Most major political parties contest elections with the aim of ultimately governing. Supposedly, Islamist parties are no different. However, a careful consideration of their electoral behavior suggests a surprising reality: Islamists deliberately lose elections. They run “partial slates,” contesting on average only about one-third of total available parliamentary seats. This article considers the factors that lead Islamist parties to privilege self-preservation over political contestation. Democratic transitions require oppositions that are willing to both confront regimes and assume power. However, Islamists’ deference to regimes suggests they may be obstacles to democratic reform. Since Islamist groups are the main opposition in most Arab countries, this has significant implications for the likelihood of real democratic change in the region.