As Islamic-led systems of governments evolve out of the Arab uprisings, their success depends on whether they can retain legitimacy by positioning Islam as a religion of democracy as part of their response to demands for social rights, economic opportunity and an end to corruption.
The pressure to do this is creating schisms between moderates and conservatives. In Tunisia, one of the most secular Arab nations, the ruling moderate Islamist party Ennahda refused to recognise Islamic law as a source of legislation. This, coupled with Ennahda’s ruling position in a coalition with two secular parties, is polarising the country’s politics, prompting the ultra-conservative Salafi Islamists to form their own party to contest next year’s parliamentary elections.
A strong brotherhood
In Libya the interim government has been pressured into dropping its ban against parties based on religion, tribe or ethnicity, thus enabling the Muslim Brotherhood to emerge as the most organised political force in the country’s coming elections.
The Brotherhood, which holds a majority of seats in Egypt’s new parliament, has become the dominant force in Syria’s fragmented opposition movement but says it has no intention of entering Syrian politics, raising fears extremist groups may fill a vacuum created by the potential demise of President Bashar al-Assad.