Muriel Asseburg (ed.)

Moderate Islamists as Reform Actors

Conditions and Programmatic Change

SWP Research Paper 2007/RP 04, April 2007, 98 Pages


Middle East

Over the last years, Islamist movements and parties have more and more been able to translate their popularity into impressive election successes or victories, for example in Egypt, Iraq, and Palestine. In many states in what has been termed the "Broader Middle East," moderate Islamists are today the most important actors alongside current or former regime elites. Without doubt they will in the mid- to long term be forces to be reckoned with and will have greater influence on political decision-making processes than civil society or radical or terrorist groups.

Although they mostly espouse socially conservative positions, they often make progressive demands when it comes to reform of the political system. It is often said that Islamist calls for democratization are of a purely tactical nature, and that, if they came to power, they would set about establishing authoritarian theocratic regimes. Indeed, the "risk" of political opening is that power could pass to forces where we cannot today know whether they will play by democratic rules. At the same time, however, it is obvious that political opening is not possible as long as it excludes those forces that have the greatest support among the population and often represent the only effectively organized alternative to authoritarian regimes.

The contributions in this volume look at the cases of Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt and Palestine analyzing the questions: What are the priorities of Islamist actors? What do their reform agendas look like? To what extent have the agendas of Islamists changed over the course of participation in parliament or through taking on (shared) responsibility of government? Does the integration of Islamists lead to a stabilization of authoritarian rule or does it promote political opening?

Table of Contents

Problems and Recommendations

Muriel Asseburg

Case Studies A: Islamists in Power

Johannes Reissner
Iran: How Politics Emancipates Itself from Religion

Ioannis N. Grigoriadis
The First »Democratic Islamic« Party? The AKP and the Reform of Political Islam in Turkey

Guido Steinberg
Between Pragmatism and »Confessional Cleansing«: Shi'ite Islamists in Iraq

Case Studies B: Islamists in Opposition and in Governing Coalitions

Isabelle Werenfels
Algeria's Legal Islamists: From »Fifth Column« to a Pillar of the Regime

Katja Niethammer
The Paradox of Bahrain: Authoritarian Islamists through Participation, Pro-Democratic Islamists through Exclusion?

Noha Antar
The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt: Ambiguous Reformers

Muriel Asseburg
The Palestinian Hamas: Between Resistance, Reform, and Failure

Concluding Part

Eva Wegner
Inclusion or Repression: The Cost-Benefit Calculations of Authoritarian Rulers

Muriel Asseburg
Conclusions and Recommendations


Overview: Islamist Participation in Arab States, Iran, and Turkey


The Autors

SWP Comment

Dominic Vogel
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