Fisher’s Comparisons RE: the Ikhwan

Islamist parties like the Muslim Brotherhood and an-Nahda are often well organized and popular. They enjoy numerous advantages over secular parties in being able to tap into religious networks and other, secular parties have often been crippled and divided by years of successful politicking at the hands of repressive regimes. Conventional wisdom says Islamist parties will out do all others in free elections in Tunisia or Egypt, or even most Arab countries. This is not certain, but it is likely. Other scenarios are possible, if not probable as well.

The obsession with religious parties is at times almost humorous. In popular outlets, sensationalism and exaggeration are the rule, this is especially true. This being said, Max Fisher writes:

We in the U.S. often assume that the most popular party will be the most powerful party. That might be true in a two-party system like ours, but it’s not true in a multi-party system, where power comes from coalitions. Egypt has dozens of political parties, a number of them liberal, secular, or otherwise more moderate. The liberal secular vote might end up getting split six or seven ways, but once those parties get into Parliament they’re likely to join up in a liberal secular coalition. Maybe that coalition would outnumber any Muslim Brotherhood-led conservative religious coalition, and maybe it wouldn’t. But it seems clear that the Big Bad Brotherhood isn’t much more popular in Egypt than it is on Fox News.

Fisher includes two graphs:

This based on three reputable opinion polls.


The comparisons are not perfect ; the data is also generally incomplete regarding Egyptian public opinion. This lightly reinforces this blogger’s belief that greater attention ought to be paid to non-Islamist parties and movements in the Arab countries, including those on the far and center left: obsessing over the Islamist parties to the exclusion of all or most others does not produce a fuller understanding of the contemporary Arab political field.

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One thought on “Fisher’s Comparisons RE: the Ikhwan

  1. One thing to keep in mind re: Tunisia is the influence that the choice by the High Authority of a proportional representation system for the upcoming elections. If Nahda really has 30-40% support it is clear that it is highly unlikely to win an absolute majority of the seats in the constituent election under that system, and indeed leftist partis could emerge as a ruling coalition. Two months ago I would have bet on a Nahda + smaller parties coalition to rule the country, but given recent dynamics (ie. polarisation around secularism vs Islamism) it seems Nahda will probably remain an opposition party.

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