The Islamist Response to Repression: Are Mainstream Islamist Groups Radicalizing?
|Saturday, August 14,2010 10:35|
|By Shadi Hamid|
Today, some of the Middle East’s most prominent Islamist groups are in a state of crisis, racked by internal divisions and struggling to respond to regime repression. With key U.S. allies in the region placing increasingly crippling limits on political opposition, mainstream Islamist groups—including the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan’s Islamic Action Front (IAF)—are reassessing their strategy of privileging electoral and parliamentary politics.
Despite embracing key democratic precepts, modernizing their election platforms, and reaching out to Western audiences, Islamist groups have found themselves victims of electoral manipulation, mounting legal restrictions, and mass arrest. With mainstream Islamists effectively being punished for their moderation, analysts have warned of impending Islamist radicalization.
This policy briefing analyzes how nonviolent Islamist groups in the Arab world are responding to a new, sometimes unprecedented, set of challenges. How have these emerging concerns affected their strategy and tactics? And, as mainstream Islamists are boxed in by government restrictions, will other more radical groups try to fill the vacuum? The course that political Islam takes in the coming years will have far-reaching implications for U.S. policy and regional security, yet it remains unclear whether the Obama administration is willing, or able, to influence events as they unfold.
The briefing focuses on the critical cases of Egypt and Jordan, among America’s closest Arab allies as well as two of the world’s largest recipients of U.S. aid. With much-anticipated elections in both countries scheduled for 2010 and 2011, the Obama administration as well as the U.S. Congress have the opportunity to weigh in and address the question of Islamist participation, something they have so far avoided doing. The briefing concludes with several practicable steps the United States should take, including:
The Obama administration should begin by clarifying U.S. policy toward political Islam by clearly affirming the right of all nonviolent political groups to participate in the electoral process. This should be coupled by a consistent American policy of opposing not just the arrests of secular activists but Islamist ones as well. By treating both groups equally, the United States can counter the (largely accurate) claim that its support for Arab democrats is selective.