Religion, Social Movement, and Democratization: The Leftist Socialism, Liberal Thoughts, or Islamism?

In the late 2010, a young man’s self-immolation in the suburbs of Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, ignited a series of anti-government revolts from Tunisia to Egypt, and then to other countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). People’s desire to live more liberal and with more justice pours them into the streets, and expresses their voices to the governments disappointed them. It was called « Jasmine Revolution ». Following and encouraged by the achievements Tunisians have made within a month, Egyptians also organized their own revolts in Cairo and other cities all over the country. They overthrew the regime of Mubarak within less than three weeks, and established the interim government in order to prepare for the general election after six months. Considering these two people’s movements, they have something in common. First of all, the two countries are muslim-majorities. Second, the two regimes overthrown are pro-Western and pro-secular. Third, the biggest and most powerful oppositions are Islamist groups, Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Ennahdha in Tunisia, although they were oppressed by the authorities for a long time. Forth and the last, the role of religion, Islam and Islamism, has been minimalized during the revolts. Due to these common features, most of the mass media reported and emphasized that these movements must to be secular and Islamist-free. Even the Islamist groups announced this to the public since they joined. Despite Islam and Islamism, like the media most reported, may not play important role in these revolts, they still contribute a lot to them. Strategically, these Islamist groups have to avoid from being the target of those authoritarian regimes lest they could be brutally suppressed under the name of anti-terrorism. The success of these revolts involves several forces, including mainly three kinds: Islamism, leftist socialism, and liberal thoughts. This essay will examine the relationship among these three forces, and how they contribute to the revolts, historically, theoretically, and practically. We argue that religion and religious groups always play a certain role on the way to democratization, they will not and should not be absent from social movements toward democracies.