U.S. Intelligence: Pragmatic Future for Islamists

Dec 13, 2012

            Islamists are likely to be “more market-oriented” and entrepreneurial in the future, according to a new report by the U.S. National Intelligence Council. “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds” explores what the world could look like in the coming decades. The report predicts that Islam and other religions will play a larger role in global politics. But in the Middle East, “political pragmatism could trump ideology helped by a growing civil society that will begin to produce a new cadre of pragmatic, entrepreneurial and social leaders.” If pragmatists fail to improve the economy, hardline Islamists could gain popularity by offering a non-Western model, the report says.
The following are excerpts with a link to the full text at the end.

            The role assigned to religion by the state and society probably will be at the center of these ideological debates within and across societies. Religion— especially Islam—has strengthened as a key force in global politics owing to global increases in democratization and political freedoms that have allowed religious voices to be heard as well as advanced communications technologies and the failure of governments to deliver services that religious groups can provide. The ability of religious organizations to define norms for governance in religious terms and to mobilize followers on economic and social justice issues during a period of global economic upheaval is likely to raise the prominence of religious ideas and beliefs in global politics. In this new era, religious ideas, actors, and institutions are likely to be increasingly influential among elites and publics globally.

Will political Islam moderate as it assumes power?

           Political Islam, after the false start of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) election in Algeria over 20 years ago, is becoming empowered in the Sunni world. From the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey, to the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) in Egypt, Ennahda in Tunisia, and Hamas in Gaza, and potential Islamic victories in Libya and Syria, the Middle East landscape is changing in profound ways. Islamic parties such as those in Egypt have responded with calls for expanding the safety net for the lower middle class; adding thousands of jobs to the public sector; and retaining subsidies on food and energy. These policies are not sustainable. Future ruling Islamic parties will become more market-oriented, empowering the more entrepreneurial younger Muslim Brotherhood “new guard” and others who can grow the economy.

           Over time political pragmatism could trump ideology helped by a growing civil society that will begin to produce a new cadre of pragmatic, entrepreneurial and social leaders—something that authoritarian regimes consistently stifled.

           Islamic democracy almost certainly will mutate into a variety of political hues. Tunisian Islamic parties will be different from one another, but all of them will be intent on establishing their legitimacy in this new post-authoritarian era. In post-Assad Syria, it is likely that an urban Sunni would take power in a coalition comprising the Muslim Brotherhood, religious minorities, Druze, Kurds, and others. Before Hafez Assad took power over 40 years ago, urban Sunni parties ruled Damascus in frequent and unstable governments. It may be back to the 1960s in Syria. In Iraq, the government is already showing signs of reverting to factionalism, in this case the Shia are willing to share power with the Sunni Arabs or Kurds.

           If corruption and chronic unemployment persists, or if large segments of the working poor feel their lives have failed to improve with the election of democratic governments, they may choose to turn to political leaders who offer a more radical approach. Hardline Islamists may have greater popular appeal given their commitment to conservative religious principles, providing a clearly identified alternative to Western capitalism and democracy.

How Social Media Are Accelerating the Process of Individual Empowerment

           Muslim women have historically lagged in educational skills and integration into the market economy. More recently, they have become prolific users and consumers of social media. Although some data points to a connection between online participation and radicalization of Muslim women, indications of female empowerment and solidarity are far more plentiful. Muslim women are using online communities to reach beyond their everyday social networks into “safe spaces” to discuss such issues as women’s rights, gender equity, and the role of women within Islamic law. Participation in online and social media platforms hinges on income, literacy, and access. As these expand by 2030, a growing number of Muslim women are likely to participate in online forums, potentially affecting their societies and governance.

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The Islamists Are Coming is the first book to survey the rise of Islamist groups in the wake of the Arab Spring.  Often lumped together, the more than 50 Islamist parties with millions of followers now constitute a whole new spectrum—separate from either militants or secular parties.  They will shape the new order in the world’s most volatile region more than any other political bloc. Yet they have diverse goals and different constituencies. Sometimes they are even rivals.

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