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Ḥizb

In its Qurʿānic interpretation, the word hizb carries a negative connation referring to factionalism—a state of affairs that should always be avoided. In its modern usage, however, ḥizb refers more specifically to a political party, a linguistic evolution resulting from an attempt to find an Arabic term for a European phenomenon. Yet, due to the divisiveness which the term historically and Qurʿānically implies, a reluctance to accept the concept of political parties persists in many Islamic countries still today.

The first organized group with a clear Islamic ideology, and mother movement to many of the Islamic organizations throughout the Muslim world, was the Society of Muslim Brothers (Jamʿīyat al-Ikhwān al-Muslimūn), which was established in Ismāʿīlīyah, Egypt, in 1928 by its founder, Ḥasan al-Bannāʿ (1906–1949). Like the prominent Egyptian branch of the Muslim Brothers, most of its offshoots in other Islamic countries have similarly avoided using the term hizb or political party in their titles. Examples include: al-Jamāʿat al-Islāmīyah (The Islamic Group) of Syria, Sudan, and Lebanon; Ḥarakat al-Ittijāh al-Islāmī (The Islamic Tendency Movement) of Tunisia, which later changed its name to Nahḍah (Renaissance); Jabhat al-Inqādh al-Islāmī (The Islamic Salvation Front) of Algeria; Ḥarakat al-Muqāwamah al-Islāmīyah (The Islamic Resistance Movement) and Jihād al-Islāmī (The Islamic Holy War) of the Palestinian Territories; and Jamāʿat-i Islāmī (The Islamic Assembly) of Pakistan. Similar examples suggesting a distinct avoidance of, and implicitly distaste for, the term hizb abound throughout the Islamic world.

In recent times, however, the modern Islamic world has seen an increase in the use of the term ḥizb, and more generally, an increased level of political participation by Islamic organizations. Examples of the former include: Ḥizb al-Taḥrīr al-Islāmī (Islamic Liberation Party) in Jordan, the Refâh Partisi (Welfare Party) in Turkey, the Sunnī Pashtun-based Ḥizb-i Islāmī (the Islamic Party) in Afghanistan, and Ḥizbullāh (Party of God) in Lebanon. With respect to the latter, many Islamic organizations have been pushed, or have chosen, to partake in parliamentary elections. Some of these elections were conducted freely: in Pakistan in 1993, in which the Jamāʿat-i Islāmī participated and accepted the results; in Jordan in 1993, when Jabhat al-Amal al-Islāmī (Islamic Action Front) freely participated; and more recently, in the Palestinian Territories in 2006, when Ḥamās participated and, in an unprecedented move, won the majority of parliamentary votes in an internationally verified free and fair election. Other elections were superficially free but were in reality manipulated from above. Such was the case in Egypt 's 2005 parliamentary elections, when the officially banned Muslim Brotherhood ran independent candidates, tripling their number of parliamentary seats; and in Tunisia 's 2005 elections, when oppositional groups were allowed to participate but prevented from gaining any formidable victories.

Although the Islamic political organizations have come a long way from Ḥasan al-Bannāʿ 's historical condemnation of al-ḥizbīyah (party politics), a strong ambivalence toward elections, competitive party politics, and political parties in general persists. The dismal rate of voter turnout throughout the Middle East and North Africa reveals the pervasive sense of apathy, if not widespread distrust, in party politics among the general electorate. While voter turnout is comparatively high in Kuwait, the Palestinian territories, and Turkey (79.6 percent, 75.4 percent and 73.5 percent, respectively), where party competition is more genuine and Islamic parties are allowed to more freely participate, voter turnout is extraordinarily low in countries where little to no genuine party competition exists, such as Egypt, Jordan, and Bahrain (24.6 percent, 29.9 percent, and 32.6 percent, respectively).

Another explanation for the traditional distrust in political parties pertains to the dissolution of colonial rule and the struggle for independence experienced by many countries throughout the Islamic world in the twentieth century. Given the divisive and often brutal nature of colonial rule, the post-independence period saw the rise of leaders and movements focused intently on embracing unity and forging a common identity. In addition to preempting all attempts at factionalism, including political party formation, the rhetoric of unity was used to advance the expansively defined twentieth-century ideologies, such as Pan-Arabism, Arab Nationalism, and Pan-Islamism, voiced throughout the Islamic world. As such, political parties were viewed as not only destructive to the project of national unity, but contradictory of the sweeping ideological worldviews advanced by the post-independent leaders who feared that using the term hizb would imply a lack of inclusivity. Thus, the dominant post-colonial parties that did emerge, such as the National Liberation Front and the Arab Socialist Union in Egypt, scrupulously avoided labeling themselves as political parties.

Another related explanation for the distrust in party politics pertains to the emergence of hegemonic, state-controlled or state-manipulated parties in the post-colonial era in certain Arab-Islamic countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria. Such dominance by a single party limited or eliminated other parties ’ efforts to participate in electoral politics, thereby delegitimizing the process of so-called competitive party politics in the eyes of many among the general electorate. The effects of this are still seen today, particularly in the aforementioned states, where state-supported single parties often dictate political outcomes because of the inevitable advantages attached to being so closely affiliated with the governing authorities. Electoral manipulation and single-party dominance, which lead to guaranteed results, only heighten voter apathy and intensify distrust in political parties.

The historical role of predominantly non-Islamic and secular parties in Islamic countries has been shaped primarily by socioeconomic forces, as well as ethnic and sectarian interests. Political parties proliferated in Egypt from 1923 to 1952 and in Lebanon from 1943 to 1975. In Turkey, Sudan, and Pakistan, political parties have played an influential role during times of nonmilitary rule, which, other than in Turkey, has been the exception rather than the rule. The future role of political parties, particularly those with an Islamic orientation, will be of paramount importance, as attested by the increased political participation and popularity of Islamic movements throughout the Islamic world. Recent political developments in Egypt, the Palestinian Territories, Kuwait, Turkey, and Indonesia, where widespread support for Islamic parties exists, and where such parties have participated in politics with repeated success, suggest the heightened importance of Islamic parties for the future of the Islamic world.

See also BANNā, ḤASAN AL-; ḤIZB AL-TAḥRīR AL-ISLāMī; ḤIZB-I ISLāMī AFGHāNISTāN; HIZBULLāH, subentry on HIZBULLāH IN LEBANON; JAMāʿAT AL-ISLāMīYAH, AL-; NAHḍAH; and REFâH PARTISI.

Bibliography

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