Die bou van brûe nie mure

Alex Glennie

Since the terror attacks of 11 September 2001 there has been an explosion of interest inpolitical Islamism in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Until fairly recently,analysts have understandably focused on those actors that operate at the violent end of theIslamist spectrum, including Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, some of the sectarian parties in Iraq andpolitical groups with armed wings like Hamas in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT)and Hezbollah in Lebanon.However, this has obscured the fact that across the MENA region contemporary politics arebeing driven and shaped by a much more diverse collection of ‘mainstream’ Islamistmovements. We define these asgroups that engage or seek to engage in the legal political processes oftheir countries and that have publicly eschewed the use of violence tohelp realise their objectives at the national level, even where they arediscriminated against or repressed.This definition would encompass groups like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Party ofJustice and Development (PJD) in Morocco and the Islamic Action Front (IAF) in Jordan.These non-violent Islamist movements or parties often represent the best organised andmost popular element of the opposition to the existing regimes in each country, and as suchthere has been increasing interest on the part of western policymakers in the role that theymight play in democracy promotion in the region. Yet discussions on this issue appear tohave stalled on the question of whether it would be appropriate to engage with these groupson a more systematic and formal basis, rather than on the practicalities of actually doing so.This attitude is partly linked to a justifiable unwillingness to legitimise groups that mighthold anti-democratic views on women’s rights, political pluralism and a range of other issues.It also reflects pragmatic considerations about the strategic interests of western powers inthe MENA region that are perceived to be threatened by the rising popularity and influenceof Islamists. For their part, Islamist parties and movements have shown a clear reluctance toforge closer ties with those western powers whose policies in the region they stronglyoppose, not least for fear of how the repressive regimes they operate within might react.This project’s focus on non-violent political Islamist movements should not be misinterpretedas implicit support for their political agendas. Committing to a strategy of more deliberateengagement with mainstream Islamist parties would involve significant risks and tradeoffs forNorth American and European policymakers. Egter, we do take the position that thetendency of both sides to view engagement as a zero sum ‘all or nothing’ game has beenunhelpful, and needs to change if a more constructive dialogue around reform in the MiddleEast and North Africa is to emerge.

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Filed Under: EgipteBesteHamasIkhwan & Wes-Jemaah IslamiyahJordaanJordaanse MBMarokkaanse islaMarokkoMoslem BroederskapPalestinaSiriese MBTurkye

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