RSSAll Entries Tagged With: "Orient Mitjà"


Hesham Al-Awadi
On the extraordinary morning of 11 setembre 2001, I happened to be in the London office of the Muslim
Brothers conducting interviews for this study. The faces of everyone in the office reflected the shocking scene of aeroplanes crashing into the towers of the World Trade Centre in New York.
Although the identity of the perpetrators was initially unclear, there were early fears that radical Islamists from Al-Qa‘eda might be involved. The Brothers in the office were clearly uncomfortable about the potential implications. If Islamists were indeed involved, such an event would certainly heighten the fears of the Americans, and of the West at large, against Islam and Muslims, and would give more credibility to Huntington’s notion of the “clash of civilisations”.
In the midst of these legitimate Western fears, the significantly visible line of differentiation between moderate and radical Islamists would become blurred or irrelevant. Not only would this register as a seriously mistaken attitude on the part of the United States and the West towards the sophisticated Islamist phenomenon, but it would encourage authoritarian Arab regimes to quell all Islamists indiscriminately, on the basis of would-be conventional wisdom that
“all Islamists are potentially dangerous”.
Egypt’s President Mohammad Hosni Mubarak was among the Arab leaders who had already launched coercive campaigns against Islamists, both moderates and radicals, since the early and mid- 1990s. His campaign reached its peak in 1995, when 95 civilian Islamists who were members of the Muslim Brotherhood, were put
on trial in military courts, charged with belonging to an illegal organisation and conspiring to overthrow the government.

Middle East Democracy Promotion Is Not a One-way Street

Marina Ottaway

The U.S. administration is under pressure to revive democracy promotion efforts in the Middle East,but momentum toward political reform has stalled in most of the region. Opposition parties are at lowebb, and governments are more firmly in control than ever. While new forms of activism, such as laborprotests and a growing volume of blogging critical of government and opposition parties have becomewidespread, they have yet to prove effective as means of influencing leaders to change long-standingpolicies.The last time a U.S. administration faced such unfavorable circumstances in advancing political reformswas over 30 years ago, when the Helsinki process was launched during the Cold War. That experiencetaught us that the United States needs to give reluctant interlocutors something they want if itexpects them to engage on issues they would rather not address. If Washington wants Arab countriesto discuss the universal democratic principles that should underpin their political systems, it needs to beprepared to discuss the universal principles that should underpin its own Middle East policies.


James Toth

For years, religious violence and terrorism in Middle Eastern countries such as Egypthave splashed across the headlines and surged across the screen, announcing yet anotherround of senseless death and destruction. While Arabists and Islamicists attemptto pick their way carefully through the ideological and intellectual minefields to makesense of what is happening, the wider public generally disregards their insights andinstead sticks to what it knows best: deeply ingrained prejudices and biases. egipci,àrab, Muslim—all are painted in a very unfavorable light. Even in Egypt, manybystanders show the same sorry prejudices. In the end, people simply blame the brutalityon inexplicable backward religious ideas and then move on.Yet comprehending terrorism and violence in places such as Egypt by recourse toan unnuanced religious fundamentalism is generally acknowledged not only to begthe question of why these events actually happen, but also to lead to misunderstandingsand misperceptions, and perhaps even to exacerbating existing tensions.1 Mostscholars agree that such seemingly “irrational” social behavior instead needs to beplaced in its appropriate context to be properly understood, and hence made rational.Analyzing these actions, then, involves situating this violence and destruction in theireconomic, political, and ideological milieu as these have developed historically, forthis so-called Islamic terrorism does not merely arise, ex nihilo, out of a timeless void.What follows, then, is one case study of one portion of the Islamic movement as itemerged principally in southern Egypt and as it was revealed through anthropologicalfieldwork conducted in one of this region’s major cities. This account takes a completelydifferent direction from that of stigmatizing this movement as a sordid collectionof terrorist organizations hell bent on the senseless destruction of Egypt and itsIslamic civilization.2 Because this view is somewhat at odds with the perceptions oflocal spectators, Egyptians in Cairo, and non–Egyptians inside and outside the country,I go to some length not only to discuss the movement itself but also to shed lighton why it might have received such negative publicity.

