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Three experts on democracy promotion in the Middle East, Nathan J. Brown, Amr Hamzawy, and Marina Ottaway, have coauthored a new Carnegie Paper entitled, Islamist Movements and the Democratic Process in the Arab World: Exploring the Gray Zones. The paper seeks to move beyond stark views of the Islamist challenge as either a democratizing force or an extreme threat to democracy and to present a nuanced view of the position of Islamist parties. The authors consider mainstream movements in Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and Bahrain, analyzing not only where the movements stand but also where they have yet to develop clear positions. In view of Hamas’ recent victory in Palestine and the electoral success of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Egyptian elections, understanding the thinking of Islamist movements is more important than ever. To read and download online go to:  

In November 2005, Brown, Hamzawy, and Ottaway—in partnership with the Herbert-Quandt-Stiftung—met with representatives of mainstream Islamists movements from Arab countries to discuss topics such as Islamic law, political pluralism, civil and political rights, women’s rights, religious minorities, and violence. These discussions and other research revealed a continuing ambiguity amongst Islamists on fundamental democracy and human rights issues. These are the “gray zones” the authors examine.

While the gray zones could be construed as the result of “duplicity, a deliberate refusal by mainstream Islamist movements to declare what they really think about key sensitive issues in order not to alarm the West and lose their reputation as moderates,” the paper argues, they can also be explained by the continuous evolution in the thinking and strategies of Islamists, not to mention internal wrangling over the proper direction for their movements.

The resolution of these issues will determine whether the rise of Islamist movements leads the countries of the Arab world toward democracy or, conversely, to a new form of authoritarianism with an Islamic character.

Nathan J. Brown, Amr Hamzawy, and Marina Ottaway are senior associates at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Combined, they have authored more than ten books on issues including democracy promotion in the Middle East and Arab politics.

The Herbert-Quandt-Stiftung, the foundation of ALTANA AG, is a German nonprofit organization that promotes national and international dialogue on political, social, and economic issues of our time.