Islamist movements need to be part of Arab democracy

Islamist parties, in turn, should be included in the political process, so that they can share responsibility for their country’s successes and failures in governance, defense, and foreign affairs. Though some thinkers in U.S. foreign policy circles urge the sequestering of Islamists — such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt — this approach will ultimately backfire. When Islamist groups are marginalized as the opposition, they become a viable channel for expressing political dissent and popular grievances.

Equally important, the United States should not conflate moderate mainstream Islamist political parties with Islamist fundamentalists. To equate the two is not only imperceptive, but consequential as well. The moderates support socioeconomic reform and the prevention of terrorism; many also endorse democratic governance. The fundamentalists are a minority, significantly less popular in countries with strong national and Arab identities. Distinguishing between moderates and fundamentalists would prevent new regimes in the Middle East and North Africa from resorting to repressive survival strategies in the name of fighting an Islamist threat — which is how many of their predecessors stayed in power.