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The theory of terrorism and restraining moderates

Most Arab religious parties are exclusionary despite all their talk about moderation and co-existence

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

Those affiliated with religious groups have for long reiterated that the emergence of extremist Islamic groups is due to the restraining of “moderate” Islamic ones. Western governments were convinced of this for a while and thus began to urge Arab governments to allow religious groups in politics and include them in governance, either democratically or through partnership and quotas.

It may seem reasonable that including moderates leads to the expelling of extremists, but this theory is not supported with evidence - at least in our Arab arena. These concept of participation for these groups means a monopolizing of authority. They are not like Turkey and Indonesia’s Islamic groups who work and govern under a secular system and whose “Islamic liberalism” looks nothing like the extremism of Islamist Arabs. The aim of politicized religious groups is to attain power regardless of the rhetoric adopted and the means used in order to later create a dominating regime and eliminate others!

Based on experience, it’s been proven that most Arab religious parties are exclusionary despite all their talk about moderation and co-existence. There are many examples on the case from our modern history and I will resort to four of them to elaborate my point. The first experience was Iran. The masses who protested in the streets of Tehran and called for toppling the Shah and received Ayatollah Khomeini at the airport were a mixture of political parties who agreed on establishing a regime that allows pluralism.

Brutal party

After the Islamists seized power, they issued laws which eliminated all parties but themselves. Then, they got rid of their rivals through means more brutal than the Shah’s regime had resorted to. Tens of thousands of supporters of parties like the communist Tudeh party and the People’s Mujahedin of Iran were murdered.

Based on experience, it’s been proven that most Arab religious parties are exclusionary despite all their talk about moderation and co-existence

Abdulrahman al-Rashed



The second experience was in Sudan. After toppling President Gaafar Nimeiry, the Sudanese accepted a pluralistic political system and held elections in which the Umma party won and the Democratic Unionist Party came in second. However since the Islamic party came in third, its leader Hassan al-Turabi conspired with Omar al-Bashir and staged a coup to assume power. For the past 26 years, they have governed Sudan with an iron fist.

The third experience was in the Gaza Strip where the Palestinian Liberation Organization accepted to hold parliamentary elections in 2006 – within the boundaries of the Oslo Agreement. On the basis of the theory that including Islamists will make them friendly, the Americans pressured the PLO to allow the Hamas Movement to participate in these elections. The result was that Hamas won 76 seats out of 132, formed a government and a year later eliminated its partner Fatah, took over Gaza and got rid of its rivals - either by murdering them or expelling them.

The most exciting experience was the Brotherhood’s rule in Egypt. Although their brief time controlling the presidency may have not long been enough to judge their intentions, many of their practices violated their authority and the constitution - as they controlled the judiciary and assigned a new attorney general. Such violations are capable of toppling any government within a democratic system.

Therefore, in the past half century we cannot find a single Arab case that shows the eligibility of religious parties in co-existence and democracy. Tunisia’s Ennahda Movement, who is referred to as a model of moderation, did not really become moderate until the Brotherhood were toppled in Egypt by force. When Ennahda participated in elections after the revolution and won 89 seats out of 217 and headed a government for two years, it actually tried to amend the constitution to restrain its rivals; however it failed.

What’s worse than the immaturity of religious groups is that their seizure of power did not prevent extremism at all. The Gaza Strip for example suffers from extremist groups who accuse Hamas of infidelity and call for fighting it. Hamas destroyed these groups’ mosque and killed some of their members. In Sudan, similar takfirist groups emerged and Bashir’s government is still fighting them until this day. Even during the one year when the Brotherhood governed Egypt, extremist groups carried out attacks against the army in Sinai. Extremist groups also surfaced during Ennahda’s term of governance, who assassinated two opposition leaders and slaughtered soldiers on the borders.

This leads us to two results: religious groups are not less dictatorial and their presence in government does not prevent the emergence of extremist groups. Therefore, the statement that restraining “moderates” is a reason for the emergence of extremists is a mere myth – that is if we accept the term “moderates!” What’s certain is that the region suffers from a dangerous ideological disease that is spreading but with very little done to confront it. However we must not reward religious parties with governance in order to get rid of extremism.



This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on August 12, 2015.


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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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