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:: Issues > Development
Thursday, October 12,2006 00:00

1.       CSID Iftaar dinner:  Islam & Democracy:  Toward a Better Future for Muslims


3.       ARTICLE:  Support Freedom in the Arab World (by Radwan A. Masmoudi and Amr Hamzawy Washington Post)

4.       INTERVIEW:  Muslims Do Want Democracy (with Radwan Masmoudi)

5.       New Issue of MUSLIM DEMOCRAT

6.       NEW REPORT:  Democracy KnocksWill Morocco Answer?

7.       ARTICLE:  Tunisia Says Headscarf Ban Protects Women’s Rights

8.       ARTICLE:  Tunisia Attacked Over Headscarves (by Magdi Abdelhadi)

9.       ARTICLE:  Hijab Ban Debate Heats up in Tunisia (by IslamOnLine)

10.   INTERVIEW:  With Kamal Labwani (from Syria)

11.   ARTICLE:  What Comes First - Elections or Institutions? (by Shadi Hamid)

12.   ARTICLE:  Six Islamist MPs make wealth disclosures in Kuwait (AFP)

13.   ARTICLE:  Muslim Scholar Tariq Ramadan Seeks an Islamic Reformation (by Khaleej Times)

14.   ARTICLE:  Al-Jazeera Reflects Middle East Reality (by Khalid Hroub)

15.   FELLOWSHIP:  Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society Diversity

16.   FELLOWSHIP:  Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellowships

17.   Announcement:  Training Course on Election Monitoring Held in Bahrain

18.   Announcement:  Youth for Human Rights Program in the Arab World




Islam & Democracy:  Toward a Better Future for Muslims


Friday, October 13, 2006  --   6:30 PM to 8:30 PM

Senior Center at Cascade Marketplace

21060 Whitefield Place

Sterling, VA, 20165. Tel: (703) 430-2397


The Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID) would like to invite you to a Ramadan Iftaar Dinner on: Islam & Democracy:  Toward a Better Future for Muslims.  The speakers will be:


Jamal Barzinji

Vice President, International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT)


Shaikh Abdullah Idris

Public speaker, and former president of ISNA (1992-1997)


Radwan Masmoudi

President, Center of the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID)


Dinner Tickets are $40 per person and $60 per couple ($30 for students).  Tables for 10 are $800.  To purchase a ticket or reserve a table, call 202-265-1200 ext 13 or send e-mail to: [email protected]


Please RSV by Thursday, October 12


Yes! I/we would like to attend CSID Iftaar and Fundraising Dinner on Islam & Democracy:  Toward a Better Future for Muslims


Name:   _________________________________


Address: ________________________________



Phone:__________ E-mail: _________________


Levels of Support (tax-deductible*):


q     Lifetime Member  $2,500

q     Founding Member  $1,000

q     Couple   $60

q     Table   $800

q     Students    $30

q     ---Seat(s) @ $40 = ---


q     I agree with CSID mission and want to take advantage of a free membership as a contributor of $200 or more for this program to become a Member of CSID.


Make checks payable to CSID and mail to:  CSID, 1625 Massachusetts Ave. Suite 601, NW, Washington DC 20037


*CSID is a 501-c-3 non-profit organization.  All donations are 100% tax-deductible.







Dear Friend, Colleague, Brother, and Sister:


Assalamu Aleykum/Peace be with you.


Can you spare $300 to support CSID?  How about $100?


In order for CSID to maintain its current level of activities and projects (in the US and around the world) for the next year, we need to raise approximately $150,000-$200,000, as soon as possible.


If you have been reading our HTML Bulletin (which goes to over 20,000 people all over the world) or checking our websites (in English, Arabic, and Persian), then you know how important and critical the work of CSID is.  If not, please read the letter below.


A donation/contribution of $100 (or more) will make you a member of CSID for 12 months, and you will receive special invitations, discounts, and all CSID publications mail.  A donation of $1,000 will make you a FOUNDING member of CSID, and a contribution of $2,500 will make you a LIFETIME member.


Please do your part!!!  Send your donation/contribution or renew your membership TODAY.  Any amount you can afford will be greatly appreciated.


You can send you donation via:

Check or Money Order: Just fill out and return the attached form by mail.


Credit or Debit Card:  please go to: 

Donations: https://secure.entango.com/donate/YQ6LR36C7ss

Memberships: http://csidonline.org/index.php?optionfiltered=com_content&task=section&id=11&Itemid=32


Wire Transfer:  Send the money directly to:

Citibank, 13440 New Hampshire Ave., Silver Spring, MD 20904 Account Name:  CSID Account Number: 17565059 ABA/Routing Number:  052002166  (for domestic wire trans) Swift Code: CITI US 33 (for international wire transfers)


Thank you very much for your continued help and support.


Yours, truly.

Radwan Masmoudi




In the Name of God, The Beneficent, The Merciful


Dear Friend, Member, and Supporter of CSID:


Ramadan Kareem, and we pray that the Almighty will shower you, and your family, with his love, forgiveness, and blessings.


We are writing to you today to ask for your support for the critical and urgent work of the Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID).  Since 1999, CSID has been at the forefront of promoting freedom and democracy in the Arab/Muslim world, as well as educating the American public and policymakers about Islams compatibility with democracy.  As you know, the image of Islam and Muslims in the U.S. has been tarnished a great deal in recent years.  Even before 9/11, events in Afghanistan, Sudan, and Algeria, to name just a few, were very harmful to the image of Islam and Muslims.  Many Americans have a negative image of Islam and Muslims, and this has only reinforced and hardened since the tragedy of 9/11.


The Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID) was founded in Washington D.C. in March 1999 to try to correct this image and to educate the American public, as well as Muslims throughout the world, about Islams true values, which are fully supportive of human rights, human dignity and freedom, minority rights, womens rights, and of representative and consultative government.  These are indeed the basic ideas of democracy, which are fully embedded in Islam from 14 centuries ago, but which need to be revived, strengthened, and applied to show the world (and Americans in particular) that Islam and Muslims are a force for peace, dignity, emancipation, and tolerance.


Islam is poorly understood in the Western world, and democracy is poorly understood in the Muslim world. The significant difference is that in the Muslim world democracy is poorly understood by both its advocates and opponents. Advocates often think it is a magical solution to almost all problems; that it requires the abolition of religion; and that it can be copied from other countries. Its enemies see it as an alien concept and a stalking horse for imperialism or a recipe for crime and chaos. If its advocates, who are many, do not sufficiently understand both the core fundamentals of good governance and the many variations democratic forms can take, they cannot convincingly explain why they are for democracy nor take the slow, incremental steps that will result in greater freedom, tolerance, and good governance in the Muslim countries.  Americans, on the other hand, are thirsty to learn more about Islam, a great monotheistic religion that has always preached tolerance and respect for human dignity and for peoples of other faiths, but is now being used to justify deaths, violence, and killing of innocent civilians.  If Americans are not properly informed and educated about Islam, and if they continue to perceive it as a threat, a 100-year religious war will ensue that will lead to the deaths of millions and the destruction and corruption of earth.


CSID has established itself since 1999 as one of the premier American Muslim organizations, which works with Muslim and non-Muslim Americans to learn and educate the public and policymakers about Islam.  We need to do everything we can to avoid such a misunderstanding, and to explain to the majority of Americans that the terrorists and the extremists are a tiny minority in the Muslim world, and that they do not speak for the overwhelming majority of Muslims.  This requires effective educational programs (such as conferences, seminars, and workshops across the nation) as well as private and small group meetings with opinion-molders, the media, and policy-makers in Washington DC.  For instance, our 7th Annual conference, last April, attracted over 400 policymakers in Washington DC, and our Monthly Lecture Series attracts between 80-120 policymakers every month.  This is also a critical aspect of our work, and one which needs and deserves your support.