Dones, work, and Islam in Arab societies

Yusuf Aquest

Arab societies are currently in a state of confusion. Problems of underdevelopment,inequity, institutional deficiencies, and illiteracy are rampant (Arab HumanDevelopment Report, 2002). Arabs seem to be in a futile search for a new identity ina world that is transforming: power structures are shifting, societal expectations arechanging, and male-female relations are developing. The Arabs seem to yearn for anew identity that does not displace them from their roots, and at the same timeconnects them to the future; the search seems incessantly fruitless. Even non-Arabsseem to be confused about the issue. Vivid movie images mostly portray the Arab maleas a primitive, fanatic, brutal, lunatic, vicious, and splendidly prosperous individualwhile the Arab woman is portrayed as a belly dancer or whore, a veiled submissivemember of a luxurious harem, or a speechless oppressed character with no identity(Boullata, 1990). The political developments of the past few years did not help bringabout a better image. The rise of Islamic activism, end of the cold war, Huntington’s“clash of civilizations” supposition, and the events of 11th September only reinforcedthe bewilderment and confusion.In addressing the notion of women’s participation in the business and politicalarenas in Arab societies, conflicting remarks are brought forward. Some refer to therole of culture and the prevailing religion in the area – Islam and interpretations ofIslam – as possible reasons for such lack of participation (El-Saadawi, 1997; Mernissi,1991). Islam, it is asserted, is not merely a set of beliefs and rituals but is also a socialorder that has an all-pervading influence on its followers (Weir, 2000). This essayattempts to present varying discourses pertaining to women’s work and how it isimpacted by interpretations of Islam. We present current discourses from variousviewpoints including Muslim scholars on the one hand and active feminists on theother hand. We address the disagreements that exist in the camps of the religiousscholars in their interpretations of religious texts impacting women and their work. Inaddition, we tackle the feminist discourse pertaining to the role of Islam, orunderstandings of Islam, in their participation and development.



GREG Fealy

Against the background of the ‘war on terror’,many people have come to view Islamism as amonolithic ideological movement spreading from thecenter of the Muslim world, the Middle East, toMuslim countries around the globe. To borrow aphrase from Abdullah Azzam, the legendary jihadistwho fought to expel the Soviet Union fromAfghanistan in the 1980s, many today see all Islamistsas fellow travellers in a global fundamentalist caravan.This paper evaluates the truth of that perception. Itdoes so by examining the spread of two broad categoriesof Islamic thinking and activism — the morepolitically focused Islamism and more religiouslyfocused ‘neo-fundamentalism’ — from the MiddleEast to Indonesia, a country often cited as an exampleof a formerly peaceful Muslim community radicalizedby external influences.Islamism is a term familiar to many.Most commonly itis used to categorize ideas and forms of activism thatconceive of Islam as a political ideology. avui, a widerange of groups are classified as Islamist, from theEgyptian Muslim Brotherhood to al-qa‘ida.While sucha categorization remains appropriate in many cases,Islamism seems less useful as a label for those groupsthat do not see Islam as a political ideology and largelyeschew political activism — even if their activism sometimeshas political implications. Included in this categoryare groups concerned primarily with Islamic mission-IV Be t w e e n t h e G l o b a l a n d t h e L o c a l : islamisme, the Mi d d l e E a s t , a n d Indonesiaary activity, but it would also include a group such asal-qa‘ida whose acts of terrorism are arguably drivenless by concrete political objectives than religious inspiration,albeit of a misguided form. This paper thereforeuses the term ‘neo-fundamentalist’, developed by theFrench scholar Olivier Roy, to describe these groups andwill study the transmission of both Islamist and neofundamentalistideas to Indonesia.

