ISLAMISTS ON THE MARCH?

ISLAMISTS ON THE MARCH? Marc Lynch has a new post up about the 2007 Jordanian parliamentary elections on his excellent new group blog, Qahwa Sada ("black coffee" in Arabic). The fear in the Hashemite Kingdom and in Washington, following the success of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hamas in Palestine, is that Jordanian Islamists will make big gains. They are represented primarily by the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, which is legal in Jordan but not in Egypt. As Lynch explains, however, an Islamist takeover is unlikely if not impossible due to the way the system has been designed.

Morocco will also be holding parliamentary contests in 2007, and these may be more interesting. Morocco has a range of Islamist parties and groups, from the relatively moderate and successful Party of Justice and Development (which currently has 42 seats out of 325) to the banned Justice and Spirituality Association, which is radical insofar as it rejects the legitimacy of the current system entirely (but formally opposes violence). This diversity forces such groups to clear up their "gray zones" or areas of ambiguity in order to differentiate themselves from the others. While the Moroccan government has been more successful than most Arab regimes at integrating Islamists into the political system, it cracked down on the JSA this past spring and summer for allegedly plotting a coup. As for the PJD, they expect to do well, but it's far too early to make any predictions.

How these and similar Islamist parties and movements adapt and behave in the political arena goes to the heart of the bipartisan consensus in the U.S. that Middle East democratization is the best way to marginalize the most extreme groups like al-Qaeda. Any real free and fair elections in the Arab world are going to see Islamists do well, given the current mood in the region, but the devil is in the details.

--Blake Hounshell

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