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Democratization and Islamic Politics: A Study on the Wasat Party in Egypt

Yokota Takayuki

The aim of this article is to explore the often contradictory correlation between democratization and Islamic politics in Egypt, focusing on a new Islamic political party, the Wasat Party (Ḥizb al-Wasaṭ).
Theoretically, democratization and Islamic politics are not incompatible if Islamic political organizations can and do operate within a legal and democratic framework. On the other hand, this requires democratic tolerance by governments for Islamic politics, as long as they continue to act within a legal framework. In the Middle East, malgrat això, Islamic political parties are often suspected of having undemocratic agendas, and governments have often used this suspicion as a justification to curb democratization. This is also the case with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (Jam‘īya al-Ikhwān al-Muslimīn) under the Ḥusnī Mubārak regime. Although the Brotherhood is a mainstream Islamic movement in Egypt, operating publicly and enjoying considerable popularity,
successive governments have never changed its illegal status for more than half a century. Some of the Brotherhood members decided to form the Wasat Party as its legal political organ in order to break this stalemate.
There have been some studies on the Wasat Party. Stacher [2002] analyzes the “Platform of the Egyptian Wasat Party” [Ḥizb al-Wasaṭ al-Miṣrī 1998] and explains the basic principles of the Wasat Party as follows: democracy, sharī‘a (La llei islàmica), rights of women, and Muslim- Christian relations. Baker [2003] regards the Wasat Party as one of the new Islamist groups that have appeared in contemporary Egypt, and analyzes its ideology accordingly. Wickham [2004] discusses the moderation of Islamic movements in Egypt and the attempt to form the Wasat Party from the perspective of comparative politics. Norton [2005] examines the ideology and activities of the Wasat Party in connection with the Brotherhood’s political activities. As these earlier studies are mainly concerned with the Wasat Party during the 1990s and the early 2000s, I will examine the ideology and activities of the Wasat Party till the rise of the democratization movement in Egypt in around 2005. I will do so on the basis of the Wasat Party’s documents, such
as the “Platform of the New Wasat Party” [Ḥizb al-Wasaṭ al-Jadīd 2004]1), and my interviews with its members.

Islamist Parties : why they can’t be democratic

Bassam Tibi

Noting Islamism’s growing appeal and strength on the ground, many

Western scholars and officials have been grasping for some way to take

an inclusionary approach toward it. In keeping with this desire, it has

become fashionable contemptuously to dismiss the idea of insisting on

clear and rigorous distinctions as “academic.” When it comes to Islam

and democracy, this deplorable fashion has been fraught with unfortunate


Intelligent discussion of Islamism, democracy, and Islam requires

clear and accurate definitions. Without them, analysis will collapse into

confusion and policy making will suffer. My own view, formed after

thirty years of study and reflection regarding the matter, is that Islam and

democracy are indeed compatible, provided that certain necessary religious

reforms are made. The propensity to deliver on such reforms is what

I see as lacking in political Islam. My own avowed interest—as an Arab-

Muslim prodemocracy theorist and practitioner—is to promote the establishment

of secular democracy within the ambit of Islamic civilization.

In order to help clear away the confusion that all too often surrounds

this topic, I will lay out several basic points to bear in mind. The first is

that, so far, Western practices vis-`a-vis political Islam have been faulty

because they have lacked the underpinning of a well-founded assessment.

Unless blind luck intervenes, no policy can be better than the assessment

upon which it is based. Proper assessment is the beginning of

all practical wisdom.




