The Challenge of Democracy In the Muslim World

In the weeks and months prior to their impressive showing in the 2005 parliamentary elections, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood launched an aggressive charm offensive targeted at Western opinion makers. They launched, an impressive, well-maintained “official English site.” On the main page, they have a picture of political scientist Amr Hamzawy and a prominent link to an article of his titled “Deal with Moderate Islamists” Similarly, the site has featured several of my articles advocating US-Islamist dialogue. In another interesting move, Deputy Supreme Guide Khairat el-Shatir wrote an op-ed titled “No Need to Be Afraid of Us” in The Guardian – the first time a Brotherhood leader has explained the group’s political positions in a major Western publication. Indeed, the two sides – the US and the Muslim Brotherhood – are steadily, if reluctantly gravitating toward each other, out of a belated realization that establishing some kind of rapport with the other is in their interest.(Shadi Hamid)

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Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID)

Seventh Annual Conference

The Challenge of Democracy In the Muslim World

May 5-6, 2006

Marriott Wardman Park Hotel

2660 Woodley Road, NW, Washington, DC 20008


Alan Cordova, (Difficulties encountered by Muslims in Granada, Spain) In January 2005, I conducted a political ethnography in the city, investigating the historical influences on the local civic identity, the relation between different ethnic groups and Muslims’ relationship with the Spanish state vis-à-vis the national government’s lack of a concrete multicultural policy.  In my paper, I examine current cultural cleavages brought to the fore by a recent surge in immigration from the Maghreb countries.  Specifically, I seek to address the questions of integration and whether a hybrid Spanish Islam is possible within current local and geopolitical contexts.  Drawing from the examples of London and Paris, whose much older Muslim communities provide important lessons for the burgeoning communities in Andalusia, I explore the promises and dangers of different government actions and identity group structures. In order to address the central policy question, my paper explores the interpretation of the capitulation of Granada in 1492, its local effects and the consequences for both the Spanish national identity and the Muslim remembrance of past glory.  By peeling back the layers of construction, I suggest that the answers to the questions of multiculturalism currently facing Spain may lie in its historical condition of connivance, a period of tranquility and prosperity in which citizens of three religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) coexisted. I am interested in exploring the challenges facing Muslims living at the borders of what has historically been considered the Muslim world, and how they are able to influence the area in which they live.  Their presence in Spain is opening a new chapter in the country’s transition away from Francoist authoritarianism and towards a pluralistic democracy, and my paper would close by suggesting several steps the state could take to adopt  a more inclusive polity while observing its deep historical roots.

Alberto Fernandez, (Liberating Islam from Bondage: The Radical Democratic Discourse of Al-Sadiq al-Nayhum), This paper examines the continuing relevancy of Libyan political thinker Al-Sadiq Al-Nayhum’s (d. 1995) analysis of the Arab dilemma as expressed in his Sawt al-Nas: Mihnat Thaqaat Muzawara(Voice of the People: The Affliction of a Forged Culture) published in 1987 and in related works of the period.  Al-Nayhum sought to answer two questions that have bedeviled Arab thinkers for centuries:  where did we go wrong – how did an advanced and self-confident civilization run down?  And what must be done to change the current sad reality of Arab civilization, especially as it relates to democratization.  While deeply critical of Western intentions and interference, Al-Nayhum sees the issue of Arab Muslim governance as a “problem” of the Arab Muslims’ own making and only they can solve it.  Western pressure can help or hinder such needed changes but it cannot bring it about. AlNayhum discovers the seeds of Arab Muslim misrule in an intentional misreading of the Holy Qur’an which took religious interpretation from the people and placed it in the hands of a State-controlled, dogmatic religious elite.  In his memorable phrase, “Friday then becomes the appointed day of the silent (submissive) Muslims.”  Like contemporary salafi Islamists, Al-Nayhum sees the crisis of contemporary Islam as dating back to the religion’s earliest days.  Unlike them, he sees perfect freedom rather than perfect obedience as being the beating heart of an original, Qur’an-based Islam. Almost a decade after his death, what do the thoughts and trenchant analysis of this prolific and original thinker tell us of the current state of the theoretical discourse on democratization in the Arab world?  With the real yet very uncertain lurches towards democracy in places like Palestine, Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq, what salience does the call for popular reinterpretation of the Qur’an have for establishing a firmer Islamic foundation for democracy in the 21st century? 

Alon Ben-Meir, (Domestic And External Challenges to Democracy in The Arab And Muslim World)  In this essay I will argue that because of the long history in the Arab and Muslim world of authoritarianism, tribalism, and sectarianism based on religious and cultural orientation, it is impossible to introduce democracy successfully there without an initial transitional period. During this period, home-grown forces will work to shape an emerging democratic system consistent with each society’s unique needs and environment. By themselves, free elections neither create nor constitute democracy, and when they precede the building of democratic institutions, they are actually more likely to produce instability and upheaval, especially in countries previously governed by authoritarian regimes. There are five core strategic challenges, domestic and external, that must be carried out to effect successful democratic reforms.First, pursue gradual changes: most Muslim and Arab societies prefer gradual rather than radical reforms. We simply cannot introduce democracy with a gun barrel (Iraq).  Gradualism also will be less threatening to those with vested interests in the existing order. Gains made through incremental political and social reforms are more likely to endure (Jordan). Second, provide economic incentives in exchange for democratic reform: This economic assistance should be earmarked solely for sustainable projects through various international and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Two fundamental elements in pluralist democracy are the dispersion of power toward interior localities and the inclusion of local communities in the decision-making process via designing and implementing development projects (Marocco).Third, develop democratic institutions that sustain long-term pluralist democracy. The focus must be on development in four critical areas; a free media, liberal organizations, a fair judiciary, and human rights (Indonesia).Fourth, reform the educational systems that remain the cornerstone of long-term development of democracy. In most Muslim and Arab states, educational systems need massive improvement of infrastructure, text books, and teaching methods (problems facing Pakistan and Saudi Arabia). Fifth, nurture liberal political parties and organizations responsive to domestic needs that provide the basis for continuing democratic reforms. This is particularly critical in the context of the rise of Islamic groups with a conservative, Islamic agenda (Hamas), which are better organized than other organizations that have or desire to make a political impact. The essay will conclude by making policy recommendations based on extensive research and the author’s wide-ranging experience in many Muslim and Arab states over the years.

