Introduction to the issue: “On Islamist Parties and the Inclusion-Moderation Hypothesis: Lessons from the Past Decade” – Clément Steuer / Journal of Middle East Law and Governance

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At the beginning of the 2010s, several Arab countries seemed about to follow the model of Turkey, with an electoral victory of Islamist parties in a context of democratization. A decade later, Turkish akp has turned authoritarian, and the Moroccan and Tunisian Islamist parties have lost both access to governmental office and a large part of their electoral appeal. In this context, lessons can be learned from the early failed democratic experience in Algeria (1989–1992), and from the evolution of its Islamist movements since then.

From these four case studies, the contributors of this issue investigate the notions of moderation and inclusion, and their interrelations. Their articles build on the current trends within literature by taking into account the variety of Islamist movements, and their incorporation within different national trajectories. These articles contribute to the academic discussion by bringing new facts and ideas regarding this topic of inclusion-moderation.

Keywords: inclusion; moderation; Islamists; Turkey; Morocco; Tunisia; Algeria

By Clément Steuer in the journal of Middle East Law and Governance. Online Publication Date on, 24 May 2023.

If the early formulation of the “inclusion-moderation” hypothesis – as applied to Islamist organizations1 – has been criticized for its too mechanistic and normative features,2 both terms of the equation have been nuanced or deconstructed since then, along with the causal dimension of their interrelations. The critics performing this criticism went as far as one can legitimately question the unity of the current debate. Indeed, due to the lack in specificity of both concepts, and the multiplication of diverse sets of arguments that are not congruent with each other, scholars may not really be testing the same hypothesis any longer when they talk about the “inclusion-moderation” hypothesis. Meanwhile, Islamist parties and organizations have known dramatic transformations over the past decade, especially following the 2011 uprisings in several Arab countries.

That same year, Jillian Schwedler suggested to revisit the issue of moderation of Islamist organizations, emphasizing the opportunity offered by the Arab Spring to do so.3 At that time, many Arab countries were seemingly about to follow the model of Turkey, where the earlier4 version of the inclusion-moderation hypothesis had apparently found a convincing illustration: the inclusion of the Islamist political actors in a democratic – or democratizing – game would lead them to moderate by acculturation to the democratic rules, and this moderation would in turn consolidate democracy.

Post-Ben Ali Tunisia, and Morocco after the 2011 revision of the Constitution, were appearing as the “good students” of the Arab World, and their respective major Islamist organizations (namely, Ennahdha, and the pjd) were considered as the followers of the then-successful akp model. But since then, the latter evolved toward authoritarianism, and many of its Arab counterparts had to adapt to the new conditions brought by the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary waves of the last decade, which created internal dissensions and resistance to the process of moderation. This new set of events has led scholars to revisit the inclusion-moderation hypothesis,5 and the contributors to the present special issue propose to do so by examining the Turkish, Tunisian, Moroccan, and Algerian cases.

Coming from the general literature on political parties,6 the inclusion-moderation hypothesis has since then been used in the study of religious parties,7 and especially Islamist political parties.8 But both terms of this hypothesis – “inclusion” and “moderation” – have been criticized for their lack of clarity, and the chain of causality linking them together has been put into question.

Indeed, as noted by Schwedler,9 it is not clear from one author to another if the condition for moderation is the party’s inclusion in any type of regime, or only in a democratic regime, or in a democratizing one.10 In addition, the word “inclusion” could refer to institutional inclusion,11 to interrelations with secular parties,12 or both.13 For Carrie R. Wickham, inclusion (though she uses there the word “participation” instead) might, in addition, imply interaction with constituencies.14

As for the term “moderation,” it is probably even more ambiguous, and is suspected of conveying a normative meaning15 at times. First, many authors distinguish between behavioral (or tactical) and ideological moderation,16 the former being the “adoption of electoral, conciliatory and non-confrontational strategies that seek compromise and peaceful settlement of disputes,” and the latter a “process of adopting ideas, which do not contradict the principles of popular sovereignty, political pluralism, and limits on arbitrary state authority”.17 Also, Islamist parties and organizations are not unitary actors18, and moderation can be examined at different levels. In this regard, Schwedler19 emphasizes that scholars working on the issue of moderation are studying either behavioral moderation of groups, ideological moderation of groups, or ideological moderation of individuals. In addition, moderation could be described either as a state or as a process.20 In the latter case, this process is not irreversible,21 and may vary across issues (for instance, a given Islamist organization may condemn violence and accept the autonomy of politics from religion, but still could refuse equality between different genders and religious communities).

