The emergence of Islamist parties in the Middle East

Farooq attended the IISS Regional Security Summit: The Manama Dialogue in Bahrain. Farooq is a public servant in the Department of Defence's International Policy and Strategy Group focusing on Afghanistan .Farooq studied a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) and a Masters in Counter-Terrorism Studies at Monash University.

Abstract

Over the course of a month or so in late 2011, elections in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia empowered Islamist parties in the Middle East, allowing them to govern their respective countries for the very first time in modern history[1]. Islamist partiers, such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Tunisia’s Ennahda, are on the rise, leaving behind them a number of secular parties who are quickly losing support.  These domestic changes will have significant regional implications and the international community more broadly.  The west must look to employ more ambitious political and economic agendas to ensure that they are not ignoring the emerging parties in the Middle East in their engagement. Encouraging these Islamist parties to focus more on democracy and its core values, such as gender equality, is a start.  However, beyond this, the west should focus more on specific issues, such as ensuring that Islamists continue to maintain existing treaties and uphold international human rights standards.  The west should also look to create greater employment opportunities and help establish regular legal frameworks with the immediate focus being on short-term goals that can be implemented within a three to five year period. To do this, western countries must look to build new relations across communities in the Middle East and expand their engagement beyond the select few political actors who have previously supported their own agenda.  This may not decrease the perceived suspicion that exists between the west and Islamist partiers.  But it may improve relations and send a message to Islamist parties that the west is not ignoring them in their dealings with the region. This short paper attempts to briefly outline the rise of Islamist parties in the Middle East since the recent Arab uprising.  It argues that the west and its allies should now look to adopt greater political and economic measures in response to the political changes that have occurred in the Middle East.  The paper also attempts to briefly highlight that the Middle East remains strategically important to Australia, noting Australia’s economic and trade interests and the region’s destablising impact on the global security environment.

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