On the international scene, CSID has organized over 30 conferences, workshops, and seminars across the Arab and Muslim world.  There is no other organization in the world today that is capable of organizing conferences, and bringing hundreds of leaders and scholars together, in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Nigeria, Sudan, and Tunisia, in addition to Algeria, Morocco, Yemen, Jordan, Iraq, and Turkey.  This is a testimony to the excellent connections and credibility that CSID has built over the past seven years.  CSID also developed a democracy education project which seeks to involve, educate, and mobilize citizens in the struggle for decent and representative government.  Our new textbook Islam & Democracy Towards an Effective Citizenship has been used to train over 2,000 people in Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, and Jordan, and with your help and support, we hope to be able to train thousands more.  The book is a truly remarkable grassroots attempt to explain democratic principles such as freedom, plurality, equality, the right to dissent, tolerance, peaceful conflict resolution, and good governance and connecting them to Islamic concepts such as Shurah, Ijmaa, Ijtihad, dignity, and freedom in simple yet not simplistic Arabic language.  Our most recent project is the building of a Network of Democrats in the Arab World (ndaw.org) which already has over 300 members, and includes democracy activists and leaders from 14 Arab countries.  NDAW seeks to train, support, empower, and defend those who believe in democracy and are willing to fight for it.  Without our support, they are weak when confronted with state security systems that are omnipresent and ruthless.  These projects are all helping to pave the way for a better future for the Arab/Muslim world, and will help alleviate the problems of poverty, underdevelopment, corruption, and unemployment which are serious and growing problems for the entire region.  We urgently need your support to continue these projects, and build upon the enthusiasm that they have generated.


In this holy month of Ramadan, it is important that we remember the less fortunate ones among us, and that we do our best to build a better future for our children and future generations, so that we can all enjoy the fruits of freedom, democracy, good governance, and dignity.  There is no way to fight or defeat the scourge of violence and terrorism without offering a better way, a better alternative, to the millions of Arabs and Muslims (50% of whom are under the age of 21) who are angry, frustrated, impoverished, and oppressed.


CSID has an ambitious agenda, building on its already significant and unique achievements. We are eager to discuss our agenda, our resources, and our history and governance more fully with you.  Among the ambitious projects that we are currently trying to fund and start:


           Islam and Democracy Educational Text Project

           Visiting Scholars and Fellows

           Lecture & Speakers Bureau

           Distance Learning on Islam and Democracy

           CSID Annual conference

           Virtual Library book additions

           Regional CSID Conferences

           CSID General Support


We urge you to help CSID grow and reach thousands, and hopefully millions, more with its message of peace, harmony, prosperity, and dignity for all  - Muslims and non-Muslims alike.  Please donate as generously as you can, whether it is $50, $500, or $5,000, and be assured that your tax-deductible donation will be used to help build peace, prosperity, and harmony in the world.


Please use the enclosed membership form, or click on MEMBERSHIP or DONATIONS in our website (csidonline.org) to make a contribution or to join/renew your membership.  We also welcome support from private and public foundations and institutions, and we are a tax-deductible non-profit (501-c-3) organization, so your donation is tax-deductible.  Your donation also qualifies as obligatory zakat, according to the Fiqh Council of North America.


PLEASE DO IT TODAY, before you forget, as the need is great and time is short.  Your support is essential to CSIDs success.  We simply cannot do it without you!  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us by phone, fax, or e-mail.


We pray the Allmighty God to help all of us in our efforts, and to allow us to contribute in this important and historic endeavor.


May Gods peace and blessings be upon you.


Radwan A. Masmoudi          



Asma Afsaruddin

Chair of the Board      


Aly Abuzaakuk

Wash. Office Director



Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy

Membership/Donation Form (2006-2007)



Name: _____________________________________


Address: ___________________________________






I would like to join CSID as:

Top of Form

Student Member    $20        Newsletter Subscription $20

Institutional Member $200    Associate Member  $50     

Founding Member $1000  Member  $100     

Lifetime Member  $2500

Bottom of Form


I also would like to volunteer for the following positions:

Top of Form

A Director               Local seminars       Book reviews         Program Volunteer   Newsletter Editor Fund raising

Membership drive      Other__________

Bottom of Form

I would like to make a tax-deductible donation of $_______


Comments and/or suggestions:





Please mail, along with payment, to: CSID, 1625 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Suite 601, Washington DC 20036



Fatwa on Zakat for CSID


Alms are for the poor and the needy, and those employed to administer the (funds); for those whose hearts have been reconciled (to Truth); for those in bondage and in debt; in the cause of Allah. and for the wayfarer: (thus is it) ordained by Allah, and Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom. [al-Tawba, verse 60]


It is clear from the above verse from the Holy Quran that Zakat money can be given to one of these well-defined categories.  The efforts and activities of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) fall under the category of in the cause of Allah (fi sabeel Allah), since the Center was created for, and is working towards, resisting the negative effects of oppression and dictatorship which dehumanize people and control their lives and destiny.  Working toward these objectives requires educating people about the dangers and negative aspects of oppression, the necessity of eliminating all manifestations and root causes of oppression, dictatorship, and injustice, and raising the awareness of the Muslim Ummah about how to get rid of oppression and oppressors.  This kind of activity can be counted as a way of getting close to Allah swt (Qurba) and can be categorized as an activity in the cause of Allah.  Therefore, it is permissible for those who need to give their Zakat money to spend some of it to support CSID and its noble cause.


Dr. Taha Jabir Alalwani

President, Fiqh Council of North America





Support Freedom in the Arab World


By Radwan A. Masmoudi and Amr Hamzawy


Wednesday, October 11, 2006; Page A19



As Arab and Muslim intellectuals and activists concerned about the promotion of democracy in our region, we call on America and its president to reaffirm -- in words and actions -- its commitment to sustained democratic reform in the Arab world.


We have been heartened by the strong commitment to liberty that President Bush expressed in his November 2003 speech at the National Endowment for Democracy and then in his second inaugural address, when he said: "All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you."


Despite some initial skepticism, those statements nurtured hope in our region. We realize that democracy is not easily attained and must ultimately come from within. But it can receive encouragement and support, both of which it badly needs today in Arab countries.


We know that some in the United States, worried by recent Islamist gains among voters in Palestine and Egypt, are having doubts about the wisdom of pushing for freedom and democracy in the Middle East. These worries are exploited by despots in the region to perpetuate the untenable status quo. But there is no way to advance liberty without inclusion of all elements that are willing to abide by democratic rules and reject violence.


Democratic participation is the only way to combat extremism and pressure all groups, including Islamists, to moderate their stance in order to maximize their share of the vote. The United States should continue to press for an end to repression by governing regimes of democratically minded liberal and Islamist groups, and it should emphatically distance itself from such repression and condemn it in the strongest terms whenever and wherever it occurs. We are confident that if Arab citizens are able to have their choice, they will choose democracy, freedom, peace and progress.


Perhaps emboldened by the impression that America is wavering in its support for democracy, some autocrats have recently intensified repression. This makes the need for sustained U.S. and international support and pressure more urgent than ever. The region needs to hear again that the course of freedom and democracy is the only course that America, guided by both interest and principle, will support.


