The ‘inclusion-moderation- thesisposits that political Islamists may become more moderate if they are included in pluralist political processes. How do you assess the empirical evidence for this claim? 

Political Islamists have demonstrated an inclination to moderate their views the more they become involved in a pluralist political process, but also as they have been repressed and persecuted, suggesting that the inclusion-moderation thesis explains the actions of some parties, but fails to account for those Islamist political organisations that moderate while being intentionally excluded and subjugated. Tracing the history of the Justice and Development Party in Turkey there is strong evidence to suggest a moderation of Islamist party policy positions as Islamists were increasingly included into the political process. In Indonesia, as the political process was opened up, two Islamist parties were among the seven major political ogranisations to occupy the electoral realm; one of which, the Prosperous Justice Party, intensely moderated their positions as they became more involved with the process, eventually forming a coalition and serving in the cabinet of a secular-nationalist Democrat. Assessing the political sphere in Egypt, examining the creation of the Wasat Party, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, directly challenges the inclusion-moderation thesis as the party was formed and moderated under intense state repression and exclusion, instead moderating in response to slight institutional incentives to alter their policies in an effort to increase the chances of future inclusion, and to avoid further repression. As illustrated through various Islamist experiences in Turkey and Indonesia, there is robust evidence to support the inclusion-moderation thesis as both the Justice and Development Party, and the Prosperous Justice Party severely moderated their positions as they became more included in the political process; however, the thesis has limitations as shown with a study of the Wasat Party in Egypt, demonstrating that moderation is also possible under repressive and exclusionary conditions, that instead provide incentives for a party to reform to increase their chances of future inclusion, and to evade further repression.

Inclusion-Moderation Thesis

The inclusion-moderation thesis is underpinned by the understanding that open and participatory politics forces ideological parties to shift towards the centre in order to capture the broadest cross-section of the electorate while institutional openings can provide sufficient incentives for moderation and create opportunities for political learning (Wickham 2004: 205). The thesis has been demonstrated in states such as Turkey and Indonesia, but has failed in other states such as Kuwait and Yemen where opposition Islamist groups who have been in electoral politics for years remain committed to an illiberal agenda based on a conservative interpretation of Sharia (Wickham 2004: 225). The notion was outlined by Samuel Huntington and his idea of the “participation moderation trade-off”, witnessed across Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe, stating “the scope of participation was broadened and more political figures and groups gained the opportunity to compete for power and to win power on the implicit or explicit understanding that they would be moderate inter tactics and policies” (Huntington 1991: 169). Much of the academic literature assumes that the moderation of Islamist groups, referring to an exceedingly diverse group that promotes political, social and economic reform grounded in Islamic teachings (Schwedler 2007: 57), occurs as a result of political participation and inclusion; meanwhile repression has a radicalising effect. Moderation has been conceptualised in both ideological and behavioural components (Gures 2014: 647) with the former being concerned with a process that results in “ideas that do not contradict the principle of popular sovereignty, political pluralism and limits on arbitrary rule” (Tezcür 2010a: 10); while behavioural moderation is more centred around the modification of electoral strategies that are concerned with finding compromise, and utilising non-violent methods of dispute settlement (Ashour, 2009: 4). Scholars caution against equating the two, citing ideological moderation as a far longer processes that requires a functioning democracy with a reputable judiciary to succeed (Brocker and Künkler 2013: 182).

