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The Center for the Study of Islam Democracy

May 13, 2005



> CSID Event – Engaging Moderate Islamists in the Democratic Process (May 19)
> CSID Event ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ” New issue of Muslim Democrat online!

> Event – United in Family and Social Values (May 14)
> Article – US support for Arab democracy (Financial Times Editorial)

> Article – Afghan Protest Against the U.S. Becomes Violent (By Carlotte Gall)
> Comments By Secretary Condoleezza Rice РOn Desecrating the Holy Qur√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢an
> Article – Al-Jazeera Puts Focus on Reform (By Robin Wright)
>Article – Talk to political Islamists in the Arab world (by Richard W Murphy and Basil Eastwood)
> Announcement – CSID Seeking New Office Space
> REPORT – CSID Conference on Islam & Democracy, in Tunis, Tunisia
>REPORT – Religion and Democracy: Iranian Experience

CSID Monthly Lecture Series

Engaging Moderate Islamists in the Democratic Process:
Policy Implications for Morocco, Egypt, and Jordan

By: Dr. Amr Hamzawy, Senior Associate,
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Thursday, May 19, 2005
CSID Conference Room
12:00 ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ” 1:30 p.m.
Brown Bag–Cold Drinks Provided
CSID Conference Room
2121 K Street, NW, Suite 700
Washington DC, 20037

RSVP to Layla Sein:

It has become common to suggest that the West should reach out to non-violent Islamist political movements in the Arab world and integrate them in its democracy promotion efforts. Two major factors have contributed to the apparent shift in American and European perceptions from an overall stigmatization of Islamists after 9/11 as irrational fanatics, to an operational distinction between violent and non-violent, radical and moderate actors: the problematic path of Arab democratization and the newly discovered pragmatism within the Islamist spectrum. However, both the United States and Europe are yet to articulate clear policy guidelines that structure their encounter with Islamist movements. Existing doubts about the degree of their commitment to democratic reforms and the real intentions behind their pragmatism hamper attempts to move ahead in the direction of engaging them.

About the Speaker:

Amr Hamzawy is a noted Egyptian political scientist who previously taught at Cairo University and the Free University of Berlin. Hamzawy has a deep knowledge of Middle Eastern politics and specific expertise on European efforts toward political reform in the region. His research interests include the changing dynamics of political participation in the Arab world, including the role of Islamist opposition groups, with special attention both to Egypt and the Gulf countries.

Hamzawy’s studies at Cairo University focused on political reform and democratization in the Arab world, civil society, Islamism, and the cultural impacts of globalization processes. He received his Ph.D. from the Free University of Berlin, where he worked at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. He is an external expert on Middle Eastern Politics for the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development and is widely published in German and Arabic periodicals and media.

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The new issue of MUSLIM DEMOCRAT is out.  If you are a member or subscriber, you should have received in the mail by now.  If not, please join/support CSID by becoming a member at:

You can also download the MUSLIM DEMOCRAT (PDF format) from our website at:

The current issue contains an article by Radwan Masmoudi on ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨Why Democracy?‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ as well as two exhaustive reports on recent CSID conferences in Tunisia and Iran (please see below).

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You are cordially invited to attend an interfaith evening

United in Family and Social Values

Please join us for dinner and presentations on Mormon-Muslim relations. Speakers of both faiths will address the role these faiths can play in bettering contemporary society. Topics will include Mormon and Muslim perspectives on family and on the role of the individual in society. We hope this event will be an opportunity to form new friendships and reinforce common bonds of belief.

Featured Speakers:
Donna Lee Bowen, Department of Political Science, Brigham Young University
Jerald Dirks, Author: The Cross and the Crescent and Abraham: The Friend of God

Saturday, May 14, 2005, 5:30 pm

**McLean Stake Center
2034 Great Falls Street,
Falls Church, VA

Tickets donations are $12 per person

Please RSVP by sending an email to:
Questions? Please call Rachel Sage at 703-772-7684 or email

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US support for Arab democracy

Published: May 12 2005

President George W. Bush’s ambition to make the democratization of the Middle East one of the main goals of his second term is laudable. But as this week’s developments in Egypt show, some of Washington’s allies in the region appear to believe the thinnest of democratic veneers will suffice.

Three months ago, President Hosni Mubarak made the startling announcement that he would allow candidates to run against him should he seek a fifth six-year term this autumn. Mr Mubarak, whose power base is the army, has until now been the sole presidential candidate, returned by near unanimity in dubious referendums. His apparent change of heart followed gathering pressure inside Egypt for an open contest and from the US and European Union. Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, had just cancelled a visit to Cairo in response to the arrest of Ayman Nour, an opposition leader.

