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Serious ‘Islamic parties’ will most likely not appear in Kyrgyzstan

The role played by Islam in Kyrgystan has been steadily growing ever since independence in the early 1990s. Although it remains a secular republic where religious parties are banned, analysts say that Islam is likely to play a part in upcoming presidential elections.

Alexey Malashenko, chief researcher at the Dialogue of Civilizations (DOC) think-tank, spoke to IWPR about the likely impact this trend may have on the future direction of the state.

IWPR: Do you think growing interest in Islam among the Kyrgyz population will lead to the Islamisation of politics, and then of the state itself?

AM: The growth of Islam in society is inevitable, and is taking place across the entire Muslim world. To some extent, it is more about re-Islamisation — Islam has always been there, and nobody got rid of it. This re-Islamisation means that people become more interested in religion, its doctrines, and more strictly observe Islamic traditions and norms of behaviour, including restrictions and prohibitions. But [it also means] that Islam is politicised, becoming not only a religion but also an ideology, which is radical to some extent.

We should acknoweldge that Kyrgyzstan is a kind of miracle: with the highest political and even revolutionary activity of any society in Central Asia, religion has not become a serious political factor, which could have happened. And it is to the state’s great merit that it has managed, not without difficulty, to develop a reasonable approach to Islam.

If the secular system fails to demonstrate its effectiveness, what would it look like if the state adopted some Islamic principles? Would it be like Malaysia or Indonesia or should we expect something more radical?

The mixture of secular principles of government with religious attitudes, including even some Shariah norms, is inevitable. However, a lot of complex collisions can arise and different countries solve them differently.

In this context, Kyrgyzstan… can be compared with Malaysia and Indonesia. I would add Algeria and even Egypt, which, despite the successes of Islamists at the beginning of the second decade of our century, still retain a de facto secular nature of government.

Kyrgyz politicians are increasingly using Islamic rhetoric for their own purposes. What is the likelihood that purely Islamist political parties will emerge, and how would the population perceive them?

Serious 'Islamic parties' will most likely not appear in Kyrgyzstan. The ship has sailed, as they say. They would have needed to have been created earlier on. However, marginal groups — they could declare themselves to be parties — might emerge that would be capable of organising loud rallies but would not have public support. People do not want riots. Moreover, there is the experience of the middle east, which shows what religious extremism can lead to.

As for specific politicians, I do not yet see charismatic personalities that could successfully use Islam as a rallying call. We don’t have that political culture or tradition. The emergence of such a kind of personality is possible only amid chaos. But I don’t see it coming.

What about other countries in Central Asia? How much does Islamisation influence their policies, or is Kyrgyzstan in a unique situation?

The influence of Islamism persists because it is mainly the response to domestic economic, social and other challenges. Moreover, except for Kyrgyzstan, in the rest of the region Islam is actually the only form of protest, since there is no real opposition there.

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