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Middle East/North Africa Analysis: The Rise of a "Civic Islamism"? (Sadiki)

Rachid Ghannounchi, leader of Tunisia's EnnadhaLarbi Sadiki writes for Al Jazeera English:

The Arab Spring has catapulted Islamists onto centre-stage - in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. Sooner or later, Syria will follow. This dynamic is not going to go away. It is therefore apposite to know how the Arab Spring has, if at all, transformed Islamism and how, in turn, Islamism is transforming the Arab Spring.

Categories, boxes and labels

Civic Islamism is linked with the novelty of the context, the Arab Spring, and the new dynamic of legalised Islamism as in Egypt and Tunisia. Civic Islamism displays features of impressive organisation for the contest of power, coupled with an aptitude to penetrate secular civil society through coalition-building with non-Islamists.

Only through inclusion, competition, participation and the tests of "power", will this force learn to moderate its politics, gradually learning to take its place amongst the progenitors of civic politics in the Arab spring states. 

Civic Islamism will find itself subject to two forms of contestation.

  • From within civic Islamism, there is a challenge among pragmatists and democrats who will triumph over ideological purists and form the core of a civic Islamist culture that adapts to, as well as adopts, fragments of secular politics. This is the rare aspect of "Turkifying" Arab Islamism - mimicking Erdogan's AKP.

    In Egypt, "Islam is the solution" is ceding to the notion of "civil state", the guardians of which will be a mix of secularists and Islamists. In Tunisia, Ennahdha is warming up to trusting the presidency to secular and liberal figures (Marzouki, Essebsi, Mestiri or Bin Jafar). It has equally adopted the withdrawal from the "bikini battlefield" and adopted the language of "free-market economy" - not "moral economy". Integration of unveiled women into Islamist networks or Islamist power arrangements may be another device along these lines.
  • There is the contest without which deeper habituation in democratic norms happens over time. They need to engage with the ideas of democracy, which leads to its own contests. But the best way of dealing with these contests is through the learning curve of democratic habituation and practical experience of government.

Comparing the Muslim Brotherhood and Ennahdha

I use here four dimensions which will clarify how to understand this phenomenon in the heart of the geography of the Arab Spring.

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