- IkhwanWeb in PressMB and WestMB in International pressPolitical Islam StudiesYouth
- November 7, 2007
- 5 minutes read
Looking for Moderate Islamists
The debate over whether to engage with Islamists will continue, although it appears something of a consensus may be emerging. Whatever side you”re on, it”s worth keeping an eye on the new generation of Islamists for whom 9/11 was a defining moment almost as much as it was for many of us here in the U.S., if perhaps for somewhat different reasons. One of the more prominent of this emerging group is Ibrahim El Houdaiby, the grandson of former Muslim Brotherhood general guide Hasan el-Houdaiby. I got to know Houdaiby two summers ago in Egypt, when I was interviewing many of the Brotherhood”s leaders. Unlike the MB”s older generation, Houdaiby speaks (and writes) excellent English, and did his undergraduate degree at the American University in Cairo (one of the few remaining strongholds of the Egyptian secular elite).
I remember the first time I met him at a cafe near Tahrir Square. As I walked in, he was talking to two young women (Western researchers themselves) in his usual, animated way, about politics, religion, and philosophy. Houdaiby was smiling and seemed to be enjoying himself, which may not seem like a big deal except that Islamists tend to interact with members of the opposite sex in a rather stilted, formal manner. This, itself, cast an impression. I could tell he was different. And, indeed, he is, as his slew of recent opeds would suggest. Houdaiby has apparently been on a tear, getting his views out to quite a diverse audience. To my knowledge, he is the first Muslim Brotherhood member to publish in the Forward, which struck me as a big deal when it happened (Oren Rawls, the Forward“s opinion editor, thought so too). In an organization long defined by a culture of obedience, here you had Houdaiby openly criticizing – in an American Jewish newspaper no less – his own leader, General Guide Mahdi Akef, for his troubling attitudes towards women. It wasn”t revolutionary, but it was something.
Houdaiby has also been an outspoken proponent of an official U.S.-Islamist dialogue. Where many other Islamists are afraid to be associated with the U.S., Houdaiby is of a different mind, as he makes clear in this op-ed. If you”re concerned that he”s just pandering to Western audiences, you can find out for yourself by reading his personal blog in Arabic.
Shadi Hamid is director of research at the Project on Middle East Democracy. His articles on U.S. foreign policy and Middle East politics have appeared in the Carnegie Endowment’s Arab Reform Bulletin, The Christian Science Monitor, The Jerusalem Post, The American Prospect and Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. His most recent publication is a policy report for the Progressive Policy Institute on “Engaging Political Islam to Promote Democracy.” He writes for the National Security Network’s foreign affairs blog Democracy Arsenal, and is an associate of the Truman National Security Project. Previously, he served as a program specialist on public diplomacy at the State Department as well as a Legislative Fellow at the Office of Senator Dianne Feinstein. As a Fulbright Fellow in Jordan and a Boren Fellow in Egypt, Hamid conducted extensive research on the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Action Front. He has been a consultant to various organizations on political reform in the Arab world, and has appeared on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, NPR, Voice of America, and the BBC.