Islam Can Vote, If We Let It

(New York Times) Saad Eddin Ibrahim - * Based on my 30 years of empirical investigation, including my observations of fellow inmates during the 14 months I spent in an Egyptian prison, I can testify to a significant evolution on the part of political Islam. In fact, I believe we may be witnessing the emergence of Muslim parties that are truly democratic, akin to the Christian Democrats in Western Europe after World War II. * Autocratic regimes in the Middle East have for decades allowed little public space to those who would build civil societies; no freedom of speech, assembly, or association. The only space for people to congregate without harassment by the secret police was the mosque. Thus, unwittingly, the autocrats contributed to the growth of the theocrats. * Through their great efforts in providing services to the poor, the theocrats evolved first into de facto social workers and then into local politicians, eventually taking control of cities like Algiers and Oran in Algeria, and Istanbul and Ankara in Turkey. Seen as efficient and uncorrupt, these Islamists began to gain in popularity. * Today, some two-thirds of the estimated 1.4 billion Muslims in the world live under democratically elected governments in which Islamists are major players - with Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Morocco joining Turkey as bright spots. * Where Islamist groups are denied access to political space, their cause takes on an aura of mythical martyrdom. This is not to say that we should expect Hizballah or Hamas to turn into Western-style democratic parties overnight. While countries opening themselves to democracy should work to bring Islamists into the system, they should not - and the West should not pressure them to - allow those groups unwilling to abide by certain rules into the game. The writer, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, is a candidate for president of Egypt.

2005-05-24 00:00:00

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