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Repression No Cure for Challenge of Political Islam

July 2, 2014 in Economics

By Dalibor Rohac

Dalibor Rohac

The events in Iraq, where the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been mounting an offensive against the ill-prepared Iraqi army, raises important questions about political Islam and about the response to it by both Middle Eastern governments and the West.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the increased perception of political Islam as a major security threat led Western governments to boost support to authoritarian regimes in the Middle East as long as they were secular and therefore seen as superior to their theocratic alternatives. When the Egyptian military brought down President Mohamed Morsy of the Muslim Brotherhood in July 2013, there was a sense of relief among many observers in Washington.

We need a careful and dispassionate analysis of why Islamic political organizations succeed in some Middle Eastern countries.”

Some of them may be willing to give Egypt’s current military regime a pass even after its judiciary convicted three Al-Jazeera journalists for seven years for “aiding terrorists” — not to mention recently upholding death sentences for 183 Muslim Brotherhood supporters, who allegedly organized an attack on a Cairo police station last year. Yet the repression of Islamic political movements, such as the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, often backfires, with consequences that could be as dire as the current bloodbath in Iraq.

Instead of rushing to alarmist conclusions, we need a careful and dispassionate analysis of why Islamic political organizations succeed in some Middle Eastern countries. Somewhat surprisingly, this may have little to do with religion. In survey data from Muslim-majority countries, religious beliefs seem to be only weakly related to voting patterns or opinions about specific policy issues. Instead, the appeal of Islamists lies in the credibility with which they can make electoral promises, which itself has to do with their history and organization.

Before the coup, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood was the prime example of the success of Islamic politics in the Middle East and North Africa. The group was originally founded in 1928, and over time created a loose network of Islamic parties throughout the region and a widely emulated model of organization combining political and religious activism with the provision of social services.

Secular Arab regimes typically allowed the Brotherhood and similar groups to run hospitals and schools and to provide assistance to the poor. In 2006, the Brotherhood was running hospitals and schools in every governorate in Egypt. Islamists …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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