Political Islam is the single most active political force in the Middle East today. Its future is intimately tied to that of the region. If the United States and the European Union are committed to supporting political reform in the region, they will need to devise concrete, coherent strategies for engaging Islamist groups. Yet, the U.S. has generally been unwilling to open a dialogue with these movements. Similarly, EU engagement with Islamists has been the exception, not the rule. Where low-level contacts exist, they mainly serve information-gathering purposes, not strategic objectives. The U.S. and EU have a number of programs that address economic and political development in the region – among them the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the Union for the Mediterranean, and the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) – yet they have little to say about how the challenge of Islamist political opposition fits within broader regional objectives. nosaltres. and EU democracy assistance and programming are directed almost entirely to either authoritarian governments themselves or secular civil society groups with minimal support in their own societies.
The time is ripe for a reassessment of current policies. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, supporting Middle East democracy has assumed a greater importance for Western policymakers, who see a link between lack of democracy and political violence. Greater attention has been devoted to understanding the variations within political Islam. The new American administration is more open to broadening communication with the Muslim world. Meanwhile, the vast majority of mainstream Islamist organizations – including the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Jordan’s Islamic Action Front (IAF), Morocco’s Justice and Development Party (PJD), the Islamic Constitutional Movement of Kuwait, and the Yemeni Islah Party – have increasingly made support for political reform and democracy a central component in their political platforms. A més, many have signaled strong interest in opening dialogue with U.S. and EU governments.
The future of relations between Western nations and the Middle East may be largely determined by the degree to which the former engage nonviolent Islamist parties in a broad dialogue about shared interests and objectives. There has been a recent proliferation of studies on engagement with Islamists, but few clearly address what it might entail in practice. As Zoé Nautré, visiting fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations, puts it, “the EU is thinking about engagement but doesn’t really know how.”1 In the hope of clarifying the discussion, we distinguish between three levels of “engagement,” each with varying means and ends: low-level contacts, strategic dialogue, and partnership.

Islamist Parties : participation without power

Malika Zeghal

Over the last two decades, social and political movements grounding their ideologies in references to Islam have sought to become legal political parties in many countries of the Middle East and North Africa. Some of these Islamist movements have been authorized to take part lawfully in electoral competition. Among the best known is Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), which won a parliamentary majority in 2002 and has led the government ever since. Morocco’s own Party of Justice and Development (PJD) has been legal since the mid- 1990s and commands a significant bloc of seats in Parliament. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has never been authorized to form a political party, but in spite of state repression it has successfully run candidates as nominal independents in both national and local elections.
Since the early 1990s, this trend has gone hand-in-hand with official policies of limited political liberalization. Together, the two trends have occasioned a debate about whether these movements are committed to “democracy.” A vast literature has sprung up to underline the paradoxes as well as the possible risks and benefits of including Islamist parties in the electoral process. The main paradigm found in this body of writing focuses on the consequences that might ensue when Islamists use democratic instruments, and seeks to divine the “true” intentions that Islamists will manifest if they come to power.

The Management of Islamic Activism: Salafis, The Muslim Brotherhood, and State Power in Jordan

Faisal Ghori

In his first book, The Management of Islamic Activism, Quintan Wiktorowicz examines the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis through the lens of social movement theory. Unlike some political scientists who dismiss Islamic movements because of their informal networks, Wiktorowicz contends that social movement theory is an apt framework through which Islamic movements can be examined and studied. In this regard, his work leads the field. Yet for all its promise, this book largely fails to deliver.
The book is divided into four primary sections, through which he tries to construct his conclusion: Jordanian political liberalization has occurred because of structural necessities, not because of its commitment to democratization. A més, the state has been masterful in what he dubs the “management of collective action, (p. 3) which has, for all practical purposes, stifled any real opposition. While his conclusion is certainly tenable, given his extensive fieldwork, the book is poorly organized and much of the evidence examined earlier in the work leaves many questions unanswered.

What Leads Voters to Support the Opposition under Authoritarianism ?

Michael D.H.. Robbins

Elections have become commonplace in most authoritarian states. While this may seem to be a contradiction in terms, in reality elections play an important role in these regimes. While elections for positions of real power tend to be non-competitive, many
elections—including those for seemingly toothless parliaments—can be strongly contested.
The existing literature has focused on the role that elections play in supporting the regime. Per exemple, they can help let off steam, help the regime take the temperature of society, or can be used to help a dominant party know which individuals it should promote (Schedler 2002; Blaydes 2006). Yet, while the literature has focused on the supply-side of elections in authoritarian states, there are relatively few systematic studies of voter behavior in these elections (see Lust-Okar 2006 for an exception). Rather, most analyses have argued that patronage politics are the norm in these societies and that ordinary citizens tend to be very cynical about these exercises given that they cannot bring any real change (Kassem 2004; Desposato 2001; Zaki 1995). While the majority of voters in authoritarian systems may behave in this manner, not all do. In fact, at times, even the majority vote against the regime leading to
significant changes as has occurred recently in Kenya, the Ukraine and Zimbabwe. Yet, even in cases where opposition voters make up a much smaller percentage of voters, it is important to understand who these voters are and what leads them to vote against the

