Peak Islamism?

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Looking over Arab Barometer data from the past decade, Michael Robbins and Mark Tessler find that throughout the Arab world, “support for democracy remains high but support for political Islam has decreased” while “Islamic democrats – those who support both democracy and political Islam – are becoming scarcer across the region”:

Arab publics continue overwhelmingly to support democracy. In all but one country surveyed, three-quarters or more of respondents in the third wave of surveys (late 2012-2014) agree or strongly agree with the statement “A democratic system may have problems, yet it is better than other political systems.” …

Support for political Islam is substantially lower. In no country do more than half of respondents say religious leaders should have influence over government decisions.

It is often far less support, including just 34 percent in Algeria, 27 percent in Tunisia, 20 percent in Egypt and 9 percent in Lebanon. Moreover, support for political Islam declined over the past decade. Algeria has witnessed the most dramatic decline, with support for political Islam falling from 60 percent in 2006 to just 34 percent in 2013. A similar decline has occurred in Egypt, where 37 percent supported political Islam in June 2011 compared to 18 percent in April 2013, a 19-point decrease. Most other countries witnessed a similar decline, including Palestine (-15 points), Iraq (-11), Lebanon (-9) and Yemen (-7).

In Saudi Arabia, Caryle Murphy profiles the “post-Islamist generation” of young people who are fed up with religious politics:

Young Saudis “are looking for individual freedom and rights, not for religion,” said Mohammed al-Abdulkareem, an assistant professor of Islamic jurisprudence at Al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University, a conservative religious university in Riyadh. This “big change” began after the Arab revolutions, he said. “It’s clear to me that from the Arab Spring, people discovered the ideas of human rights and individual freedom and that these ideas were more effective and more successful to get a change in their governments,” he said. “Why would you expect that people would return to religious trends when … these trends and religious institutions didn’t pay attention to human rights and the freedom of the people?” …

The trend is encapsulated in a 27-year-old Saudi woman I met in Riyadh. Raised in a traditionally religious family, she wears the Islamic headscarf and is religiously devout — but she dislikes how her government has used her faith for its own ends. “Islam came to free people. Islam didn’t come to put them in jail,” she said. “And the government uses it to put people in jail and under their control. So they control us by Islam…. That makes a lot of people not even want Islam.”