Amr Hamzawy, (The Role of Islamist Movements in Promoting Democracy in the Arab World: Procedures versus Values), although mainstream Islamist movements continue to call for the establishment of Islamic states across the region and the implementation of the sharia, this is increasingly a matter of symbolic language and traditional metaphor. These ideals are subordinated in real politics to the priorities of liberal democratic reforms. A new consensus has emerged within mainstream Islamist movements that the ideals reflected in the utopia of the Islamic state can best be realized in the contemporary Arab world by adhering in each country to the principles of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. The meaning of democracy and rule of law within the Islamist spectrum does not differ much from Arab secular views. Universal citizenship, peaceful transfer of power, checks and balances, citizens’ participation, neutrality of public authorities in approaching multiple religious and ethnic identities, and tolerance of diversity are principles that are as accepted among mainstream Islamists as they are in liberal circles. Certainly, Islamists will never use the adjective “secular” to describe the neutrality of public institutions, but they convey identical connotations when they assert the “civility” of the public sphere. Nor should Islamists be expected to drop their rhetorical emphasis that the teachings of Islam should guide all action, because this emphasis maintains the distinctiveness of religion-based political perceptions and sustains to a great extent the popular appeal of the Islamists. The embrace of pluralist politics does not mean that Islamists are giving up their religious legacy and becoming wholeheartedly the new liberals of the Arab world. Rather, the crucial issue is that promoting democratic reform and pragmatism are becoming additional central components of the Islamist agenda. Yet, any effort to deal objectively with mainstream Islamists in the Arab world cannot avoid highlighting the less liberal zones in their positions and practices. Issues such as gender equality, civil and political rights of non-Muslim population groups, religious freedom, and modernization of educational systems have been highlighted as examples of the illiberality of Islamist views. Although there has been some progress in relation to the status of women and non-Muslims in a number of movements, the majority of mainstream Islamist movements continue to be trapped in discriminatory illiberal stances on vital sociocultural issues.

Anas Malik, (Towards an Experiment in Libertarian Political Islam) is political Islam inherently fascistic or free? In today’s political climate, the common belief seems to emphasize Islamism as have authoritarian or totalitarian tendencies. This perception has been reinforced by the capture-the-state policies chosen by revolutionary vanguardist Islamist groups. For many nonMuslims and Muslims, it is presumed that Islamic law must be imposed on societies, and this curtails and constrains the scope for choice that people and communities enjoy. Yet political Islam can be seen as potentially and inherently libertarian. This vibrant and alternative understanding exists, but has not received significant attention or elaboration in the literature. Examining “libertarian political Islam” more closely, especially while considering recent advances in political science regarding governance, shows that contrary to the popular views, political Islam has a most rigorous and authentic attachment to libertarianism. This finding indicates a major challenge to the current “war on terror” mindset. Fears that allowing political Islamists into powerful positions will undermine democracy, democratization, or democratic consolidation are misplaced. Allowing more and diverse Islamists to establish local governance has the potential to foster the most effective anti-tyrannical orders. This study argues for an experiment in libertarian political Islam (ELPI). It is experimental because although there are strong historical and jurisprudential roots and supports for such a model, a newer and fuller articulation assessing current challenges shows that the final outcome is not determinate.

Asma Afsaruddin, (Democratic Governance and the  so-called “Islamic State”), Much has been (and continues to be) made of the concepts of “Islamic Government” and the “Islamic State” in certain circles.  As is fairly common knowledge by now, the linchpin of the theory of the “Islamic State” has been provided in recent times (among Sunnis) by the religio-political thought of Islamist ideologues like Abu ’l-Ala Maududi, Sayyid Qutb, and those who have followed in their wake.  They have supposedly grounded the legitimacy of their positions in an earlier layer of political thought and administrative policies.  Modern Islamist ideologues in fact insist that the genealogy of their concepts of “Islamic Government” and “Islamic State” extend all the way back to the first century of Islam, having been fully realized in the practices of the Prophet Muhammad and which were emulated by the four Rightly-Guided caliphs who succeeded him as leaders of the Muslim polity.  Because of the early and thus “authentic” inception of these concepts in the Islamic milieu, the further assumption is made that these concepts militate against the notion of a modern, liberal democracy and that the “Islamic State” must remain at odds with the democratic one.  Such views have not gone uncontested, since such ideological assertions need to be critically scrutinized for their historicity, based on the sources available to us.  This paper looks critically at some of these assumptions and reprises the situation in the early Islamic period according to the sources available and assesses the credibility of such claims.

Carola Richter, (Democratization and Islamist ’Auto-Reform’: Preliminary Findings from Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait”), To what extent is the democratic evolution of Islamist rhetoric and behavior a strategic response to changing political opportunities and constraints, and to what extent does it reflect a deeper change in Islamist actors’ core values and beliefs?  And if, in fact, a normative shift has occurred, what are its scope and limits, and what are the conditions which trigger it and sustain it over time?  I will address these questions with specific reference to change over time in the rhetoric and behavior of leaders associated with the non-violent mainstream of the Islamist opposition in Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait.  My analysis draws on fieldwork I conducted in Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait in 2004, and a follow-up research trip to Egypt in 2005, in preparation for a new book, Islamist Auto-Reform and the Future of Opposition Politics in the Arab World.

Carrie Rosefsky Wickham, (Democratization and Islamist ’Auto-Reform’: Preliminary Findings from Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait), To what extent is the democratic evolution of Islamist rhetoric and behavior a strategic response to changing political opportunities and constraints, and to what extent does it reflect a deeper change in Islamist actors’ core values and beliefs?  And if, in fact, a normative shift has occurred, what are its scope and limits, and what are the conditions which trigger it and sustain it over time?  I will address these questions with specific reference to change over time in the rhetoric and behavior of leaders associated with the non-violent mainstream of the Islamist opposition in Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait.  My analysis draws on fieldwork I conducted in Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait in 2004, and a follow-up research trip to Egypt in 2005, in preparation for a new book, Islamist Auto-Reform and the Future of Opposition Politics in the Arab World.

Elkhan Mehtiyev, (Problems of Democracy in Azerbaijan:  Oil or Muslim factor?), The paper outlines the root causes of problems contributing to Azerbaijani democracy analyzing the developments in the society and in the ruling elite of Azerbaijan. The impact of Islam or oil to growing authoritarianism and corruption in Azerbaijan and reluctance of the ruling regime to have free elections have been dominant for the past years for both  international and domestic experts. Being a Muslim country with rich energy resources has placed Azerbaijan in a unique situation as the country is a Council of Europe’s member and has close ties with NATO and United States. But the tendencies going on in the political development of the country is nothing different from the Middle Eastern autocracies and gives no optimism for democracy in the near future.  Rise and revival of Islam in a once communist republic has led to chaotic and illiterate understanding of true Islam and especially among youth which could be additional problems for peaceful development and democracy in the nearest future. The paper will try to analyze the role of external powers specifically United States and EU in promoting democracy in Azerbaijan bringing specific cases and examples, assessing different roles of different institutions. Prevailing security interests over democracy and by this way support of authoritarians in the region and repeat of the Middle Eastern experience in early XX century towards oil rich Azerbaijan and ignorance of free elections and the rule of law bodes not optimism in a growing Muslim society with heavily corrupted government. Restriction of political freedom and chaotic spread of different Islamic trends and lack of religious policy in Azerbaijan has already triggered sharp debates and questions in support of harmony of Islam and democracy in Azerbaijani society. The paper is going to summarize the ongoing development in the given filed.

