Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 04/2009

Islamists in Politics: The Dynamics of Participation

Marina Ottaway, Amr Hamzawy

November 2008

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


Islamist parties and movements in Arab countries that have strategically chosen to participate in the legal political process, acknowledging the legitimacy of the existing constitutional framework, have gained great political importance. Their participation raises two major questions: are they truly committed to democracy? And will participation have a positive, moderating influence on their positions, pushing them to focus on public policy platforms rather than ideological debates? The experience of participating Islamist parties and movements in Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, and Yemen as well as the armed parties in Lebanon and Palestine, reveals a complex picture. Each movement’s commitment to democracy is ultimately determined by the balance of power between reformers and hard-liners in the leadership and the pressures from constituents. In turn, such balance of power is affected by the political conditions in the country, above all whether Islamist parties and movements are allowed to participate in pluralist politics in a sustained way.