MinbarLibya – International


The Islamist-Secularist Divide And What It Means for Transitions in the Arab World

Overview of the Data
Unique, Time-Series Survey Data in Egypt: 7 surveys, 13,200 respondents, social and political questions

Survey Data in Tunisia: post-election survey (in-progress)

Interviews with Egyptians and Tunisians: Voters, party elites, scholars, journalists

Observation: Elections and other events

Secondary sources


Key Questions

To what extent does the Secularist-Islamist Divide drive elections?

Voters differentiate parties and candidates primarily on a secular – religious scale. Discourse mainly – and increasingly – focused on religion during campaigns

Do deep-seated beliefs explain the polarization over religiosity and the strong showing of Islamists?

Strong results for the Islamist parties do not represent deep religious values. Rather, strong showing represents primarily organizational capacity of Islamists

What are the implications for democracy-promoters?

Need to resist temptation to limit liberal freedoms, discourse. International organizations need to avoid shoring up secularists vs. Islamists. Need to emphasize iterative processes and seek ways to avoid entrenchment of early winners (ex. Need for local level elections)


Conclusions from the Data

1- Transition politics fundamentally shaped by religious-secular divide:

Religion was the main dividing line in the elections and the voters are primarily able to differentiate the parties on a secular – religious scale

This is partly related to a divide in identity, between Egyptians focusing on Egyptian national identity and those focused on Muslim identity.

2- Ideological competition not reflecting deep-seated beliefs:

The strong results for the Islamist parties should not be interpreted as religious values running deep in Egyptian society, as only a small segment of 19 % harbour strong Islamist values.

The largest group in Egypt is clustered around the middle having not strong preferences for either a secular or an Islamist state.

3- Organizational capacities a key factor in explaining Islamist current success, but fluid:

Islamist parties had superior campaign strategies and organizational capacity


Implications for Transitional Politics?

Secularists – domestic and abroad – tend to view “Islamist takeover” reflecting deep-seated, values

Fear of spreading message and power prompts support for illiberal and anti-democratic policies


Illiberal policies have potential for inducing preference falsification that strengthens Islamist parties


Moving Forward: Recognize Fluidity and Keep the Playing Field Open

Need to resist supporting efforts to limit liberal freedoms, discourse

International actors need to avoid temptation to shore up secularists vs. Islamists, focus on liberal/democratic vs. illiberal, anti-democratic


Not necessarily more liberal, democratic outcomes

Respond to the needs of the center

Need to emphasize iterative processes and seek ways to avoid entrenchment of early winners

Roles of local level elections

Emphasis on media freedoms, freedom of association, political parties laws, etc

Push toward mult-issue elections


See the full report in pdf ( Ford-Foundation-Islamist-Secular-Divide )



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