Husain Haqqani, (Pakistan between Mosque and Military.), the absence of democracy in Muslim countries such as Pakistan are the result of a complex interplay between external factors and the desire of elites, such as the military, to benefit from them. At the time of independence in 1947, Pakistan received 33 percent of British India’s army but only 17 percent of its revenue sources. This led to the military’s quest for strategic “rents” from the U.S. and the evolution of the U.S.-Pakistan alliance. Instead of allowing the will of the Pakistani people to determine the nation’s future, Pakistan’s ruling elite squandered the positive legacy of British rule –representative institutions–and the world’s first contemporary Islamic Republic is still struggling under military rule and without democracy. Pakistan’s Islamist groups have tended to allow themselves to be used by the military in denying democracy to Pakistanis, settling for a dispropootionate share of political space, concessions on cultural issues and symbolic Islamization.  For Pakistan to move towards democracy, international support for the military would have to diminish and genuine contestation between various political parties would have to replace a political system manipulated by the military in the name of Islam.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, (Creating a Productive Discourse on Democracy in the Muslim World), We examine the state of the discourses on the establishment of democracy in the Muslim world and conclude that three obstacles require special attention if progress towards democracy is to be facilitated. (1) There must be a change in American foreign policy so that American actions do not contradict American professions of a desire for democracy in the Middle East; (2) the discourse must be modified to directly address the concerns and objections of Islamists; and (3) a new strategy must be formulated that aims not at immediate results, but at changing long-term attitudes. The hypocrisy with which America attacks authoritarian and discriminatory regimes that oppose its geopolitical objectives while supporting authoritarian and apartheid regimes that comply with them delegitimizes actions taken by the American government in pursuit of democracy and undermines the concept of democratic reform itself, making it seem like nothing more than a banner for interventionism. Advocates of democracy should address the Islamist critique in its strongest form. This will necessitate conceding certain points, such as the fact that the definition of democracy is a notion with a contested definition (e.g., is it the defense of minority and individual rights or a rule of the majority?). Aspects of democracy that inhere in Islamic law (such as the rule of law) should be emphasized as Islamic rather than secular, while those aspects that are not inherent (such as the lection of leaders) should be promoted as pragmatically beneficial. Certain aspects of Western democracy (such as the concept that positive law may rescind natural or Divine law) need to be abandoned. On the other side, Muslims must abandon some long-cherished interpretations that conflict not only with Western notions of individual rights, but with the fundamental notion of the individual’s direct responsibility to God. Seeds for a future democracy must be planted by an intellectual engagement with the youth of the Muslim world. That such an approach may take two generations to bear fruit is not an argument against it, since it is well established that paradigm shifts take a generation or two to establish themselves.

John Keane, (Why Democracy?) On the Need for Fresh Thinking about an Old Ideal, The history of democracy since its origins in the Near East contains many different and conflicting accounts of why democracy is a desirable way of life – a good life to be struggled for and defended. With emphasis on contemporary Muslim contributions, this talk reconstructs the history of such justifications in order to highlight some basic philosophical and political confusion and to show the need for fesh thinking about democracy considered as a normative ideal and way of life. John Keane will draw upon work from his new project on the history and future of democracy, and put the case for a new understanding of ’humble democracy’.

John P Entelis, (Transition to Democracy in Algeria: Problems and Prospects), Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has pursued numerous policies in his second term intended to consolidate power into his own hands including major shifts in the structure of the army high command. He has also launced new initiatives including reforming the judiciary, amending the retrograde 1984 family code that severely inhibits women’s rights, strengthening human rights, and restoring the authority of the state. Clearly many of these reforms are positive steps toward strengthening civilian authority and rebuilding state institutions. However, as favorable as some of these efforts appear to be in promoting liberalization and democratization, a stable and a nationally reconstituted political order has not been translated into freedom, liberty, or democracy. Algeria remains an authoritarian state devoid of transparency, the rule of law, an independent judiciary, a fully contested political pluralism, freedom of expression, press, and the media, and an institutionalized separation of civilian and military rule as the latter continues to intervene in government decision-making and is unaccountable to elected civilian leaders. What are the conditions that foster this “robust” authoritarianism? Who are the principles actors in state and society working to sustain or overturn the authoritarian order? What processes are involved in the maintenance or transformation of the political status quo?

Joshua Muravchik, (Are elections in the Muslim world in America’s interests?), The victories by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s parliamentary elections, the triumph of Hamas in Palestinian elections, the strong showing of Islamists elsewhere in the Arab world have caused consternation in Washington and have triggered much second-guessing about the American policy of promoting democracy in the Middle East.  Will this strategy backfire?  Will democracy mean the rise of forces more inimical to America than those that rule now? The answer cannot be known.  But historical shift in US policy–from supporting the status quo in the Middle East to pressing for political reform–was not based, one hopes, on the premise that democracy would necessarily result in friendlier governments.  Rather, the idea was that democracy would serve as an antidote to extremism and would turn people away from the path of violence.  Every place else in the world there are democratic governments that are opposed to US policies.  We should expect the Middle East to be no different.  The key question we should ask of Islamists, or any other forces that come to the fore, is not whether they like America or American policies but whether they will play by the rules of democracy.  If so, America should be able to find ways to coexist with them.

Leigh Graham, (Education is the Foundation: Women Building Peace and Prosperity in Sudan), Sudan, the largest Muslim country in Africa, is on the cusp of a new era of peace and prosperity, and women are increasingly involved in the nation’s political-economic development. From the nearly century-old vision of educating girls and women at Ahfad University to Rebecca Garang’s charismatic shepherding of the nation through the instability and violence that erupted in the wake of her husband’s tragic death, Sudanese women are rising to positions of power and influencing the course of political and economic events in Sudan. This study examines modern interpretations of gender roles and expectations of women in Muslim society. It also assesses the influence of Islamic discourse in empowering women through education, thus transforming traditional interpretations and expectations. The central thesis of this study is that education facilitates women’s participation in the social sphere, which translates to political representation and economic empowerment. Analysis of current Islamic discourse on women’s education offers insight into the Muslim imagination’s vision of women in development. To this end, critical discourse analysis of key policies and government statements relating to education, politics, and economic development will provide the foundation of my research.  To what extent do the Islamic community and the state actively support gender equity in educational institutions in Sudan? Furthermore, what is the function of the madrassah system in terms of girls’ and women’s empowerment?  This study will also address the perceived consequences of women joining the workforce and thus reinventing the roles of wife and mother in the context of an Islamic family. While confirming that evolving gender roles in Islamic societies present both opportunities and challenges, this paper ultimately provides evidence in support of the belief that gender equity in education reinforces women’s performance of domestic roles and responsibilities and also encourages women’s contributions to political and economic development in Islamic societies. A case study of the Women’s Studies program at Ahfad University for Women in Omdurman, Sudan will be a central feature of this study. My assessment will include analysis of the program’s history, mission, and curriculum as well as a survey of its courses and community out-reach activities. Ahfad University provides a laboratory in which to closely examine the successes and challenges of women in education and development in Sudan. While this study is country specific, my findings have broad implications for understanding the impact that women’s education has in political and economic development throughout the Muslim World.

