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Primoz  Manfreda

Islamism in the Middle East

By April 22, 2013

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Egyptian Justice Minister Ahmed Mekky has resigned over the weekend, reports the BBC, in protest against demands by Islamist supporters of President Mohammed Morsi for the judiciary to be "cleansed" of former regime supporters.

I wrote before of the growing Islamist-secular divide and escalating political violence in Egypt, as President Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood tried to broaden his powers, while pushing through a controversial constitutional document. The mutual distrust is such, that almost any decision taken by Morsi triggers a passionate reaction from the secular camp, convinced the president will push for wholesale Islamization of Egypt once his party captures full power (the date for new parliamentary elections is yet to be set).

Islamism has been on the rise across the Middle East since the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011, we often read in the media, but the field of Islamist politics is extremely diverse and fragmented. The Islamists that won recent elections in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco belong to established political parties that generally accept the concept of parliamentary democracy, and are willing to cooperate in government with secular political parties.

The outlook of these parties is relatively moderate when compared to more radical fundamentalist groups, often referred to as Salafis, who advocate a strict implementation of Islamic law and have little time for secular institutions of the state. There is intense competition for donors, voters, and ideological supremacy among various groups: Egypt's Morsi is under close scrutiny by Salafist groups who suspect his Islamism is too "light".

And, on the extreme end of the Islamist spectrum are militant groups such as Al Qaeda which preach that governments in Muslim countries must be brought down by force.

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