While the above moderation thesis is examined with respect to party inclusion; repression, which has undoubtedly had its place within the Middle East in radicalising certain members of Islamists groups, is an important factor to consider. Sayyid Qutb, a prominent ideologue within the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, was tortured and eventually executed in 1966. Qutb was responsible for much of the literature that formed the foundation for numerous Islamic militant groups, including al-Qaeda (Schwedler 2011: 355) and is a prominent example of how repression can induce radicalistion. There is an extensive array of research that supports this “tyranny-terror” linkage (Hamid 2014: 44), including a study that illustrates the only consistent variable associated with the number of terrorists was the Freedom House index on political rights and civil liberties (Krueger and Maleckova 2003). However, repression can also “force” Islamists parties to moderate, as observed throughout the 1990s and 2000s, including in Egypt; the threat of repression often circumscribes Islamist ambition and compels a degree of moderation; author Shadi Hamid summaries by stating that “trying not to get thrown in prison has a way of concentrating the mind and clarifying your priorities” (Hamid 2014: 5). As Islamist groups are repressed, they are compelled to postpone their idealised goal of an Islamic State, instead focusing on the basic human rights and civil liberties that were being infringed upon (Hamid 2014: 4). Under such conditions, Islamist groups often altered their internal structures, instead moving toward more democratised arrangements; they also focused on fostering new channels of cooperation with secular parties; and moderated many of their positions, including those on sharia law, political pluralism, and minority and women’s rights (Hamid 2014: 38). This was all done in an attempt to preempt further repression, while mitigating any current negative effects. During repression many Islamist groups accepted foundational tenants of democracy, including popular sovereignty, and alternation of power (Hamid 2014: 38). Across the region they embraced increasingly moderate positions on political pluralism and women and minority rights challenging the inclusion-moderation thesis by demonstrating that repression is also a proven means of moderating Islamist political parties.

Turkey – Justice and Development Party (JDP)

A rigorous assessment of Turkey’s Islamist political history supports the claims of the inclusion-moderation thesis as the current ruling Islamist party, the Justice and Development Party, has moderated significantly from its roots in the late 20th century. Turkey’s earliest political party to espouse Islamism was establish in the 1970s; however, Islamist parties remained marginal actors in the electoral process of the state throughout the 1970s, and 1980s as they demonstrated an interpretation of democracy more associated with majoritarianism, as apposed to pluralism and basic freedoms (Tezcür 2010b: 79). The Welfare Party, an Islamist organisation established in 1983, gradually adopted policies more inline with broader public appeal after gaining parliamentary representation in 1991 (Tezcür 2010b: 79). The party reformed its economic scheme, reforming its support for state-led initiatives in favour of policies that promoted private investment and entrepreneurship; they made a damning evaluation of the Turkish stance on its Kurdish population; created a social justice program; allowed women to take an active role within the party; and the party went beyond religious mobilisation (Tezcür 2010b: 79, Gulalp 1999: 25). In 1996, the Welfare Party formed a coalition government, but was eventually banned a year later by the Constitutional Court as the National Security Council, a body that channeled the influence of the armed forces over elected governments, declared political Islam “an existential threat to the Turkish Republic” (Tezcür 2010b: 79). The emergence of armed Islamic resistance groups like Hamas and Hezbollah throughout the region made not only secular groups and the international community uneasy, but stimulated fear among Arab governments who began seeing an emerging threat from political Islam (Muasher 2014: 43). As the Welfare Party was banned, the Virtue Party, established in 1997, attempted to fill the void. While adopting a similar platform to the Welfare Party, the Virtue party failed to secure a similar proportion of popularity, leading to an intensification of discontent from younger members who realised that ideologically driven platforms continually failed to garner widespread public support, while also making their parties more susceptible to state repression (Tezcür 2010b: 80). Following a similar model to Christian Democrats in Peru throughout the 1980s, the Virtue Party followed a strategy of vote-maximisation through centrist platforms that had cross-cutting appeal, and political survival, that included making clear signals to the military and secular civil society that they posed no threat (Tezcür 2010b: 80). While the Virtue Party was also eventually banned in 2001, the older generation of Islamists formed the Felicity Party, while the younger cohort created the Justice and Development Party (JDP) (Tezcür 2010b: 80). From the outset, the JDP claimed they would pursue centrist policies; one member stated that the JDP ran its party accepting “modern values of liberalism, human rights and market economy” (Tezcür 2010b: 80). The chairman of the JPD, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rejected any affiliation with Necmettin Erbakan, the chairman of the former Welfare Party, describing Islam as a means to make his party’s centrist positions “accessible and meaningful” to the crowds (Tezcür 2010b: 80); this is in contrast to Erbakan who utilised Islam as a “holistic ideology”, a source that was consistently in conflict with the West. An examination of the Islamist political history of Turkey strongly supports the inclusion-moderation thesis as Islamist parties who became more included within the electoral process, moderated to capture a larger segment of constituents from the population. The Islamist parties initially moderated their behaviour before committing to a more ideological moderation that saw leading party members redefining how they perceived Islam and its place within politics.

