This thesis originates from the lengthy debate on Islam and democracy. Some contributors to this debate hold that Islam is essentially incompatible with democracy. Others claim that Islam is able to adjust to democracy, but reserve this for a liberal version of the religion. From this debate, the question is raised of Islamism’s compatibility with democracy. This thesis evolves around this question, and tries to find answers by studying one Islamist group; The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
Islamism is often portrayed as a violent movement, working against the interests and values of the West. This picture has gained adherence as the world has witnessed 9/11, suicide bombers attacking Western goals, and numerous threats on several Western countries and their allies. The Islamist movement is however quite differentiated. Less known than international terrorist networks such as al-Qaeda, are the national Islamist organizations. These organizations aim at enhancing the role of Islam in the Muslim society, and ultimately creating Islamist states in their respective countries. There is a great variety among these national groups as well. This thesis treats two main categories: radical Islamists who are willing to use force and terror to attain their goals, and moderate Islamists who want to reform the system from within, using legal methods only.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (MB) is widely seen as a moderate Islamist organization. It was established by Hassan al-Banna in 1928. Due to controversies with the regime, it was banned in the 1940s, and remains so to this day. Nevertheless, MB has survived as an organization and is still seeking political influence. The organization’s political strategies and its ideology are studied in order to reveal MB’s relation to democracy.
The main issue of this thesis is the role that the political, social and economic context plays for MB’s choice of strategies and the development of its ideology. The research question of this thesis is; how does MB relate to democracy, and how is this influenced by contextual conditions? The thesis finds that MB’s strategies and changes in its ideology are to a large extent dependent on political opportunities, mobilizing abilities and ideological appeal. Additionally, the organization’s strategies are influenced by options and restraints stemming from other actors in the Egyptian political arena. A main conclusion is that MB developed in favor of democracy when the possibilities of obtaining influence within the system improved.
It is uncertain whether other Islamist groups would follow the same path as MB under the same circumstances. Nevertheless, the thesis concludes that MB’s changes of strategies and ideology demonstrate that Islamism is a dynamic phenomenon, able to exercise pragmatism and to adjust to democratic rules. The argument of Islamism’s incompatibility with democracy is therefore seen as weakened.