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The Paradox of Inclusion/Exclusion of Islamist Parties in Tunisia and Jordan after the Arab Uprisings: A Comparative Study

The public protests that engulfed most Arab regimes in 2011 have since opened a Pandora’s Box of democratization processes in the MENA region. One of the upshots of the popular uprisings has been the empowerment of the key opposition group in the region, i.e. mainly Islamist actors. Despite the electoral victories of Islamist political parties after decades of political exclusion, the Islamist movement and its agenda in the post-Arab Spring era have followed different trajectories in various countries around the region. This article aims to explore the divergent trajectories of two countries in the region, namely the inclusion of Islamists in the case of Tunisia and their exclusion in the case of Jordan. As a corollary, the divergent domestic and regional contexts shaping the politics of Islamist parties will be explored.

The Paradox of Inclusion Exclusion of Islamist Parties in Tunisia
Tunisian President Essebsi (C) standing amongst the al-Nahda Leader Ghannouchi (L) and the Vice-President Mourou (R) wave to the crowd on May 20, 2016 at the opening of al-Nahda’s three-day congress in Tunis. FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
 

The Islamist movement has undergone sporadic transformation since the onset of the 2011 Arab uprisings. The main questions that have arisen are whether the public protests will lead to democratic transition and what roles the opposition parties and Islamist actors will take. One of the key outcomes of the series of protests has been the electoral victory of Islamists, as in cases like Tunisia and Egypt. Ikhwan-affiliated groups have been described as the foremost champions of the uprisings despite their late involvement in the 2011 rallies and Islamist actors have undergone a transformation hitherto.

With the aim of exploring in greater depth the role of Islamist parties and how they were treated by regimes after the Arab Spring, two countries from the Maghreb and Mashreq regions –one republican and one monarchical– have been selected as case studies. The main reason for the case-selection in this article is derived from the fact that Islamist political parties –who represent the most organized and strongly ideological forces in the region since the 1970s– didn’t come to power in the entire Arab world after the large-scale public protests, as some had argued.1

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