Islamists of Kurdistan: Contradictions Between Identity and Freedom

During the last week of July, the top leaders from major Kurdish Islamist political parties, including the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU), the Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG), and the Kurdistan Islamic Movement (KIM) convened at the house of Salaheddine Bahaaeddin – the Secretary General of the KIU – in Sulaymaniyah. The meeting sought to establish the right conditions to create a shared Islamic front between the three parties, which together have 17 of 111 seats in the Kurdistan Parliament.

These steps towards rapprochement among Kurdish Islamists came at a time when the geography of Islamist movements started undergoing fundamental changes not only in Kurdistan but in the entire Islamic world. This reorganization has been particularly pronounced by the failure of the moderate Islamist model offered by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Tunisia. Meanwhile, the Turkish Islamist model has turned semi-totalitarian and the Syrian variant has devolved into a political and humanitarian disaster. Because the alliance between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Movement for Change transformed into a political agreement, and the strategic pact between the PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has virtually fallen apart, new political alignments are forming locally.

During the Arab Spring, the Kurdish Islamists maintained an obstinate ambition to call the uprisings an “Islamic Spring,” albeit through an opaque political discourse mired with equivocation. No Islamic party had specifically used that term, but certain gestures and actions among them indicated support for this view. Indeed, as the impact of the Egyptian uprising against Hosni Mubarak loomed large in Kurdistan, protestors in Sulaymaniyah renamed the historical Saray Square “Freedom Square.” Though the sit-in brought both the secularists and Islamists together, this political imitation of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in a city long known for its secular activism led Kurdish intellectuals and activists to abandon the demonstrations.


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