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Arab political parties and movements
Arab political parties and movements have been the subject of a wide range of publications in English and Arabic in recent years, for example: The state of political parties at the moment of independence—not Islam, class structures, levels of development, or international factors—was key in pushing Turkey toward democracy but Arab states toward authoritarianism,
Saturday, May 19,2007 00:00
by Carnegie Endowment

Arab political parties and movements have been the subject of a wide range of publications in English and Arabic in recent years, for example:

  • The state of political parties at the moment of independence—not Islam, class structures, levels of development, or international factors—was key in pushing Turkey toward democracy but Arab states toward authoritarianism, argues Michele Angrist in Party Building in the Modern Middle East (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006).

  • The crisis of secular parties in the Arab world is partly of their own making and must first be addressed through a process of internal transformation, contend Marina Ottaway and Amr Hamzawy in a forthcoming Carnegie Paper (“Fighting on Two Fronts: Secular Parties in the Arab World,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Carnegie Paper no. 85, May 2007).

Much recent debate has focused on the implications of electoral participation by Islamist parties and political movements:

  • In “What Islamists Need to Be Clear About: The Case of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood,” Nathan Brown, Amr Hamzawy, and Marina Ottaway identify sharia, dual religious and political identity, organizational structure, universal citizenship, and women’s rights, as issues on which the movement needs to achieve greater clarity if it is to gain credibility in the West (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Policy Outlook no. 35, February 2007). Click here for Arabic.

  • Kuwait’s Islamic Constitutional Movement faces the challenge of reconciling a socially conservative agenda with the need to form cross-ideological alliances that are necessary for progress towards greater political reform (Nathan Brown, “Pushing Toward Party Politics? Kuwait’s Islamic Constitutional Movement,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Carnegie Paper no. 79, February 2007). Click here for Arabic.

  • In “Mustaqbal jama’at al-ikhwan al-muslimin” (The Future of the Muslim Brotherhood), Amr al-Shubaki examines the history of relations between the Brotherhood and the government and examines scenarios for the movement’s future (al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, Strategy Paper, May 2006).

  • There is no evidence that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood would adopt more democratic values as a result of political participation, argues Magdi Khalil in “Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Political Power: Would Democracy Survive?” (Middle East Review of International Affairs, vol. 10, no. 1, March 2006).

  • In “Islamist Movements and the Democratic Process: Exploring the Gray Zones,” Nathan Brown, Amr Hamzawy, and Marina Ottaway discuss critical areas of ambiguity in Islamists’ thinking including Islamic law, the use of violence, political pluralism, civil and political rights, women’s rights, and religious minorities (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Carnegie Paper no. 67, March 2006).

  • Rather than supporting democracy by focusing on new Islamic thinking and parties, the United States should promote institutional reform in the Arab world, argues Daniel Brumberg in “Islam is Not the Solution (Or the Problem)” (The Washington Quarterly, vol. 29, no. 1, Winter 2005-06, 97-116).

  • Mona El-Ghobashy argues that the Muslim Brothers’ energetic capitalization on the limited opportunities available to compete in parliamentary and other elections has had a profound effect on their political thought and organization (“The Metamorphosis of the Egyptian Muslim Brothers,” International Journal for Middle East Studies, vol. 37, 2005, 373-95).

  • Dalil al-harakat al-Islamiya fi al-alam (Guide to Islamist Movements in the World) by Egyptian scholar Dia Rashwan outlines the history, goals, and agendas of violent and non-violent Islamist movements in several countries including Egypt, Turkey, Palestine, and Indonesia (al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, 2005).

Two new articles address the fortunes of parties in Yemen:  

  • The evolution of the Yemeni Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) through 2006 suggests the emergence of a credible opposition with the potential to press the government to effect reforms before the 2009 parliamentary elections, argue Robert D. Burrowes and Catherine M. Kasper in “The Salih Regime and the Need for a Credible Opposition,” (Middle East Journal, vol. 61, no. 2, Spring 2007, 263-80).

  • In “The High Water Mark of Islamist Politics? The Case of Yemen,” April Longley examines the defeat of the Islamist Islah party in the 2006 local council elections, which could prove to be a major setback for the Yemeni opposition (Middle East Journal, vol. 61, no. 2, Spring 2007, 240-60).

Many publications focused on political forces in Palestine following Hamas’s January 2006 electoral victory:

  • In Hamas: A Beginner’s Guide, Khaled Hroub explains the reasons for Hamas’s electoral success and provides an overview of the movement’s attitudes toward Israel and its grassroots activities (London: Pluto Press, 2006).

  • Fatah’s weakness, and the difficulties facing Hamas provide a window of opportunity for a third and avowedly liberal-democratic option to emerge in Palestine, argues Riad Malki in “Beyond Hamas and Fatah,” (Journal of Democracy, vol. 17, no. 3, July 2006, 132-7).

  • Palestinian Hamas: Vision, Violence, and Coexistence places Hamas’s ascendancy into context and shows that contrary to its violent image, it is a social and political organization that provides services and makes careful political choices (Shaul Mishal and Avraham Sela, New York: Columbia University Press, 2006).

  • In Hamas: Politics, Charity and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad, Matthew Levitt refutes the notion that Hamas’s militant, political, and social wings are distinct from one another and warns that for Hamas, like Hizballah, political participation is just another means to achieve its goals (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006).

Many publications focused on parties in Egypt:

  • The Cairo-based Ahram Center for Strategic Studies has published a series of cases studies on political parties including al-Ghad (Tomorrow), al-Tagammu, and the ruling National Democratic Party among others. Click here to read cases in the series in Arabic.

