Moderate Islam - a contradiction in terms or a political force for the 21st century?
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Arab states are ruled almost exclusively by authoritarian regimes, as typified by Egypt, which enjoys a unique regional centrality in Arab politics, Islamic activism and international relations. Opposition political organisations are closely controlled, rarely functioning in a meaningful capacity. Denied political access, radical Islamist groups embraced violence in an attempt to overthrow regimes perceived as un-Islamic and closely aligned with Western powers. However, Egyptian regimes highlighted the power of entrenched personal-authoritarian rule; they have endured, and have skilfully suppressed Islamic activism of all types, ultimately destroying radical groups by force. The wider, mainstream Islamic opposition movement is generally described as 'moderate' because the groups within it eschew violence and recognise established political structures. However, while a younger, more democratic trend is emerging within it, it nonetheless contains enduring fundamentalist factions that still share the radical aim of establishing an Islamic state. The moderates proved adept at mobilizing support in restrictive political environments, but have not subsequently gained official political party status. If a resurgence of violent extremism is to be avoided, a new political course is needed. This must be definitively Muslim in character, democratic, just, and of direct popular appeal. It is such a project that the nascent Islamist modernist trend in Egypt seeks to construct. It is enormously ambitious, and currently lacks a unified mainstream following; the concepts of Muslim democracy and an Islamic state are presently mutually competitive. The struggle between traditional moderate Islamists and the more modernist influence emerging in Egypt is one among several factors that will determine the future viability of moderate Islamism; there are powerful external influences at play that will also shape the evolution of this movement. At present, moderate Islamism is a movement in transition, tending more towards democratic political participation, away from autocratic religious utopianism; its disparate factions do not yet enjoy complete unity of purpose. Looking to the future, it does, however, offer significant potential as a catalyst for democratic transition.
Thesis, MPhil Master of Philosophy
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