Much of the writing on Islamism describes the ‘essence of Islam’ as a religious faith with intrinsic characteristics, and asks whether these characteristics are compatible with modern politics, economics and ideologies. This study starts from the assumption that such an immutable ‘Islamic essence’ does not exist. Islamic teachings and beliefs have been subject to many, often diametrically opposed, interpretations in the Arab world. When political interests conflict, parties of varying persuasions may adopt Islamic terminology merely in a bid to legitimise their positions. What is more significant are the strategic choices that political actors make in shaping Arab states and societies, and the settings within which these choices are made.