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ELECTORAL SUPPORT

FOR ISLAMIC PARTIES IN


THE MIDDLE EAST AND
NORTH AFRICA

Catanoiu Andrei

Introduction
Throughout the world, religious fundamentalism has become a major
socio- political force. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region,
Islamic parties have made electoral advances that, coupled with events
in countries such as Algeria where a civil war with religious undertones
left thousands dead and with the recent victories of the Muslim
Brotherhood in Egypt and Hamas
in Palestine,
should
not be
underestimated.
This growth in support for Islamic-orientated1 parties in the
MENA region tends to be perceived by the West as a grave threat,
especially after the attacks on the United States of America on 11
September 2001.

The (In)compatibility of Democracy


and Islam
The debate as to whether Islam is inherently hostile to
democracy is not new, but has attracted special scholarly attention
since the events of 11
September 2001.
Among those who argue against the incompatibility of Islam and
democracy is Rose (2002), who analyzed the values and attitudes of
Muslims in Central Asia and found that there is little difference
between Muslims, the Orthodox, and non-believers.
Even more
strikingly, the most observant Muslims are almost as pro-democratic as
those who are non-observant. He concluded that neither nominal
religion nor the degree of religious observance has much influence on
democratic values. At a glance, being Muslim does not make a person
more likely either to reject democracy or to endorse dictatorship

Islamic Parties and Elections in the


Middle East and
North Africa
The above overview clearly indicates a lack of consensus
regarding the potential of liberal democracy taking root in the Arab
world. Although there have been elections and party competition in the
region, it is important to note that these elections are not
necessarily held in the same context of fairness and freedom as in
their European counterparts. Winners generally run for office without
real rivals and the election turnout is generally very low.
In many
cases, elections have taken place under the tight control of the army
(Algeria) or under institutionalized political power structures not
supportive of full democracy
Nevertheless,
Islamic parties
have made
major
electoral
advances in the region, resulting in an important and noticeable rise in
power.

Moving Beyond Western Models of


Voting Behavior
There are many theories aimed at explaining voting behavior,
including the classical sociological or structural approach,11 which
states that structural cleavages determine voter choices.
The model was also expanded by authors such as Horowitz ,
who linked ethnicity, party systems and electoral behavior in his
analysis of developing societies. The model is limited, however, in its
capacity to explain changes in voting behavior, such as the decline in
social cleavage voting in Europe in recent decades.
Finally, the rational choice or economic approach assumes that
citizens act rationally in politics by making decisions that best
represent their interests.

Research Design
A binary logistical regression technique is used in this analysis.
The vote intention/party support variable1 was therefore recoded into
a dichotomous variable, with 1 representing the party selected for
analysis and 0 the other parties. The independent variables have
been included in different models in an attempt to analyze not only
the effect of the independent on the dependent variable, but also the
possible underlying
effects between the independent variables
themselves.
As noted above, we believe that the factors driving electoral
support for Islamic parties are not solely religiously based Hence, we
decided to incorporate factors that, according to the literature review
presented above, are important in explaining the rise of these Islamic
parties in the MENA region.

Analysis of Results

Conclusions
The rising tide of support for Islamic-orientated parties
spreading through the Middle East and North Africa is becoming a
political force to be reckoned with. Islamic organizations are
proliferating and competing with secular organizations to such
an extent that certain states have reacted by putting severe
restrictions in place. Yet, is this growth in electoral support for
Islamic parties a threat to democratic institutions in the region?
We have argued that there is no straightforward answer to this
question.
An Islamic democracy remains to be investigated, on the
surface it seems clear that it would be difficult to reconcile the
restructuring of the state into a religious entity with the
functioning of real and well-developed democratic institutions
and practices.

Thank you!!!