Islamist Parties , ARE THEY DEMOCRATS? DOES it matter ?

Tarek Masoud

Driven by a sense that “the Islamists are coming,” journalists and policy makers have been engaged of late in fevered speculation over whether Islamist parties such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (MB) or Palestine’s Hamas really believe in democracy. While I attempt to outline the boundaries of the Islamist democratic commitment, I think that peering into the Islamist soul is a misuse of energies. The Islamists are not coming. Moreover, as Adam Przeworski and others have argued, commitments to democracy are more often born of environmental constraints than of true belief. Instead of worrying whether Islamists are real democrats,
our goal should be to help fortify democratic and liberal institutions and actors so that no group—Islamist or otherwise—can subvert them.
But what is this movement over whose democratic bona fides we worry? Islamism is a slippery concept. For example, if we label as Islamist those parties that call for the application of shari‘a, we must exclude Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (which is widely considered Islamist) and include Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party (which actively represses Islamists). Instead of becoming mired in definitional issues, we would do better to focus on a set of political parties that have grown from the same historical roots, derive many of their goals and positions from the same body of ideas, and maintain organizational ties to one another—that is, those parties that spring from the international MB. These include the Egyptian mother organization (founded in 1928), but also Hamas, Jordan’s Islamic Action Front, Algeria’s Movement for a Peaceful Society, the Iraqi Islamic Party, Lebanon’s Islamic Group, and others.

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Filed Under: EgyptFeaturedHamasMuslim BrotherhoodPalestineStudies & ResearchesSyrian MBTurkeyTurkey's AKP

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