Political Islam Gaining Ground

Michael A. llarg

characteristics of the democratic order. Their newly-discovered acceptance of elections andparliamentary processes results not least from a gradual democratisation of the formerlyauthoritarian regimes these groups had fought by terrorist means even in their home countries.The prime example of this development is Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which started out as acharitable social movement and has now become the most powerful political opposition force inEgypt.Founded in the 1920s, the Muslim Brotherhood is the oldest Islamic organisation of the Arabworld today. Following the ideas of its founder Al-Banna, it intended to return to a state of ‘trueIslam’, i.e. to return to the way of life of the early Islamic congregation at the time of theProphet, and to establish a community of social justice. This vision was increasingly viewed as acounterweight to the Western social model that was marked by secularisation, moral decay, andgreed. During World War II, the Muslim Brotherhood even founded a secret military arm, whoseactivities, malgrat això, were uncovered, leading to the execution of Mr Al-Banna by Egypt’s secretpolice

The Muslim Brotherhood in Pursuit of Legal Existence and Intellectual Development in Egypt

Manar Hassan

In the wake of the devastating earthquake that trembled the congested capital of Egyptand its neighboring cities in October of 1992, the Private Voluntary Organizations – dominatedby Islamists – managed to considerably lead the relief efforts within hours, leaving theincumbent regime afflicted with its bureaucratic inefficiencies. The government’s ownlimitations in providing the type of crucial operative services at time of mayhem is a mereexample of its declining credibility among the masses. Moreover, its response to this publicembarrassment was even more austere – passing a decree to ban any direct relief efforts by thePVOs therefore forcing all aid to materialize through the government only. But withgovernmental impediments still looming, the regime struggled to meet the needs of the victimsin time which led to riots and posed as a mere reminder of the incessant exasperation thatEgyptians have faced in their recent history. Hence, it became apparent that Mubarak’sattempts to salvage his image in order to corroborate his grip on power had by and largealienated vital forces within Egypt’s civil society.The civil society has, therefore, been a crucial source through which oppositionists –predominantly the Muslim Brotherhood – derive the power of popular appeal. Being one of thelargest and most influential oppositionist organization, the Muslim Brotherhood cuts acrossestranged social structures such as the modern working class, the urban poor, the young, and thenew middle class, which form a support base. Some of the most prominent Brotherhoodmembers themselves pertain to the new middle class and therefore network through al-niqabatal-mihaniyyah (Professional Associations). One example is Dr. Ahmad el-Malt, who was theformer Deputy Supreme Guide to the Brotherhood and also President of the Doctors’ syndicateprior to his death

The Muslim Brotherhood’s U.S. Network

zeyno Baran

Washington D.C. has suddenly become very interested in the Muslim Brotherhood. American policymakers are debating whether to engage non-violent elements of the Muslim Brotherhood network, both inside and outside the United States, in the hope that such engagement will empower these “moderates” against violent Wahhabi and Salafi groups such as al-Qaeda. Unfortunately, this strategy is based on a false assumption: that “moderate” Islamist groups will confront and weaken their violent co-religionists, robbing them of their support base.
This lesser-of-two-evils strategy is reminiscent of the rationale behind the Cold War-era decision to support the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviet army. In the short term, the U.S. alliance with the mujahideen did indeed aid America in its struggle against the Soviet Union. In the long term, malgrat això, nosaltres. support led to the empowerment of a dangerous and potent adversary. In choosing its allies, the U.S. cannot afford to elevate short-term tactical considerations above longer-term strategic ones. Most importantly, the U.S. must consider the ideology of any potential partners.
Although various Islamist groups do quarrel over tactics and often bear considerable animosity towards one another, they all agree on the endgame: a world dictated by political Islam. A “divide and conquer” strategy by the United States will only push them closer together.

