Reviews

Specialising on the political elements of the Islamic resurgence in former Soviet Central Asia, through studies on the Hiz al-Tahrir al-Islamiyya in different countries of this region, the author tries here to incorporate Kyrgyzstan’s political Islam into the social movement theory.  The paper begins with a very short historical survey of the party, and of its appearance in southern Kyrgyzstan since the early 2000s.  The author then analyses it as a revolutionary social movement: the Tahrir has a pyramidal structure of command; it has existed for about half a century; and it aims at radical change though by peaceful means (its relations with the more violent Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan seem to have been essentially sporadic).  Significant paragraphs are devoted to the causes of the party’s current expansion in southern Kyrgyzstan, the author stressing notably (through ICG sources) that 90 per cent of its members are unemployed.  Political strains also contribute to explain the rise of the Tahrir in this region:  In the overall context of winner-takes-all logic, the lion’s share of the benefits of state largesse in the form of appointments and subsidies goes to the region, ‘clan’ or ‘ethnicity’ in charge of the state.  The role of the group of ‘losers’ disenfranchised by the process is played by the Uzbek minority concentrated in the southern Osh, Batken and Jalalabad regions.  Even in those areas in which Uzbeks constitute a majority, mayors and governors are usually Kyrgyz appointed by the central government.  It is in these regions that the Tahrir has been most active, whilst Kyrgyzstani security sources claim that party membership is 90 per cent ethnic Uzbek, 4–5 per cent ethnic Uighur, and, 3–4 percent only ethnic Kyrgyz.  The Tahrir’s vision of a single Islamic state in the Central Asian region is appealing to ethnic Uzbeks who feel isolated from their compatriots in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.  According to the resource mobilisation theory, social movements must also be able to mobilise key resource if they are to emerge.  It appears that the mosque, which is the central institution for religious practice in southern Kyrgyzstan, has been utilised as a mobilising structure by the Tahrir.  Besides, many clergymen educated in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Algeria and Pakistan have been arriving in southern Kyrgyzstan, some of them popularising Tahrir ideas and recruiting members through their sermons.  The party is also relying on social networks and informal institutions such as the gap (on it, see notably pioneering ethnological works by the Tajik ethnographer R. Rahimov), that have been used as resources by the group for political purpose.  At the lower level members are organised in dayiras or khalqas (cells), normally of five people, and membership in such close-knit groups, which provide mutual support, fits well with traditional regional social pattern.  A combination of all these perspectives provide an explanation about the rise of the Tahrir in Kyrgyzstan: (1) it provides people with a mechanism for alleviating grievances; (2) it mobilises necessary material and human resources; (3) the party faces an environment that offers political opportunity.  As to the party’s ideology, its political methodology is attractive for people in the Kyrgyzstani part of the Fergana Valley, because the region has witnessed violent ethnic conflict in the early 1990s and as a result there is a strong popular rejection of violence as a tool for political change.  At the same time, Western-style democracy has been discredited in the eyes of many people in Kyrgyzstan because, while the country has adopted a democratic form of government, it has not embraced the minority rights and protections of liberal democratic practice.

The Redaction
CER: I-8.4.D-739