Yet this week Egypt’s ruling party set terms for the presidential contest that effectively exclude independent candidates as well as the regime’s adversaries. In order to stand, candidates will require the approval of 250 members of the lower and upper houses of parliament and a national spread of local councils – institutions packed by the ruling party. So far, the US appears to believe this is a step forward. It is nothing of the sort.

Mr Mubarak, like his fellow Arab dictators, may assume that a US scarred by Iraq will soon revert to defending the status quo in the region in the interest of stability and cheap oil. After all, it always has done in the past. Mr Bush may proclaim that “freedom is on the march” after toppling Saddam Hussein but, this reasoning goes, for the most part it is business as usual.

President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia has managed to perform the miracle of electoral near-unanimity twice since October to stay at the head of his police state. Yet he remains in US favour. The feudal monarchy of Saudi Arabia just allowed men-only, partial municipal elections – yet Crown Prince Abdullah was fأھted by Mr Bush at his ranch in Texas.

Arab despots in any case believe the west will take fright once it sees that the victors of democracy are Islamists. Hamas, Hizbollah and the Da’awa are making big advances in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq, as would the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere if it were allowed to do so.

They are right in one respect. After the euphoria of the Iraqi elections and the civil uprising in Lebanon that forced Syria’s withdrawal, it is now that the west’s democratic convictions in the region will be put to the test.

The US, and the UK and France as former colonial powers in the Middle East, must never forget what the Arabs have never forgotten: the west has always preferred reliable strongmen to the messiness of democracy in this strategic region. That must now change. Any further support for the Arab tyrants will only fan the flames of popular Arab rage against the west.

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Afghan Protest Against the U.S. Becomes Violent

Published: May 12, 2005

KABUL, Afghanistan, May 11 – Four protesters were killed and more than 60 injured Wednesday in the eastern city of Jalalabad as the police and troops struggled to contain the worst anti-American demonstrations in Afghanistan in the more than three years since the fall of the Taliban.

Government officials said the violence appeared to have been planned and that religious hard-liners and armed men had usurped what had started as a student protest.

At least a dozen buildings were ransacked and burned, including the governor’s office, several other government buildings, the United Nations mission compound and a number of offices belonging to aid groups.

Afghan policemen and troops, together with some American forces, eventually quelled the riots, but not before opening fire on protesters, who numbered in the thousands, residents said. Foreigners were evacuated from the city as their offices came under attack, and the air filled with smoke and gunfire, but no injuries to foreigners were reported.

The demonstrations were started on Tuesday by students angered by a report in Newsweek that American interrogators at the Guantأ،namo Bay detention center had desecrated the Koran by flushing a copy down the toilet.

It was unclear how the protesters got word of the report, but many Afghans receive their news from radio programs broadcast in local languages by Voice of America, the BBC and Radio Liberty, which often broadcast foreign news reports.

They carried banners condemning the reported sacrilege, chanted anti-American slogans and burned President Bush in effigy. The protest proceeded peacefully on Tuesday, but on Wednesday it suddenly turned violent, with hundreds of stone-throwing and stick-wielding demonstrators spreading across town. Soon they were breaking into compounds, smashing cars and setting buildings on fire.

By midafternoon four people had been killed and 63 wounded, many from gunshots and others from stones, knives and sticks, the director of public health in Jalalabad, Fazel Muhammad Ibrahimi, said in a telephone interview. Seventeen people were detained by the police, Kabul Television reported.

The governor’s office was set on fire, as was the Central Statistics Office, destroying the census records, said a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Lutfullah Mashal. The Pakistani Consulate, the city library and the regional television and radio station were also attacked, he said.

The main United Nations office and two guesthouses were attacked and staff members evacuated, a United Nations spokeswoman said. Aid organizations including the Red Cross; Acbar, an umbrella group of aid organizations; and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission were attacked, as well as offices of the Women’s Affairs Ministry, residents said.

Demonstrations were reported in several other towns in eastern and southern Afghanistan, but they seem to have been peaceful. High school students in Wardak Province blocked the main road south from Kabul for an hour but were persuaded to disperse peacefully, said the local police chief, Basir Salangi.

In Jalalabad, “the students were peaceful and were shouting,” Mr. Mashal said. “But there were some specific hard-line religious groups involved. From their activities it looks like it was preplanned.”

He said there were some indications that the violence had been influenced by religious or extreme elements across the border in Pakistan, whether supporters of the Taliban, who were removed from power in late 2001 in an American-led military campaign, or Pakistani groups.