Democracy and Islamist Parties

Mona Yacobián

In the immediate aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks, international pressure mounted for political reform in the Middle East, particularly the Arab world. For its part, the Bush administration elevated democracy promotion in the Middle East to a key strategic priority. The administration’s policy sprung from the belief that strong linkages exist between the Middle East’s long history of autocratic rule and the emergence of a transnational terrorist movement with its roots in many of those same countries. Numerous independent analyses likewise have suggested that the Middle East’s dysfunctional, autocratic political systems are helping to breed Islamist extremism.An Islamist “Tsunami”Yet, despite the critical importance assigned to political opening in the Middle East, a number of factors, including ongoing turmoil in Iraq and competing priorities of the Global War on Terror (quota), have intervened to complicate U.S. democracy promotion efforts. In particular, various Islamist parties’ strong showings in recent elections have added a new layer of complexity to U.S. democracy promotion efforts in the Arab world. Indeed, across the region, Islamist parties and organizations boast strong grassroots support. These groups represent a broad spectrum of views, ranging from moderate parties that have renounced violence to well-established terrorist organizations.Hamas’ resounding victory in the January 25, 2006 Palestinian elections, winning 74 out of 132 seats, is perhaps the most dramatic example of the power Islamists wield at the ballot box. Deemed a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe, the party’s rise to power has significantly complicated U.S. policy toward the Palestinian Authority as well as efforts to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Similar concerns characterize Hizballah’s role in Lebanon. The terrorist organization won 14 of 128 seats in the Lebanese parliament in the June 2005 eleccions, the first independent vote in thirty years following the withdrawal of Syrian troops. While Hizballah’s parliamentary presence is far outstripped by an anti-Syrian opposition bloc, the organization still holds significant sway over Lebanese politics and is the only political party to maintain an armed militia.

The Death of Political Islam

Jon B. Alterman

The obituaries for political Islam have begun to be written. After years of seemingly unstoppablegrowth, Islamic parties have begun to stumble. In Morocco, the Justice and DevelopmentParty (or PJD) did far worse than expected in last September’s elections, and Jordan’sIslamic Action Front lost more than half its seats in last month’s polling. The eagerly awaitedmanifesto of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, a draft of which appeared last September,showed neither strength nor boldness. Instead, it suggested the group was beset by intellectualcontradictions and consumed by infighting.It is too early to declare the death of political Islam, as it was premature to proclaim therebirth of liberalism in the Arab world in 2003-04, but its prospects seem notably dimmerthan they did even a year ago.To some, the fall from grace was inevitable; political Islam has collapsed under its owncontradictions, they say. They argue that, in objective terms, political Islam was never morethan smoke and mirrors. Religion is about faith and truth, and politics are about compromiseand accommodation. Seen this way, political Islam was never a holy enterprise, butmerely an effort to boost the political prospects of one side in a political debate. Backed byreligious authority and legitimacy, opposition to Islamists’ will ceased to be merely political—it became heresy—and the Islamists benefited.These skeptics see political Islam as having been a useful way to protect political movements,cow political foes, and rally support. As a governing strategy, malgrat això, they arguethat political Islam has not produced any successes. In two areas where it recently rose topower, the Palestinian Authority and Iraq, governance has been anemic. In Iran, where themullahs have been in power for almost three decades, clerics struggle for respect and thecountry hemorrhages money to Dubai and other overseas markets with more predictablerules and more positive returns. The most avowedly religious state in the Middle East, Aràbia Saudita, has notably less intellectual freedom than many of its neighbors, and the guardiansof orthodoxy there carefully circumscribe religious thought. As the French scholar of Islam,Olivier Roy, memorably observed more than a decade ago, the melding of religion and politics did not sanctify politics, it politicizedreligion.But while Islam has not provided a coherent theory of governance, let alone a universally accepted approach to the problems ofhumanity, the salience of religion continues to grow among many Muslims.That salience goes far beyond issues of dress, which have become more conservative for both women and men in recent years, andbeyond language, which invokes God’s name far more than was the case a decade ago. It also goes beyond the daily practice ofIslam—from prayer to charity to fasting—all of which are on the upswing.What has changed is something even more fundamental than physical appearance or ritual practice, and that is this: A growingnumber of Muslims start from the proposition that Islam is relevant to all aspects of their daily lives, and not merely the province oftheology or personal belief.Some see this as a return to traditionalism in the Middle East, when varying measures of superstition and spirituality governed dailylife. More accurately, though, what we are seeing is the rise of “neo-traditionalism,” in which symbols and slogans of the past areenlisted in the pursuit of hastening entry into the future. Islamic finance—which is to say, finance that relies on shares and returnsrather than interest—is booming, and sleek bank branches contain separate entrances for men and women. Slick young televangelistsrely on the tropes of sanctifying the everyday and seeking forgiveness, drawing tens of thousands to their meetings and televisionaudiences in the millions. Music videos—viewable on YouTube—implore young viewers to embrace faith and turn away froma meaningless secular life.Many in the West see secularism and relativism as concrete signs of modernity. In the Middle East, many see them as symbols ofa bankrupt secular nationalist past that failed to deliver justice or development, freedom or progress. The suffering of secularism ismeaningless, but the discipline of Islam is filled with signficance.It is for this reason that it is premature to declare the death of political Islam. Islam, increasingly, cannot be contained. It is spreadingto all aspects of life, and it is robust among some of the most dynamic forces in the Middle East. It enjoys state subsidies to be sure,but states have little to do with the creativity occurring in the religious field.The danger is that this Islamization of public life will cast aside what little tolerance is left in the Middle East, after centuries asa—fundamentally Islamic—multicultural entrepôt. It is hard to imagine how Islamizing societies can flourish if they do not embraceinnovation and creativity, diversity and difference. “Islamic” is not a self-evident concept, as my friend Mustapha Kamal Pasha onceobserved, but it cannot be a source of strength in modern societies if it is tied to ossified and parochial notions of its nature.Dealing with difference is fundamentally a political task, and it is here that political Islam will face its true test. The formal structuresof government in the Middle East have proven durable, and they are unlikely to crumble under a wave of Islamic activism. For politicalIslam to succeed, it needs to find a way to unite diverse coalitions of varying faiths and degrees of faith, not merely speak to itsbase. It has not yet found a way to do so, but that is not to say that it cannot.