Regarding the causal link between the two notions of inclusion and moderation, Schwedler noted as early as in 2006 that the inclusion-moderation hypothesis lacks empirical evidence and a description of the mechanisms of change.22 In response, some authors worked to identify such mechanisms, but with limited results. For instance, building on the Turkish case, Feryaz Ocakli explains the causality mechanism of the inclusion-moderation process via the role of “centrist” local elites with no prior association with Islamists. For him, moderation per se does not attract more voters, but allows the party to attract those elites which bring their electors to the party (the “reputation effect,” or “brokerage”).23 On her part, if Wickham agrees with Schwedler on the idea that “shifts in Islamist actors’ rhetoric and behavior cannot be attributed to a single strand of cause and effect”,24 she succeeded in identifying one mechanism of changes regarding specifically the case of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and its Arab counterparts: participation can lead to ideological changes at the individual level, which is conducive to organizational changes, such as the emerging of reformist currents within an Islamist organization.25 Another mechanism was described by Drevon regarding the moderation of formerly violent jihadist groups: according to him, the opening of political opportunities leads to an internal reassessment of the ideology and strategy of these groups, which conduces to their non-violent participation in political life.26 If all these explanations are convincing, they are also explicitly limited to specific contexts and/or organizations.

Wickham illustrated all these criticisms of the inclusion-moderation thesis, highlighting the fact that the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood within the Egyptian institutions under Mubarak led to the adoption of a contradictory ideology mixing together democratic principles and the application of sharî‘a. Also, it did not conduce to a reformation of internal practices toward more transparency and democracy.27 According to her, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and its Arab counterparts “cannot be described as ‘for’ or ‘against’ democracy, any more than they can be characterized as ‘moderate’ or ‘extremist’.” In addition, their behavioral or ideological changes are not the result of a single chain of causality, but “bear the imprint of strategic and ideational processes of change occurring simultaneously”.28

This explains the confusion surrounding many debates around political Islam where the opposing authors do not speak about the same thing when using the same words (e.g. “moderate” and “radical”).29 This is also why Janine A. Clark and Schwedler suggested abandoning those terms for more specific ones that would be relative to the different individual issues at hand.30 Following this path of thought, Wickham identifies different dimensions of moderation: violence or acceptation of democratic rules; absence or presence of cooperation with other political forces; absence or presence of a will to reform the organization towards transparency and internal democratic rules; an absolute or relative interpretation of Islam; refusal or acceptance of non-Islamic worldviews; refusal or acceptance of guarantees of individual freedom; and refusal or acceptance of equal citizenship.31

Following another path, some authors have advocated a broader definition of integration which would include not only the participation of the Islamists within the official institutions, but also their interaction with other social and political forces.32 Focusing initially on the relations of cooperation developed by the Islamists with secular organizations, this approach has recently been extended to the interactions happening within the broader family of political Islam.33

The editors of the Middle East Law and Governance issue dedicated to the “Islamist Politics after the Arab Uprisings,” printed in 2020, have noted that “the years following 2011 did not offer a full test of the inclusion-moderation hypothesis”.34 The contributions to the present issue, including the one dedicated to a broader “test” of the akp in Turkey, acknowledge this fact, and build on the current trend within the literature by focusing on narrower hypotheses in order to fully take into account the variety of Islamist movements, and their incorporation within different national trajectories. These articles contribute to the academic discussion by bringing new facts and ideas regarding this topic.

In her contribution, regarding the abovementioned discussions around the issue of the democratic or undemocratic features of the regime in which the Islamists are integrated, Pelin Ayan Musil builds on Sultan Tepe’s recent definition of ideological moderation: “For comprehensive ideological moderation to take place, parties need to alter their core commitments and ideas by bringing them closer to the political center, if such a center exists, but they also need to incorporate more democratic or inclusive ideas”.35 From there, Ayan Musil shows that when the center is undemocratic, it implies that the moderating political actor plays a democratizing role. Here, the case of Turkey is interesting of course because after an initial period of moderation of the akp party and of strengthening of the Turkish democracy, the ruling akp turned into an authoritarian dominant party. Ayan Musil investigates what she identifies as a transitory period (2007–2012), during which this party abandoned its “moderate Islamist” stance to adopt an “inclusionary populist” posture. For her, the difference between the two notions resides in the strategy of democratization used by the actors considered: building consensus for the moderate actors, and antagonizing the center in the name of “the people” for the “inclusionary populism.” While still playing a democratizing role during this second period, the akp was at the same time paving the way to its subsequent transformation into an “exclusionary populist” party, illustrating the dangers that populism represents for democracy due to the fact it undermines the possibilities of negotiations between the center and “a people” defined in terms of identity.

