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Can Islamists be electable?

May 08,2018 - Last updated at May 08,2018

The conference on “post-Islamism” organised by Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Centre for Strategic Studies last week did enrich our understanding on the changing dynamics of political Islam in general. Scholars, who came from abroad to participate in the conference, offered their expertise on this phenomenon and reached a consensus that traditional political Islamists need to review some of their ideological tenets so that they could become electable.

In Jordan, the Muslim Brotherhood has played a key role in the political life in Jordan over the past decades. To be sure, it is the largest organised political body in the country. Nevertheless, the organisation never won an outright majority in the Parliament, nor did it form a government. If anything, the movement has settled to stay as an opposition group but without the influence required for a sound political party.

As time goes by, many Islamists have rethought their organisation’s rigid ideological principles. Therefore, they have been locked in a conflict over the future of the movement given its record of failures. Over the last decade, a group of self-proclaimed reformists within the movement challenged the traditional less flexible leadership and tried to push it to adopt changes that would make the movement electable. And yet, reformists failed to make any difference. The movement on the whole suffered from a contradiction between their desire to stay Islamist, legislation to be based on the Islamic law and to be democratic — accepting the majority rule even on matters that contradict their interpretation of the Islamic law. The Muslim Brotherhood understands that accepting the democratic rules of the game makes them less Islamic. They do not want to run the risk of losing supporters. In other words, traditional Islamists are in a limbo.

When the self-proclaimed reformists gave up on reforming the movement from within, they defected. Now, there are two political parties whose members are defectors from the Muslim Brotherhood: Partnership and Rescue Party and Jordanian National Conference Party — Zamzam. Although leaders of those two parties consider themselves as moderate Islamists, their parties are not affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Nor do the platforms of the two parties refer to any religious reference.

The fact that there are some Islamists who are ready to review their ideological stance over many issues is good news. But this will by no means make them electable. Jordanians, on the whole, do not trust political parties. This is a legacy from the period of the Cold War, when ideological secular parties sought to bring down the regime. Therefore, political parties need to work days in, days out to convince a growing number of Jordanians that parties can be a good thing for people. Jordanians’ concerns are twofold: unemployment and poverty. Gone are the days when slogans raised by Islamists were enough to make them appealing. Jordanians, by and large, looks for realistic solution for their objective economic hardship.

In a nutshell, giving up on the ideological pillars of traditional political Islam is a step in the right direction. It remains to be seen if these post-Islamic parties can live up to the expectation and come up with realistic solutions and platform.

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