To mention but one case where U.S. influence might do much good: Egypt has experienced a regime crackdown lately on opposition activists. In February the government postponed municipal elections and renewed the emergency law. The regime has not even spared Egypt’s venerable judiciary, which has steadfastly proclaimed its independence in recent months. And liberal opposition politician Ayman Nour, who was allowed to run in last year’s presidential election and won 8 percent of the popular vote, behind only President Hosni Mubarak, was arrested and sentenced in a murky process to five years in jail.


The health of Ayman Nour, a dear friend and colleague of many of us, continues to deteriorate. We pray that President Bush will take Nour’s case to heart and tell the Egyptian regime of his concerns. Hundreds of other activists (including doctors, university professors, journalists and those in civil society) whose only crime was to express their desire for freedom continue to languish in jail and suffer torture and police brutality.


We entreat America to do all it can to ensure that a small number of authoritarian rulers will not control the future of more than 300 million Arabs, more than half of whom are not yet 20 years old. Freedom and democracy are the only ways to build a world where violence is replaced by peaceful public debate and political participation, and despair is replaced by hope, tolerance and dignity.


This article is adapted from an open letter to President Bush signed by 103 other Arab and Muslim activists and thinkers in Arab countries, Europe, the United States and elsewhere who have worked in support of democracy (see www.islam-democracy.org).






Muslims do want democracy


The Charlotte Observer

Fri, Oct. 06, 2006



Radwan A. Masmoudi was born in Tunisia in 1963 and immigrated to the United States in 1981. After earning a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he founded the Washington-based Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy. Grove City College professors Paul Kengor and Michael Coulter interviewed him about his work.


Q. Dr. Masmoudi, do Arabs and Muslims want democracy?


Over 90 percent of Muslims and Arabs polled in 10 Muslim-majority countries consider democracy to be the best form of government. There were other polls that over 80 percent of the people in the Arab world do not want sha’ria law to govern in their countries. They say they want Islamic values to govern but they don’t want strict implementation of sha’ria. So there is a struggle for the soul of Islam and it did not start yesterday or after 9-11 but has been going on for at least a century [among] those calling for modernizing the Muslim world. People in Egypt in particular have been calling for a reinterpretation of Islam for over one hundred years.


Q. In your publication, Muslim Democrat, you talk about elements of Islam that can be interpreted as "liberal." Tell about some of those.


Religious freedom is very important -- the idea of no compulsion in religion. To have it [compulsion in religion] defeats the purpose of religion, it defeats God’s will. Islam really emphasizes that people have to decide to believe. There were many examples in Muslim history where people in mosques were debating the existence of God, especially in the first three centuries. I believe that a religion has to be a matter of free choice. That is the way God intended it.


There are two basic political principles that are heavily emphasized in the Koran: justice and shura. Shura means consultation. The problem is that there are no clear institutions or methods that are identified on how this consultation should take place. I say that Muslims have failed in interpreting this message and in applying the idea of shura.


Q. Is there a particular country in the Arab-Muslim Middle East that you’re optimistic about, one that could be held up as an example? And is there any reason for optimism about Iran?


Well, if you’re talking about the Muslim world in general, I would definitely say Turkey is an example for optimism. Turkey is a very good example today of a Muslim democratic state and society. In fact, I visited Iran and I visited Turkey and the Iranian people are probably the least religious people today. And it is because the Iranian government wants to force religion down their throat. There is a backlash against religion in Iran, because the mullahs are trying to govern in the name of Islam and because they are not very democratic in the way they are doing it. People in Iran are starting to hate the government and some young people hate religion in general. Turkey is almost the exact opposite. You have a state that does not force religion on people, but the people of Turkey are some of the most religious people in the Arab and Muslim world. If you want to convince an Islamic leader of why an Islamic state that forces religion on people is not a good idea, just take them to Iran, let them stay there for a week or two, and then take them to Turkey. I believe they will change their minds.


Q. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about democracy’s prospects in Iraq?


I’m optimistic in the long run, but in the short run I am afraid we are going to see some turbulence.


Q. Give us a final summation of your thoughts on Islam and democracy in the century ahead.


We need to reinterpret Islam, but how can we do that in dictatorships where everything is controlled by the state? Democracy is the key because it will give us the opportunity to talk about all these other problems and to solve them. It will take time. We need the freedom to talk about what Islam means in the 21st century.


For The Record offers commentaries from various sources. The views are the writer’s, and not necessarily those of the Observer editorial board.







The New issue (Vol. 8 - No. 1 - October 2006) of Muslim Democrat is NOW available online at:  http://csidonline.org/


In This Issue:

1-  Shura, Democracy, and Good Governance in Saudi Arabia

3-  U.S. Efforts to Promote Democracy

4-  CSID Seventh Annual Conference: The Challenge of Democracy in the Muslim World

6-  Muslim Democrat of the Year Award

9-  Interview with Dr. Kamal Labwani

10-  Book Review:  After Terror, Edited by Akbar Ahmed and Brian Forst


CSID members should receive it soon by regular mail.  If not, please contact Sami Bawalsa at: [email protected]





Democracy KnocksWill Morocco Answer?


New Carnegie Paper Explores Political Reform in Morocco


Political reform in the Arab world is a top priority in U.S. foreign policy and Morocco is often held up as an example of a country successfully moving toward democracy under the guidance of an enlightened monarch.  For over a decade, the Moroccan monarchy has embraced a reformist agenda. As impressive as some of the reforms undoubtedly are, the missing piecepolitical reformconsistently ensures that there is no threat to the ultimate power of the king. In a new Carnegie Paper, Morocco: From Top-Down Reform to Democratic Transition?, Marina Ottaway and Meredith Riley discuss the necessary steps toward creating a truly democratic political system. To read this Carnegie Paper, click here or go to www.CarnegieEndowment.org/MiddleEast.


In the case of reform from the top, the authors argue that the Morocco example shows the limitations of monarchial reform. Despite significant improvements in free speech, womens rights, and economic reform, true democratization cannot exist without formal restrictions on the kings power. Political reform, independent branches of government, and elected institutions are vital components of a democratic society.


Moroccos main Islamist party, the PJD, may hold the key to democracy in the country. Expected to obtain the largest number of votes in the 2007 parliamentary elections, the party will become a major player in the new government.  The threat to a democratic transition is not that the party is too radical, but that it may allow itself to be co-opted by the monarch as all other parties have done. In a region where Islamists often threaten political reform, Moroccos main Islamist party could be, paradoxically, its best chance for legitimate democracy.


Direct link to PDF: http://www.carnegieendowment.org/files/cp71_ottaway_final.pdf


The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing cooperation between nations and promoting active international engagement by the United States. www.CarnegieEndowment.org


Press Contact: Trent Perrotto, 202/939-2372, [email protected]




Tunisia says headscarf ban protects women’s rights


Associated Press, le 5 Octobre 2006 19h50


TUNIS, Oct 5 (Reuters) - Tunisia’s secular ruling party on Thursday defended a government ban on headscarves, saying rules forbidding religious head coverings in public places in the Muslim country are designed to protect women’s rights.


"If today we accept the headscarf, tomorrow we’ll accept that women’s rights to work and vote and receive an education be banned and they’ll be seen as just a tool for reproduction and housework," said Hedi Mhenni, general secretary of the dominant Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) party.


"It is necessary to struggle against such a scourge to defend Islam and the rights of existing and future Tunisians," said Mhenni in comments carried by official news agency TAP. Tunisia’s secular state issued a decree in the 1980s banning public employees, teachers and students from wearing what was described as "sectarian dress".


