Include Islamist Organizations as Well
All political and civil society groups should be invited to the negotiating table
"The skepticism common in the West regarding these movements and the fear of fundamental radicalization must be overcome. They should be replaced instead with a more differentiated viewpoint," says Hauke Hartmann, the Bertelsmann Stiftung expert who has been analyzing developments in countries in transition for years as they make their way toward democracy and a market economy.
The Bertelsmann Stiftung’s country reports for the Arab world show that in many countries with repressive regimes, Islamist groups have been the most important organizations -- if not the only ones -- to emerge as political players over the years demanding democracy, social responsibility and corruption-fighting measures. "In many countries they have long taken on key social duties normally carried out by the state," Hartmann says. "Not only does that give them a certain degree of credibility, it has provided them with the infrastructure necessary to respond effectively to the social concerns advanced by protesters."
The Islamist organizations’ hunger for power has been grossly overstated in the public discussion, the Bertelsmann Stiftung specialist added. "They are, in fact, prepared to serve as the junior partner in a government coalition, as is the case in Algeria, or to support progressive family-rights reforms, as in Morocco," he said. "Groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt consider themselves primarily religious organizations concerned with addressing educational and social issues, yet another reason why they should now be included in negotiations."
At the same time, Islamism in its various regional forms is quite heterogeneous, Hartmann says, something that is demonstrated by the Muslim Brotherhood. It, for example, is home to both a moderate and a radical wing. "In addition, how Islamist groups approach Israel and the peace process in the Middle East must be watched carefully," he says. "Western governments should avoid past mistakes and not go looking for ‘strong men’ or supposed stability guarantees. The democracy agenda recently advanced by demonstrators has made impressively clear that more political options exist in the Arab world than just repressive autocracy and religious fundamentalism. Marginalizing or ignoring Islamist organizations during the democratization process would only strengthen their more radical wings."