Islamist Parties and Democracy: Three Kinds of Movements

Issue Date July 2008
Volume 19
Issue 3
Page Numbers 7-12
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This conventional categorization of Islamist groups as “moderate” or “radical” is unhelpful in understanding what the existence of such groups means for democratic politics throughout the Arab world. The author proposes a three-part typology for classifying Islamists, one that sheds light on how these diverse groups approach democratic politics. The first category comprises the takfiris, groups such as al-Qaeda that embrace the use of violence in pursuit of their objectives and reject democracy as a denial of God’s sovereignty; the second includes militant and nationalist Islamist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas that are willing to use violence but maintain involvement in the formal political process; the third, and the most relevant for the democratic politics, are those groups that reject violence and revolution as a means to achieve their goals. Time will reveal which Islamist groups can evolve into constructive players in a pluralist political arena and which cannot.

About the Author

Tamara Cofman Wittes is a senior fellow and director of the Project on Middle East Democracy and Development in the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy. Her latest book is Freedom’s Unsteady March: America’s Role in Building Arab Democracy (2008).

View all work by Tamara Cofman Wittes