Class, Status, and Party: The Changing Face of Political Islam in Turkey and Egypt

Could economic conditions and class structure explain more about the fortunes of Islamist political parties than ideology or political openings? This is the question posed by Sebnem Gumuscu of the University of Virginia in “Class, Status, and Party: The Changing Face of Political Islam in Turkey and Egypt.” This new essay in Comparative Political Studies is an important contribution to the growing body of literature that rightfully asks whether Islamist movements can internalize the norms of democracy, and if they can, under what conditions. The analysis centers on the AKP’s democratic rise in Turkey and Wasat’s gradual marginalization in Egypt. Gumuscu convincingly argues that received explanations – inclusion, political learning and repression – are incomplete causal narratives. Instead, he places socioeconomic factors at the fore, arguing that the specific nature of economic liberalization in Egypt and Turkey shaped the trajectory of their respective Islamist movements. Specifically, Turkey’s export-oriented economic program “facilitated the emergence of a strong, devout bourgeoisie” whereas Egypt’s liberalization was “limited to the financial and commercial sectors.” It is the emergence of the bourgeoisie that is so central to the author’s explanation: this new socio-economic power was a natural ally for moderate Islamists, creating a “new political identity that fuses religiosity and rights, faith and freedom, and marries Islam with democracy and modernity.” Gumuscu’s rich analysis is a critical contribution to our understanding of the economic origins of radical and moderate Islamism.

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