Louay Safi, (Democratization in Syria and the Interplay of Culture and Structure), Democracy is a demand advanced by many intellectuals and activists in Syria, but is still far from becoming a popular demand. This does not mean, though, that Syrians are content with the current political climate. The Syrian economy failed in the last two decades to catch up with population growth, and corruption in the public sector is rampant, as income growth for public servants fell far short of inflation throughout the nineties. The economic pressure from within and political pressure from outside have encouraged critical voices and led to the emergence of a small but growing opposition. The question I would like to address in this paper is whether the fledging opposition is capable of leading a democratic reform in the country. I will focus on salient aspects of the Syrian political culture which makes the concepts of power sharing and political compromises, essential for democracy, quite challenging. I’ll also examine the difficult transition to democracy and identify steps that may facilitate a democratic transformation in Syria.

Mariam Memarsadeghi, (A Presentation on Freedom House’s Comparative, Region-Wide Study, Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Citizenship and Justice), Freedom House’s “Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Citizenship and Justice” found a substantial deficit in women’s rights in the 16 countries and one territory reviewed. The study rates countries on a numerical scale, offering the first such ranking of the status of women in the region. The survey’s methodology is derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to the study, women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) face a systematic gender gap, aided in large measure by discriminatory laws and by the routine lack of enforcement of existing laws guaranteeing equality and fair treatment. While women in the region have made substantial gains in education, none of the countries evaluated meets internationally recognized standards for women’s rights protections. The study identifies several major obstacles that prevent women in the MENA region from enjoying the full range of legal, civil, political, economic, and social rights, among them: Inferior status due to legal discrimination: While 16 of the 17 countries examined (all except Saudi Arabia) enshrine the concept of equal rights in their constitutions, women face legal forms of discrimination that are systematic and pervade every aspect of life; in some countries women are susceptible to harsher penalties than men for certain crimes. Discrimination in nationality and citizenship laws: Women do not enjoy the same citizenship and nationality rights as men in MENA countries. A woman who marries a foreigner cannot pass on her citizenship or nationality to her spouse and, in most countries, cannot confer her citizenship to her children. Domestic violence: No country in the region has laws that clearly outlaw all forms of domestic violence. The burden of proof is placed entirely on the female victim in cases of gender-based violence, which discourages women from reporting crimes. Some laws, such as those that encourage men who rape women to marry their victims, even condone violence against women. Lack of information; Absence of voice: Women in the region are largely unaware of their rights, due in part to educational weaknesses and the failure by governments to engage in public education campaigns. Students, especially girls, are not taught about citizenship rights. The media also largely fails to cover injustices suffered by women. Cultural attitudes generally regard women’s demands and protests as contrary to women’s traditional, subservient roles. Women’s inferior status in family law: In almost all MENA countries, women face gender-based discrimination in family codes. Except in Morocco and Tunisia, family laws relegate women to inferior status within marriage and family life. Husbands are given power over their wives’ right to work and travel, and they can divorce their wives at any time, without reason and without going to court; women are required by law to meet specific conditions in order to seek divorce through a court of law. Lack of complaint mechanisms: With the exception of Egypt, MENA governments do not provide mechanisms for women to file complaints of gender discrimination.

Maimul Ahsan Khan, (Revisiting Secularism and Revitalization of Islamism: Democratic Perspective), Muslims believe that many important religious and political ideas can be found in the Quran. There are many verses in the Quran dealing both directly and indirectly with the issues of people’s representation in governance and rule of law. From a Quranic point of view, democracy, like any other ideology, might be good or tolerable in some instances, and evil or intolerable in others. When democracy is harmless, and promotes religious tolerance and mutual respect between different religious faiths, that is regarded as good democracy. Many Muslim s cholars and jurists refer to the positive forms of democracy as “Islamic democracy.” On the other hand, forms of atheistic and / or anti-Islamic secularism are regarded as evil ideologies, and Muslims are religiously obliged to fight those kinds of secular principles and ideas. Many Muslim religious scholars believe that, at the core of all kinds of racism, colonialism, communism, and Western capitalism, the dominant common ideological factor is anti-religious secularism. Historically, Muslims have had to fight relentlessly against those Western ideologies. Muslim religious scholars also think that the so-called materialistic ideologies may change their names, but in essence they remain, at least indirectly, anti-God, as behaviors such as racism and colonialism are fundamentally wrong, from a spiritual point of view. Islamists throughout the world have interpreted colonialism as Christian domination over Muslim peoples and their resources, even when the colonial power’s motives may have been largely materialistic. Muslims fought communism primarily because of the atheistic nature of its governance. For the religious Muslim masses, the difference between communism and democracy is very marginal because both are founded on “materialistic secularism.” Muslims see Western democracy as the torch-bearer of global capitalism, which presumably has very little concern for spirituality and public good at either national or international levels. In the face of this “devastating heartless-globalization”, Muslim scholars have been propagating concepts of Islamic democracy that accept only harmless, tolerant precepts of democracy. In other words, religiously motivated Muslim activists want to Islamize the state-secularism of the West, in Islamic homelands, and wish to make a harmless form of democracy a reality for Islamic peoples. In the final analysis, Islamists refer to many Quranic verses that permit them to co-exist and cooperate with the peoples of other-faiths and no-faiths, but that also make them jihadists against any attempt to impose Western or American secularism on Muslim countries. This paper is an attempt to show how various Quranic verses or Islamic messages can provide the seeds for either good or bad democracy, and for either regressive or dynamic Islamization processes.

Marina Ottaway, ( The Crisis of Non-Islamist Parties in The Middle East), Recent elections in the Arab world, particularly the parliamentary elections in Egypt and Palestine, have focused international attention on the rise of the Islamist movements in all countries that are allowing such parties to compete legally. This has led to much soul searching about the wisdom of democracy promotion in Arab countries. Much less attention has been focused on the decline of non-Islamist parties. One of the reasons for the success of Islamists is that other political parties have virtually disappeared in many countries. This is a worrisome phenomenon. Democracy is unlikely to thrive if it is merely a contestation between often corrupt government parties and Islamist ones. Such contestation leaves many voters who want to change the status quo but do not share the views of Islamist parties without a viable choice, and is probably a factor that explains low voter turnout in many countries.It is thus important to explore the reasons for the collapse of non-Islamist parties, assess whether the situation is reversible, and explore the possibility of the development of party systems that provide voters with a wider array of choices. 

