Political Islam, Islamists, and democratisation

In the post ‘Arab Spring’ era (2011-present) a number of academic works have been published on contemporary political Islam, and its various aspects and dimensions: political Islam, process of democratisation in Muslim countries, Islamists and their rise to power through ballot box, etc. One such work is “Political Islam in the Age of Democratisation”—a collective effort of Kamran Bokhari and Farid Senzai—which focuses on the process of democratisation vis-à-vis political Islam. The book offers a comprehensive view of the complex nature of contemporary political Islam and its relationship to democracy, and thus provides a compelling and insightful analysis of Islamism and the role that religion is likely to play in any future Muslim democracy.
Bokhari and Senzai’s book builds on a theoretical framework that situates each Islamist group within the political spectrum in three distinct periods: (i) the decade following the 1991 Gulf war, (ii) the post-9/1 period, and (iii) the on-going post-Arab Spring unrest. Using ‘democratisation’ as a theoretical framework, the book examines and analyses the landscape in which Islamism is evolving, and is designed to contribute to the scholarly debate on political Islam and to be relevant to both policy makers and general public.
The book is preceded by a foreword by Fawaz A Gerges (Director of MEC, and Professor of IR at London School of Economics and Political Science). Gerges highlights the importance of the book as far as its challenging viewpoint regarding the role and place of religion in political arena is considered. For him, Bokhari and Senzai “do not subjectively project what ought to happen to the various Islamic actors; rather they can focus on what is likely to happen.”
In the “Introduction” a wide-ranging examination of the relationship between religion and politics, democratisation, and the complex nature of political Islam is highlighted. Chapters 2 examines—and placing them in proper context and clarifying their meanings—the terms ‘political Islam’ and ‘Islamism’; while as chapter 3 examines democratisation as a theoretical framework for understanding Islamism.
Chapters 4-10 present the case studies: Muslim Brotherhood (of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Yemen, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia)—the world’s first Islamist group—as  “participatory Islamists” (chapter 4); Salafis/Salafism of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states as “conditionalist Islamists” (chapter 5); al-Qaeda, Taliban (of Afghanistan and Pakistan) and their transnational and national jihadism (respectively) as “rejector Islamists” (chapters 6, 7); Iran as  “participatory Shia Islamists” (chapter 8); Iqari Shia Islamists and Hezbolllah as “Arab Shia Islamism” (chapter 9) Turkey’s AKP as a case study for “Post-Islamism” (chapter 10). Some of the central and challenging arguments made in these chapters are:
 (1) ‘Political Islam’ refers to all political manifestations of Islam from the Prophet (SAW) to present; ‘Islamism’, an ideology, refers to a 20th century response to the Western secular nation-state based international system.
(2) Muslim Brotherhood—in its different periods like 1990s, post- 9/11 and post-Arab Spring—represents the most significant example of ‘democrats within Islamism’.
 (3) Salafism, a religious trend as opposed to a coherent political ideology, for much of its history has been a non-Islamist force that still suffers from a chronic poverty of political thought.
 (4) Jihadists are the least likely to accept democracy, for they have rejected it and view the participatory Islamists’ embrace of democracy as blasphemous. In this current age of democratisation, jihadists will be pressurised to offer alternative political models; and they might accept the concept of elections, even if they deem democracy un-Islamic.
(5) Even though Pakistan is at a more advanced stage of democratisation, the transnational jihadism of the Pakistani Taliban in many ways is more dangerous to Islamabad’s stability than the national jihadism is to the Kabul.
 (6) No doubt Islamic Republic of Iran represents the unique case of an Islamist state actor, but Iranian Islamism is not a monolithic, as there is a great deal of diversity among the Iranian’ attitudes toward democracy.
 (7) Hezbollah, Hizb al-Dawah, and other similar movements had no ideological aversion to democracy (which was due to geo-political considerations and not religious and ideological ideals, thus setting them apart from their Sunni counterparts, who are either conditionalists or rejectors.
 (8) AKP of Turkey, a prime example of a post-Islamist group making the journey out of Islamism, best exemplifies the “post-Islamism”.
In the final chapter, which highlights, as the title reveals, “Prospects for Muslim Democracies”: wherein the authors’ step back and examine the democratisation an Islamism, after taking the reader on a journey “through the complex geopolitics of political Islam”, and tie the various threads together into a coherent narrative of how they all originate from the concept of Islam’s role in an age of nation-states.  Besides, it also highlights the political Islam’s future trajectory in the post-modern world, and the theoretical framework of “Muslim democracies” likely to emerge in coming decades. Some of the major concluding remarks are:
Islamists have played a central role and will continue to do so in the years and decades ahead.
Islamists of varying shades become major players as authoritarian states break down and autocratic leaders lose their grip on power. Their widespread support may wax and wane, but it is not likely to disappear.
Religion will likely to play an important role in Muslim politics as this democratisation process unfolds; and will play a role in any type of Muslim democracy that emerges from the interplay between participatory and conditionalist Islamism and democratisation.
Applying the model of Islamist democratisation to seven different case studies brings the authors’ to the conclusion that the majority of Islamists are participatory in regard to democracy.
Muslim societies will face many challenges while moving from authoritarianism to democracy.
Democracy—a universal value, will manifest itself in different ways because all societies have their own unique geopolitical, cultural, and civilisational characteristics—in the Muslim world will continue on the unique path it has already forged, and several types of Muslim democracies will likely take root.
Islamists will remain an integral part of democratisation and strive to capitalise on the popular sentiment to integrate Islam into political arena.
This book appeals to, and is interesting not only for academic peers; policy makers and government officials; and the general public, but appeals to those who are looking for a wide-ranging, informed analysis of Islamism.
Book: Political Islam in the Age of Democratisation
Authors: Kamran Bokhari and Farid Senzai 
Publishers: Palgrave Macmillan
—The author holds PhD in Islamic Studies from Aligarh Muslim University. 
—Feedback at [email protected]

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