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Research / Discovery

Dynamics of politics in the Middle East

October 8, 2009

Gamze Cavdar, assistant professor of political science at Colorado State University, studies Islamist organizations in the Middle East, seeking to better understand how these groups and political parties operate and what decision-making mechanisms they employ.

Islamist groups neither unified nor uniform

Gamze Cavdar (Yasar), assistant professor of political science.

Islamist groups operating throughout the Middle East and North Africa are neither unified nor uniform in their political aims and activities. Differing from violent Islamist groups that we almost exclusively hear about in the United States, many Islamist organizations renounce violence, provide social services, and transform into political parties or groups with significant political power.

“These are the strongest opposition groups pushing for political reform in the region” who “will continue to shape the local and regional politics in the years ahead. In other words, these groups are the future of the Middle East and North Africa,” says Gamze Cavdar (Yasar), assistant professor of political science at Colorado State.

Turkey's ruling party a case study

Part of Cavdar's research seeks to understand how these Islamist groups and political parties operate and what their decision-making mechanisms are. One of the groups Cavdar studies is Turkey’s ruling party, the Justice and Development Party.

In the JDP’s transformation from an Islamist group to a non-Islamist group, Cavdar finds parallels to the transformation of communists after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Over the course of its transformation, the actions and discourse of the Turkish Islamist movement became more liberal and pluralist.

 Womens' issues lagging behind

What seemed resistant to change, however, were issues relating to women. Cavdar found that “the transformation was not taking place evenly across issue areas; gender was lagging behind other issues such as foreign policy, environment, and economy.”

In an effort to explain this disparity, Cavdar is gathering data regarding the party’s gender policy and conducting interviews with Turkish women’s organizations. 

Providing better understanding for U.S. and World audiences

Cavdar's findings not only will bring to U.S. audiences a better understanding of Islamist groups and their development but also shed light on women’s issues in the region of the world.

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Adapted from original story published in the Fall 2009 College of Liberal Arts Newsletter.