The United States and Egypt

A Conference Report

The study of bilateral relations has fallen deeply out of favor in the academiccommunity. Political science has turned to the study of international state systemsrather than relations between individual states; anthropologists and sociologists arefar more interested in non-state actors; and historians have largely abandonedstates altogether. It is a shame, because there is much to be learned from bilateralrelationships, and some such relationships are vital—not only to the countriesinvolved, but also to a broader array of countries.One such vital relationship is that between the United States and Egypt. Forgedduring the Cold War almost entirely on the issue of Arab-Israeli peacemaking, theU.S.-Egyptian bilateral relationship has deepened and broadened over the lastquarter century. Egypt remains one of the United States’ most important Arab allies,and the bilateral relationship with Washington remains the keystone of Egypt’sforeign policy. Strong U.S.-Egyptian bilateral relations are also an important anchorfor states throughout the Middle East and for Western policy in the region. Therelationship is valuable for policymakers in both countries; doing without it isunthinkable.To explore this relationship, the CSIS Middle East Program, in cooperation with theAl-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, convened a one-dayconference on June 26, 2003, entitled, “The United States and Egypt: Building thePartnership.” The goal of the meeting was to brainstorm how that partnership mightbe strengthened.Participants agreed that much needs to be done on the diplomatic, political, militar,and economic levels. Although all did not agree on a single course forward, theparticipants unanimously concurred that a stronger U.S.-Egyptian relationship is verymuch in the interests of both countries, and although it will require a great deal ofwork to achieve, the benefits are worth the effort.

Reneging on Reform: Egypt and Tunisia

Jeffrey Azarva

On November 6, 2003, President George W. Bush proclaimed, “Sixty years of Western nations excusingand accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe—because in the longrun, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty.” This strategic shift, coupled with the invasionsof Iraq and Afghanistan, put regional governments on notice. The following spring, Tunisia’s president, ZineEl Abidine Bin Ali, and Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak—stalwart allies in the U.S.-led war on terrorismand two of North Africa’s most pro-American rulers—were among the first Arab leaders to visit Washingtonand discuss reform. But with this “Arab spring” has come the inadvertent rise of Islamist movementsthroughout the region. Now, as U.S. policymakers ratchet down pressure, Egypt and Tunisia see a greenlight to backtrack on reform.

Democracy Protecting Itself from Itself?