Energizing US-Syria Relations: Leveraging Ancillary Diplomatic Vehicles

Benjamin I. poder,

Andrew Akhlaghi,

Steven Rotchtin

The prospect for greater stability in the Middle East largely hinges on the ability to bring Syria into diplomatic and security discussions as a productive stakeholder, necessitating a thaw in the less than normal state of U.S. – Syrian relations. While Syria’s
importance as a keystone state to a Middle East peace process was acknowledged in the 2006 Iraq Study Group Report,1 which called for a shift from disincentives to incentives in seeking constructive results, only in the past few months has there been a demonstrable shift in Washington’s disposition. Recent meetings between high-ranking U.S. officials and their counterparts in Damascus, and even the announcement of reinstating a U.S. ambassador to Syria, have led to widespread speculation in policy circles that a diplomatic thaw is afoot.
This report analyzes key trends in Syria’s domestic and regional socio-political situation that currently function to make Syria a natural ally of the United States.

German Converts to Islam and Their Ambivalent Relations with Immigrant Muslims

Esra Ozyurek

“I would never have become a Muslim if I had met Muslims before I met Islam.” I heard these words over and over again during my yearlong ethnographic research among ethnic German converts to Islam in Berlin.1 The first time, it was uttered by a self-declared German imam who had converted to Islam while trying to convert Arabs and Turks to Christianity. The second time, the speaker was a twenty-five-year-old former East German woman who came to Islam through her Bosnian boyfriend, whose family never accepted her. The third time, the comment was made by a fifty-year-old man who converted to Islam about thirty years ago after meeting Iranians who came to Europe to collect money and organize for the Iranian revolution. After that I stopped counting. Although all of the several dozen German converts I talked to (and the dozens of converts whose narratives I read on the internet) claim that they embraced Islam in a context of significant personal relationships with Muslims,2 a substantial portion of German Muslims are quite discontented with born Muslims, especially those of immigrant backgrounds. This paper is an attempt to comprehend the paradoxical feelings of love and hate for Islam and Muslims that many German Muslims experience. My aim in exploring this issue is to understand what it takes to be a (supposed) Islamophile in a political and social context that is highly Islamophobic.

Interview with Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim

Daniel Benaim

In the weeks leading up to Egypt’s Presidential election, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim. dr. Ibrahim is
perhaps Egypt’s best-known dissident intellectual and the Founder and Chairman of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies in Cairo, where I was a Summer Fellow in 2005. Al juny 2000, dr. Ibrahim and two dozen of his associates were arrested and jailed on charges ranging from defrauding the European Union to disseminating information harmful to Egypt’s interests. After a
three-year ordeal during which Dr. Ibrahim (62years old at the time) was sentenced to seven years of hard laborall charges against him were dismissed by Egypt’s highest court and he was released from prison in 2003. Sitting in his office in a beautiful Islamic villa in Cairo’s Mokattam Heights, dr. Ibrahim reflected on the prospects for democratization in Egypt and on his unique role in
Egyptian politics.
People have said that one of the major problems with the United States’ Middle East policy is a failure to predict and account for
change. Are the US and Western governments ready to deal with the possibility of religious
parties taking major roles across the region?
Religious parties have already taken control in Turkey, and I don’t see any reason why they cannot do it here. We are telling policymakers to be ready. I am telling everybody to get ready, because if we don’t open the process to religious
parties, then we will be beholden to the autocrats.
And if the autocrats continue, they will be the greatest help to the theocrats, who are their mirror image.



