Monday, June 30, 2008

Political Participation of Moderate Islamists for Real Democracy in the Middle East

Democracy promotion in the Middle East is one of the key foreign policy agenda for the United States. European leaders are also tackling this issue. However, real democracy cannot be achieved simply through engagement by Americans and Europeans. As it was the case in Iraq, local citizens play considerably a crucial role in building a stable democracy. Therefore, it is important to understand Arab viewpoints for successful Middle East democratization.

In this post, I would like to refer to an article by Amr Hamzawy, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which explores the role of moderate Islam. Hamzazy is an Egyptian political scientist, and taught at Cairo University and the Free University of Berlin, prior to coming to the United States. His research interest is political participation and Islamic movements in the Arab world.

Now, let me review his article, contributed to an Egyptian journal Al Ahram Weekly (“Where are now for Islamists?”; 5-11 June, 2008). For real political reform in the Middle East, Hamzawy argues that moderate Islamists, such as the Moroccan Justice and Development Party, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and in Jordan, the Kuwaiti Constitutional Islamist Movement, and the Bahraini Wefaq National Islamic Society, be admitted more political participation.

Hamzawy insists that political participation of moderate Islamists will pave the way for political plurality, and power redistribution between ruling elites and opposition movements. He points out that the above mentioned moderate Islamic groups enjoy extensive grassroots support.

Remember that Frederick Kagan, Resident Scholar at the America Enterprise Institute, mentioned importance of grassroots empowerment, when he drafted the surge plan in Iraq. This implies that real political reform to win the War on Terror needs boarder political participation along with military intervention. Hamzawy talks of critically important point, regardless of ideology in the West.

On the other hand, Hamzawy criticizes that moderate Islamists demand too much changes to increase their influences. They tried to expand religious power in public policy and link social Islamization and political participation. Hamzawy comments that such demands deter moderate Islamists from establishing flexible alliances with non-religious oppositions.

Therefore, Amr Hamzawy makes the following recommendations.

1. Islamists must convince their popular bases that priority be given to political participation even though some compromise with the government is necessary. Grassroots who support moderate Islamists must understand that their socio-economic requirements will be achieved through step-by step efforts.

2. Islamists must find a suitable and practical balance between political participation and religious dogma. In other words, they need to balance between pragmatism and ideological commitment.

3. Islamists must separate religious inducement and political activities. This is the key to institutionalize advocacy organizations such as political parties and associations.

As to Recommendation 3, I think that moderate Islamists have much to learn from Christian democratic parties in Europe (Christian Democratic Union in Germany, Union of Christain and Centre Democrats in Italy, and so forth), and the New Komeito Party (a Buddhist party) in Japan.

Hamzawy’s recommendation is applicable beyond the Arab world. For example, Turkey is facing resurgence of Islamism these days. This is partly because Turkish people are disillusioned with Brussels’ continual rejection for EU membership. Though it is absolutely necessary to maintain a Kemalist regime, coercive confrontation with Islamists does not serve national interests of Turkey.

In order to isolate radical Islamists to win the War on Terror, successful dialogues with moderate Islamists are essential. The global society needs more attention to viewpoints by Arab and Islamic opinion leaders. Amr Hamzawy presents invaluable recommendations for Middle East governments and Western leaders.