Indonesia – Prosperous Justice Party (PKS – Partai Keadilan Sejahtera)

An examination of the Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS) party in Indonesian politics illustrates a clear moderation of behaviour as the party became more involved in the political processes of the state. Following the collapse of the New Order regime in Indonesia in May 1998, competitive elections were introduced to the state. As a result, political parties proliferated until seven major parties emerged, two of which were explicitly Islamist. One of these, the PKS, entered politics with an extremely narrow stance on coalition building and political engagement, discarding any possibility of forming coalitions with ‘status-quo parties’ (Buehler 2012: 215); and believing that an all Islamist party coalition was the foremost method of political engagement (Buehler 2013: 215). The party was a bit player in Indonesia politics, securing only seven seats in the national parliament and one minister position after the 1999 elections (Bubalo et al. 2008: 49). They continued to maintain their hardline stance, refusing to form coalitions and alliances with any party they perceived to have an ideological difference with. This stance dramatically changed after the 2004 elections, as the PKS increased their voting percentage from 1.36 percent in 1999, to 7.34 percent in 2004 (Buehler 2013: 216). The election encouraged the party to alter their stance, deciding to support the Presidential candidacy of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a member of the secular-nationalist Democratic Party. This resulted in the PKS securing three cabinet positions, and a fourth in 2009 when they again supported Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The media labelled the executive the ‘return-for-favour’ cabinet, leading Buehler (2013: 216) to assert that the prospects for the PKS to secure cabinet positions were possibly enough to moderate their behaviour. After the party had built electoral gains through their coalitions, they sought to make additional demonstrable efforts to moderate their behaviour. The PKS started by publicly rejecting the Islamism label, it also agreed to cooperate with other faiths, officially supporting the Indonesian state philosophy of Pancasila – a commitment to religious pluralism (Buehler 2013: 216). The party also shifted its opposition to women occupying leadership positions, and came to support non-Muslim candidates for elections in both the executive and legislature. The most pertinent representation of party moderation is their policy agenda regarding sharia law, initially articulated in a manner that promoted the idea of an Islamic State, founded on sharia law (Bubalo et al. 2008: 68). In 2003, a party official stated that “[t]here is a need to expand [Islamic] education [in Indonesia] so that people have a better understanding of Islam and will support the idea of implementing shari’a” (Buehler 2013: 216). Following the 2004 election and the PKS’s relative success, the leadership began to distance themselves from their original statements regarding sharia law, and its place within Indonesia, citing a fear of alienating middle ground voters (Buehler 2013: 216). A party official summed up the PKS’s view succinctly by stating, “[w]e would be mad to talk about Islamic law when what the public wants is good government” (Buehler 2013: 217). The national party undoubtedly became more moderate over the decade from 1999 to 2009, due to what Buehler (2013) describes as “institutional incentives”, providing strong empirical evidence in favour of the ‘inclusion-moderation thesis’.

