Democracy ‘normalizes’ Islamists?
Democracy ‘normalizes’ Islamists?
Tuesday, December 9,2008 16:36

The evolution of Islamist parties in Egypt, Turkey and Indonesia indicates the conditions under which political participation might normalize them, a [1] comparative survey from Australia’s Lowy Institute suggests.   

Drawing on case studies of Egypt’s [2] Muslim Brotherhood, Indonesia’s Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and Turkey’s ‘post-Islamist’ Justice and Development Party (AKP), the report argues that, as Islamist parties move from authoritarian to democratic contexts, several “fairly [3] consistent shifts in Islamist ideology and activism” emerge:

  • From shari’a state to shari’a values: an Islamic state becomes less important than the promotion of Islamic principles; 
  • From Islamic governance to good governance: policy agendas become secularized as they are forced to address a wider range of issues for which there is no ready Islamic response;  
  • From moral message to moral messengers: leading Islamists become “exemplars of Islamically inspired probity, effectiveness and selflessness” rather than ideologically driven movements;  
  • Greater membership diversity: imperatives of electoral competition and the need for political talent demand that Islamist parties broaden their membership and electoral base;
  •  Regeneration: while noted for their lack of internal democracy, Islamist groups are nevertheless opening up to “younger, more open-minded, worldly and technically adept activists”;
  •  Oscillation rather than moderation: Islamist parties do not necessarily become more moderate in more open political contexts but do “become susceptible to greater [4] internal tensions over ideology and policy” between purist and pragmatic factions.

The report’s authors stress that such shifts are not an inevitable result of democratization. Critical variables encouraging ‘normalisation’ of Islamist parties include the existence of strong competition from other parties or movements; the legitimacy of [5] countervailing forces or institutions; and the adoption of genuinely participatory, non-violent strategies.

The authors are critical of the “Faustian pact that secular liberals have made with authoritarian rulers” in many states, noting that such compromises neither prevent repressive measures against Islamists being used against others nor stop regimes from adopting Islamist-tinged restrictions in an effort to co-opt popular religious sentiment.


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[2] Muslim Brotherhood:
[3] consistent shifts in Islamist ideology and activism:
[4] internal tensions over ideology and policy:

[5] countervailing forces or institutions: