Islamist Parties : A boon or a bane for democracy?

Amr Hamzawy

Nathan J. Brown

What role do Islamist movements play in Arab politics? With their popular messages and broad followings within Arab societies, would their incorporation as normal political actors be a boon for democratization or democracy’s bane? For too long, we have tried to answer such questions solely by speculating about the true intentions of these movements and their leaders. Islamist political movements in the Arab world are increasingly asked—both by outside observers and by members of their own societies—about their true intentions.
But to hear them tell it, leaders of mainstream Arab Islamist movements are not the problem. They see themselves as democrats in nondemocratic lands, firmly committed to clean and fair electoral processes, whatever outcomes these may bring. It is rulers and regimes that should be pressed to commit to democracy, say the Islamists, not their oppositions. We need not take such Islamist leaders at their word. Indeed, we should realize that there is only so much that any of their words can do to answer the question of the relationship between these movements and the prospects for democracy.
While their words are increasingly numerous (Islamist movements tend to be quite loquacious) and their answers about democracy increasingly specific, their ability to resolve all ambiguities is limited. First, as long as they are out of power—as most of them are, and are likely to remain for some time—they will never fully prove themselves. Many Islamist leaders themselves probably do not know how they would act were they to come to power.

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Filed Under: AlgeriaEgyptFeaturedHamasJordanJordanian MBMuslim BrotherhoodStudies & Researches

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