RSSArchive for March, 2010

International Consultation of Muslim Intellectuals on Islam & Politics

Stimson Center & Institute of Policy Studies

This two-day discussion brought together experts and scholars from Bangladesh, Egypt, India,Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sudan and Sri Lanka representing academia,non-governmental organizations and think tanks. Among the participants were a number of former government officials and one sitting legislator. The participants were also chosen to comprise abroad spectrum of ideologies, including the religious and the secular, cultural, political andeconomic conservatives, liberals and radicals.The following themes characterized the discussion:1. Western and US (Mis)Understanding There is a fundamental failure by the West to understand the rich variety of intellectual currents andcross-currents in the Muslim world and in Islamic thought. What is underway in the Muslim worldis not a simple opposition to the West based on grievance (though grievances there also are), but are newal of thought and culture and an aspiration to seek development and to modernize withoutlosing their identity. This takes diverse forms, and cannot be understood in simple terms. There is particular resentment towards Western attempts to define the parameters of legitimate Islamicdiscourse. There is a sense that Islam suffers from gross over generalization, from its champions asmuch as from its detractors. It is strongly urged that in order to understand the nature of the Muslim renaissance, the West should study all intellectual elements within Muslim societies, and not only professedly Islamic discourse.US policy in the aftermath of 9/11 has had several effects. It has led to a hardening andradicalization on both sides of the Western-Muslim encounter. It has led to mutual broad brush(mis)characterization of the other and its intentions. It has contributed to a sense of pan-Islamicsolidarity unprecedented since the end of the Khilafat after World War I. It has also produced adegeneration of US policy, and a diminution of US power, influence and credibility. Finally, theUS’ dualistic opposition of terror and its national interests has made the former an appealing instrument for those intent on resistance to the West.

How to Promote Human Rights in Egypt

Human Rights First

The United States’ relationship with Egypt is central toseveral policy challenges facing the new administration inthe Middle East. As the most populous Arab state, Egyptis a major regional power. Since signing a peace treatywith Israel in 1979, it has played a key role in negotiationsfor an Israeli-Palestinian and a broader Israeli-Arab peaceagreement. Egypt helped to mediate a tense ceasefirebetween Israel and Hamas that broke down with theoutbreak of conflict in the Gaza Strip at the end ofDecember 2008, and continues to serve as anintermediary between the warring parties in the Gazaconflict. Egypt is again at the center of renewed peacemaking efforts in the region launched by the Obamaadministration with the appointment of former SenatorGeorge Mitchell as Special Envoy in January 2009.In a part of the world where so many vital U.S. interestsare at stake, Egypt is a key partner for any U.S.administration. The Egyptian government can greatlyassist the United States in legitimizing and supporting thenew government in Iraq, for example, and, as the owner ofthe Suez Canal and as an oil producer, Egypt is vital tothe security of energy supplies from the region.Egypt is also a testing ground for U.S. human rightspromotion in the region, and was frequently the target ofexhortations to move forward with political reform anddemocratization during the Bush administration.Successive administrations have been encouraging theEgyptian government to reform for decades, but after the9/11 attacks, with the prominent involvement of Egyptianslike Mohamed Atta and Ayman al-Zawahiri, calls forreform took on greater centrality—and a new urgency—inU.S. policy. Human rights and democracy were no longerjust desirable; they became national security concernsand the subject of a new “Freedom Agenda.

Moderate and Radical Islam


One of the components of this study is relevant to a question that I was asked to address,which is how radical Islam differs from moderate or mainstream Islam. Frankly, one ofthe problems that we have found in the discourse about Islam is that the terms “radical”or “moderate” are often used in a subjective and imprecise way, without going through aprocess of critically examining what these terms mean. In some cases, the term radical ormilitant is defined in terms of support for terrorism or other forms of violence. Webelieve that this is too narrow a focus, that there is, in fact, a much larger universe offundamentalist or Salafi groups who may not themselves practice violence, but thatpropagate an ideology that creates the conditions for violence and that is subversive ofthe values of democratic societies.

