The Rise of Islamic Politics

THE deportation of Hamas members from Israel, the brutal crackdown on Islamists by the Egyptian government, and even the World Trade Center bombing, make the case: Islamic passions in Arab countries are rising, particularly among young people. But another powerful impulse is also at work in Arab states - the desire for democratic participation.

In country after country - Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Algeria - Islamist forces, some moderate, some more radical, are seeking to participate in the political process. The rise of political Islam is a fact. Jordan may be having the first fully free elections in the Arab world in November. But King Hussein was driven to this decision by Islamist riots in 1989.

The questions posed in the current Monitor series by correspondent Peter Ford are these: Can Islam and democracy coexist in the real world of Arab politics? Can Islam, a way of life that demands everything of the believer and demands a theocracy, allow for the tolerance and protection of minority rights sought by liberal democracy? Can Arab civil governments risk their own demise by allowing radical Islam fully into the process?

How these questions are answered in the next years will shape the character of states throughout the Middle East. Is the future of the region to be a sharper, stricter, and less tolerant Islamic rule? Or can moderating influences in governments and among Islamic groups win out? Mr. Ford points to moderate Islamists who deeply value social justice.

The issue goes further. It will shape relations between the West and the Islamic world. How the West approaches Arab states undergoing change will determine future coexistence.

The West must support moderate forces. But it must demand that Arab civil regimes be held to democratic standards of human rights and nonviolence. Otherwise the West looks hypocritical to young Arab-Islamists who might feel a Muslim life is not worth as much as another. That opinion can change - by example.

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