  • The 2005 parliamentary elections in Egypt have highlighted important internal power struggles with the country’s ruling National Democratic Party. A shift in favor of party reformers may have a decisive effect on the future of the Egyptian regime (Virginie Collubier, “The Internal Stakes of the 2005 Elections: The Struggle for Influence in Egypt’s National Democratic Party,” Middle East Journal, vol. 61, no. 1, Winter 2007, 95-111).

  • Manar Shorbagy contends that the Egyptian movement for Change (Kefaya) is a cross-ideological force that is creating a distinctive and promising form of politics for Egypt in “Understanding Kefaya: The New Politics in Egypt” (Arab Studies Quarterly, vol. 29, no. 1, Winter 2007, 39-60).

  • In “Hizb al-Wasat and the Potential for Change in Egyptian Islamism,” Bjorn Olav Utvik contends that the Wasat experience in Egypt has had a significance extending far beyond the meager results it achieved, for it marked the first distinct crystallization of the religious-political outlook of the generation that first experienced politics on university campuses in the 1970s (Critique: Critical Middle Eastern Studies, vol. 14, no. 3, Fall 2006, 293-306).

  • Amr Hamzawy argues that the opposition’s poor performance in Egypt’s first multi-candidate presidential elections was due to internal weaknesses and miscalculations as well as its inability to present clear programs to its constituents (“Opposition in Egypt: Performance in the Presidential Election and Prospects for the Parliamentary Elections,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Policy Outlook no. 22, October 2005).

  • In “How Can Opposition Support Authoritarianism? Lessons from Egypt” Holger Albrecht argues that instead of acting as a harbinger of democratization, political opposition movements have contributed to the stability and resilience of an authoritarian regime (Democratization, vol. 12, no. 3, June 2005, 378-97).

Beside publications on political parties, recent publications on Iraq include:

  • Unless the international community takes steps to help counter problems resulting from the influx of Iraqi refugees, Jordan may be compelled by its self interest to shut its borders, contends Nathan Hudson in “Iraqi Refugees in Jordan: Cause for Concern in a Pivotal State” (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Research Notes no. 13, April 2007).

  • Iraq’s neighbors are refusing entry, imposing onerous new passport and visa requirements, and building barriers to keep refugees out, points out a Human Rights Watch briefing paper by Human Rights Watch (“Iraq: From a Flood to a Trickle: Neighboring States Stop Iraqis Fleeing War and Persecution,” Briefing Paper no. 1, April 2007).

  • The United States needs to recognize the risk of an explosion in Kirkuk and press the Kurds, the Baghdad government, and Turkey alike to adjust policies and facilitate a peaceful settlement, warns a new International Crisis Group report (“Iraq and the Kurds: Resolving the Kirkuk Crisis,” Middle East Report no. 64, April 19, 2007).

Recent publications address reform-related developments in specific Arab countries:

  • In Battling the Lion of Damascus: Syria’s Domestic Opposition and the Asad Regime, Seth Wikas examines the challenges facing the Syrian opposition and outlines past and potential missteps, such as strengthening already powerful Islamist factions, which U.S. policymakers must avoid if they hope to help the Syrian opposition (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, May 2007).

  • In “Demilitarizing Algeria,” Hugh Roberts analyzes the unprecedented political role and power of Algeria’s military since the advent of formal pluralism in 1989, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s actions to reassert presidential authority, and the longer-term implications for democratic reform in Algeria (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Carnegie Paper no. 86, May 2007). Click here for Arabic.

  • Egypt’s electoral framework contains a number of serious flaws that contradict international legal obligations, and its legal framework and political context are not conducive to genuinely democratic elections, concludes a report published by Democracy Reporting International (“Assessment of the Electoral Framework: The Arab Republic of Egypt,” April 2007).

  • While the economic and foreign policy challenges facing Saudi Arabia can only be addressed through structural change, King Abdullah’s accession to the throne may provide the means and incentives to change the pace of reform, argues Tim Niblock in Saudi Arabia: Power, Legitimacy and Survival (Gulf Research Center, April 2007).

Several recent publications address region-wide developments:

  • In "The Role of the West in Internal Political Developments of the Arab Region," Usamah al-Ghazali Harb argues that the West must limit its support to the moral and political dimensions of  transition s in Arab states , resort to conditional aid when necessary ,  and realize that the persistence of authoritarianism may result in  the radicalization of opposition movements  ( Arab Reform Initiative , May 11, 2007). Click here for Arabic.

  • Arab governments and established elites have little incentive to create reforms that could threaten their economic and political interests. Moreover, they have limited capacity to plan, implement and manage reform programs, argues Sufyan Alissa in “The Challenge of Economic Reform in the Arab World: Toward More Productive Economies,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Carnegie Middle East Center Paper no. 1, May 2007). Click here for Arabic.

  • A new Freedom House report calls on the Congress to reserve proposed reductions in support to human rights defenders and civil society activists worldwide in the Bush administration’s 2008 budget request for foreign operations (“Supporting Freedom’s Advocates? An Analysis of the Bush Administration FY2008 Budget Request for Democracy and Human Rights,” April 2007).

  • The Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the U.S. Department of State released a series of country reports on terrorism on April 30. The Middle East and North Africa section includes information on counterterrorism and anti-money laundering legislation that has already passed or is under consideration in several Arab countries, including Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Kuwait.

  • Commemorating World Press Freedom Day, Bitter Lemons International, Freedom House, and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have published special reports on press freedom in the Arab world. CPJ’s report singles out Egypt and Morocco as among the ten worst countries in terms of deteriorating press freedom.

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