Accommodationist Islamist political organizations : authoritarian settings and US foreign policy

Wolfson, Aaron Jacob
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Islamist parties tend to be the most developed political parties in authoritarian Middle Eastern and North African states. When elections are called for, Islamist groups historically outperform their competitors to win seats in parliaments and effectively compete for executive office when applicable. In lieu of designating a broad group of ideologies as “terrorism,” the US needs to develop an understanding of their goals and behavior so that it can engage with these groups effectively. Doing so would be to the benefit of the states Islamist groups represent and US interests within those areas. Through use of some primary, but mostly secondary literature, this research seeks to show how these groups should be understood and, thus, engaged. Under authoritarian regimes Islamist groups seek a balance between action and survival. When participating in democratic mechanisms of governance Islamist groups tend to cooperate with groups of other ideologies, showing a general trend of moderation. However, moderation is not guaranteed, and instances exist showing that radicalization may be more likely in certain conditions, especially when Islamist-Islamist cooperation is democratically viable. The report focuses on three groups in the Middle East and North Africa during the late 20th - early 21st centuries; al-Wefaq (al-Bahrain, 2001-2016), the Justice and Development Party (Morocco, 1997-2017), and the Muslim Brotherhood (Egypt, 1981-2013). Each case provides a different political and social context, showing how groups of similar Islamist ideologies reacted to their political and social realities. The report finds that the United States needs to develop an understanding of political Islamism within certain contexts, especially in contrast to its radical relatives. Conflation of the two will neither enhance US interests in the region nor prevent the ascendancy of Islamist groups in states with democratic mechanisms of governance. Rather, acceptance and willingness to work from good faith will need to be the lynchpin of American foreign policy. Finally, regional concerns will need to be considered, but should not outweigh local concerns. The US must be aware of the concerns of allies such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, and Israel over Islamist success, but should not defer to these states in making policy