President Hamid Karzai, on a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels, said that while protests were a sign of newfound democracy, the violence indicated how much Afghanistan still needed foreign assistance. “Afghanistan’s institutions, the police, the army, are not ready to handle” such protests, he said, adding that guards at the governor’s office had stood by while the offices had been destroyed.

Sharifa Shahab, an officer of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, was leading an election seminar for women in Jalalabad when the demonstration began. She and 20 others were taken to the basement of the United Nations mission for protection, she said.

“This was not a demonstration,” she said. “It was completely organized violence. It started with students from the medical college, and then armed men seized the occasion and abused it.”

Yet she conceded that the reports of Americans desecrating the Koran, on top of stories of abuse of detainees, had inflamed public sentiment. “There was a lot of anger among the people, even among ordinary people,” she said. “As a Muslim woman, if they really did this I condemn it, because everyone should respect the faith, religion and ideology of others.”

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On Desecrating the Holy Qur’an
By Secretary Condoleezza Rice

Remarks before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs May 12, 2005 (2:20 p.m. EDT)

Mr. Chairman, before I begin my actual testimony, I want to speak directly to Muslims in America and throughout the world. Disrespect for the Holy Koran is not now, nor has it ever been, nor will it ever be, tolerated by the United States. We honor the sacred books of all the world’s great religions. Disrespect for the Holy Koran is abhorrent to us all.

There have been recent allegations about disrespect for the Holy Koran by interrogators at Guantanamo Bay and that has deeply offended many people.

Our military authorities are investigating these allegations fully. If they are proven true, we will take appropriate action. Respect for the religious freedom of all individuals is one of the founding principles of the United States. The protection of a person’s right to worship freely and without harassment is a principle that the government and the people of the United States take very seriously. Guaranteeing religious rights is of great personal importance to the President and to me.

During the past few days, we have heard from our Muslim friends around the world about their concerns on this matter. We understand and we share their concerns. Sadly, some people have lost their lives in violent demonstrations. I am asking that all our friends around the world reject incitement to violence by those who would mischaracterize our intentions.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee.


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Al-Jazeera Puts Focus on Reform
Mideast Coverage by Network Reviled in Washington Is Boon for Bush

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 8, 2005; Page A16

DOHA, Qatar — From its headquarters, dispersed among cramped trailers, air-conditioned tents and a squat box of a building on a dusty lot crawling with stray cats, an unlikely ally has emerged in this desert capital for the Bush administration’s new Middle East democracy campaign — al-Jazeera.

The Arab world’s most-watched satellite channel has been reviled in Washington since it began airing Osama bin Laden tapes and footage of insurgent strikes on U.S. troops in Iraq. Yet as the Bush administration struggles to design a public diplomacy program for its democracy campaign, al-Jazeera has become a leading vehicle for the region’s budding reform movements.

Arab and U.S. analysts say the network helps give voice to the reformers. In January, it saturated the airwaves with coverage of the Palestinian and Iraqi elections. After the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri in February, it aired 10 straight hours of footage from Lebanon as street protesters demanded the ouster of the country’s government and Syria’s troops.

It deployed four correspondents to report on the Egyptian reform movement known as Kifaya, or Enough, this spring. And it has run long stories on Kuwait’s new women’s suffrage movement and Morocco’s commission on human rights abuses and missing people.

“During the last weeks, everyone is talking about change, reform, political transformation and democracy in the Arab world,” said Wadah Khanfar, al-Jazeera’s managing director, who studied in South Africa during its political transformation. “The realities are changing, and so is what is dominating the news — Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco. The whole discussion taking place in the region has found itself on our screen.”

In a move the network says will expand regional debate on democracy, al-Jazeera last month launched a 24-hour Arab equivalent of C-SPAN. “Al-Jazeera Live” has run parliamentary doings in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, as well as President Bush’s recent speech on the energy bill, a news conference by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and daily White House and State Department briefings.

Teams of workers are building a vast extension at the back of al-Jazeera’s building, mainly to house a 24-hour English-language channel due to be launched later this year. It will broadcast four hours each from Washington, London and Malaysia and 12 hours from its headquarters here.

Now, as the network has intensified coverage of Middle East reform movements, it is becoming increasingly unwelcome in its own world. Its correspondents are banned in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Algeria and Tunisia, all with autocratic governments, as well as in Iraq. Iran this month suspended al-Jazeera’s coverage rights — and threatened to prosecute the network — after it reported on two days of unrest among Iran’s Arab minority, which is unhappy with the country’s government.

Arab leaders have never much liked the network. When Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak visited its headquarters, he commented in an aside to his Qatari host, “All this trouble from a matchbox!” according to al-Jazeera staff.