A little less than three months after presidential elections returned Hosni Mubarak to power (see ESISC note of 12.9.05) parliamentary elections ended in unprecedented violence.
The breath of democracy both Egyptians and the international community had hoped to feel hardly lasted any time. The regime of President Mubarak, who saw is power seriously eroded by the extraordinary advance of the Muslim Brotherhood, had no hesitation in turning to those totalitarian methods Egypt has sadly become used to in order to crush opposition: closing polling stations,
mass arrests, intimidation and demonstrations which left at least 12 people dead and hundreds injured.
But the elections, in spite of an extremely feeble turnout of 25%, are undoubtedly a turning point in the country’s fortunes. The result for the Muslim Brotherhood –which becomes the leading opposition party and gains six times as many seats as before, with 88 seats out of a total of 444, or one Islamist out of every five deputies – is a sign of a profound change in the national political
But the success of the Islamists is more a result of the accumulation of opposition votes than any ideological rallying by the people to radical Islam – although the rise in power of the Brotherhood is a cause for worry.

Brotherhood overage is pure journalism, not a political deal with Al Dostour: Eissa

Pierre Loza
CAIRO: With two court cases that target his writings, Al Dostour editor Ibrahim Eissa is also accused of being a Muslim Brotherhood ally due to the paper’s coverage of the banned group.
While the latter accusation hasn’t taken any legal form, Eissa says those who make such claims are blind to the fact that all political streams are given an opportunity to publish their views in his newspaper.
Eissa — who is standing trial for spreading false rumors about the president’s health and appealing another ruling that found him guilty of insulting symbols of the National Democratic Party (NDP) — believes freedom of the press is under severe attack in Egypt. A champion of press freedom, Eissa has been among the loudest critics of the Egyptian
Daily News Egypt: You have been accused of being an ally to the banned Muslim Brotherhood organization. How would you describe your relationship with the group?
Ibrahim Eissa: If you mean by relationship the fact that I have friends and acquaintances from among the Brotherhood’s ranks then yes I do have a relationship with the Brotherhood.
But you must also consider that I have relations with people inside the NDP whom I love and respect. I also have friends who are communists.
I am a journalist so I have contacts with all political streams. You must also consider that these are primarily human relationships, not political ones. But to hint or imply that the newspaper is biased towards or has cut a deal with the MB is nonsense. For the past three years, they [state-run media] have been accusing us of cutting a deal with the Brotherhood, yet they never managed to present any evidence of such a deal. This assumption is because we publish news about the Brotherhood everyday or every week, i
we publish their point of view and defend Brotherhood members who have been detained and are standing trials. In my opinion this is an honor for any journalist. The Brotherhood represents 20 percent of parliament — 88 seats. It is the foremost opposition in the parliament, quin [in itself] is insignificant and bare. It is like a semi parliament, something that resembles a parliament. The effective and active elements in it are those of the Muslim Brotherhood. The state-owned media doesn’t want us to ever come near the
Another point is that over the past three years the Brotherhood’s members have been detained more than anyone else in Egypt. They (the Brotherhood) are being tried continuously. They don’t want me to cover the trials of the Brotherhood. When I do cover the trials, they want me to present the point of view of the State Security officer on the case? How is this possible in
any profession, any legislature or any mentality?