Living with Democracy in Egypt

Daniel Consolatore

Hosni Mubarek was almost elected president of Egypt in September 2005. Not that the seventy-seven-year-old secular autocrat who has ruled that nationfor the past twenty-four years lost the election; by the official count, he took nearly 85 percent of the vote.His nearest competitor, Ayman Nour, the upstart headof the fledgling opposition party al-Ghad (“Tomorrow”),managed less than 8 percent. The only other candidate to take any significant tally was the aged NomanGamaa of the venerable al-Wafd (“Delegation”)party, who managed less than 3 percent. The Ikhwanal-Muslimeen (“Muslim Brotherhood”), feared by somany Westerners for its purist Islamic social and politicalagenda, didn’t even field a candidate.Mubarek’s decisive victory would seem to be reassuringto most people—particularly secular Americans—worried for the future of the few Westernfriendly,moderate Arab regimes, threatened as theyare by the Islamicization of politics in the region. The Bush administration would also seem to have reasonto be pleased, given its recent change of heart aboutArab democracy. The missing chemical weapons in Iraq and subsequent justification of the war thereas precedent for democratization have inspired theWhite House to push for as many elections as possible in the region. In fact, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke at the American University inCairo in June, she announced to some surprise that“for sixty years” the United States had been mistakenin “pursu[ing] stability at the expense of democracy”in the Middle East. For generations, U.S. pundits weresure that the “Arab street” couldn’t be trusted with the vote, as they might hand over power to communistsor fundamentalist Islamists. Realpolitik dictated that autocrats and dictators, like Mubarek and Saddam Hussein, had to be coddled in order to maintain “stability”in the region. If they would then stage election sor dispense with them altogether, deny free speech,and let loose secret police to terrorize the population,the White House would likely turn a blind eye. But ifMubarek could now claim a true democratic mandate,that would be the best of all worlds.

Political Transitions in the Arab World

Dina Shehata

The year 2007 marked the end of a brief interval of political liberalization in the Arab world which began shortly after the occupation of Iraq and which resulted primarily from external pressures on Arab regimes to reform and democratize. External pressures during the 2003-2006 period created a political opening which activists across the region used to press for longstanding demands for political and constitutional reform.Faced with a combination of growing external and internal pressures to reform, Arab regimes were forced to make some concessions to their challengers.In Egypt, upon the request of the President, Parliament passed a constitutional amendment to allowfor direct competitive presidential elections. In September2005, Egypt witnessed its first competitive presidential election ever and as expected Mubarak was elected for a fifth term with 87%of the vote. Moreover,during the November 2005 parliamentary elections,which were freer than previous elections, the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition movement in Egypt, won 88 seats. This was the largest number of seats won by an opposition group in Egypt since the 1952 revolution.Similarly, in the January 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, Hamas won a majority of the seats.Hamas was thereby able to establish control over the Palestinian Legislative Council which had been dominated by Fatah since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1996. In Lebanon, in the wake of the assassination of Rafiq Hariri on 14th February2005, a coalition of pro-Hariri political forces was ablet hrough broad-based mass mobilization and external support to force Syrian troops to pull out from Lebanon and the pro-Syrian Government to resign. Elections were held, and the 14th February coalition was able to win a plurality of the votes and to form a new government.In Morocco, King Mohamed VI oversaw the establishment of a truth and reconciliation committee which sought to address the grievances of those who had been abused under the reign of his father.The Gulf Cooperation Council countries (GCC) also under took some important reforms during the 2003-2006 period. In 2003 Qatar promulgated a written constitution for the first time in its history. In 2005,Saudi Arabia convened municipal elections for the firsttime in five decades. And in 2006, Bahrain held parliamentaryelections in which the Shiite society of AlWefaqwon 40%of the seats. Subsequently, the first Shiitedeputy prime minister in Bahrain was appointed.Theses events, which came to be known as ‘the Arab Spring,’ led some optimists to believe that the Arabworld was on the brink of a democratic transformation similar to those experienced in Latin American and Eastern and Central Europe during the 1980s and1990s. However, in 2007, as political liberalization gave way to heightened polarization and to renewed repression,these hopes were dispelled. The failure ofthe openings of the 2003-2006 period to create a sustained momentum towards democratization can beat tributed to a number of factors. The deteriorating security situation in Iraq and the failure of the United States to create a stable and democratic regime dampened support for democracy promotion efforts within the American administration and reinforced the views ofthose who held that security and stability must come before democracy. Moreover, the electoral successes of Islamists in Egypt and in Palestine further dampened Western support for democracy promotion efforts in the region since the principals of thesemovements were perceived to be at odds with the interestsof theWest.

