Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Miriam F. Elman


This study examines how change happens within Islamist organizations and what causal mechanisms underlie the adoption or abandonment of violent tactics. The project argues that ideological and tactical changes are determined by the interaction of five factors: founding principles, the extent to which government domestic and foreign policies are convergent with the vision of the group, regime policies towards the organization, public norms of resistance and organizational dynamics.

The analysis relies on process-tracing and counterfactual analysis to examine four case studies from Egypt and Indonesia: the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyyah, the Darul Islam, and al-Jama'a al-Islamiyyah. The empirical investigation finds that the process of violent escalation is driven by the logic of grievances. Government repression, low policy convergence and salient threats to the Muslim community lead to escalating grievances. These grievances are aggravated by the pervasiveness of violent norms of resistance and by intra-organizational competition over authority. In such a context, any perceived external aggression can serve as a catalyst for violent escalation. There is a powerful slippery slope of politicization and militarization that can lead to the acceptance and adoption of violent tactics, as well as to a shift from foreign targets to domestic political actors and ultimately civilians. Revenge and fear, as well as a sense of mistrust of the government and betrayal by the national leadership are powerful causal mechanisms of violent escalation.

De-escalation primarily follows the logic of disillusionment. An organizational crisis and widespread public condemnation of the group can lead to a re-evaluation of the cost of violence, and a re-thinking of the vision as a whole, which prompts the group to de-escalate its tactics. When groups have several exit options away from violence and public condemnation is not as acute, organizations may metamorphose into different entities that temporarily prioritize non-violent activism, without categorically rejecting violence as a possibility in the future.


Open Access