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July 8th, 2013, by Farish A. Noor

Farish A. Noor

The future of political Islam

 

The toppling of president Mohamed Morsi and his Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt last week has raised a host of deep and difficult questions about the future of politicised religion in general, and political Islam in particular. For starters, it has posed us with the singular query: if the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt now feels that the democratic path is not the means to attain state capture, would this induce some of them to abandon the democratic process altogether and opt for other, perhaps extra-constitutional, means to come to power?

One is reminded of the thesis of Olivier Roy, who has written extensively about the future of political Islam. His argument, developed in the late 1990s, was that religio-political movements such as the Ikhwan’ul Muslimin would eventually learn to moderate and compromise if they were allowed to become part of the democratic process. The belief then was that the arena of politics was like a structured mould that would shape and form all movements that entered its normative space. The assumption underlying this argument is that religio-political movements were the “soft” human component that entered the “hard” structure of states and institutions, and that such institutions — by virtue of their capacity to maintain and reproduce structured norms of behaviour — would tame the belligerent forces that would otherwise have tried to capture the state and turn it into something else.

For a while, the thesis struck a resonant chord among many analysts and scholars; and there was ample evidence from all over the Muslim world that Islamist parties and movements would conform to the pattern of behaviour Roy had predicted.

Even Islamist thinkers like Rashid Ghannouchi had stated, before the 1990s, that the Islamist movements of North Africa would have to learn to play by the rules of democracy and that if they wanted to come to power, it had to be via the ballot box. Related to this was the other caveat that such movements would also have to accept the will of the majority and accept the possibility that they may also be voted out of power.

Read Farish Noor’s article in its entirety in the New Straits Times 

View Farish Noor’s Global Experts profile 

 

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