Islamist Parties and Democracy: Why They Can’t be Democratic

Issue Date July 2008
Volume 19
Issue 3
Page Numbers 43-48
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Read the full essay here.

This article makes a case of the basic distinction between Islam and Islamism and presents three central arguments: 1. through religious reforms and a rethinking of the Islamic doctrine, the cultural system of Islam can be put in harmony with democracy, 2. this (first) argument does not apply to Islamism (political Islam) for the simple reason that its end is an Islamic system of government. These two arguments lead to the third, namely that democracy is not simply a voting procedure, but also and above all a political culture of pluralism, individual human rights and civil society, all based on secular values. Unlike jihadist Islamists, institutional Islamists approve democracy, however, only in terms of balloting, not as a political culture of pluralism. Those Islamists who truly consent to democracy abandon the idea of a shari’a-based rule of God (the Hakimiyyat) and then are no longer Islamists, but democrats.

About the Author

Bassam Tibi, who was born and raised in Damascus, teaches international relations at the University of Goettingen and is the visiting A.D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University. His latest book is Political Islam, World Politics and Europe (2008).

View all work by Bassam Tibi