Maryam Knight, (Confronting the Real Enemy: An Islamic Perspective for Fighting Corruption), With rare exception, the drive for democracy in Muslim-majority states has not identified the most significant obstacle to the implementation of democracy by name: corruption. In fact, far too frequently authoritarian regimes have co-opted the language of democratic “reform” as part of their continuing, repressive control of economic and social sectors. Meanwhile, Islam is often perceived as a force that fundamentally stands in opposition to democracy, and thus governmental crackdowns on expressions in the political sphere of Islamic belief are rationalized in the name of “democracy” and “reform.” How is corruption (fasaad) defined from a Muslim perspective? What is permissible according to Qur’anic precepts—and what not? This paper will explore the basic Qur’anic instructions regarding corruption with special reference to the situation in Egypt and recent events there. It will also examine how democracies define corruption and the prescriptions they offer for rooting out corruption and ensuring good governance. Perhaps the most challenging distinction between democratic and Islamic approaches is that whereas democracies tend to categorize corruption as a form of white-collar crime, the Qur’an looks upon it as a capital offense (Q. 5:32-33), requiring execution or exile, an obvious impediment in Muslim states for individuals who might confess to the crime in a secular democracy. Does Islam have a solution to this dilemma, and how can Muslim democrats encourage this third—yet still Qur’anic—option?

Mohamed Berween, (Islamization of Democracy: The Requisite of Democracy in the Islamic World), This paper begins by asserting that despite the attractiveness of the concept of democracy across the globe, it is still an ambiguous and difficult term to define. Literally, it means rule of the people. But what this exactly means is not clear! For instance, whereas president Abraham Lincoln defined it as “government from the people, by the people, for the people,” President James Madison, the father of the American Constitution and the first political scientist in America, described it in the Federalist No. 10 as follows:“…. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.” Which one is correct? Maybe Windson Churchill, the former prime minister of Britain, who once said that: “democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.” In this paper, however, I will define democracy as a political system which is based on choice, competition, respect for human rights, and the rule of law. And democratization as the process by which a political system change from non-democratic to become democratic one. The purpose of this paper is to argue that there are seven substantial challenges facing the process of Islamizing Democracy in the Muslim countries over the coming years. These criteria are: (1) Providing Choice: Since citizens are the most distinctive element in democracy, they must have the right to choice what, how,  and who should govern them in order for a democracy  to succeed; (2) Establishing Constitutionalism especially: (a)  the supremacy of Sharia and the respect for the “rule of law;” (b) the principle of Separation of powers; and, (c) the principle of the Majority Rule and Minority Rights; (3) Creating Competition: Free and fair elections are essential condition of democracy; (4) Building strong Institutions; (5) Solving the crisis of political leadership: Having legitimate, accountable, and credible political leaders are essential requirement for the process of democratization; (6) Demilitarizing politics: The demilitarization of politics is also essential for democracy to succeed. Unfortunately, the military is the only strong, modern and powerful institution that has been established in the Islamic countries since their independence and a new democratic government needs to be able to govern without military interference; and (7) Minimizing the external influence. For successful democratization of  the Muslim countries, the Islamist groups must be able to participate freely and fully in the political process. The democratization process must come from Muslims themselves otherwise it will not succeed.  I will conclude this paper by emphasizing the following points: (1) In order for democracy to succeed in the Islamic countries, it has to be Islamized – meaning, it has to be redefined in Islamic terms and make it acceptable to the Muslim masses; (2) Islamicizing democracy is the best way to stabilize the Muslim world and to get rid of extremism; (3) There is no question that the vast majority of Muslims desire justice, liberty, peace, and representative political institutions: (4) I do agree with all those who argue that Islamicizing democracy is still a work in progress and a great deal of hard work remains; (5) It has to be understood that the democratization process, in this Muslim countries, will not be easy nor will it be cost-free, people will die and dictators will get more brutal. and finally, (6) If the West and the United States are sincere in there support for freedom and democracy in the Islamic countries, they have to stop supporting dictatorship in these countries; open dialogue with the Islamists who believe in respecting the rule of law; and be willing to accept modern and democratic Islamic states.

Mustapha khalfi, (U.S. Policy toward Political Reforms in Morocco) the papers examines the U.S. involvement in the democratic development in Morocco from the beginning of 90s until 2004, via different organization, like NDI, IRI, NED an others, and what’s the real impact of this involvement in the political process, and finally, the paper will evaluate the major Moroccan’s perceptions and attitudes toward the U.S. policy in this level.

Neil Hicks, (External and Domestic Challenges to Democracy in the Muslim World), Under the Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA) program the Bush Administration has placed democracy promotion at the center of its policy towards the Arab World and Iran in particular.  Through programs like the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and the Forum for the Future the U.S. government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars promoting democracy in the region.  It has set commendable goals in the fields of rule of law, transparency, human rights and women’s empowerment.  For all the idealistic rhetoric, the promotion of democracy by the U.S. government is still met with broad skepticism by many people in the region and results to date have been mixed. This presentation will identify some of the obstacles, both internal and external, that continue to impede the spread of democracy in the region.  These include: hostility from deeply entrenched and resilient repressive regional governments; persistent political violence by governments and opposition groups which contributes to political polarization and provides a convenient pretext to defer democratization; selective application of human rights by regional and external governments and perceived omissions from democratization programs; and the unpopularity of broader U.S. policies in the region acting as a drag on U.S. backed democratization. The presentation will conclude with an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of U.S. democracy promotion efforts and some recommendations for future policy that stress the centrality of sustained focus on the implementation of tangible human rights progress.