The two following contributions combine the literatures on the “inclusion-moderation” hypothesis and “post-Islamism,” focusing on one particular aspect of the inclusion-moderation hypothesis: the separation of religious activities and politics. Indeed, both approaches postulate that the acceptation of the rules of pluralism by politico-religious actors should lead them to separate religious and political activity. This aspect is central in the North African context because the legislation there forbids the existence of any religious party. Thus, the organizational separation of the two kinds of activity demonstrates a will to respect the law, and integrate the political field in a legal way.36 While the two contributions use different approaches to the phenomenon of “specialization,” both illustrate the limits of the process under study. They also help us to understand why in 2021, both the pjd and Ennahdha have lost power (or at least their foothold within the state institutions), as well as a major part of their electoral appeal, not without having previously obstructed a reform bringing more gender equality.

Anca Munteanu and Haoues Seniguer question the autonomy of the Moroccan pjd from the grassroots religious organization mur. Both organizations started a process of “specialization” in 1998, according to which the pjd should operate only in the political field, and the mur in the religious one. Through an examination of this process, Munteanu and Seniguer investigate the articulation of “behavioral” and “ideological” moderation in the context of the integration of an Islamist political party within an undemocratic competitive system such as the Moroccan one. They show not only that the pjd and the mur still maintain organization links – especially at the local level37 – but also that the transformation of the pjd into a “party with an Islamic reference” does not prevent it from giving preeminence to religion over civic values. This last argument is illustrated by the common mobilization of the pjd and the mur against the project to reform the Family Code (mudawana). For Munteanu and Seniguer, the integration of the pjd and its subsequent specialization in politics were not accompanied by a profound ideological reform; the views of the party are still based on Islamic values, which preserve the link between religion and politics. [Munteanu and Seniguer’s article, prepared as a submission to this special issue, was published as part of the issue 15(1) of Middle East Law and Governance through an administrative error. While it is not republished in this issue, we treat it as a part of this collection as intended.]

In the third contribution to this special issue, Alia Gana, Ester Sigillò, and Théo Blanc present a nuanced account of the similar process of “specialization” started by the Tunisian Islamist movement Ennahdha following its 10th congress, held in 2016. They suggest furthering the approach focusing on the cooperation of an Islamist movement with other social and political forces by developing a “strategic relational approach.” First, they identify three categories of actors whose relationships with Ennahdha played a major role in the evolution of this movement after 2011: the secular parties, the other organizations of political Islam, and the religious associations. From there, they show how the evolution of the power balance since 2011 – and especially after 2014 – forced Ennahdha to adapt by relying on a “strategic pluralization.” They illustrate the contradictions of this pluralization by studying – like Munteanu and Seniguer – the Islamist mobilizations against a project to implement the equality in inheritance between men and women in legislation. In Tunisia, these mobilizations were organized under a “civil society” label, while avoiding any overt presence of the party, whose opposition to the project was expressed within Parliament. If the strategic pluralization allows a complementarity of the roles of different actors, it also creates new challenges for Ennahdha. Indeed, Gana, Sigillò, and Blanc show how the newfound autonomy of Islamist political and social actors vis-à-vis Ennahdha creates the conditions for the emergence of a competition within the Islamist camp. This competition has been embodied in the form of the “Dignity Coalition,” which gained 21 seats during the 2019 parliamentary elections with 5.91% of the votes.

Last, Myriam Aït-Aoudia and Belkacem Benzenine develop an interpretive, Verstehen approach to the issue of moderation through a case study of the Algerian Islamist parties, using both diachronic and synchronic comparisons. Examining three decades of evolution, with alternate periods of opening and closing of the political system, they distinguish between “moderation” as a label used in political conflicts, “moderation” as a legal category defined by law and the constitution, and “moderation” as an academic concept. This distinction allows them to show how the electoral weight of a given Islamist organization may be more important than its political programme when it comes to be labelled as “radical” or “moderate” by the state. Their case study also demonstrates that institutional constraints are more crucial than inclusion in pushing Islamist actors to moderate. This legally imposed moderation process creates fragmentation, as the Islamist parties become divided into those willing to integrate into the political system, and those preferring to defend the original Islamist project. This constructivist approach integrates three different dimensions of the notion of moderation: the normative (moderation as a label), legal (moderation as fulfilling criteria defined by law), and academic dimension (here mostly ideological moderation).


