Maneuvering the Islamist-Secularist Divide in the Arab World: How the United States Can Preserve its Interests and Values in an Increasingly Polarized Environment

  • October 01, 2014
  • Mr Gregory Aftandilian



This monograph examines the Islamist-secularist divide in Arab countries, particularly in Egypt and Tunisia, and why it has become so intense and polarizing. It demonstrates that having Islamist parties in power or in domineering positions in Arab societies often provokes a backlash from secular elements because the latter see the Islamists as threatening their social freedoms. For countries beginning the transitory process from authoritarianism to democracy, the monograph recommends that the United States press for a broad governing coalition and a delay in holding elections, which would allow secular-liberal forces the opportunity to build their political parties and compete with Islamist parties. For Arab countries already facing polarization, the United States should be consistent on human rights, help to build up institutions (such as parliaments) as a hedge against authoritarian presidents, and press for inclusionary politics. In addition, the monograph recommends that U.S. Army officers should reinforce to their Arab military counterparts the value and necessity of concentrating on genuine external and internal terrorist threats as opposed to being used as a coercive internal force that favors exclusionary politics.