Phenomenon of Islamic ’Justice and Development’ Parties

Phenomenon of Islamic ’Justice and Development’ Parties

Hossam Tammam*


In its history in political work, the identity issue overwhelmed the Islamic movement and was a top priority for issues like Islamic state, rule of Islam and applying Sharia (Islamic law). These identity-oriented issues were the core of any political slogan or party platform they may propose. Even when political or legal restrictions prevent them from making public the identity issues, they have been including them in their slogans, speeches and platforms like Turkish Islamic leader Necmettin Erbakan who was forced by the strict legal restrictions in the Kamalist secular system to raise the slogan of building a fair system and bringing the country back to the age of glory and prosperity. Everyone knew that he implicitly means establishing the Islamic system that applies Sharia and restores the Caliphate.


In this context, Islamic parties have been keeping in their memory the issue of identity not only in their programs but also in their names. The most well-known parties have names which either directly reflect their Islamic identity like “the Islamic Party” in Malaysia, ” the Islamic Action Front ” in Jordan or “the Islamic Salvation Front” in Algeria . Or they give a priority to a pillar of the Islamic project like “Sharia Party” (an Islamic party draft in Egypt), “Virtue Party” in Turkey or “Movement for the Society of Peace” in Algeria.


However, a decade ago, the phenomenon of Justice and Development parties emerged to put justice and development issues a central position in their discourse and names as well. The phenomenon started in Morocco with the establishment of the Justice and Development party (PJD) in 1998 to extend to the Arab and Muslim world in the shape of parties which are already founded and others which are still under construction. In Turkey, the middle generation in the Islamic movement established a party with the same name Justice and Development (AK Party); in Indonesia, Islamists established the party of Justice and Development  and in Malaysia Anwar Ibrahim, the former leader of the movement of Muslim Youth, founded a new party named the Keadilan party, or the People”s Justice . In Iraq, a Shiite Islamic group adopted the idea and established a party named Justice and Development, although it is still in the sidelines of the overall Islamic scene in the political scene in general. In Mauritania, Islamists established “The National Gathering for Reform and Development”, another variation of Justice and Development coined by their Moroccan Islamic neighbours. It has a charisma and influence in the Mauritanian Islamic case. There is also a botched attempt in Bahrain, and another one in Egypt, in a group on the margin of the Islamic movement but were rejected by authorities. All of them are parties or drafts of parties bearing the name of Justice and Development which emerged from the Islamic movement in their countries.


We are seemingly facing a phenomenon that needs to be studied specially that it presents questions more than answers. The first question is why this name-Justice and Development-mushrooms in drafts of Islamic parties, while traditional names related to the core of the Islamic ideology like Al-Umma (Nation), Sharia (Islamic Law), Al-Islah (Reform) and Al-Nahda (Renaissance) retreated. This change may be with a bigger and a deeper shift that the Islamic phenomenon has witnessed in the past two decades. This shift moved it from a political platform to a social platform as a part of the changes in the Islamic and Arab societies, and changes all over the world which is witnessing the waning or end of ideologies. In the midst of this change, the social platform and its slogan (justice and development) have become more attractive and more powerful to pave the way for these Islamists towards power. We can also link between this phenomenon and what took place throughout the last decade, including reviews inside the Islamic discourse mostly related to the Islamic vision of the idea of a state and its excessive sensitivity to the issue of identity. Most of these reviews were carried out under pressure of the secular criticism to the Islamic political discourse accusing it of using hollow slogans and ideology. However, the phenomenon can be at the same time linked with increasing demand especially in the West and the United States for “Moderate Islam” whose characteristics of moderation are determined with abandoning the political and coming closer to the social and developmental.


Finally, the phenomenon has a confirmed link with social and class changes inside components of the Islamic movement itself that generally witnessed a social tide on the one hand and coming closer to people, their cares and interests on the other hand, making it moving further from the strict and pure ideological nature, hence traditional issues of this ideology like rule and sharia retreated.


In the Justice and Development parties, we should have a stop at what can be considered a common factor that gathers them and make them be collective considered a phenomenon. Definitely, the similarity exceeds the issue of bearing the same name or its variations. There are other factors that gather them. I think that they revolve around a general approach that gives priority to the demand of achieving justice among people, and developing societies. Thus, they give the issue of justice and development a priority sometimes at the expense of the issue of identity and related issues. As every country has its specialty and every Islamic movement has its own experience, The Justice and Development Party in a traditional Muslim Arab country like Morocco- a state which is based on a religious legitimacy (state of the commander of the faithful) is different from Kamalist Turkey that canceled the caliphate and established a secularist model that wants to end any thing of Islamic nature. While the elite and grassroots of the Moroccan Islamic movement are more related the Islamic rituals, symbols and meanings, unlike its Turkish counterpart where the relation with the west is deep-rooted not only on the geographical level but also as a view and a future project adopted in any reform view. Thus, be careful lest you are deceived that they are similar.


Assessing the Justice and Development experience in a decade, how far these Islamic parties have a development model that distinguishes them from other liberal and socialist parties. Add to this seeking to know details of this model in economy and social affairs in general. In this regard, we will be surprised to know that this model that links its origins with a certain Islamic vision, is either identically similar to the western economic and development model as is the case in the Turkish Justice and Development Party (AK party) or People”s Justice in Malaysia ( where there is a relation with the western capitalist model and its centers, and the big influence of neo-liberalism), or it is like Moroccan Justice and Development party (PJD) which is closer to the market economy, with a social role from the country and with a hesitation or unsettling of core issues like the distribution of wealth and the policy of economic monopolies, the challenging issue in a country like Morocco, or that its visions are incomplete because it is still young and for the specialty of its country as is the case in Mauritania which is still closer to the stage before the foundation of the modern state.


Future questions over the phenomenon of Justice and Development parties are still unanswered especially concerning issues related to the model it offers in Islamic political work. These questions include the ones related to how far the development approach as an alternative to the identity approach is stable without backpedaling in a time of in which the identity discourse rises or how far the Islamic movement, whatever its care for people”s issues and development, exceeds the identity and applying Sharia issues, and the way or forms through which identity issues are handled for the Islamic movement represented by the Justice and Development parties, if we agree that it is difficult for them to fully exceed them. Add to this how these Islamic parties understand Islamic Sharia, and how far they disagree with traditional Islamic counterparts and finally view of these parties, specially in countries that took considerable steps in modernism and secularization, to ways of lowering the authority of Sharia in a secular reality.


Here, we can know a huge diversity in experiences of the Justice and Development parties. The Moroccan PJD party for example distinguished between the missionary and political, to cover up its withdrawal from identity issues leaving them to a separate missionary movement and to be dedicated to political issues. However, it did not and can”t get fully divorced from identity issues in a country where Francophone has a big influence, specially in the cultural circles although its political regime is a monarchy. While the Turkish party did not stop for long at such issues. It got fully divorced from them and presented itself as a political party that cares for identity issues that enjoy a Turkish consensus, and is finally having a secularist Kamalaist hue with an influential national spirit.


It is difficult to give a final or decisive answer, but tentatively, there is a disparity between responses of the Islamic Justice and Development parties in front of these challenges and problems. We are seemingly in front of two contradictory kinds of response and other responses are in between: Two models: one of them seeks to Islamize modernism as is the case in the Moroccan Justice and Development Party (PJD) while the other the Turkish AK party sees that it starts with modernizing Islam.


*A researcher in Islamic movements