But headscarves, often in bright colours and worn with jeans and T-shirts, have been making a comeback among young Tunisian women after decades in which traditional dress appeared to be disappearing among the country’s growing urban middle class.


Pressure groups including the Tunisian Human Rights League accuse the authorities of harassing female students, forcing them to remove their scarves and sign a commitment or risk losing their right to register for school and university classes.


The government of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali insists the headscarf ban helps defend citizens’ rights in the face of religious extremism in the overwhelmingly Muslim country.


Tunisia is among a minority of Muslim countries that impose restrictions on headscarves. Turkey’s secular state bans women from wearing headscarves at government-run universities.


A 2004 French ban on religious symbols, including headscarves, at state schools had triggered an outcry among Muslims who accused Paris of violating religious freedom. Mhenni said the legislation must be respected in educational institutions and public buildings. Otherwise, he warned, the issue could become a hurdle for the country’s development.


"It will slow our progress. We will take a step back and it will hit the basis of society’s stability and people’s prosperity...," he said.


Foreign governments have praised Tunisia’s strong economic performance and success in tackling militancy, but rights activists say the country remains a de facto police state that uses often heavy-handed tactics to suppress dissent.





Tunisia attacked over headscarves


By Magdi Abdelhadi

Arab affairs analyst, BBC News



Human rights groups in Tunisia say women who wear an Islamic headscarf are being persecuted by the authorities.


The groups say that school girls with the headscarf are being harassed and forced to remove the headcover at schools and universities.


The authorities deny this, but say they are encouraging women, instead, to wear modest dress in line with Tunisian traditions.


This is a long-running battle between the authorities and Islamist groups.


It is part of a wider war between the ostensibly secular - and at times despotic - Arab governments and increasingly assertive Islamist groups.


The challenge facing the Tunisian authorities, like in other Arab countries facing resurgent Islamist movements, is how to crack down on one of the most potent symbols of Islamism - the female head-cover - without being liable to charges of being un-Islamic.


Back in 1981, at the height of the confrontation between the Tunisian government and Islamists, a decree was issued banning what was described as "sectarian dress".


But justifying the ban on "sectarian" grounds sounds bizarre in a society where 98% of the population are Sunni Muslims.


It is a justification that betrays the government’s inability to confront the Islamist doctrine head on.


’Personal choice’


Islamists say the Tunisian ban is not only against Islam, but that it also violates personal freedom.


Rachid al-Ghanoushi, a leading Tunisian Islamist who lives in exile in London, said the state had no right to interfere with personal choice.


"Does it harm the state when a woman wears a headscarf or not?" he said. "We are not demanding the imposition of any particular dress on women, we are demanding public and personal freedom."


But the authorities apparently fear that the appeal to freedom of choice is a pretext used by Islamists to promote their doctrine.


Despite the official ban, increasing numbers of Tunisian women are beginning to wear the controversial headscarf, apparently under the influence of tele-preachers on satellite channels whose influence bypasses national restrictions.


It seems that the Islamic headscarf is increasingly becoming not only a symbol of identity but an act of defiance against autocratic governments.





Hijab Ban Debate Heats up in Tunisia




TUNIS The heated debate on the hijab ban has renewed in Tunisia as the government defends its stance on claims of protecting women’s rights, while female students’ sufferings go non-stop with the start of a new academic year.


"It will slow our progress. We will take a step back and it will hit the basis of society’s stability and people’s prosperity," Hedi Mhenni, general secretary of the ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) party said defending the ban, Reuters reported Friday, October 6.


Mhenni said the legislation must be respected in educational institutions and public buildings. Otherwise, he warned, the issue could become a hurdle for the country’s development process.


"If today we accept the headscarf, tomorrow we’ll accept that women’s rights to work and vote and receive an education be banned and they’ll be seen as just a tool for reproduction and housework."


In 1981, then Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba (1956-1987) ratified law no. 108 banning Tunisian women from wearing hijab in state offices.


Worse still, the government issued in the 1980s and 1990s more restrictive enactments.


Hijab have been making a comeback among young women and students in the North African country, despite the 108 law which describes the hair covering as a "sectarian dress".


Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying ones affiliations.




Tunisian human rights activists, lawyers and intellectuals lashed out at the government oppressive campaign launched every academic year stressing that the hijab ban violates Tunisian women’s rights.


"The way the government deals with the issue of hijab infringes upon the fundamentals of human rights and contradicts with the tenets of our religion and identity," Ziad al- Dolati, ex leader of al-Nahda movement in Tunisia, told IslamOnline.net.


Al-Dolati criticized woman rights organizations in Tunisia for their double standards, saying they do not practice what they preach when it comes to hijab-clad students expelled from classes.


"It is shocking that they are staunch advocates of women’s right to education, but turn a blind eye to hijab-clad girls deprived of this basic right," he said.


These organizations adopts ideologies that negate the very sense of Arab and Islamic identity, echoed Nour al-Din al-Awaidi, editor en-chief of Aqlaam online magazine.


"They consider hijab a symbol for women’s retardation and lack of freedom," he said.




Human rights activists and Tunisian parents voiced their deep concerns about the rising harassment cases against veiled students in schools and universities whether by security personnel or government officers.


"Veiled students were not allowed to join school classes in Sfax and the education local official refused to meet their parents," said a hijab-clad student, who requested anonymity.


She added that in other institutes veiled girls were kicked out and others forced to sign a paper pledging to take off their hijab in order to continue their studies.


Caught between a rock and a hard place, some of the hijab-clad students were forced to give up their education to escape the continuous abuse.


Tunisia is among a minority of Muslim countries that impose restrictions on hijab.


Turkey’s secular state bans women from wearing hair covering at government-run universities.


In Europe, France has triggered a controversy in 2004 by adopting a bill banning hijab and religious insignia in state schools.


French Muslims a sizeable six-million minority along with practicing Jews, Sikhs and international human rights groups strongly condemned the law, saying it violated the freedom of religion right in secular France.


Additional Reporting by Mohammad Al-Hamroni, IOL Correspondent







Dr. Kamal Labwani was interviewed on Oct. 26, 2005, at the CSID Office, in Washington DC.  He was arrested two weeks later upon his return to Syria, where he is still in jail.


Muslim Democrat:  Warm greetings to our honorable guest Dr. Kamal Labwani.  Kindly introduce yourself to our readers.


Kamal Labwani: I am a medical doctor from Syria.  I am 50 years old.  I studied medicine at Damascus University.  I have been a member of the Syrian Opposition since my student days at the university, in other words from 1976.  I was imprisoned in 2001, and was released a year ago.  My sentence lasted 3 years. 


MD: What were the charges?


KL: I was charged with inciting against the Syrian authorities in accordance with constitutional law, with spreading false rumors with the intent of weakening societys morale during war-time, as well as other charges.  In reality, the government wanted to prevent us from moving forward with our objectives of reform and the advancement of Syria towards democracy.  In 2001, the Spring of Damascus Movement was seized.  Ten members were arrested and I was one of them.  I was released from prison one year ago and have since returned to my political activities and social/political activism.  Six of my dearest friends and colleagues are still in prison.  The prison was extremely harsh.  We were placed in single person cells.  To this day, my friends are still in those cells robbed of their most basic rights.


MD: Could you please brief us on the goals and activities of your party? 


