Challenges to Secular Movements in the Middle East: A Comparison of Islamic and Secular Actors in Turkey and Tunisia
Political parties are a central feature of democracy. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), however, political parties played a very minor role in the push toward democracy. This project aims to help advance multi-party democratic systems in the region where Islamic and secular political parties can compete through free and fair elections. The emergence of Islamic political parties Islamic political parties have emerged and grown in the wake of uprisings across the region. These parties have managed to mobilize their grassroots connections, enhance their funding base, and rally their faith-based constituency behind their political message. Liberal alternatives have not been so successful. They have failed to position themselves as credible alternatives to the Islamic parties. The question is: What makes Islamic parties in MENA more effective than their secular counterparts? Research sheds light on political parties Many analysts have long argued that Islamists constitute the most popular, growing, and well-organized political actors in the Arab world and Turkey. Using case studies, they have also noted that secular political actors are in decline. Many face ideological and organizational crises, and are associated with oppressive regimes. Recent events lend some credibility to these claims. Following the Arab uprisings, Islamic parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Ennahda carried the first popular elections in Egypt and Tunisia. The Islamic-conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) has ruled Turkey since 2002, winning six elections and two referendums. Koç University in Istanbul will manage the project. The research team will study the following questions: -To what extent are Islamic parties in the Middle East and North Africa more effective than their secular counterparts? -Why are they more effective? The researchers will develop a qualitative and comparative research methodology using theoretical and field research in Turkey and Tunisia. Within each country, the project team will compare the main pro-secular parties and civil society organizations to their Islamic counterparts in seven areas: -ideology -organization and finance -role of women -mobilization and communication -external linkages -support bases -policy development While Tunisia and Turkey are the two focus countries, the findings will be applied to four more countries with similar dynamics: Albania, Egypt, Indonesia, and Morocco. The researchers will do cross-country comparisons to identify the reasons for secular weaknesses. They will analyze the extent to which these factors are specific to particular political party practices or rooted in broader social, ideological, and organizational dynamics affecting political parties and civil society organizations. They will also examine to what extent these factors are context-specific. The researchers' analysis will allow them to make evidence-based policy recommendations about how these organizations can reform to be more legitimate and accountable to their constituents, and to contribute to a more robust democratic political process over the long-term.