Hamas can set an example

Khader Khader

Perhaps the single most important aspect of Hamasoverwhelming victory in Palestinian Legislative Council elections last month is that it was the first time in the contemporary history of the Middle East that democracy was exercised for real without any direct external or internal interference. The ramifications of such free elections may well reverberate around the region for years to come and might mark a new phase in the geopolitical map of the Middle East.
This, malgrat això, was not the first time an Islamic political party showed its popularity at the ballot box. Algeria’s Islamic Front appeared headed to certain victory in elections in the mid-1990s before external intervention on the part of the “democràtic” West and its allies in Algiers nipped that experience in the bud. In Algeria, the result of burying democracy has been an extremely bloody conflict that still drags on, much to the embarrassment of western countries, which prefer not to comment. For the ordinary citizen in the Arab world, it was an experience that only added to the sense of oppression and frustration felt in every corner of the region.
Thus Hamaselectoral victory has sparked widespread hope among the Arab masses that they have another chance to find out if an Islamic party can rule better than the current regimes in the Arab world. Hamas, in this sense, carries the hopes of millions of Arabs and Muslims all over the world.
But with such expectations comes a time fraught with danger. Hamas and the way it runs matters in the Palestinian territories can set a very interesting example: if it succeeds; if it proves it can run Palestinian affairs more transparently and to the benefit of more ordinary Palestinians than previously, while at the same time managing tough negotiations with Israel, the experience will encourage other Islamic movements in the Arab world to use it as an example to convince their citizens that Islamic political movements are a viable alternative.
But if Hamas fails in its difficult and challenging task, the setback will strike a devastating blow to all Islamic movements and parties in the region. A Hamas failure could perhaps send the entire region into another period of political wilderness akin to the era after the failure of the pan-Arabists.
Thus, Hamas in power is an interesting and illuminating phenomenon, and one that will be followed closely by all concerned parties. According to a leading Hamas figure in Khan Yunis, dr. Younis al-Astal, the International Muslim Brotherhood has already expressed its readiness to assist Hamas with all the needed expertise to make it succeed in its mission. The Brotherhood will of course be the principal benefactor of any Hamas success.
By the same token, malgrat això, the West may feel itself forced now to exert all possible efforts to make Hamas fail even if the movement proves successful in meeting the needs of the people. The issue in question here is not how efficient a government is but how loyal a government shows itself to be to the West. This is the measure the West has generally used to assess the Middle East, where billions of US dollars have been spent on keeping Arab regimesmoderate and realistic”, especially in relation to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
There is a curious parallel to the Cold War now in the dynamic that is developing between the West and the Muslim world. During the Cold War, the West was confident that democracy would bring the Eastern Bloc to its knees and forcefully spread the message that individual freedom and the right to vote were human rights par excellence.
Now, malgrat això, that same message is likely to backfire on the West. If real elections were held in Egypt and Jordan, it is highly likely that Muslim Brotherhood movements would come to power and cast into doubt the peace treaties between those countries and Israel, in which the West has invested so much effort.
Everyone knows that democracy comes at a cost in the Middle East. Is the world ready to engage in this game? The key is likely to be the success or otherwise of Hamas, which is operating under extremely adverse conditions. Arabs and Muslims across the region, so often let down by political promise from various quarters, may well be disappointed again. But in the meantime their hopes are with a political movement that is posing the first serious challenge in decades to Arab regimes everywhere.



avui, virtually every government wants to be seen as a democracy, but many resist allowing the basic human rights that would make democracy meaningful because that might jeopardize their grasp on power. Instead, governments use a variety of subterfuges to manage or undermine the electoral process. Their task is facilitated by the lack of a broadly accepted definition of ‘democracy’ akin to the detailed rules of international human rights law. But much of the problem lies in the fact that, because of commercial or strategic interests, the world’s established democracies often close their eyes to electoral manipulation, making it easier for sham democrats to pass themselves off as the real thing. That acquiescence undermines the efforts to promote human rights because it can be more difficult for human rights organizations to stigmatize a government for its human rights violations when that government can hold itself up as an accepted ‘democracy.’ The challenge facing the human rights movement is to highlight the ploys used by dictatorial regimes to feign democratic rule and to build pressure on the established democracies to refuse to admit these pretenders into the club of democracies on the cheap. Keywords: civil society, democracy promotion, dictatorship, eleccions,
electoral manipulation, political violence Rarely has democracy been so acclaimed yet so breached, so promoted yet so disrespected, so important yet so disappointing. Democracy has become the key to legitimacy. Few governments want to be seen as undemocratic. Yet the credentials of the claimants have not kept pace with democracy’s
growing popularity. These days, even overt dictators aspire to the status conferred by the democracy label. Determined not to let mere facts stand in their way, these rulers have mastered the art of democratic rhetoric which bears
little relationship to their practice of governing.
This growing tendency poses an enormous challenge to the human rights movement. Human rights groups can hardly oppose the promotion of democracy, but they must be wary that the embrace of democracy not become a subterfuge for avoiding the more demanding standards of international human rights law. Human rights groups must especially insist that their natural governmental allies – the established democracies – not allow competing interests and short-sighted strategies to stand in the way of their
embrace of a richer, more meaningful concept of democracy.