Egypt – Wasat Party

An evaluation of the Wasat Party’s origin and evolution clearly challenges the inclusion-moderation thesis as the party’s creation and moderation was not a reaction to inclusion within the political process, but rather a response to the repressive political environment in Egypt. The Wasat Party was created by a number of middle generation members of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1996. It was an attempt to create a group that held a differing interpretation of Sharia (Stacher 2002: 417); a party that would be consistently defined as possessing a civic identity, rather than a religious one (Hatina 2010: 182). In assessing the impact of the inclusion-moderation thesis on the Wasat Party and its formation, it is crucial to note the dichotomous conditions that were occurring in Egypt, as compared with Europe and Latin America where socialist parties moderated in the context of democratisation in an effort to secure support (Wickham 2004: 212); instead, the Wasat Party, shifted their aims and ideological stance in favour of more democratic positions even as Egypt faced intensified authoritarian rule (Wickham 2004: 212). In the years preceding the formation of the Wasat Party, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Egyptians more broadly who were active in Islamic groups, were specifically targeted by the state, and increasingly repressed (Wickham 2004: 212). Founding members of the Wasat Party, explain their move away from the more conservative Muslim Brotherhood was a strategic shift to avoid repression (Wickham 2004: 212). The Wasat Party moderated as it aimed to achieve legal status to avoid state repression, but to also secure the “moral high ground vis-à-vis the country’s authoritarian rulers” (Wickham 2004: 213) as democracy was beginning to emerge as an “adjudicating” force for Arab regimes. This was an attempt to increase pressure both domestically, and internationally, to open a democratic electoral route to power (Wickham 2004: 212) and increase their likelihood of future inclusion (Wickham 2004: 224). The creation of the Wasat Party under these specific conditions is initially surprising; the democratisation conditions that were present in many other states witnessing political parties moderate are clearly absent (Wickham 2004: 212), yet the Wasat Party not only moderates, but rejects any “logical” (Wickham 2004: 213) inclination to radicalise as seen with Islamists in Algeria in 1991 (Hamid 2014: 44). Regardless, the Wasat party intended to affirm the principles of popular sovereignty as the foundation for legitimate state power, adopting a pluralistic approach to political and social aspects of life by promoting equal rights for all citizens that included non-Muslims (Wickham 2004: 207). This was a clear departure from the long held views of mainstream Islamist groups that tended to be far more conservative in their approach (Wickham 2004: 207). The case of the Wasat Party in Egypt demonstrates that ideological moderation is inducible through increased repression, compelling rational opposition actors to strategically moderate their platforms to evade political constraints (Wickham 2004: 212). Repression also forces moderation onto certain Islamist parties by generating incentives for them to cooperate with secular opposition groups in an effort to create bipartisan action for political reform (Wickham 2004: 225). A thorough understanding of the Wasat Party and its origins challenges the inclusion-moderation thesis, as its evolution was the product of a repressive environment.

The evolution of numerous Islamist groups throughout the Islamic world strongly suggests the inclusion-moderation thesis possesses some explanatory power as political parties from Indonesia and Turkey both moderated over a period of time after becoming more included in the pluralist political processes of their respective states; however, the moderation of some Islamists groups, including the Wasat party in Egypt, under repressive conditions highlights some of the limitations to the thesis. The Justice and Development Party in Turkey moderated their positions on Islam’s place in Turkey as the party became more popular among the general population, adopting centrist platforms that had appeal across the entire state. The Prosperous Justice Party in Indonesia severely moderated their positions over the decade since they entered politics, eventually aligning with the secular-nationalist Democrats to gain cabinet positions within the government, showing a strong relationship between further inclusion, and moderation. However, the Wasat Party in Egypt shows the limitations of the inclusion-moderation thesis as the party moderated greatly under repressive conditions in an attempt to secure future inclusion, and avoid further repression, showing how the thesis fails to account not only for other catalysts of moderation, but for stimuli that are opposing to inclusiveness. The inclusion-moderation thesis has shown to explain Islamist groups moving to the centre in states like Indonesia and Turkey as those political parties are increasingly included within the pluralist political process; however, the example of the Wasat Party in Egypt, a group that moderated under recurring repression, questions the durability and thoroughness of the thesis.


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