This research is part of a project that has received funding from the European Research Council (erc) under the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Grant Agreement No. 695674): “Political and socio-institutional change in North Africa. Competition of models and diversity of trajectories” (tarica). It is funded by the European Union.

The views and opinions expressed in the text, however, are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Council. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

1 Carrie R. Wickham, “The Path to Moderation: Strategy and Learning in the Formation of Egypt’s Wasat Party,” Comparative Politics 36, no. 2 (Jan. 2004): 205–228.

2 Including by those who had first formulated it. See, Carrie R. Wickham, The Muslim Brotherhood. Evolution of an Islamist Movement (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2013).

3 Jillian Schwedler, “Can Islamists Become Moderates? Rethinking the Inclusion-Moderation Hypothesis,” World Politics 63, no. 2 (April 2011): 347–376.

4 As formulated by Wickham in “The Path to Moderation.” The condition of democratization has been abandoned since then by most authors, including Wickham (in The Muslim Brotherhood).

5 See the special issue of Middle East Law and Governance edited by Marc Lynch and Jilian Shwedler (eds), “Islamist Politics after the Arab Uprisings,” Middle East Law and Governance 12 (2020): 3–129. See also Alia Gana and Myriam Aït-Aoudia (eds), “Les partis islamistes ont-ils vraiment changé?,” L’Année du Maghreb 22 (2020): 11–230.

6 Adam Przeworski and John D. Sprague, Paper Stones. A History of Electoral Socialism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986); Samuel P. Huntington, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991): 165–171; Nancy Bermeo, “Myths of Moderation. Confrontation and Conflict during Democratic Transitions,” Comparative Politics 29, no. 3 (1997): 305–322.

7 Stathis Kalyvas, The Rise of Christian Democracy in Europe (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996); Scott Mainwaring and Tim Scully, eds, Christian Democracy in Latin America. Electoral Competition and Regime Conflicts (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003); Sultan Tepe, “Religious Parties and Democracy: A Comparative Assessment of Israel and Turkey,” Democratization 12, no. 3 (2005): 283–307; Manfred Brocker and Mirjam Künkler, “Religious Parties: Revisiting the Inclusion-Moderation Hypothesis – Introduction,” Party Politics 19, no. 2 (2013): 171–186. On the process of creation of religious parties, see also: Ateş Altınordu, “The Politicization of Religion: Political Catholicism and Political Islam in Comparative Perspective,” Politics & Society 38, no. 4 (2010): 517–551.

8 Glenn E. Robinson, “Can Islamists Be Democrats? The Case of Jordan,” The Middle East Journal 51, no. 3 (1997): 373–387; Carrie R. Wickham, “The Path to Moderation”; Shana Marshall, “Framing Contests and Moderation of Islamist Groups: The Case of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Wasat in Egypt” (paper, International Studies Association Convention, Honolulu, March 4, 2005); Janine A. Clark, “The Conditions of Islamist Moderation: Unpacking Cross-Ideological Cooperation in Jordan,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 38, no. 4 (November 2006): 539–560; Jillian Schwedler, Faith in Moderation: Islamist Parties in Jordan and Yemen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

9 Schwedler, “Can Islamists Become Moderates?”.

10 In the cases she studied – Jordan and Yemen – the systems were not even remotely democratic. See also Eva Wegner and Miquel Pellicer, “Islamist Moderation without Democratization: The Coming of Age of the Moroccan Party of Justice and Development?,” Democratization 16, no. 1 (2009): 157–75; Sultan Tepe, “The Inclusion-Moderation Thesis: An Overview,” in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics (2019).

11 See, for instance, Augustus Richard Norton, “Hizballah: From Radicalism to Pragmatism?,” Middle East Policy 5, no. 4 (1998): 147–159; Wickham, “The Path to Moderation”; Mona el-Ghobashy, “The Metamorphosis of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 37, no. 3 (2005): 373–395; Schwedler, Faith in Moderation; Brocker and Künkler, “Religious Parties: Revisiting the Inclusion-Moderation Hypothesis.”

12 See, for instance, Maha Abdelrahman, “The Leftists and Islamists in Egypt,” isim Newsletter 1, no. 14 (2004): 26–27; Ellen Lust-Okar, “Divided They Rule: The Management and Manipulation of Political Opposition,” Comparative Politics 36, no. 2 (Jan. 2004): 159–180; Jillian Schwedler, “Cop Rock: Protest, Identity, and Dancing Riot Police in Jordan,” Social Movement Studies 4, no. 2 (2005): 155–175.

