Europe’s engagement with moderate Islamists

Europe’s engagement with moderate Islamists

Direct engagement with Islamist political movements in the Middle East and North Africa has typically been a no-go for European governments. In recent years, however, the limits of sole cooperation with authoritarian rulers in the region have become increasingly obvious. European policy-makers have started to realise that they must widen their spectrum of interlocutors if their policies are not to lose track of the realities on the ground. In spite of widespread reservations regarding the democratic credentials of certain groups, there is a sense among EU member states that the inclusion of all relevant societal actors, and especially some form of greater strategic engagement with moderate Islamists, will be unavoidable.

Non-violent, non-revolutionary Islamist parties that aspire to take power by means of a democratic process have often been portrayed as potential reform actors that carry the hopes of a volatile region for genuine democratic development and long-term stability. In spite of this changing perspective on moderate Islamists, the EU and most member states maintain their policy of excluding all organisations with an Islamist leaning from political dialogue, cooperation and funding activities. In the present study, a survey among EU government representatives and Islamist politicians on their ties and contacts to date comes to conclude that the how, when, with whom and why of engagement with Islamist actors in general remain matters of great controversy among EU governments.

This controversy has led to a lowest-common-denominator policy on the EU level that touches on the region’s hotspots, and that is likely to remain reactive rather than preventive.


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* Kristina Kausch is a Researcher at FRIDE”s Democratisation Programme and focuses on European policies of democracy promotion in the European neighbourhood. She holds an MA in International Relations from the University of G?ttingen. Prior to joining FRIDE in 2004, she worked for several years on programmes of good governance and democratisation for the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), and at the Bertelsmann Foundation.


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