Radical Islam In Egypt A Comparison Of Two Groups

By David Zeidan

The author compares two key Egyptian radical Islamic groups, the Society of Muslims(Takfir wal-Hijra) and the Society of Struggle (Jama’at al-Jihad) and analyzes their differencesin doctrine and strategy. This study is presented in the context of a broader examination of thehistory of militant Islamic groups in Egypt. The author argues that the two societies furnishexamples of basic types of radical Islamic movements. In addition, Jama’at al-Jihad remainsimportant in contemporary Egyptian politics and in that country’s internal struggle.The Egyptian radical groups understudy here, the Society of Muslims (Takfirwal-Hijra) and the Society of Struggle(Jama’at al-Jihad), espoused drasticallydifferent ideologies and strategies forgaining power. The Society of Muslims(Takfir) had a passive separatist andmessianic ideology, delaying activeconfrontation with the state to an indefinitepoint in the future when it could reach acertain degree of strength. In comparison,the Society of Struggle (al-Jihad) followedan activist, militant ideology that committedit to immediate and violent action againstthe regime.ISLAMIC RESURGENCEHistory reveals cyclical patterns ofIslamic revival in times of crisis.Charismatic leaders arose attempting torenew the fervor and identity of Muslims,purify the faith from accretions and corruptreligious practices, and reinstate the pristineIslam of the Prophet Muhammad’s day.Leaders of revivals tended to appear eitheras renewers of the faith promised at the startof each century (mujaddids), or as thedeliverer sent by God in the end of times toestablish the final kingdom of justice andpeace (mahdi).

Radical Islam in the Maghreb

Carlos Echeverría Jesús

The development of a radical Islamist movement has been a major featureof Algerian political life since the mid-1970s, especially after the death of PresidentHouari Boumediène, the Republic’s first president, in December 1978.1 Boumediènehad adopted a policy of Arabization that included phasing out the French language.French professors were replaced by Arabic speakers from Egypt, Lebanon, andSyria, many of them members of the Muslim Brotherhood.The troubles began in 1985, when the Mouvement islamique algérien (MIA),founded to protest the single-party socialist regime, began attacking police stations.Escalating tensions amid declining oil prices culminated in the Semoule revolt inOctober 1988. More than 500 people were killed in the streets of Algiers in thatrevolt, and the government was finally forced to undertake reforms. In 1989 itlegalized political parties, including the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), and over thenext two years the Islamists were able to impose their will in many parts of thecountry, targeting symbols of Western “corruption” such as satellite TV dishes thatbrought in European channels, alcohol, and women who didn’t wear the hiyab (theIslam veil). FIS victories in the June 1990 municipal elections and in the first roundof the parliamentary elections held in December 1991 generated fears of animpending Islamist dictatorship and led to a preemptive interruption of the electoralprocess in January 1992. The next year saw an increase in the violence that hadbegun in 1991 with the FIS’s rhetoric in support of Saddam Hussein in the GulfWar, the growing presence of Algerian “Afghans”—Algerian volunteer fightersreturning from the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan—and the November 1991massacre of border guards at Guemmar, on the border between Algeria andTunisia.2Until mid-1993, victims of MIA, Islamic Salvation Army–AIS (the FIS’sarmed wing), and Islamic Armed Group (GIA) violence were mostly policemen,soldiers, and terrorists. Later that year the violence expanded to claim both foreignand Algerian civilians. In September 1993, the bodies of seven foreigners werefound in various locations around the country.3 Dozens of judges, doctors,intellectuals, and journalists were also murdered that year. In October 1993 Islamistsvowed to kill any foreigner remaining in Algeria after December 1; more than 4,000foreigners left in November 1993.