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Islamist setbacks prompt strategic rethink
Islamist setbacks prompt strategic rethink
“The danger now is that the setbacks for political Islam will undermine moderate elements within these movements and strengthen conservatives,” writes Roula Khalaf in the Financial Times, as Islamists question the merits of embracing electoral politics.
Saturday, December 20,2008 11:04
Demdigest.net
Credit: FT

Credit: FT

A blend of repression and disillusion is forcing Islamist parties to reconsider their participation in the democratic process in several Arab states, analysts suggest. Unable to point to tangible benefits or the realistic prospect of political power, relatively moderate elements are on the defensive.

“The danger now is that the setbacks for political Islam will undermine moderate elements within these movements and strengthen conservatives,” writes Roula Khalaf in the Financial Times, as Islamists question the merits of embracing electoral politics.

“When you participate and you notice that the regime does not want a real democracy, you do ask yourself whether participation makes sense - it is a legitimate question,” says Mustafa Ramid, an official with Morocco’s Justice and Development party. Observes suggest that disillusion could foster a disengagement from the political process that works to the advantage of radical Salafi forces.

“The Muslim Brotherhood and other moderate groups are losing their appeal before the Arab public perhaps because they are focusing on politics and neglecting religion … so Salafis are sliding up to centre stage,” says Khalil al-Anani, recently a visiting fellow at the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy. “If anything, this is a moment of truth for moderates. Either they connect once again with the public, or they embrace irrelevance.”

Despite some electoral success, Islamist movements have failed to influence policy and are under pressure from their rank-and-file for jettisoning their ideological edge, according to a new paper from the Carnegie Endowment. Echoing the claim of a recent analysis that democracy ‘normalizes’ Islamists, Marina Ottaway and Amr Hamzawy state that “Islamist movements operating without constant threat of repression by the state are more willing to compromise, focus on pragmatic policy issues, and remain committed to democratic processes, while Islamists whose participation is hampered by the state are more focused on ideological issues and marginalize reformers within the movement. ”

Political participation will not necessarily engender democratization and moderation within Islamist movements, they contend. But disengagement, whether due to repression or strategic choice, guarantees that moderation will not occur:

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.


Posted in Political Islam Studies , Islamic Movements  
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