Nilofar Sakhi, (Domestic and external challenges to democracy in the Muslim world Case studies: Turkey and Afghanistan) Domestically and externally there are challenges to democracy in the Muslim world since Shariath law is superior and practically implemented law in all Islamic countries. In the dictum of Muslim jurists, Shari‘ah is considered the foundation of law and politics is its protector. (Similarly, Muslim jurists often would assert that religion is the foundation and the political authorities are its protector.) This paradigm, however, leaves unresolved the core problem of how to clearly delineate the limits of government power. To what extent can the government extend the reach of its laws under the guise of guarding or properly fulfilling purposes of Shari‘ah?  In almost all Islamic countries there is ongoing struggle in separating religion from politics and the struggle for secular government is based on the fact that shria’th law won’t allow any other system to be implemented accordingly. For example, recently democratic movement in Afghanistan brought very positive changes in the country like women’s movement, struggle for stable political system such as: Cabinet and Parliamentary election, Free market and so on. But there are many challenges to strengthen democracy in Afghanistan since the country traditionally and socially follow Islamic law. An essential characteristic of a legitimate Islamic government is that it is subject to and limited by Shari‘ah law.  Constitutional democracies afford strong protections to certain individual interests through rights of free speech and assembly, equality before the law, rights to property, and guarantees of due process. But which rights ought to be protected, and to what extent, is subject to a large measure of variation in theory and practice. For Islam, democracy poses a formidable challenge. Muslim jurists argued that law made by a sovereign monarch is illegitimate because it substitutes human authority for God’s sovereignty. But law made by sovereign citizens faces the same problem of legitimacy. In Islam, God is the only sovereign and ultimate source of legitimate law. How, then, can a democratic conception of the people’s authority be reconciled with an Islamic understanding of God’s authority? The Islamic tradition of legal-political thought, then, suggests ideas of representation, consultation, and legal process. But the precise content of those ideas remains contested and provides no direct link between Islam and democracy. To understand the democratic possibilities of Islam we must look more deeply into the role of human beings in God’s creation and the central importance of justice in human life assigned by the Qur’an. According to Islam religion is not separated from politics and to make the state strong shar’iah could be more successful law. So how democracy could be implemented in such circumstances? An essential characteristic of a legitimate Islamic government is that it is subject to and limited by Shari‘ah law. Although this concept does offer support for the rule of law, we must distinguish between the supremacy of law and the supremacy of a set of legal rules. The two are quite distinct, and both are suggested in the Islamic legal tradition. Once again, Islamic political thought contains a range of interpretive possibilities. And once again, some of those possibilities resonate more strongly with democratic principles. An important dimension to the challenge of establishing the rule of law is the complex relationship between Shari‘ah law, as articulated by jurists, and the administrative practices of the state or expediency laws. While in the first two centuries of Islam it was possible to find jurists citing the practices of the state as a normative precedent, this became increasingly rare. By the fourth/tenth century Muslim jurists had established themselves as the only legitimate authority empowered to expound the law of God. The practice of the state was not considered illegitimate, but only the Muslim jurists could settle the law. The state was expected to enforce divine laws, not to determine their content. The main concern for the Islamic state is the administrative practices of state or rule of state law. Since rule of God or Shariah law has become almost the rule for the state. In such circumstances it is very challenging to strengthen democracy which is a political system. It needs its specific time duration and very long-term changes like democratic revolution in Turkey. In my paper I discuss about the challenges of democracy in the Muslim world. Shariah and the democratic state, Freedom of expression, Rule of law, Individuals rights,

Peter F. Mulrean, (MEPI and Democracy Promotion: What Have We Learned?) The U.S. State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) now has three years of experience providing tangible support to reformers in the Middle East and North Africa.  In doing so, MEPI has been able to closely link U.S. foreign policy priorities to targeted assistance programs that support the aspirations of people in the region.  For example, MEPI has responded quickly to unexpected opportunities, such as developing programs around the elections in Lebanon and Egypt in 2005.  MEPI has also increased efforts to strengthen civil society in the Arab world by helping cement working relationships between NGOs and reform activists from the U.S. and the region. After three years, MEPI is also adjusting its approach, as civil society expands and the community of reformers grows.  MEPI is increasing direct support to reformers from the region and targeting more country-specific opportunities to supplement its regional approach.  MEPI is better integrating the democracy, education, economic, and women’s rights facets of its work and is raising the profile of U.S. support for reform through increased public diplomacy efforts. Viewed from the field, the principle of “partnership” in MEPI is steadily gaining ground.  After 60 years of inadequate support for democracy in the region, the U.S. is now demonstrating consistent engagement in promoting democratic reform.  After more than a year and a half directing the MEPI regional office in Tunis, the speaker sees this endeavor paying dividends as more and more reformers join in the partnership.

Philip Seib, ( New Media and Democratization in the Middle East), In the Middle East as elsewhere, politics sometimes receives an unexpected jolt that produces unanticipated consequences.  This has happened during the past decade as information and communication technologies have become more pervasive and influential.  This process is accelerating, pushed along in part by transforming events such as the American invasion of Iraq. New media are affecting democratization within the Middle East, particularly in terms of their transnational impact.  This “Al-Jazeera effect” is a relatively new phenomenon but may become more significant as the number of regional satellite television stations grows, along with the proliferation of other new communications technologies, such as the Internet and cell phones.  Communications and information technologies can be potent tools in fostering political transformation, although they remain to varying degrees dependent on political institutions and other non-media factors. Empowerment through information has benefited in recent years from the growing pervasiveness and influence of satellite television, the Internet, cell phones, and other such devices.  The Internet, for instance, has been put to work by news organizations, governments, NGOs, terrorist groups, bloggers, and others, and has had impact on political process.  Democratization does not, however, come easily, and it is important to resist the temptation to assume that technology can, in and of itself, transform political reality.  So, the effect of new media on democratization is very much a work in progress, as reflected in the Middle East by various elections during 2005, other political mobilization, and American public diplomacy efforts.  Next steps in this process will include development of norms for media and other professionals who use these technologies.

Rachel Scott, (Citizenship and non-Muslims in Modern Islamic Thought), This paper examines the concept of citizenship in Egyptian Islamist thought in relation to the rights of non-Muslims, specifically Egyptian Christians. While it shows how the concept of citizenship is used as a tool of popular legitimization and mobilization in current Islamist discourse, the paper focuses on the thought of a group of intellectuals referred to as the ‘new Egyptian Islamists,’ which include Fahmi Howeidy, Muhammad Salim al-Awwa, and Tariq al-Bishri. These Islamists have made significant contributions to the articulation of citizenship in modern Islamic thought. The paper examines how this is done, looking at how these thinkers view Islamic history, how they differentiate the concept of dhimma from timeless, universal Islamic values¸ and how they interpret Qur’anic verses such as  9:29. The paper compares the kind of citizenship that is articulated in Islamic thought with Western assumptions of the notion of citizenship. What are the points of congruence and what are the points of difference? What is meant by references to ‘Islamic citizenship’ and is citizenship an appropriate translation for the Arabic term used by these Islamists “muwatana.”? The paper shows that there are some divergences between the understanding of citizenship in Islamic and contemporary Western political theory, particularly relating to religious freedom, personal status laws, and the relationship between the individual and the religious community.  While it asks whether citizenship is a flexible and transferable concept or one that is firmly rooted in Western political theory, it questions the efficacy of simply judging citizenship in Islamic thought through the lens of Western assumptions. It concludes that a more constructive question is whether Egyptian Islamists have been able to articulate a conception of citizenship that is acceptable to both Copts and Muslims in Egypt: a citizenship that has evolved “contextually” taking into account Egyptian social, moral, and political culture.

Saad Dine el Otmani, (Nature of Political Practice in Islam), Islamic movements doesn’t have a united systematic perception for political reformation issues. With much variation, the reform issue is being handled by the core trend by adopting reform using peaceful and legal means, casting away violence. I choose to approach the issue of nature of political practice in Islam through the prophet Mohamed’s behavior and conduct as Imam.  As various his behaviors may be, according to context, the systematic classification of Sheahb Eddin Elkerafi in the seventh century a. h. reveals the importance of studying and analyzing such behaviors. Firstly, it might be provisional conduct restricted by the prophet’s time and place. Secondly, it might entail seeking the interest and the common good for the whole society. Thirdly, it might be jurisprudential interpretation and not a divined instruction. Fourthly, it might be life time interest conducts that is not related to the interests of the hereafter as ElKerafi notes.  Taking the classification and the nature of the prophet Mohamed’s conduct and behavior in mind and into consideration generates an important and basic approach for many current discussed political issues. It reveals that Islam recognizes the state to be civil, where no immunity whatsoever to be attached to ruler’s behaviors, decisions and means. That ruler doesn’t obtain his authority from metaphysical powers, but he is rather an ordinary person that obtains his authority from and accounted to his nation.  Ideally, the relation between religion and politics in Islam will be based on distinction. Religion will be present in politics as guiding principles. However, the political practice will be independent from any religious authority. Islam didn’t define a certain form for ruling and citizens’ participation; instead it granted human creativity and evolution the opportunity to shape it according to the culture context. Any new form that can approach the ideal model is completely welcomed and ought to be benefit from. This is how the issues of political reform, such as democracy and human rights, should be approached.

