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"Islamist Movements and the Problem of Democracy in the Arab World" by Michael Herb

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Political Science
POLI 341
Julie Norman

"Islamist Movements and the Problem of Democracy in the Arab World" by Michael Herb Introduction • seeks a reason for the failure of Arab countries to democratize • Arab world: Islamist groups typically strongest opposition parties ◦ their political programs threaten: ▪ existing regimes ▪ non-Islamist political forces ▪ foreign powers ◦ the threat (or perceived threat) of Islamist parties is a major obstacle to democratization ▪ distrust of Islamist parties • Outside the Arab world: several Muslim majority countries have transitioned to democracy since 1979 ◦ little reason for non-Islamists to fear an Islamist takeover of power after democratization ▪ little to no political presence • failure of the Algerian transition to democracy The Nature of the Problem • Arab countries ◦ not that wealthy (except for oil) ▪ non-oil wealth linked to democracy ◦ regimes are personalist or monarchical ▪ tend to last longer, especially monarchies ◦ non-Western culture • Sub-Saharan Africa ◦ not that wealthy ◦ regimes are personalist or monarchical ◦ non-Western culture ◦ AND YET SOME OF ITS COUNTRIES HAVE TRANSITIONED TO DEMOCRACY! ▪ fear of Islamist political groups explains the gap b/w Arab and Sub-Saharan Africa countries • ruling elite in regimes dangle the prospect of shared power to secular opposition groups to neutralize them • major international powers that typically favour democratizing movements reluctant ◦ Islam used politically in Arab countries ▪ historical legacy of repression of Islamists by regimes ▪ drives Islamist fringe to violence ▪ increased uncertainty about Islamist groups' strength and intentions ▪ drives non-Islamists to support/tolerate regimes ◦ Outside the Arab world ▪ regimes most inclusive of Islamists, lowering perceived risk of backlash post-democratization Transitions in Muslim Majority Countries • countries with clear Muslim majorities that democratized 1979-2005 ◦ some endured, some eventually failed • does not examine non-Arab countries that have failed to transition to democracy • distinction between Islamist and non-Islamist political organizations ◦ Islamist group ▪ ideology is scripturalist ▪ demands return to Islam short of any syncretist additions ▪ stresses Islamic law in private and public life ▪ includes Salafi groups, Muslim Brotherhood, Wahhabi, and those inspired by Maulana Mawdudi ▪ excludes groups described as syncretistic or traditional NO ISLAMIST POLITICAL ORGANIZATIONS IN THE TRANSITION • MALI ◦ transition 1991 ◦ result of mostly secular protestors against regime's failure to protect secularism ▪ regime responded by killing hundreds ▪ junior military officers arrested the president and initiated democratic transition ◦ absence of any Islamist groups that might possibly win an election ▪ no Islamist political parties • NIGER ◦ transition 1993 and 1999 ▪ 1990-1991 national conference resulted in first free elections 1993 ▪ 1996 authoritarian coup ▪ 1999 coup for democracy ◦ Islamist parties had no apparent role in the elections • ALBANIA ◦ transition 1991 ▪ following collapse of communism in Eastern Europe ◦ no prominent Islamist political groups ◦ former regime had brutally repressed all religious expression • KYRGYZSTAN ◦ transition 1991 and 2005 ▪ 1991 once the Soviet Union fell (previously part of it) ▪ 2005 collapse of old regime, flight of president, installation of new regime ▪ prompted by mass protests ◦ no Islamist political groups • TURKEY ◦ transition 1983 ◦ right-wing military regime prohibited the one mildly Islamist party from competing in elections ISLAMIST AND SECULARIST PARTIES ACTIVE IN THE TRANSITION • SENEGAL ◦ transition 2000 ◦ ruling party since 1960 lost election in 2000 ◦ Sufi political organizations ▪ don't run for election or directly sponsor parties ▪ endorse candidates, which carries much weight ▪ contributed to ruling party's loss in 2000 by not endorsing them ▪ work with political leaders, not against them to take over political power ◦ Islamist parties were not in a position to compete in the election • INDONESIA ◦ transition 1999 ◦ secularist military leaders forced longtime authoritarian leader to resign ▪ opposed the regime's embrace of Hefner 'regimes' Muslims, whose rhetoric close to more xenophobic and intolerant Arab world Islamist groups ◦ radical Islamists sided with the regime ◦ secular Mega
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