Soon, most Islamist parties in the Arab world decided to boycott the United States in a gesture of protest at the American invasion of Iraq. The U.
Yet, at the same time, Islamist parties in various countries—including Yemen, Indonesia, Morocco, and Jordan—received various forms of support and training through democracy promotion programs funded by the likes of the United States Agency for International Development and the National Endowment for Democracy.
There was no coherent, deliberate policy toward Islamist parties as such; it was a byproduct of other concerns. In the pre-Arab Spring era, the Muslim Brotherhood and the many movements it inspired reached a consensus for how to pursue their aims: bide their time, do their best to build social influence within regime constraints, make small but significant inroads in parliament, wait for a democratic opening, and then, when it came, fill the political vacuum.
There was no need to spend too much time pondering questions of governance, since the prospect of governing seemed so remote. The Arab uprisings challenged this model, then rendered it moot.
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The partification of Islamist movements has been one of the most important features of Islamist evolution since the s. How Islamists deal with these challenges, naturally, has a lot to do with how the various revolutions, stalled revolutions, or non-revolutions evolved in each particular case. For example, were rulers toppled, therefore inviting a leadership vacuum that well-organized Islamist groups could then fill?
Did state structures collapse after revolution, thereby provoking outbreaks of violent conflict or civil war? Where rulers were not toppled, how did Islamist parties balance nominal loyalty to existing regimes with popular demands for political change? The imperatives of seeking votes are often not the imperatives of a movement seeking social transformation. This dilemma was particularly acute after the Arab uprisings, when mainstream Islamists had to decide to what extent to contest elections.
Islam and Politics in a Comparative Perspective
Many Western observers may have wanted Ennahda to become Muslim Democratic, but did their own supporters? Islamist parties, after all, have been successful, in part, because they are not just parties; they represent broader-based movements, which provide organizational discipline, social service provision, funding for electoral campaigns, and broader reach into less politicized sectors of society. The tension between party and movement is particularly evident among mainstream Islamist groups like the Brotherhood, which, over time, came to see elections as the primary mechanism for both social and political change, even when it came at the cost of traditional core concerns like preaching, religious education, and social service provision.
Indeed, if there is one finding that emerges clearly from the failures of the Arab Spring, it is that Brotherhood organizations, particularly in the Arab world, view electoral victory as the definitive measure of success.
That was not always the case. The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in by a schoolteacher named Hassan al-Banna, was originally concerned with preaching, education, recruiting new members, and opposing colonialism and, later, the creation of Israel. Banna sought to change society slowly and progressively, starting at the individual and moving to the family, the community, and eventually the government. In theory, this makes sense if one wants to reshape politics without antagonizing politicians. In practice, playing the long game becomes difficult when presented with the temptations of power and electoral success.
As Avi Spiegel, an expert on Moroccan Islamism, argues :. We study these things, I suspect, because we are guided by the belief, perhaps even the zeal, that these outcomes matter—that the winners of elections actually win something.
Yet, in authoritarian contexts—even post—Arab Spring contexts—does electoral success translate into success writ large? The bargain in Morocco has been clear enough. In return, the PJD is allowed to legally exist, participate, and even enjoy a bit of power but not too much. Looking forward five, 10 or 15 years, it is difficult to envision the PJD accomplishing much more than it already has. In Southeast Asia, Islamist parties, while gaining a significant share of the vote, have not been able to win outright on the national level.
The lesson here may appear counterintuitive.
The worse Islamists do in elections, the less of a threat they pose to their non-Islamist competitors, who, in turn, seem to have less of a problem appropriating Islamist styles for their own electoral purposes. As the center shifts rightward, Islamist groups are further emboldened, particularly in polarized societies where candidates pay little price for their radicalism. It is little surprise, then, that Indonesia, the largest Muslim democracy in the world, has seen a sectarian upsurge. Indonesia may seem to some an unlikely place for a resurgence of Islamist sentiment, but so too would Turkey and Tunisia.
The two most secular countries in the Middle East were among the first to witness Islamists come to power democratically. Egypt, one of the more religiously conservative societies in the region, has for now seen a drop in enthusiasm for the Islamism of the Muslim Brotherhood.
By the time the Arab uprisings toppled regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya in , the United States had already begun thinking about a new approach toward Islamists. Cook presents a text that is accessible for the undergraduate level while at the same time challenging and a useful resource for the graduate level.
Cook's sources are extensive and delve deeply into each religious tradition. He skillfully weaves together thinkers from the earliest form of the faith to contemporary schools of though. Readers will be. Nitz, Fides et Historia.
- The Muslim World and Politics in Transition.
- Phenomenon: Everything You Need to Know About The Paranormal;
- Chapter 3. Role of Islam in Politics | Pew Research Center!
- Political Perspectives on the Muslim World.
Cook's highly stimulating and knowledgeable reading of Muslims' use of tradition and his answer to the old question will certainly prompt a new discussion about the genealogy of political Islam. The expansiveness of the exploration, which considers the long histories of national identity and ethnicity, widens our inquiry and causes us to integrate a broader range of factors to assess the differences and similarities of the role of religion in modern politics in different places.
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Cook shows how we need a more global framework and long view of the function of history and religion to gain critical understanding of how our world functions today. Cook's learning is vast, his insight profound, his treatment of sources fair. Ancient Religions, Modern Politics is a most impressive achievement.
Cook covers an impressive range of material and deals meticulously with key issues.
The impact of the Cold War
Ancient Religions, Modern Politics is destined to be a landmark in the comparison of religions. It draws on a lifetime of learning and erudition, yet is audacious in its willingness to pose—and answer—bold questions. Rich in its use of sources and convincing in its arguments, this book will be widely read and very influential. March, author of Islam and Liberal Citizenship. Michael Cook.