Islam.