Saeed Khan, (A Comparison of the Constitution of Medina and the Early Development of the United States Constitution on the Issues of Citizenship, Political Representation and Enfranchisement), Political development of a society is predicated upon an organized system of rights and responsibilities of its constituent peoples.  A constitution is often expositive of the level of sophistication of that society vis-à-vis adherence to certain legal and political realities and expectations.  A central variable to the latter concern is the accommodation for political representation of that society’s inhabitants.  In order to furnish the population with its sense of identity, the constitution must address the issues of enfranchisement and citizenship.  The United States and the early Islamic community of Medina are two examples of societies that drafted and enacted constitutions to address their respective communities’ needs within the political context.  This paper shall examine the early development of the United States Constitution, assessing its initial tenets that would serve as the cornerstone for American jurisprudence and socio-political organization.  The effects of certain provisions as they pertain to the issue of enfranchisement and citizenship shall be studied, including the deficiencies in the original construction of the Constitution, as well as the measures taken by the U.S. government in modifying the document as circumstances so dictated.  This paper shall also analyze the conditions that warranted the enactment of the Constitution of Medina during the Prophetic period and its attempt to provide a political structure to a community where such constructs were essential to its viability and survival.  Finally, comparisons shall be made between the two constitutions and the effect each had to the future political conformation of each respective society.

Sarah Swick, (Responding to the Challenge:  Moroccan Women and Democracy), The struggle for women’s empowerment and democratic development are two key components in the larger struggle for liberty and justice.  While democratic development can play a significant role in the emancipation of women, female empowerment can also be a vital factor in the democratic development process. And in the Muslim World, the participation of women will eventually measure the success of any lasting democratic reform efforts. This paper will begin with a brief discussion of the general obstacles to women’s inclusion in the democratic process in the Muslim World.  However, the focus of the paper will be a case study of Moroccan women and democracy.  The paper will examine how historically women and the women’s movement have participated in the demand for liberty, transparency, and accountability in Morocco.  The paper will also explore efforts by the State, largely through democratic development, to include women in the political and democratic process.  Moreover, the paper will examine how external and internal events and actors have helped and hurt the stride toward women’s participation and democratic reform. The paper will then explore the more recent milestones in Moroccan women’s political participation, including the election of 35 women to parliament.   Despite great strides, the challenges still facing Morocco and Moroccan women are enormous–having the right to vote and being elected are only the beginning.  Therefore, this paper will also explore the various ways women are participating in the continued fight for democracy, whether its through local neighborhood associations or through the development of women’s media.  The future of Moroccan democracy will depend, in part, on the success of women’s participation.  Women must continue to increase their influence in the policy making process so as to prevent the ratification of legislation promoting gender discrimination and oppression.  Women must also continue to educate themselves and their children about the benefits of democracy so as to ensure that democratic principles carry into the next generations. This paper asserts that Morocco and Moroccan women have provided a response to the challenge of including women in democracy– a response, which should be an example for other Muslim nations.

Sean Brooks, (Islamist Democrats?: Assessing and Evaluating the Democratic Commitments of Islamist Parties in Turkey, Morocco, and Jordan), This paper explores two general questions regarding contemporary Islamist parties in the Middle East.  First, to what extent have certain Islamist parties come to accept and incorporate liberal democratic principles into their political behaviors, programs, and platforms?  Second, where this has occurred, what reasons explain the shifts in the strategies and the beliefs of these Islamist parties?  To that end, this paper uses theories from democratization literature to assess the democratic principles and praxes of moderate Islamist parties. To measure an Islamist party’s commitment to democracy, this paper develops and uses an index comprised of sixteen indicators divided into three critical qualities of 7democracy: pluralism, constitutionalism, and liberalism.  The indicators are for the most part qualitative in nature and rely primarily on newspaper articles, interviews with area specialists, and secondary sources. After assessing the extent to which Islamists in these countries have changed their actions and beliefs, the paper attempts to explain the reasons for the shifts.  For instance, have the Islamists changed their actions in order to subvert the state; or have the Islamists changed because they truly have adopted democratic principles and values?  These are the two most often cited explanations for the de-radicalization of Islamists or any type of militant group attempting to enter democratic politics.  This paper, however, considers a third potential reason for moderation, derived from the “democracy without democrats” theory of democratization.  As illogical as it sounds, on account of institutional and circumstantial factors have some Islamist parties genuinely accepted democracy, despite a continued adherence to ideals – particularly in regards to their vision of an ideal state – that conflict with liberal democracy?  In the end, the paper finds that the Islamists of the Justice and Development Party in Turkey and the Islamic Action Front in Jordan have undergone dramatic transformations over the last decade.  The Turkish Islamists, in fact, appear to have adopted normative commitments to liberal democracy.  On the other hand, the Jordanian Islamists resemble democrats who – despite maintaining certain illiberal Islamist values – are genuinely committed to constitutional democracy.  On the other hand, the Justice and Development Party of Morocco does not appear to possess constitutional or normative commitments to democracy.  Instead, the indicators reveal a party driven more by long term anti-democratic strategic calculations and illiberal Islamist ideals.

