The Rise of Islamism

The second political change that drew more attention to human rights was the rise of radical and moderate Islamist movements and political parties. The 1979 Iranian Revolution and the assassination of Egyptian

president Anwar Sadat in 1981 marked the emergence of a new under-

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standing of the relationship between religion and politics in the Arab world. The political dimension of Islam, which the secular principle of the separation between religion and state had negated, increasingly gained a more central social relevance. This shift was preceded by an extensive religiously oriented social critique of both liberal and socialist modernist ideologies. The new religious discourse(s) dismissed modern ideas of secular democracy as both culturally foreign and harmful to society. The introduction of the principles of shari'a (Islamic law) and the establishment of an Islamic state were strongly advocated in order to re-Islamicize Arab societies. In light of political Islam’s rise, some liberal and leftist groups aimed to utilize the emerging notion of human rights—defined by them as inherently secular—as a means of banning and excluding Islamist movements from the public sphere and articulating an anti-Islamist understanding of democracy. On the other hand, state-imposed restrictions on the participation of Islamist groups and their leaders’ fear of political marginalization led moderate Islamist groups (for example, the Muslim Brothers in Egypt and Jordan) to attempt to appropriate and redefine human rights in an ‘‘authentically’’ Islamic manner. Hence the notion of rights was integrated into moderate Islamist discourses and equated with the classical term maslahat ar- ra aya (citizens’ interests) in order to religiously legitimize its usage and defend religious movements’ position in the public sphere.

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