During the last municipal elections in Saudi Arabia - the first democratic experience of the nation - some were concerned about the figures reached by the Islamists vs. their secular opponents. In fact, we witnessed a similar tendency in Turkey, Morocco, Iraq and an identical episode is to be expected in Lebanon, Palestine or Egypt. This trend cannot be ignored but let’s leave panic aside. Actually, the evolution of this movement has been watched for 30 years now and I see a significant progress that prompts those parties to become democratic Muslim movements, following a process comparable to that which propitiated the creation of the Democrat-Christian parties in Europe.
In order to understand that evolution, it should be recalled that under authoritarian regimes, mosques are the only places where listening to an anti-establishment political speech is feasible. This has enabled the Islamists to come inside the political life and develop theocratic movements that already had some influence on the society due to their charitable activities. Considered to be more effective and honest than the present government, the leaders of such movements have gradually caught on even among the secular Arabs. Currently, two thirds of the 1400 million Muslims in the world live under the guidance of democratically elected governments wherein the Islamists play an important role.
The Islamists must have the same rights than the rest to participate in the elections. If they are forbidden to do so, they might well be converted into armed groups and be regarded as martyrs. In contrast, their integration into political systems makes them more pragmatic. We cannot expect them to change overnight, but their integration into a strictly legal and political setting may allow such change.
To achieve this, the United States should adopt a more pacific approach, inspired in the “Great Middle East” project or in the Barcelona initiative of the EU. The model is the process of Helsinki 1975, which so positively impacted on the USSR.

Jerusalem Post (Israel)
Jordan Times (Jordan)
International Herald Tribune (France)
The International Herald Tribune is a version of the New York Times adapted for the European public. It works in direct association with Haaretz (Israel), Kathimerini (Greece), Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany), JoongAng Daily (South Korea), Asahi Shimbun (Japan), The Daily Star (Lebanon) and El País (Spain). It also works, through its head office, in indirect association with Le Monde (France).
New York Times (United States)
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Korea Herald (South Korea)
The Australian (Australia)

«Islam Can Vote, if We Let It», by Saad Eddin Ibrahim, New York Times, May 21, 2005.
« Islam can vote, if we let it », International Herald Tribune, May 24, 2005.
The author picks up, in an abridged manner, the same arguments in:
« The Middle East enjoys a springtime of democracy », Taipei Times, May 23, 2005.
« Democracy’s not a devil for Islamists », The Australian, May 23, 2005.
« Middle East’s springtime of democracy », Korea Herald, May 24, 2005.
« The new Islamists », Jerusalem Post, May 24, 2005.
« Mideast’s springtime of democracy », Jordan Times, May 26, 2005.