KL: We at the Spring of Damascus tried to develop new values in the political field, and a collection of new modes of thinking.  A nation does not come to be as a result of foreign ambitions, it begins with the citizen (who has rights and obligations), who enters into agreement with other citizens to form a state, to form a system and laws.  Liberal thought rests on the idea that the individual is where it all begins.  This doesn’t mean that group rights should be disregarded or nullified; it means that we must begin with the individual.  So every law and constitution that does not guarantee individual rights is a defiled social contract.  This is the foundation of liberal thought.  So we propose liberalism not because we wished to rid ourselves of values, religion or identity.  We proposed it to be free, because our society suffers from authoritarianism, and oppression.


There is no escaping democracy any longer.  There isn’t a single person ... even the dictator calls himself a democrat.  So democracy has become the expectation... the principles of democracy have become a mainstream demand.  The basic values of democracy are a safeguard against chaos.  In other words, supreme authority rests in the hands of the people.  The people determine their own fate through regularly held elections, freely elected legislative councils, free political parties, freedom of the press and the media, rights permanently guaranteed by the constitution for all people, an independent and fair judicial system and laws to which no one is immune.


MD: Could you tell us the idea surrounding the Damascus declaration, how it was born and what the most important preliminary steps to it were towards the declaration itself?


KL: After Syria achieved independence from the French occupation, it produced a constitution and a national contract.  The Ba’th regime rose against it, bringing with it its militaristic regime, and imposing a militaristic-style rule.  There was a need to establish new values to bring together the Syrian people.  Our activity was in a dialogue forum at the home of Riyad Seif.  We sought to organize this dialogue in order to reach a national contract.  A national contract is not written by a single individual, it is achieved after extensive discussions and deliberations.  A dialogue forum was the place where such discussions had to start.  And indeed, we had extensive discussions, and the last lecture we organized was given by Dr. Burhan Ghalyoun.  They arrested us after that.  Nevertheless discussions, dialogue, articles, proposals and programs marched forward until circumstances matured enough that we were able to announce the final draft of the discussions.


MD: What are the most important demands or recommendations if you will - that the declaration calls for?


KL: The Damascus Declaration says that Syria needs to be home to all Syrians, that it needs to be a democratic state and a state that respects the rights of its citizens.  Syria needs to be ruled by law, and it needs to be governed by an authentic democratic system.  The maxims of a true democracy need to be respected; political freedoms, the formation of political parties, regular election, free parliaments, the rule of law and so forth.  The Damascus declaration calls for a national conference that includes all the various constituents of Syrian society, as a starting point to elect a transitional government to run the country (or put in place a temporary constitution) so as to transition the country from the dictatorial phase to the phase of democracy.


MD: Which major political parties or movements have supported the declaration?


KL: I can safely say about 99% of them.  All of the opposition movements, with the reservations of a handful, supported; backed or agreed to cooperate.  So I think the answer to your question is all political parties, more or less.


MD: Could you please identify who all refers to?


KL: Sure.  First and foremost is the National Democratic Assembly.  Their work started before the Ba’th party arrived on the scene.  In 1978 they began a phase or an attempt to save Syria from the violence that had plagued it, but they were suppressed.  They are comprised of Leftists as well as Nationalists.  They were the most prominent.  There were also national symbols as well as other unions that were established after the Spring of Damascus, such as the Free Nationalists; the Liberal Assembly; the National Dialogue Forum as well as the Council for the Revival of Civil Society.  These were all Liberal forces that contributed as well.  In addition, enlightened and moderate Islamic movements contributed, albeit less directly, and went on to back us.  Most foreign-based Opposition movements supported us as well such as the Reform Party and the National Council in America and Germany, the Party for Modernity, and many Kurdish democratic fronts (not all of them) lent their support.  Many Syrian religious leaders and scholars did as well.  For instance Sheikh Jawdat Said, who is a well known figure, represents a segment of young enlightened and religious men.  So when we say Jawdat Said, we are referring to a group of people that he represents; that he is a symbol for.


MD: You also mentioned Islamists, or Islamic trends.  Can you tell us more about where they stand on the issue of democracy?  Also with regard to the Muslim Brotherhood, what is their stance on the issue of democracy?


KL:  The Muslim Brotherhood is a long-standing political party that participated in the establishment of democracy in Syria in the 50s.  It was a prominent component of it, participated in elections, had its representatives and was a legitimate political party.  The movement was popular and had a strong presence.  However, it was suppressed amidst all the political instability and military oppression, and was hijacked by a militia that had been responsible for several acts of violence in Syria.  This militia is not the Muslim Brotherhood.  The group that caused violence in the late 70s and 80s is not the Muslim Brotherhood.  However, when the authority wanted to suppress it, it indiscriminately suppressed all who had an ideology.  In other words the authority did not only suppress the militia, it suppressed all parts of society that carried an Islamic ideology.  So it basically tried to destroy - an uprooting is what they called it - to destroy the society that gave birth to this.  Therefore this enlightened political party has participated, is participating, and will participate in the democratization of Syria.  It will guard political initiatives towards democracy by pulling the rug from under extremist and violent movements.  There are extremist and violent Islamic movements that have rejected and continue to reject dialogue.  They do this because they suffer from an inherent and unique political condition.  But if there is democracy in Syria, I believe that such movements will fade away


MD: Throughout your travels you have certainly met with a number of representatives of the Syrian Diaspora abroad, as well as several Syrian organizations abroad.  Could you please shed some light on your activities and the results youve had?


KL: Some Europeans have reservations about democratization fearing that it will open the country to chaos.  They are cautioning that if we are quick to open the door to freedoms, the country may fall in the hands of extremists and so forth.  I do not believe this fear to be innocent or nave.  In other words, I do not believe it to be a legitimate warning or fear as much as it is an excuse to not support democratization.  Regardless, such opinions do not represent the majority.  Most European countries today say that they have a real need for reform and democracy in Syria, and have pledged to back this reform and not engage in any dealings with the Syrian authority.  They have said very clearly and frankly that they are serious about their respect for human rights and democratization, but that they have concerns and fears about chaos and extremists and so forth.  It is our duty to reassure them that Syrian society is open-minded, civilized, rejects all forms of violence and is a society that wants to live if only it would be given the chance.  Put differently, it is in your hands today to either push the Syrian people towards extremism or to pull them towards civility; reform and so forth.  If today you give the Syrian people hope for reform, they will all head towards reform.  If you block for them the path for hope, support the dictatorial authority and plant seeds for it to flourish, a significant segment of Syrian youngsters will find itself in an environment that fosters extremist ideology and violence. 



If we the Syrian people do not wish to take on this responsibility, we cannot expect others to bring us freedom, cook it, and spoon-feed to us.  This will never happen.  The fundamental effort has to come from within Syria.  Democracy cannot come with tanks and planes; an army can destroy a government, a nation, etc but it cannot build a democracy.  A democracy comes about when a people, by participating in the political process, decide to be free and determine their own destiny.  Today it is our duty to send a message to our society to leave matters to God, dont be afraid, God is there for you and he will protect you, but take matters into your own hands. 


MD: Do you feel that the Muslim Brotherhood have the right to establish a political party, and do you not fear that in the event they come to power, they may not be democratic?   


KL: In principle, religion is one thing and politics is another.  It is the right of the Ikhwan to form a religious and cultural congregation that calls for Islam and its principles.  This is a natural, legitimate and undeniable right.  However, its entry into political life - in other words elections into parliament - must take place via a political platform, and via a political party that accepts all its citizens independent of religion.  This last condition is very sensitive and specific.  In order to enter elections, we cannot enter as gods emissaries.


