Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, there has been growing American interest in checking the spread of radicalism in the Middle East by communicating more effectively with the region’s Islamist political groups. At the annual conference of the Washington-based Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, several scholars urged the U.S. to seek more constructive engagements with these Islamist groups. The goal, they said, should be to encourage them to adopt more pragmatic and democratic political agendas.
A recent study by the Center concluded that many secular Arab governments have used the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran to raise fears of a radical and potentially violent political Islam. And they have used that fear to justify their own autocratic governance on national security grounds. But the study found that the more these regimes have cracked down on political Islamist groups, the more popular these movements have become. The Center estimates that Islamist groups now represent about 30 percent of the electorate in Arab countries.
Radwan Masmoudi, president of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, told scholars at the group’s annual meeting that the rise of Islamist political groups has prompted many policymakers in Washington and throughout the Arab world to think twice about democratic reforms.
Masmoudi said they are asking a fundamental question: “What is the end result of democracy if we have elections, and the end result is going to be that the Islamists or the Islamic movements are going to win the elections and come to power? Is this good for democracy or bad?”