Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Post-Islamist Rumblings in Egypt: The Emergence of the Wasat Party

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Post-Islamist Rumblings in Egypt: The Emergence of the Wasat Party

Article excerpt

This article examines the emergence of the Wasat party initiative in Egypt. Whether such a group constitutes a political development in Islamic groupings in comparison to the traditional paradigm is the main focus. The Wasat is analyzed within a post-Islamist framework. The influences on the initiative, the reason for its establishment, and its apparent inclusive ideology will help to determine if a post-Islamist project may be emerging. If post-Islamist rumblings are underway in Egypt, we may expect to see eventually the development of an "Islamic democracy,"

At the turn of each new century there will arise in my nation a man who will call for religious revival.

-The Prophet Muhammad1

The Muslim Brotherhood as a symbol of discontent in Egypt's pre and post-revolutionary eras indicates that the organization possesses political durability. However, over time new groups have emerged from within it and developed into autonomous, sometimes violent groups, such as al-Jama'a al-Islamiyya and al-Jihad.2 Yet, regardless of the emergence of splinter groups, the Brotherhood has remained a dynamic socio-political force. In fact, analysts generally agree that the Muslim Brotherhood's moderation remains its strength. As Sana Abed-Kotob argues, "The Muslim Brotherhood stands out as a politically centrist and moderate group, representing mainstream political Islam."3

In recent years, however, a development has emerged on the Egyptian political scene in the shape of former Muslim Brothers who are willing to challenge the group's doctrine of moderate political Islam. These former Brotherhood members attempted to establish a political party, which is called Hizb al-Wasat (the Center Party). Since its founding in 1996, the Wasat has twice applied for legal party status with the Political Parties Committee (PPC) and was rejected on both occasions.

The fact that a group of former Muslim Brothers left the Brotherhood to form their own organization based on a platform of moderate political Islam can be regarded as a rare phenomenon, but it was the nature of their ideology that attracts attention. The Wasat argues in favor of democratic reforms, human rights, women's rights, and the inclusion of Christians in its party project. Consequently, the group is establishing a new paradigm of analysis and discourse in social research fields.

In this article, I examine the reasons behind the emergence and trajectory of the Wasat. The argument presented is that the Wasat is a development of a more inclusive political Islamist entity. Apart from the hard-to-measure influence of the Wasatiyya (Centrist) writers, three possible stimuli will be evaluated. The politicizing experience of Egyptian professional syndicates will be discussed first. Secondly, the establishment of the Wasat party project will be linked to the exclusive internal nature of the Muslim Brotherhood. Thirdly, it would seem that the harsh nature of the government's 1995 security operation against the Muslim Brotherhood prior to legislative elections led to the moderation of some of the younger Brothers. It is the Wasat's expression of discontent with the Brotherhood and governmental repression that a more inclusive project emerged through attempting to establish an Islamist national political party.

THEORETICAL CONCERNS

The post-Islamism conceptualization is useful in understanding the Wasat initiative. Post-Islamism is most clearly defined by Gilles Kepel. In his view, radical Islam is giving way to moderate expression that resembles a Western-Islamic political hybrid. In Kepel's words:

Islamist movements and parties at the turn of the 21st century are striving to reinvent themselves as democratic movements, to denounce the repression they feel they have been victim to. They now invoke the universal rights of man instead of critiquing them with their own substitute version, and they support the previously decried values of the impious West, like freedom of expression and women's liberties. …

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