The Brotherhood  movement is an Islamic party, a religious party with religious foundations.  So if they wish to enter the elections as a political party with their current name, they must enter with a clear and specific political platform, without claiming to represent Islam.  Rather, they must present a single political platform and program.  I personally prefer, so as to safeguard the solidarity of society, that whoever presents a political platform should take part in the elections, and may the best platform win.  If the Ikhwan come forth with a political platform - they may even ally themselves with other parties - then by all means, they are welcome.


MD: But the fear that many governments and people have is that the Ikhwan - and other Islamic movements - promise democracy before they assume power, and that once they attain power, they will turn against democracy.  How do you respond to such concerns?


KL: The likelihood that this will happen in Syria is very small, and even if it does happen, I will be fine with it.  For them to rise to power by virtue of a just and fair election is in itself an achievement.  If they go back on their word and turn against democracy, they will pay the price and lose their popularity.  And in the same way we resisted against a fascist and oppressive regime, we will again resist against a religious regime.  This is not a problem.  This fear should not be an excuse to justify tyranny and rob us of a genuine and real democracy.





What Comes First - Elections or Institutions?


by Shadi Hamid

October 02, 2006



It is usual for opponents of democracy promotion to belittle elections and elevate institutions. This is a variation of the prerequisites argument that before you push for democracy, you must first have various indices satisfied (i.e. strong middle class, liberal elites, economic growth). This argument often doubles as a high-minded way of saying that third-world peoples and particularly Arabs need to be like us before they can enjoy democracy.


With that said, there is no doubting that it is better to have democratic institutions than not to have them. Democratization in, say, Egypt would be a less risky and contentious affair if well-rooted, legitimate institutions were in place.


In emerging polities, the question has always been whether institutional arrangements have the capacity to absorb the participatory demands of the electorate. Where institutions are weak, what Samuel Huntington calls wild democracy or mass praetorianism is more likely to take hold. Where institutions are autonomous and legitimate, even the most reckless demagogues will fail in their efforts to transform the political structure. This is why the Bush administration has failed and will continue to fail in its bid to do away with the Geneva conventions, legitimize torture, establish military tribunals, and impose Orwellian legislative projects (i.e. the now-defunct Patriot Act II). The lesson here is that institutions matter.


However, there are some problems with applying such a lesson to the Middle East. The US-supported autocrats now in power have gone out of their way to erode and stunt the development of indigenous institutions, for such institutions present a formidable threat to their unquenchable thirst for power and control. Which is why it is not surprising that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has spent a good chunk of his reign harassing the countrys venerable and relatively independent judiciary (one of the few holdovers of Egypts pre-1952 liberal era) and making the establishment of new political parties a nearly impossible endeavor. The Mubarak regime, one might argue, has tried to build (or maintain) some kind of "middle class" but a middle class which is dependent on government largesse and therefore rendered incapable of exerting democratic pressure on Egypts rulers. One would hope that something as basic as a Vice President would exist in the netherworld of Egyptian politics. It does not. There is no institutionalized mode of succession. Then again, I suppose you dont need one if youre planning on making your country into a monarchy.


So were back to square one. How do you build autonomous institutions in an autocratic context? The short of it is that you cant. As long as autocratic regimes rule, they will not allow for the development of liberal-democratic institutions. So we are faced with two choices: 1) continue supporting the existing autocracies and hoping that they will experience a change of heart and begin the hard work of building sustainable institutions, or 2) support free and fair elections and an open political environment, where competing opposition forces can present their respective programs for political resuscitation to voters. The groups/parties that come to power will not necessarily be followers of new institutionalist approaches to political science, but they will have a greater incentive to establish regularized procedures than their authoritarian predecessors did. Neither choice is ideal, but, surely, one is better than the other.





Six Islamist MPs make wealth disclosures in Kuwait   


Agence France-Presse - 11 October, 2006



Six Islamist MPs in oil-rich Kuwait submitted a full account of their wealth saying they hoped their voluntary initiative will encourage others to follow suit.


The lawmakers, members of the Islamic Constitutional Movement (ICM), Kuwait’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, handed the wealth disclosures to speaker Jassem al-Khorafi.


In January, two ICM MPs from the previous parliament became the first lawmakers in Kuwait to disclose their wealth. The ICM strength rose to six MPs following the June 29 general elections.


The Gulf state, where accusations of graft and corruption have increased amid an unprecedented surge in oil revenues, has no law on wealth disclosures for MPs or senior officials.


But the outspoken opposition, which now has an absolute majority in parliament, has vowed to pass a wealth disclosure bill in the next term which opens October 30.


Last year, a parliamentary committee approved a bill requiring ministers, senior civil servants and MPs to disclose their wealth before assuming their posts and after leaving them.


The government objected to the bill on the grounds that it conflicts with clauses of the constitution.


One of the MPs, Nasser al-Sane, who heads regional lobby group Arab Parliamentarians Against Corruption, said he hoped the move would encourage other MPs and officials to follow suit.


Pro-reform MPs have charged that vote-buying was widespread in June’s general elections, with millions of dollars changing hands.


The tiny Gulf state sits on 10 percent of global oil reserves and has a native population of one million alongside two million foreign residents.





Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan seeks an Islamic reformation


4 October 2006






LONDONWith his slender build, neatly trimmed beard and soft voice, Swiss Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan appears an unlikely candidate to carry the burden of being cast as the Islamic worlds Martin Luther.


The 44-year-old Oxford University professor has been banned from the United States under murky allegations of violating the Patriot Act and rejected by Islamic traditionalists.


But for many, he is the conscience of Western Europes Muslimsthe man who can articulate what it means to play an active part in secular society while remaining true to the Quran.


Im always telling people Im Swiss by nationality, Im a Muslim by religion, Im an Egyptian by memory and Im a European by culture, Ramadan told The Associated Press in an interview at his home in a leafy London suburb.


This is my identity, I have more than one. Be confident with all of this.


His views have made him both feted and reviled. He most recently made waves by criticizing the violent Islamic reaction to Pope Benedict XVIs comments on Islamsaying the appropriate response was dialogue not an explosion of outrage.


In the West, official views of him contrast sharply on both sides of the Atlantic.


The Bush administration has barred him for travelling to the US, alleging he provided material support to a terrorist organizationa claim Ramadan says stems from his contribution of $764 to a Palestinian charity. But Bushs closest ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, sees Ramadan as one of the best chances to bridge the divide between the West and Islamand has named him to a task force on tackling extremism.


Ramadans message resonates among Europes Muslim youths because he is able to relate to their struggles in straddling cultures. Being the grandson of Hassan Al Banna, founder of Egypts Muslim Brotherhood organizationthe Arab nations most powerful opposition groupgives him credibility among many Muslims.


He is a charismatic, well spoken, articulate defender of something that can be loosely described as liberal Islam, said John Sidel, Professor of International and Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics. One could simply say if he didnt exist we would have to invent him.


Ramadan, a visiting fellow at St. Antonys College, Oxford, has presented a nuanced view of the furor surrounding Pope Benedicts citation of a medieval text that linked the Prophet Muhammad to violence.


Ramadan lambasted Muslims for their emotional reactions, accusing extremists of stoking dangerous reactions for their own aims. He has said some Muslim regimes were manipulating the violent demonstrations to distract attention from their own repressive policies, and that conservatives on both sides were trying to encourage a sense of a clash of civilizations.


He urged the world to listen to Benedicts words carefully, instead of latching on to inflammatory soundbites taken out of context.


We have to listen to the deep message he was saying and come back with very deep articulated arguments here, he told AP.