Georg-Sebastian Holzer

Since the attacks of 9/11 Somalia has become the subject of renewed attention from the United States and Europe. As thearchetype of a failed state, the threat it poses has been equated to that which the US faced in Afghanistan and is seen as a fertile groundfor radical Islamic groups, in particular al-Qaeda. However Islam in Somalia has a distinct nature. An examination of its history leads to an understanding of the complex relationship between religion and Somaliclan-based society. A closer investigation of two of the most importantIslamist groups, al-Itihaad and the Council of Islamic Courts, will helpto comprehend this relationship within the context of contemporary Somalia. Finally, this article analyses the role of Islam in Somalia’s new economy by focusing on the example of the remittance and telecommunication company al-Barakaat that was linked to al-Qaeda by the US afterthe 9/11 terrorist attacks.THE DISTINCT NATURE OF ISLAM IN SOMALIA The history of Islam at the Horn of Africa stretches back 1400years. The faith reached the Horn of Africa from the Arabian Peninsula through trade and migration, mainly from Yemen and Oman.1By 1400AD, a large-scale conversion to Islam was taking place in Somalia, first spread by the Dir clan family, but followed by the restof the nation.2 In Somalia today, almost 100% of the population are Sunni Muslim, generally adhering to a Shafi’i version of the religion.As I.M. Lewis has pointed out, this was closely linked to thegenealogical myths of Somali clan identity and is characterized by the veneration of saints as well as ancestors of various Somali clans.Apolitical Sufism has traditionally dominated this faith.

Arab Reform Bulletin

group of researchers

Egipte: Regression in the Muslim Brotherhood’s Party Platform?

Amr hamzawy

The Muslim Brotherhood’s draft party platform sends mixed signals about the movement’s political views

and positions. Although it has already been widely circulated, the document does not yet have final
approval from the movement’s guidance bureau.
The platform’s detailed treatment of political, social, and economic issues marks a significant departure
from previously less developed positions, articulated inter alia in a 2004 reform initiative and the 2005
electoral platform for Brotherhood parliamentary candidates. This shift addresses one of the most
important criticisms of the Brotherhood, namely its championing of vague ideological and religious

slogans and inability to come up with specific policy prescriptions.
The document raises troubling questions, malgrat això, regarding the identity of a future Brotherhood

political party as well as the group’s position on several political and social issues. Released in the
context of an ongoing stand-off between the Egyptian regime and the Brotherhood, it reveals significant
ambiguities and perhaps regression in the movement’s thinking.
First, the drafters chose not to address the future relationship between the party and the movement. a

doing so, they have deliberately ignored important ideas recently discussed within the movement,
especially among members of the parliamentary bloc. Inspired by the experiences of Islamist parties in
Marroc, Jordània, and Yemen, these members advocate a functional separation between a party and
the movement, with the former focused mainly on political participation and the latter on religious
activism. In addition to its superficial treatment of the nature of the party and its internal organization, la
platform includes no clear statement on opening party membership to all Egyptians regardless of their
religion, one of the requirements for establishing a political party according to the Egyptian constitution.
Second, the draft Brotherhood platform identifies implementation of sharia as one of the party’s main

goals. Although this is consistent with the group’s interpretation of Article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution
(“Islam is the religion of the state, and Islamic law is the main source of legislation”), it departs from the
pragmatic spirit of various Brotherhood statements and initiatives since 2004 in which less emphasis
was given to the sharia issue. The return to a focus on sharia in the platform has led to positions
fundamentally at odds with the civil nature of the state and full citizenship rights regardless of religious

Islam and Democracy

Dalia Mogahed

Islam in politics has been asserted in many countries in the Muslim world through democratic elections. Islamist parties have gained varying degreesof political power in Turkey, Egipte, Líban, and the occupied Palestinian territories, and have widespread influence in Morocco and Jordan. Now, more than ever, Western governments, alarmed by this outcome, have raised the perennial question: Is Islam compatible with democracy?A recent in-depth Gallup survey in 10 predominantly Muslim countries,representing more than 80% of the global Muslim population, shows that whenasked what they admire most about the West, Muslims frequently mention political freedom, liberty, fair judicial systems, and freedom of speech. When asked to critique their own societies, extremism and inadequate adherence to Islamic teachings were their top grievances.However, while Muslims say they admire freedom and an open political system,Gallup surveys suggest that they do not believe they must choose between Islam and democracy, but rather, that the two can co-exist inside one functional government.