Islamist movements participating in politics in the Middle East have reached an important crossroad. Despite some electoral success, they have failed to influence policy and are criticized by their base for abandoning their religious commitments. Islamist movements must convince their supporters that political participation is the best way to affect government in the long term, despite seemingly poor short term gains.
Marina Ottaway and Amr Hamzawy examine the experiences of “participating Islamist movements” in Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Yemen. Islamists are torn between their need to compromise on some social and political issues to be effective political players and the risk of alienating their core supporters.
The authors conclude:
“While participation is not invariably a process of further democratization and moderation, it is also clear that non-participation—either enforced by governments or chosen by the leadership of Islamist parties and movements—is a guarantee that a process of moderation will not take place. This is a sobering thought for those governments and their international backers that would like to set the bar for participation by Islamists extremely high. The choice is not between allowing the somewhat risky participation by Islamists in politics and their disappearance from the political scene. It is between allowing their participation despite the existence of gray zones with the possibility that a moderating process will unfold, and excluding them from the legal political process—thus ensuring the growing influence of hard-liners inside those movements and the continued existence of gray zones."
The Carnegie Middle East Program combines in-depth local knowledge with incisive comparative analysis to examine economic, sociopolitical, and strategic interests in the Arab world. Through detailed country studies and the exploration of key crosscutting themes, the Carnegie Middle East Program, in coordination with the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, provides analysis and recommendations in both English and Arabic that are deeply informed by knowledge and views from the region. The program has special expertise in political reform and Islamist participation in pluralistic politics.
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