Arab Islamist Parties: Losing on Purpose?

Issue Date January 2011
Volume 22
Issue 1
Page Numbers 68-80
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Most major political parties contest elections with the aim of ultimately governing. Supposedly, Islamist parties are no different. However, a careful consideration of their electoral behavior suggests a surprising reality: Islamists deliberately lose elections. They run “partial slates,” contesting on average only about one-third of total available parliamentary seats. This article considers the factors that lead Islamist parties to privilege self-preservation over political contestation. Democratic transitions require oppositions that are willing to both confront regimes and assume power. However, Islamists’ deference to regimes suggests they may be obstacles to democratic reform. Since Islamist groups are the main opposition in most Arab countries, this has significant implications for the likelihood of real democratic change in the region.

About the Author

Shadi Hamid is director of research at the Brookings Doha Center and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. In 2008–2009, he was a Hewlett Fellow at Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law. He has published widely on democracy promotion and Middle Eastern politics.

View all work by Shadi Hamid