The ‘incomplete’ failure of political Islam: The Justice and Development Party and the Freedom and Justice Party as case studies

The article entitled, The ‘Incomplete’ Failure of Political Islam: The Justice and Development Party and Freedom and Justice Party as Case Studies, addresses a central debate in Islamists’ political activism in autocratic countries by shedding light on reasons behind variations in the outcome of their political rule. Unlike scholarly writings addressing Islamists’ political integration side by side towards secular parties, this contribution highlights their uniqueness in political success and failure. Relying on extensive fieldwork studies conducted by the author in two leading Middle Eastern countries with a deep history of Islamists’ political engagement, Turkey and Egypt, this contribution elucidates the lacuna behind the ‘embedded uncertainties’ in Islamists’ rule. Through the formulation of a comprehensive formula rallying individual scholarly attempts in examining parcels of Islamists’ political experiences in the Middle East, this contribution presents a three-legged strategy, involving identification, differentiation, and alliance formulation, as the key to rule sustainability. Dwelling on Post Islamism’s probe about Islamists’ political banality and inability to capitalize on ideological affinities in developing a unique program of Islamic governance, this study contends that, while Islamists forego Islamization as a vision for ruling, they mobilize religious idioms for satisfying the three pillars of rule sustainability. In an attempt to stand out from rivals, Islamists invest their religious reference in developing a coherent strategy for identifying themselves as pious, distinguishing themselves from their predecessors’ failures, and attracting more support among influential constituencies on the national level. Although this study defies Roy’s thesis about the failure of Political Islam due to Islamists’ lack of normative originality vis-à-vis secular candidates, it brings to the fore the centrality of religion’s instrumentalization as a unique political rhetoric that does not only satisfy the three-legged conditionality for rule sustainability but also overshadows Islamists’ intellectual and normative deficiencies in the formulation of original political programs and visions for governance. In doing so, the article focuses on two leading Islamists’ political experiences, namely the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood-MB (2011/2012-2013) and the Turkish Justice and Development Party-AKP (2002-2021). While both groups aimed for satisfying the three pillars of rule sustainability, they manifested diverse results in incorporating and mobilizing their religious rhetoric vis-à-vis their allies and rivals. The AKP capitalized on foreign and national allies in reversing power balance in its favor vis-à-vis the state establishment, notably the army. The party’s long commitment toward accession to the EU and conclusion of tight business alliances with bourgeoning conservative groups under the slogan of the formulation of a conciliatory and inclusive political center of power has underlined its tactical unicity vis-à-vis the precedent fragile coalitions and originality in building solid interest- based networks that solidified its rule. On the other hand, the MB’s religious rhetoric and system of identification have underlined their Islamic reference and ideological singularity vis-à-vis rivals. Yet, the group was not able to formulate successful national alliances. The absence of diversity in the Egyptian political arena and the army’s domination as the main ruler behind candidates with strong military backgrounds have impeded the crystallization of ideologically and politically experienced cadres and civil society with clear agendas, which prevented the Brothers from developing interest-based alliances.

Shaimaa Magued

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