Ebru Erdem

Studies on government in Muslim societies and in the Middle East in particular have mostly focused on authoritarianism. They sought to answer why authoritarianism is the most often observed regime type, and why it persists. Recent work has looked at the role of elections and elected bodies under authoritarianism, explaining why they exist and what purposes they serve (Blaydes 2008; Lust-Okar 2006). The goal of this paper is to shift the spotlight onto the judiciary, and to the political role of high courts in Muslim societies with different levels of authoritarianism.Judiciaries and the judicial processes in Muslim societies have not caught much scholarly attention. Much of the work in this area has revolved around Shari’a. Shari’a law, incorporation of the Shari’a into western style judicial systems and legal codes, conflicts between western and Shari’a inspired codes of family law, and especially the impact of the latter on women’s rights are some of the extensively studied topics concerning the judicial processes in these societies. On the other hand, work on judiciary as a political institution in the Muslim world is scarce, notable exceptions being Moustafa (2003) and Hirschl (2004). Judiciaries may take different institutional forms, be based on different legal traditions, or vary in the level of independence they enjoy, but they are still a political institutions.Why study the judiciary in the Muslim World? Is a focus on the judiciary meaningful given the dominance of the executives in countries with authoritarian regimes? The justification for a focus on the judiciary has different dimensions. From a rational choice-institutionalist perspective: if an institution exists, there must be a reason for it, and we think that investigating the raison d’être of the judiciaries will provide interesting insights about political processes and executive strategies. From an institutional-design perspective, the shape that an institution takes2is related to the strategies of the actors negotiating over that institution, and we would like to use the observed variance in judicial institutions and powers across countries and time periods to learn about different aspects of political bargains that scholars have studied in other political realms. From a democratic development perspective, the establishment of the checks and balances is central to a functioning and sustainable democracy, and we would argue that studying the judiciary is central to understanding the prospects towards establishment of rule of law and a credible commitment to democracy (Weingast 1997).

What Happened to the “Arab Street?

Neha Sahgal

Why do opposition movements engage in protest under some circumstances but not inothers? Why did the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt organize large scale protest during the 2005regime initiated political reforms while remaining largely off the streets during the United States’led war in Iraq in 2003? There is a common notion among Western public opinion and policymakers that United States’ policies in the Middle East have led to greater political activismamong Islamic fundamentalists. Yet, while citizens around the world protested the war in Iraq,Egypt remained largely quiet. The lack of protest and other acts of opposition were surprisinggiven the history of Arab-anti colonial struggle, the 1950s street politics in Egypt that broughtNasser to power and the flourishing civil society organizations in the region exemplified byIslamist parties, non governmental organizations and professional syndicates. More importantly,with the 2005 regime initiated political opening in Egypt, the country’s largest oppositionmovement, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood organized high levels of protests anddemonstrations exposing undemocratic practices of the current government and seeking greaterpolitical freedom. The year 2005, was marked by a “wave of contention” in Egypt standing instark contrast to the lack of mobilization against the Iraq war. Clearly, Muslim Brotherhoodprotest activity is guided by factors other than the prevalence of “anti-Americanism.”Scholars of contentions politics have developed and tested various theories that explainand predict protest behavior. Strain and breakdown theories explain protest as an outcome ofeconomic conditions while resource mobilization theories have stressed the role of material andorganizational constraints in organizing protest. Yet others have argued that protests are spurredby structural changes, for example, divisions or breakdown in the government. In this paper, Iargue that explaining the protest behavior of one group should take into account the group’sinteraction with other opposition actors. Opposition groups operate in a dense network of allies,adversaries as well as counter movements. Therefore their strategies influence each other intangible ways. I present an analysis of how the 2005 political opening in Egypt led to changes inlegal parties such as al-Ghad and al-Wafd that were allowed to contest presidential andparliamentary elections. Further, the new movement Kifaya, originally formed to expressopposition to the Iraq war, also gained momentum as an anti-Mubarak, pro-democracy alliance.The changes in the parties that were allowed to contest elections and the emergence of newmovements altered the socio-political context for the “officially banned, yet tolerated,” MuslimBrotherhood. The Brotherhood tried to reassert itself as the main voice of political opposition inthe country by organizing greater protest activity and in this way established similarity with legalopposition parties. While legal opposition parties remain weak and ineffective in Egypt, andnewer opposition movements are still small in their membership, they may still influence eachothers’ strategies in tangible ways.