Historically speaking, several factors have made this necessary for the US. Many in the West have finally realized that supporting secular-authoritarian regimes is costly, both financially and politically. On the other hand, there is no doubt that the US believes that at least the partial inclusion of Islamist parties would also be a real strategy for transforming them. Their participation in the political game will moderate them. No matter what the real intensions are, there is one important fact: Islamic politics will get a serious chance to become a legitimate partner in the post-Arab Spring.
Turkey has played a key role since 2000 in persuading the US to take a more positive stand towards Islamic politics. Despite its Islamic background, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has maintained a high level of cooperation with the US government, so much so that several experts are expressing an opinion that “Turkey has become the sub-contractor of the US in the region.” In a sense, Erdoğan has deleted the injurious legacy of the Iranian regime to the extent that the formerly monolithic negative reading of Islamic politics has now all but been abandoned.
However, this process is very risky for Islamic politicians. First of all, no Islamic party has the capacity to capture a strong majority in elections. Even in Tunisia, Ennahda needs a coalition partner. Second, when they come to office, the Islamic actors will inherit huge problems. As of 2010 the unemployment rate in Tunisia was 14 percent. Social expectations are very high in countries like Tunisia and Egypt, thus governing in those societies will not be easy. The (probable) failures of Islamic parties in office to deal with the problems of their societies may this time result in marginalization for the long term of Islamic politics. That is, if Islamic parties such as Ennahda fail to resolve their societies’ problems, the hopes that millions attach to these parties may be dashed. Aware of the potential hurdles, Rashid al-Ghannushi, leader of the Ennahda movement, declared quickly after the election victory that his party is ready to cooperate with all other political groups in Tunisia.
Literature on the Arab Spring is still flourishing. However, it can now be easily argued that the effective cause of events in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya was the failure of these Arab regimes in the management of their economies. Other causes, such as religious or ethnic, played important roles but the umbrella cause that united the various groups was economic concerns. It is reported that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, having listened to the complaints about economic conditions in Iran, once told representatives of various labor unions that “I cannot believe that the purpose of all these sacrifices was to have less expensive melons.”
Khomeini’s message was clear: The Iranian revolution’s main dynamic was religion. In sharp contrast to Iran, in today’s Arab world, the people’s main expectations from would-be governors are worldly. Soon, people will be evaluating the performance of post-Arab Spring governments in terms of inflation and the employment rate, that is, “according to the price of melons.”
The world’s problems-in-awaiting will probably force the Islamic actors in two main directions: First, they will become coalition-seeking actors for a while. In order not to become prey to the huge problems that await them, Islamic actors may push for a coalition model in which responsibilities are shared between Islamic and secular groups. Second, new Arab regimes in Tunisia and Libya will update their relationships with the global capitalist system. Here is the big question: Who will be the partners of the Islamic actors at a global level? Can one argue that Ennahda or the Muslim Brotherhood will be close to China or Russia? Since neutrality does not make money now, Islamic actors will try for a selective reading of global politics, which in the end will position them somehow closer to the global system.
However, such issues will not be the real obstacle. The main concerns of Islamic politics will be intra-group tensions. Almost all Islamic groups, Ennahda included, are operating today as two ideological segments: the pragmatists and the idealists. The pragmatists are ready for coalitions, or they are ready for new agendas. The idealists are still attached to their traditional agendas. Thus, while Islamic politics is trying to develop a global strategy, it will also be trying to overcome the competition between the pragmatists and the idealists.