Muslim democratic parties (MDPs) have recently emerged in the Middle East and North Africa as distinct political entities. Among such parties are the Wasat Party in Egypt (1995), the Party for Justice and Development in Morocco (1998), and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey (2001). Despite the fact that most members of MDPs have a past in political Islam, MDPs are categorically different from Islamist parties. Resembling European Christian democratic parties, MDPs differ from Islamist parties on several grounds. First and foremost, MDPs have a methodical attachment to democracy. Unlike Islamist parties, democracy has an intrinsic value for the Muslim democratic political platform.1 Islam is also an important element of the MDP platform, yet in a dramatically different way than in Islamist parties. While Islamist parties have Islam at the center of their political discourse to the extent that they claim to represent and speak on behalf of Islam, MDPs have no claim to represent Islam. Instead, members of MDPs speak as individuals and try to promote Muslim values prevalent in their respective societies.2 The emphasis on Muslimness rather than on Islam fits squarely with the role democracy assumes in the MDP platform, i.e. the notion of pluralism and tolerance on other views and perspectives. In this regard, the end-goal is not the creation of an Islamic institutional structure à la political Islam, but rather the promotion of values and ideas commensurate with a Muslim identity.
Muslim Democratic Parties in Turkey, Egypt, and Morocco: An Economic Explanation
The recent emergence of Muslim democratic parties such as AKP in Turkey and PJD in Morocco draws attention to the perennial question on the moderation of Islamist parties yet again. Economic liberalization and the accompanying socioeconomic transformation underlie the democratic and liberal turn political Islam has taken in the Middle East. The precise nature of liberalization is critical to this moderation. Competitive liberalization, by enabling peripheral groups to benefit from liberalization, conduces to the renewed interest in democracy and a liberal system. Crony liberalization, by reinforcing the archaic rent-seeking relationship between the state and big business and continuing to marginalize the peripheral groups from politics and the economy, sustains the interest of peripheral groups in the reactionary discourse of Islamism. The strength of Muslim democratic parties is a reflection of competitiveness economic reforms introduce in the society and the economy.
Peripheral groups, and particularly peripheral businesses, certainly become the relative winners of a competitive liberalization process.
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