But Ramadan also took aim at Benedicts world view, saying that the popes placement of European culture strictly within the boundaries Christian and Greek traditions misrepresents historical realities: the great contributions Muslim thinkers have made to Western civilization.


Wearing beige slacks and a pale blue shirt, seated in the airy living room of the Victorian-era home he shares with his wife and four children, Ramadan takes care before delivering his words in the gentle Francophone English accent developed from his Swiss roots.


He bristles at critics who accuse him of being too Muslimor not Muslim enough.




His most vocal critic is Caroline Fourest, a French journalist, whose book FrÚre Tariq (Brother Tariq) claims Ramadan is a polished media performer, who promotes religious tolerance while disseminating a more fundamentalist message on the ground. Its what we call the double speak of Tariq Ramadan, she told the AP.


Ramadan rejects such claimssaying his goal is to foster a new vision of Islam fit for the modern world.


He believes Muslims must become more self critical, and harbor less of a victim mentality, and only then can space be created for Islamic thought to move forward. He said Islam can be adapted to 21st century life and that Islamic scriptures are flexible enough to provide relevant guidance without key tenets of the faith being lost.


The problem is that theologians make rulings on certain subjects without having the worldly experience to do so. His call for an Islamic reformationwhich has been likened to Martin Luther, the revolutionary 16th century monk who ignited the Protestant reformationinvolves a shift in the center of gravity away from the mullahs and closer toward experts in fields like science, economics and the arts.


Many Muslims say that because democracy is not written in the Quran it is un-Islamic, but Ramadan believes such literalist pronouncements are dangerous.


He accuses regimes in countries such as key US ally Saudi Arabia, which he is also banned from visiting, of hijacking the religion to protect their dictatorships.


He says that such views and his fierce criticism of the Bush administration are the real reason he is not being allowed to visit the United States.


By criticizing Saudi Arabia I make the United States not happy at all because Im putting my finger on something which is hypocrisy. You are speaking about spreading democracy around the Islamic world and at the same time you are with the least progressive Muslims as long as it protects your interest.


Two years ago, days before he was scheduled to arrive in America to become a professor of religion at the University of Notre Dame, the United States canceled Ramadans visa, barring him under the Patriot Act. The State Department alleged that he was barred for actions which constituted providing material support to a terrorist organization.


Supporters say Ramadan was barred because the administration cannot handle an articulate critic of its views.


Should he be allowed to appear in the American media, he would be a poster boy for a very appealing brand of Islam, that non-Muslims could ascribe a certain kind of credibility, Sidel said. Whether on Iraq or other policies, him speaking would make things even more difficult for the Bush administration.


R. Scott Appleby, Director of the Joan B. Kroc Institute at Notre Dame, said the government decision to bar Ramadan because of his ideas was an infringement of our constitution.


He doesnt try to foment violence, he doesnt speak in a way that would undermine the government, he said. Yes, he is critical of American foreign policy. But so are other American academics.







By Khalid Hroub  

Daily Star, Commentary

October 10, 2006 http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=10&categ_id=5&article_id=76024


Future media historians in the Middle East will conceivably distinguish two distinct though related eras: pre- and post-Al-Jazeera. Few would dispute the station’s impact on free _expression and the media in the region since its creation in 1996. However, despite its importance in the creation of an "Arab" public sphere, Al-Jazeera’s contribution to political change is, at best, limited. This seeming paradox remains an enigma to many analysts.


The creation of a "regional media public sphere" has been central to Al-Jazeera’s policy over the past 10 years. Motivated by the success of the Qatar-based station - envious too, no doubt - a number of trans-terrestrial Arabic-speaking television stations, chiefly Saudi, Egyptian and Lebanese, were established in competition. Most of these modeled themselves on Al-Jazeera, in style if not in substance: challenging existing political, social and religious systems became the name of the new media game. The newly created virtual sphere of free debate and news access effectively rendered old-style state-controlled Arab media obsolete.


Al-Jazeera’s friends and foes span wide-ranging and geographically diffuse communities and players. It is the most popular news channel with Arab audiences, but also the media outlet most hated by Arab regimes. Empathy and enmity toward the channel are fluid and change with the climate of the day: today’s friend could become tomorrow’s foe and vice versa.


Many US officials hailed the channel in its early years as the beacon of Arab freedom, but since the war against Afghanistan in 2001, the standard official US line on Al-Jazeera has become unreservedly aggressive. On the other hand, Alastair Campbell, the former Downing Street communications chief who complained bitterly about the station’s coverage during the war in Iraq, later changed his mind; he became an admirer of the channel after visiting its headquarters in Doha and confessed "I was wrong about Al-Jazeera" in The Guardian.


In Arab circles, praise and blame, pros and cons are administered in fairly even doses by liberals, Islamists, leftists, pan-Arab nationalists and others, each of whom finds in it both what they seek and seek to avoid.


Even Israelis are in two minds about Al-Jazeera. It is the first Arab media outlet that ever gave them a platform on which to convey their views directly to Arab audiences. But it infuriates them, too, by transmitting live, often shocking images of the brutality of the Israeli occupation and its measures against the Palestinians.


Perhaps the only sectors of the general audience that remain unequivocally and enduringly hostile to Al-Jazeera are the Arab regimes. Its remorseless coverage of the incompetence of these regimes has been intolerable for Arab ruling elites. The channel has transmitted reports about almost every Arab country exposing government corruption, mismanagement, suppression of opposition, violations of human rights and the purchase of Western support to face down popular anger and discontent. Because of this, Al-Jazeera reporters have been, and are still, banned from reporting in and from many Arab countries: at certain periods, they have been barred from fully half the Arab states.


Its reporting from Afghanistan marked the turning point in the "internationalization" of Al-Jazeera. As the only media agency allowed by the then ruling Taliban to stay in the country in the run-up to and during the war, the channel was the exclusive source of media information and coverage from within Afghanistan once the country was invaded on October 7, 2001. Its coverage of the smart and not-so-smart US bombardments of Afghan targets, including the death of many civilians, visibly angered the Bush administration. It was accused of allowing the Taliban and Osama bin Laden to use it as a propaganda outlet.


With the rise of tension in the course of the war, Al-Jazeera’s offices in Kabul were bombed by US forces on November 13, 2001. The US said it was not deliberate: many believed otherwise. Al-Jazeera’s offices in Baghdad were also destroyed: on April 8, 2003 its offices were bombed and one of their journalists, Tareq Ayyoub, killed.


The Iraq war has further worsened the relationship between Al-Jazeera and the US and its Iraqi allies. As the conflict became bloodier following the allied invasion and the euphoria of the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue, Al-Jazeera continued to stream videotapes of kidnapped Westerners and detailed descriptions of attacks by the insurgency. It also transmitted speeches by bin Laden in person and other leaders of Al-Qaeda. Al-Jazeera argued that these materials were highly newsworthy and were always carefully edited to remove their propaganda aspects; US officials and their Iraqi allies who had assumed power in Baghdad remained critical. In August 2004, hostility to Al-Jazeera culminated in the closure of its Baghdad offices and a ban on its reporting.


In the course of its first decade, Al-Jazeera has hacked a successful if controversial course throughout uncharted terrain - an experience that has yielded various, and sometimes contradictory, outcomes. During the same period, the verbal cut and thrust around Arab democratization has been unprecedented. In the late 1990s, the number of Arab intellectuals, NGOs, political parties and associations advocating and campaigning for democracy were on the rise.


