A new book, The Islamists Are Coming: Who They Really Are, is the first to survey the rise of Islamist groups in the wake of the Arab Spring. There are more than 50 Islamist parties across the region with millions of followers. Though they are often lumped together, the parties have diverse political ideologies, goals and constituencies. With chapters covering Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, Syria, the Palestinian territories, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon, Yemen and Turkey, the book takes an in-depth look at the diversity of parties emerging across the region. The book was edited by journalist and foreign policy analyst Robin Wright and published by the United States Institute for Peace Press.
Les Campbell, NDI senior associate and regional director for Middle East and North Africa programs, authored the books' chapter on Yemen. "Yemen: The Tribal Islamists" follows the history of Islah, the country's Islamist party, and surveys some of its policy positions. In Yemen, where tribe is still the core around which politics is organized, Islah has been a blend of tribal forces and Islamic influences since its founding in 1990. The party has been more pragmatic and less dogmatic in its approach than other Islamist parties in the region, maintaining a focus on individual liberty, freedom of choice and democracy, as well as reforms based on Islam.
The wide array of constituencies within the party, including tribal leaders from rural areas, Salafi sheikhs and the Muslim Brotherhood, have resulted in internal tensions within the party, and with the party aligning itself with the ruling party and the opposition over the course of its history. It is now a key player in Yemen's transition and negotiated with President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down. "The party sometimes appears to be a modernizing force but at other times looks more like a conservative tribal coalition determined to protect the status quo," writes Campbell. How this contradiction is solved will determine the future of the party and its role in the transition.
Published May 6, 2012