Islamist Parties Gain Traction In Tunisia, Egypt
SIEGEL: Second narrative - ignore the "Kumbayah" rhetoric, the only groups that are well enough organized to come to power will be the Islamist and they will temper their message only as a means to the end of coming to power. Which narrative is closer to what's happening? We're going to ask Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where she edits the online publication the Arab Reform Bulletin. Welcome back.
MICHELE DUNNE: Thank you.
SIEGEL: First, in Egypt, the biggest Islamist political group is the Muslim Brotherhood. How would you describe their agenda in the post-Mubarak era?
DUNNE: The Muslim Brotherhood has quite a sophisticated agenda and strategy to become, I think, the largest political force in Egypt, but not actually to take power. They're running for fewer than half of the seats in the Egyptian parliament and I think they would like to capture about a third of them and they are not running for the presidency this time around.
SIEGEL: And how Islamist is their message?
DUNNE: They're putting out two messages at the same time. To the Egyptian public they are saying, we are a civil party. We are for rights. We are for citizenship. Not a very Islamist message. But at the same time, to their base they are saying that now is the time. We can now put Islam back into politics.
SIEGEL: In Tunisia, the big Islamist party is Ennahda or Renaissance. How Islamist, how militant do they sound to you?
DUNNE: They are doing something similar to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the sense that they are trying to be in touch with the non-Islamist opposition and show a more liberal face to the Tunisian public. But they also, like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, favor a quick move to elections. In fact, just recently they pulled out of a coordinating body with other opposition groups because they want to hold Tunisia's first election in July. Other opposition groups want to postpone it, think Tunisia isn't ready. But in both Tunisia and Egypt, the Islamists feel that the sooner elections are held, the better for them.
SIEGEL: Is that a measure of the fact that they're organized?
DUNNE: It's typical that Islamist political movements tend to be well organized and more able to mobilize their constituents than other political forces in the Middle East.
SIEGEL: Can you imagine, say, a year from now, a Middle East in which there are, in certainly the largest, most populous Arab country Egypt and in Tunisia and perhaps elsewhere, a much more established role for Islamist political parties in some kind of new -ism that has real authority in the region?
DUNNE: Then, I think, over the next few years, there will be a sorting out. The Islamists are going to be tested through this process. To what extent can they offer practical solutions to unemployment and other significant economic and social problems? In some other countries where they've been able to compete pretty freely, we see Islamists not do so well in second or third elections because they haven't delivered.
SIEGEL: Michele Dunne, senior associate for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Thanks a lot.
DUNNE: You're welcome.
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