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Why Islamists Always ‘Win’ in Fair Elections

In the Middle East, secular movements are more poorly funded and more naïve about how to operate politically than the Islamists.
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Originally published at Rubin Reports.

I must quote extensively from a MEMRI analysis of the Egyptian referendum on the new constitution because it shows so vividly how politics work in the Arabic-speaking world today, especially when voting is involved.

First, the analysis presents the pro-constitution camp that is the Islamists. They coordinate their efforts and launched:

“A massive joint campaign aimed at persuading the public to endorse the constitution. This campaign includes holding conferences and symposia across Egypt; training thousands of Muslim Brotherhood activists to promote the constitution, some of whom are even going door to door, according to reports; and also recruiting mosque preachers and satellite channels in the efforts to persuade the public. Especially prominent in this campaign are the attempts to appeal to the average citizen and to impress upon him the economic and social advantages of supporting the constitution.”

Now, what about the opposition to the Islamists, those who might be called moderates?

“In contrast to the unified pro-constitution camp, the opposition organizations that oppose the constitution, headed by the National Salvation Front, have been inconsistent and uncertain, especially in deciding whether to boycott the referendum altogether or to merely urge the citizens to vote against the constitution. Only on December 12, three days before the start of the referendum, did the National Salvation Front officially declare that it would participate in the referendum (on certain conditions) and vote `no.’ The oppositionists’ efforts to persuade the public mainly took the form of online campaigns on social networks, as well as flyers and pamphlets distributed in the streets.”

In other words, it is no contest. One might add that in Tunisia, Syria, and other countries (including non-Arab Turkey) as well as Egypt most of the time, moderates are not united or disciplined. They are also more poorly funded and more naïve about how to operate politically than the Islamists. The Islamists, or at least some of them (and that’s all that’s necessary) are prepared to use intimidation and violence; the moderates not.And that’s all in addition to having the advantage of appealing to a very powerful, deep-seated religious belief held by the majority. Even though there are unIslamist and even anti-Islamist interpretations of Islam they are not clearly and systematically articulated to counter the Islamist version.

Don’t get me wrong. The anti-Islamists have lots of courage. They are also highly motivated. They feel they are losing their country and know that if they stand up and oppose Islamist regimes they face potential persecution, even death, threats to their family and to the loss of their property.

The problem is that they have no backing from their counterparts in the West, either governments or all but a few non-government organizations. Students don’t demonstrate on their behalf. They don’t own much of the local mass media and are divided by ideological views. Some are not really moderate politically but are Marxists or radical Arab nationalists. And in many cases they lack practical political experience. In short, they have a tremendously uphill battle, as I documented in my book, The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East.

Consequently, the extremists almost inevitably win. But, you might ask, perhaps the West will help the moderates to redress some of this imbalance? Absolutely not. The moderates don’t have a fair shot or a fair chance, to use phrases popular with America’s president.

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.


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4 Responses to “Why Islamists Always ‘Win’ in Fair Elections”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Muslims lie, cheat, threaten, and kill to get their way. Naturally in a lawless society, they will always win.

  2. Anonymous says:

    by Middle East standards, Islamists are consider the moderate, moral majority.

  3. Tim Upham says:

    Also, Islamist parties provide social services, such as clinics, schools, and soup kitchens. It is zakat or almsgiving, the Third Pillar of Islam. When they provide these services it captures the hearts of voters. This is something Americans and Israelis need to understand. This is how Hamas capture the Palestinian elections in 2006. If secular parties are to win in a national election, then they need to perform the same thing in order to win. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood runs clinics that are more efficient and less bureaucratic, than government-controlled clinics. One of the thing they offered, that government-controlled clinics did not, was birth control. Yes, Muslims do practice birth control.

  4. Ruth Hirt says:

    The weak side of moderateness is its moderation itself. The strong point is, there are leeways to build reenforcements of support. Their appeal to supports of allied governments is blanded by their lack of offer of prospective gains to the same. It is good as saying, the allied governments won't lift a finger to aid peoples who are out or distant from their political interest. What do you think? Islam to oppose is too costly to shield unpromising beneficiaries. ):

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