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Foreign Policy: The Islamists are Coming

Author: Robin Wright
November 7, 2011

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Robin Wright argues that Islam is emerging as an equally potent force as democracy in defining the new order in the Middle East.

Two decades ago, a portly Tunisian with a salt-and-pepper beard sat in my Georgetown living room and tried to convince me that blending tenets from Islam and democracy could create viable governments in the Middle East. The merger was inevitable -- and good for the West too, he insisted.

"Islam embraces diversity and pluralism as well as cultural coexistence," Rachid el-Ghannouchi, a former philosophy professor and leader of Tunisia's Islamist opposition, told me.

It was a hard sell back then. Most Islamist movements -- from Egypt's Islamic Group (Gamaa Islamiyya) and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to Lebanon's Hezbollah -- had a sorry, unproductive, or violent record.

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