Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 07/2012

The Economic Agenda of the Islamist Parties

Muhammad Abu Rumman, Ibrahim Saif

May 2012

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


Islamist parties have gained newfound political power across the Arab world. Four parties in particular—Tunisia’s Ennahda, Egypt’s Freedom and Justice Party, Morocco’s Justice and Development Party, and Jordan’s Islamic Action Front—have either made a strong showing at the ballot box or are expected to in upcoming elections. Their successes have dredged up fears about their political and social ambitions, with worries ranging from the enforcement of sharia law to the implications for Western tourists on these countries’ beaches. Meanwhile, the parties’ economic platforms have largely been overlooked, despite the serious challenges that lie ahead for the economies of the Arab world. Economic realities in Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, and Jordan alike are quite difficult. These countries face high rates of poverty and unemployment, declining productivity and competitiveness, low levels of integration with the global economy, acute disparities between classes and regions, corruption, high domestic and foreign debt, and more. All of these challenges require radical changes in the existing order and far-sighted planning. The question, then, is whether the newly empowered Islamists can deliver the economic results their publics need.