Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Rise of Religion-Based Parties Creates Tricky Issues for US

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Rise of Religion-Based Parties Creates Tricky Issues for US

Article excerpt

NEWS that the government in Egypt is arresting members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's moderate Islamic opposition, highlights the problem secular governments face in opposing political movements based on religious beliefs. This political confrontation poses serious problems for United States policy in the region.

A full appreciation of why religion-based politics threatens the existing political structure requires an understanding of the fear, anger, and frustration that ambitious movement leaders exploit. The rise of these religious movements has been fueled by a broad decline in respect for existing governments. Especially in Egypt and Algeria, many people see their economic and social needs unmet. Islamic groups have stepped in, particularly in times of crisis, to provide social services.

Among the more militant, faith is often expressed in the most literal and conservative interpretation of scriptures, further aggravating the confrontation with secular elements. Followers are vulnerable to the charismatic leader's skill in using the language of faith. Such rhetoric may not be strong on the specifics of governing, but if the disaffected accept its emotional appeal, it succeeds.

Each movement is also a reaction to perceived threats to traditional ways of life. Global communications, through explicit music and films that represent an increasingly permissive age, challenge accepted mores in clans, villages, and families. Deeply concerned parents and elders see the greatest influence on youths.

The declared aim of the religion-based parties to create a new regime makes enemies of the existing rulers and their friends. Such enmity generates in the people a determined antagonism toward those with whom they identify their economic plight and the cultural threat. …

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