Shadi Hamid, (To Engage or Not to Engage? The Emerging Consensus on US Policy toward Political Islam), While the United States has taken a more forceful pro-democracy stance in the Arab world, many questions remain unanswered. Is America ready to accept the results if Islamists come to power through free elections? Will it support the legal right of moderate Islamists to participate in the political process? Over the last year, leading American officials and opinion makers have begun talking seriously about reaching out to moderate Islamists. There is a growing realization in Washington policy circles that the Islamists cannot be ignored or wished away. Dialogue, however, is a two-way street. Islamists have remained vehement, at least publicly, in their opposition to all things American. At the same time, there has been a growing internal debate within the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian branches of the Muslim Brotherhood about how they can take advantage of prevailing political trends. Moreover, it is no mistake that during the last two years in particular, Islamic parties have become emphatic advocates of democratic reform and have increasingly appropriated the language of Western, democratic discourse. Throughout the Middle East, Islamists are riding the “democratic wave” and achieving unprecedented influence and political strength in the process. The interests of the US and Islamist parties may be converging. The US can “use” Islamic parties to tap into large constituencies and pressure existing authoritarian regimes to move along the path of democratic reform, while Islamist groups can continue taking advantage of political openings created by American pressure, especially in countries like Syria and Egypt. In the weeks and months prior to their impressive showing in the 2005 parliamentary elections, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood launched an aggressive charm offensive targeted at Western opinion makers. They launched, an impressive, well-maintained “official English site.” On the main page, they have a picture of political scientist Amr Hamzawy and a prominent link to an article of his titled “Deal with Moderate Islamists” Similarly, the site has featured several of my articles advocating US-Islamist dialogue. In another interesting move, Deputy Supreme Guide Khairat el-Shatir wrote an op-ed titled “No Need to Be Afraid of Us” in The Guardian – the first time a Brotherhood leader has explained the group’s political positions in a major Western publication. Indeed, the two sides – the US and the Muslim Brotherhood – are steadily, if reluctantly gravitating toward each other, out of a belated realization that establishing some kind of rapport with the other is in their interest. There are stumbling blocks along the way, particularly in regards to the Brotherhood’s positions on issues of US strategic concern, such as Israel’s security and the insurgency in Iraq. There are, however, growing indications that the Brotherhood is prepared to soften even its longstanding position against the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. Thus far, most scholars and policy experts have concluded that mainstream Islamists must be engaged in some way. Yet few have suggested a framework for a new, coherent American policy toward political Islam in strategically vital countries. Here, I will discuss specific measures US policymakers can take in the coming years to a) promote continued democratic openings, b) prevent likely authoritarian reversals, c) encourage Islamist moderation, and d) sponsor pacted transitions or projects of “national consensus” to bridge the Islamist-secularist divide.

Shaznene Hussain, (The ‘Ulama of Egypt: As a Progressive and Moderate Religious Authority?), Islam continues to be viewed as a legitimate source of political authority in much of the Muslim world. According to some experts this interaction between Islam and politics is an obstacle to the creation and consolidation of democracy in a number of Muslim countries. However, others argue that elements within Islam can and should be combined with secular democratic ideals in creating moderate and progressive democratic societies in the Muslim world. This paper will examine the potential for religious scholars, the ‘ulama, to be a progressive and moderating force in Islam, and in Egyptian society in particular. Even though the ‘ulama have not always acted as a moderating force in society, their potential to do so has always been great. Yet, with the loss of their status as authoritative and eminent scholars, the ‘ulama have lost their ability to counter problems such as political repression and religious extremism. I contend that by returning to their traditional role as independent and rigorous scholars, the Egyptian ‘ulama can help to counter political repression and Islamic extremism in a country where numerous groups are enmeshed in a battle to determine the role of Islam in politics. While they cannot, nor should they, regain their historical monopoly on Egypt’s educational and legal systems, the ‘ulama are capable of providing much needed progressive religious leadership.

Vanessa Ruget, (Citizenship and Democracy in Kyrgyzstan, one year after the Tulip Revolution), Central Asian countries offer a fascinating, though atypical case for the study of democracy in the Muslim world. Although most Central Asian republics have witnessed a revival of Muslim traditions and practices, the “secular” legacy of the Soviet Union can not be ignored and differentiates Central Asian from other Muslim nations. The presence of radical groups, especially Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, has however raised concerns that radical Islam might offer itself as a solution to social and economic poverty and to political corruption and cronyism. Among Central Asian countries, Kyrgyzstan is probably the most captivating for scholars of democratization. In the early 1990’s, Kyrgyzstan was a model of democratic transition. Under then-President A. Akayev, this post-soviet Republic displayed largely free and fair elections, liberalization of the press and tolerance of political opposition. But clanism and corruption slowly undermined these efforts and fifteen years after its independence, the country had become an illiberal democracy. Then, in March 2005, a popular uprising deposed A. Akayev and opened a new era of democratic hope. In the last two years, my research, mainly of an empirical nature, has explored citizenship and democracy in contemporary Kyrgyzstan. I have sought to understand the impact of poverty and declining social rights on feelings of identity, and more generally on the solidity of the social contract. My hypothesis has been that threats to a strong citizenship come from economic and social exclusion more than from nationalist or religious radicalism. Given the radical changes that Kyrgyzstan has undergone in the last year, the hypotheses and conclusions that I have reached must be reformulated. My proposed paper is therefore a critical presentation of the new dimensions of citizenship in Kyrgyzstan. One year after the so-called Tulip revolution, could new patterns of citizenship (more active) have emerged? What would entice citizens to trust the new social contract? And finally, to what extent would radical Islam a popular alternative than liberal democracy? 

Wael Nawara, (Bridging the Gap Revisiting the Way We Interpret Islam) The paper proposes a new approach to interpret Islamic teachings as depicted in the Holy Quran, the Sunnah and the Tradition of this great religion. The paper argues that entrapment of Islam in a box of rigid thinking developed hundreds of years ago detach Islam from modern challenges and disadvantage Muslims and Islamic societies in an ever-changing world and prevent this great religion from playing its due role in the spiritual guidance which can otherwise help restore balance to our lives. The paper looks at a number of issues such as the nature of interpretation, the Gap between the divine will and the human understanding, etc. Interpretation: The paper regards historical interpretations as fit for their time. Trying to interpret the divine Word, what God intended for the Man whom He created, is like bringing a magnifying glass to gaze at the inner structure of a precious Gem. An attempt made by an early scholar is a great effort that aimed at answering the questions of his day. They are therefore affected by the environment of that age. The magnifying glass, is good for the eye at a certain time, but may not be suitable for another point of time. What makes things worse, is when one puts one magnifying glass on top of another. At the end, all one can hope to see is a distorted picture as rays refract in a scattered manner. The paper suggests that while one can benefit from such early attempts, one still has to remove all magnifying glasses but one that suits the day. Only then can Man truly look at the wondrous beauty and perfect structure of that precious Gem. The Gap: Man must humbly acknowledge that he can only attempt to understand the divine will. No matter how one masters our earthly language, an interpretation is at best an attempt to understand the divine will. A gap will always exist between the divine will and the human understanding of that will. Our understanding of Divine wisdom, mercy, peace, forgiveness, and other virtues of God, are only earthly shadows of God’s divine virtues. No man can claim that he knows for sure what God intended for him. Bridging the Gap: God has created Man and endowed him with a Conscience. This conscience is the gauge that every man knows right from wrong. When a man faces a tough choice where he has to decide on what is right and what is wrong, he puts his choice to the test. Guided by the Holy Quran and Sunnah, a man’s conscience helps him examine his choice against this gauge which God endowed him with. If a man’s conscience can live peacefully with such a choice, then this person has fulfilled the basic test of good intention. This is why Islam places such a great weight on the issue of intentions. Only God and the individual him self can know his own true intentions when making a conscious choice or taking a certain course of action. In the eyes of God, if Man is comfortable with a certain choice, then God’s mercy will provide forgiveness if one errs unknowingly or unintentionally. The whole thing becomes a matter between the Creator and the creature. It follows that interpretation is highly a personal thing.

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