After September 11, 2001, and the US linkage between the "lack of democracy and the spread of terrorism," these were complemented by a "surplus" of democratic reform initiatives pressed on the region from outside. External initiatives such as the "Greater Middle East Project" have been countered by internal initiatives such as those launched by the Arab summit in Tunis in May 2004. Both initiatives underlined the role of the media in supporting or undermining the democratization process in the region. Al-Jazeera followed up by placing the promotion of democracy and human rights high on its new "code of ethics."


No one disputes that the channel has changed the media landscape in the Arab world, pushing the boundaries of political debate, challenging taboos and raising the ceiling of free speech. This new media environment is still in the making. At the same time, the expectation that Al-Jazeera alone could have an equally powerful impact on the institutions of government and the lack of political freedoms was unrealistic. While Al-Jazeera speedily became the main platform for genuine political debate and the airing of grievances, it was not the direct actor in socio-political change many hoped it would be.


In the eyes of many Arabs desperate for change, the channel became the main force behind political change, a responsibility Al-Jazeera never took upon itself and which it recognized was not any part of the standard media brief. Political and social change is a more complex process that transcends the power of the media alone. For those who expected Al-Jazeera to effect such political change, any balance sheet of the channel’s achievement has a negative look - an unfair assessment in the light of what can and should be expected from the channel. The lack of political change in the Arab world, or its frustrating slowness, must be attributed to many factors; the media, including Al-Jazeera, is merely one agent of change and must be measured against how it performs its duties as the "fourth estate," not on how well it fulfils those of the other three: the legislative, the judiciary and the executive.


However, the reason why this appropriation of responsibility has been shouldered onto a free media in the Arab world is the startling dysfunction of the separation of powers. In almost every Arab country, the legislative, judicial and executive powers have been fused into one sole authoritarian power: the executive. When the media - the fourth estate, the watchdog on those in power - functions with a significant degree of independence, it can raise the significant issues of the day and criticize the polity. It is the job of the rest of the polity - the legislative, the judiciary and the executive - to take up those issues exposed by the media and take them on to the next phase.


The fate of the matters raised by Al-Jazeera in the new "public sphere" is for them to fall into a political void. Between the single supreme conglomerate power on the one hand and the fourth estate on the other, there is an abyss, a vacuum into which all the initiatives and advances achieved by Al-Jazeera have fallen.


One major, if unintentional side effect of Al-Jazeera’s commitment to offering an open platform to all the voices in the region is the radicalization of Arab public opinion. The dominant voices across the Arab world are those of the Islamists, the moderates as well as the fanatics. They have been key players in the major events that have affected the Arab world over the past few years: September 11, the war in Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda, the war in Iraq, the situation in Palestine, the rise of Hamas, etc. It has been virtually impossible for any credible media outlet to discount the views of these players, however radical and however resented in certain quarters.


The fundamental cause of the radicalization of the Arab street is Western, mainly US, policies in the Middle East. Under US President George W. Bush and the neoconservatives, those policies, whether vis-a-vis Palestine, Iraq or the continuous support of Arab dictators, have greatly fed radical tendencies and created new ones. The end result is a poisoned atmosphere where radicalism and anger have swept public opinion. The introduction of an open platform, such as that provided by Al-Jazeera, into such an environment, has allowed radical discourse to reach a much wider audience. The option of silencing the voices of Islamist radicalism by depriving its spokespeople of a platform would not only betray the channel’s own motto, but also ignore the principal actors in current Middle Eastern politics and present a distorted reality, precisely as the state-controlled media in the region did for decades.


Given the speed of events involving radical Islamists and radical Americans, Al-Jazeera was faced with a dilemma: be fair to all parties or succumb to pressure and silence the unwanted voices. A damage-control formula seemed difficult to reach. In many cases Al-Jazeera may have failed to maintain the delicate balance between the need to give the radical voices the chance to present their views and being indirectly used by them for rhetoric and propaganda. This is a form of "collateral damage" incurred in the course of a bigger project that has, by and large, been bound by the basic parameters of a free and objective media.


In a nutshell, any media outlet in or about the Middle East today would find it virtually impossible to convey objectively the realities of the region and the feelings on the Arab street toward Western-related policies without transmitting views and opinions that are loaded with Islamist rhetoric and propaganda. Al-Jazeera has reflected Arab anger, not created it..


Khaled Hroub is an Arab media specialist and director of the Cambridge Arab Media Project, University of Cambridge. This commentary first appeared at Index on Censorship, and is published by permission. 





Deadline Extended for

Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society Diversity Fellowship


The Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society has extended its deadline until October 31 for applications for the 2007 Emerging Leaders International Fellows Program Diversity Fellowship.  The Diversity Fellowship is open to practitioners and researchers from communities of color outside the United States that are under-represented in the U.S. grantmaking sector.   The Diversity Fellowship is part of the Emerging Leaders International Fellows Program, a three-month program that provides leadership training for young scholar-practitioners in the nonprofit sector.  Fellows are based at The Graduate Center of The City University of New York, where they design and pursue an individualized research project and participate in a seminar with Third-Sector leaders.  Fellows will participate in weekly seminars and conduct research on community foundations.  To apply, go to: www.philanthropy.org





 Call for Applications:

Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellowships


The Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellows Program at the Washington, DC-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED) welcomes applications from candidates throughout the world for fellowships in 2007-2008. Established in 2001, the program enables democracy activists, practitioners, scholars, and journalists from around the world to deepen their understanding of democracy and enhance their ability to promote democratic change. The program is intended primarily to support activists, practitioners, and scholars from new and aspiring democracies; distinguished scholars from the United States and other established democracies are also eligible to apply. Projects may focus on the political, social, economic, legal, and cultural aspects of democratic development and may include a range of methodologies and approaches. A working knowledge of English is an important prerequisite for participation in the program. The application deadline for fellowships in 2007-2008 is Wednesday, November 1  , 2006.


For further information about the program, available in English, Arabic, Russian, and Spanish, go to: www.ned.org/forum/fellows.html





Training Course on Election Monitoring Held in Bahrain


The Arab Election Monitoring Network in cooperation with the Bahraini Association for Human Rights and the Amman Center for Human Rights Studies organized a three-day training course on election monitoring and media performance related to elections. The course was held in Manama, and 30 Bahraini domestic election observers attended. The program focused on fundamental freedoms in the Bahraini Constitution, international standards for elections, the role of media in election monitoring, training in election monitoring, and the role of the election observer. The Arab Election Monitoring Network was established in May 2006, and includes 40 Arab organizations and institutions from 12 Arab countries, all of which work on human rights and election monitoring.  Most recently, it has issued a preliminary report on its observation of the Yemeni presidential and local council elections, citing several positive and negative observations.


Go to: www.achrs.org/english/CenterNewsView.asp?CNID=215


For the initial Yemeni elections report, go to: www.achrs.org/english/CenterNewsView.asp?CNID=224





Youth for Human Rights Program Begun in the Arab World


Organized jointly by the Arab Institute for Human Rights (AIHR), the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), and Human Rights Educations Associates (HREA), the new Youth for Human Rights Program will provide long-term training and support for young human rights activists in the Arab World. The program, which will accept 75 trainees and 30 auditors, will begin in December 2006 and end in January 2008. It has distance learning as well as workshop components, and all instruction will be in Arabic. The aim of the program is to expand the network of people working in the field of human rights, develop their advocacy and monitoring skills, and increase their knowledge of international and regional human rights standards and mechanisms. The application deadline is October 25, 2006.


Go to: www.cihrs.org/prog_Activity_details_en.aspx?act_id=81&prog_name=Human%20Rights%20Education



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