Those who oppose promoting democracy in the Muslim world often argue that in a free vote the extremists will win. That may be true in some cases but not in Pakistan. There, the extremist Islamic parties have never won more than 12 percent of the vote and in Monday’s election they saw their vote collapse. As noted by blogger Bill Roggio, the pro-Taliban Muttahida Majlis-e-Amil, or MMA, “has won only three seats in Pakistan’s National Assembly and has lost control over the Northwest Frontier Province. Maualana Fazlur Rahman, the party’s president, lost his seat in the national election.” The big winner, of course, was the Pakistan People’s Party, which has its own problems but which is a moderate party whose last leader was assassinated by the extremists.
This tends to confirm what we’ve seen elsewhere in the Muslim world: While extremist parties may do well initially, their failure to provide effective governance soon costs them popular support. That has been true in Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini and his successors and in Afghanistan under the Taliban. The problem is that in those countries the Islamist parties would not allow themselves to be voted out of office. In Pakistan, by contrast, democratic institutions still survive, albeit imperfectly, allowing the Islamists to be ousted.
In many ways, the failure of Islamists to govern effectively—the latest example being Hamas in the Gaza Strip—provides the strongest argument against these parties. If tomorrow they were somehow to take over every country in the Muslim world, it would not be long before almost all Muslims had turned against them. Of course the world would pay a high price for such an experiment. Let us hope Muslims elsewhere can learn from the experience of those places where Islamists have taken power without having to go through the process again and again.