13 Wickham, “The Path to Moderation”; Clark, “The Conditions of Islamist Moderation.”

14 Wickham, The Muslim Brotherhood: 8.

15 Even more so, the term “moderation” has been described as a mere label reflecting a “reputational strategy”; Annelle R. Sheline, “Shifting Reputations for ‘Moderation’: Evidence from Qatar, Jordan, and Morocco,” Middle East Law and Governance 12 (2020): 109–129.

16 Günes M. Tezcür, Muslim Reformers in Iran and Turkey. The Paradox of Moderation (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010); Suveyda Karakaya and A. Kadir Yildirim, “Islamist Moderation in Perspective: Comparative Analysis of the Moderation of Islamist and Western Communist Parties,” Democratization 20, no. 7 (2013): 1322–1349.

17Tezcür, Muslim Reformers in Iran and Turkey: 10–11.

18 Wickham, The Muslim Brotherhood: 2–3.

19 Schwedler, “Can Islamists Become Moderates?”; Wickham, The Muslim Brotherhood: 5-6.

20 Wickham, The Muslim Brotherhood: 5–6.

21 Milan Svolik, “Authoritarian Reversals and Democratic Consolidation,” American Political Science Review 102, no. 2 (2008): 153–168; Schwedler, “Can Islamists Become Moderates?”; Wickham, The Muslim Brotherhood: 2–3, 285–286; Sumita Pahwa, “Pathways of Islamist Adaptation: The Egyptian Muslim Brothers’ Lessons for Inclusion Moderation Theory,” Democratization 24, no. 6 (2017): 1066–1084.

22 Jillian Schwedler, Faith in Moderation.

23 Feryaz Ocakli, “Notable Networks: Elite Recruitment, Organizational Cohesiveness, and Islamist Electoral Success in Turkey,” Politics & Society 43, no. 3 (2015): 385–413.

24 Wickham, The Muslim Brotherhood: 247.

25 Wickham, The Muslim Brotherhood: 284–285.

26 Jérôme Drevon, “The Emergence of Ex-Jihadi Political Parties in Post-Mubarak Egypt,” Middle East Journal 69, no. 4 (Autumn 2015): 511–526.

27 Wickham, The Muslim Brotherhood: 150–153.

28 Wickham, The Muslim Brotherhood: 2–3.

29Schwedler, “Can Islamists Become Moderates?”: 350.

30Janine A. Clark and Jillian Schwedler, “Who Opened the Window? Women’s Activism in Islamist Parties,” Comparative Politics 35, no. 3 (2003): 293–313.

31Wickham, The Muslim Brotherhood: 6.

32Alfred Stepan, “Tunisia’s Transition and the Twin Tolerations,” Journal of Democracy 23, no. 2 (2012): 89–103; Anette Ranko, The Muslim Brotherhood and Its Quest for Hegemony in Egypt: State-Discourse and Islamist Counter-Discourse (New York: Springer, 2014). Browers went so far as to formulate a “cooperation-moderation” hypothesis; Michaelle L. Browers, Political Ideology in the Arab World: Accommodation and Transformation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

33Gana and Aït-Aoudia, “Les partis islamistes ont-ils vraiment changé?”; Shaimaa Magued, “The Inter-Islamic Competition and the Shift in al-Nur Party Stance towards Civil State in Egypt,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies online first (2020); Jasmin Lorch and Hatem Chakroun, “Othering within the Islamist Spectrum: Ennahda and the Political Salafists in Tunisia,” Middle East Law and Governance 12 (2020): 198–221.

34Marc Lynch and Jilian Schwedler, “Introduction to the Special Issue on ‘Islamist Politics after the Arab Uprisings’,” Middle East Law and Governance 12 (2020): 3–13: 6.

35Tepe, “The Inclusion-Moderation Thesis: An Overview”: 10.

36 Clément Steuer, “Qu’est-ce qu’un parti fondé sur une base religieuse? Interprétations concurrentes d’une catégorie juridique dans le contexte politique égyptien,” Social Compass 66, no. 3 (2019): 318–332.

37 Janine A. Clark and Emanuela Dalmasso, “State Actor-Social Movement Coalition and Policy-making under Authoritarianism: The Moroccan Party of Justice and Development in the Urban Municipality of Kenitra,” Middle East Law and Governance no. 7 (2015): 196.

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