Al-Jazeera still runs footage that enrages the Bush administration, such as video that insurgents took last month when they shot down a Bulgarian helicopter, killing six American security contractors, three Bulgarians and two Fijians.

“It’s still the enemy. It still does stupid things,” a senior State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. When Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick was in Fallujah last month, “al-Jazeera reported his convoy was attacked. There was not a germ of truth. It was sensational, unprofessional and unsubstantiated, and fit into the past pattern of its coverage. Whatever else it’s doing, the reaction here was: ‘There they go again.’ ”

Since it was launched in 1996, al-Jazeera’s popularity has given rise to more than 100 satellite channels in the region. Together, they are called the most dynamic force for political change in the Middle East, “like the genie let out of the bottle,” according to a new report by the U.S. Institute of Peace, a government-funded think tank.

“It is the satellite channels that show the greatest potential for ushering in political change in the region . . .” the report says. “Inadvertently or not, they offer a locus for the Arab street to vent, formulate and discuss public affairs. They bring Arabs closer together, breaking taboos and generally competing with each other and their respective governments for the news agenda. All in all, Arab satellite stations have pushed ajar the door of democracy and flanked state monopoly on media.”

Editors at al-Jazeera — which is financed by the government of Qatar, the only country in the region that the network does not cover critically — say it is shifting into a new phase as the Middle East changes.

In the past year, al-Jazeera has issued a new code of conduct, pledging balance, independence and the correction of mistakes, and has replaced some key personnel. It still runs graphic pictures of Palestinians killed in confrontations with Israeli troops, but it also interviews senior Israeli officials. It interviews Islamic leaders but also extensively covered the death and funeral of Pope John Paul II. It covers anti-U.S. sentiment in the region, but its Washington bureau also had four correspondents devoted to the U.S. presidential campaigns and elections.

The range of news and views — including the popular “Opposite Direction,” a program much like CNN’s “Crossfire” or MSNBC’s “Hardball” — is the key to its impact, say Arab and U.S. analysts.

“There is extraordinary diversity. They’re presenting the full range of opinions. Even if reporters or producers are great critics of U.S. policy, they still report on the U.S. point of view,” said Abdallah Schleifer, the U.S.-born director of the Adham Center for Television Journalism at the American University in Cairo. “The side effect is that it’s educating the Arab public on the democratic process.”

Al-Jazeera editors and reporters say they are largely responding to the rising ripple of activism in the Middle East, such as Lebanon’s popular revolt. “It was really remarkable,” said Ahmed Sheikh, al-Jazeera’s editor in chief. “It was the first time people in this region have been able to topple a government. We were all captivated.” Syrian troops tried to physically block al-Jazeera camera operators from covering their withdrawal from Lebanon, he added.

As al-Jazeera increasingly focuses on political reform, its editors acknowledge sharing, unintentionally, an agenda with the Bush administration. “We are unlikely allies,” Sheikh reflected. “But if both of us are targeting reform in the Arab world, then it’s true.”

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Talk to political Islamists in the Arab world

Richard W. Murphy and Basil Eastwood
The Daily Star, May 4, 2005

The Arab Human Development Report issued on April 5 highlighted the contradictions within U.S. and British policy toward the Arab world. President George W. Bush is intent on bringing democracy to the Middle East, and reform is at the heart of the Group of 8’s Broader Middle East Initiative, which Britain as chairman is pledged to carry forward. However, the would-be democrats of the region are viscerally opposed to American policies there, which makes it the more necessary to talk to them.

The Arab Human Development Report makes it clear that very little progress toward reform has yet been made and that democracy cannot just be imported (still less imposed). It was right for Bush to say in his inaugural address that the U.S. will “seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture.” However, if it is not be counter-productive, outside pressure for democratization and reform needs to be exercised with great care and must complement the efforts of movements working for these goals within the states of the region

In the Arab world, the awkward truth is that the most significant such movements that enjoy popular support are associated with political Islam – movements which seek by peaceful means to apply their faith to their state’s politics. The Muslim Brothers now demonstrating vigorously for change in Egypt, or Ibrahim Jaafari of Al-Daawa, the new prime minister of Iraq, are good examples. For the United States to “seek and support” such movements will not be a comfortable process: most Islamist movements oppose their own governments – governments whose cooperation Washington needs to combat terrorism – and they share the general views of the Arab public that violence against occupation is legitimate and that British and American policies in the region are fundamentally misguided.

We believe, however, that U.S. disagreement with Islamists, however vehement, is good reason for talking to them, not ostracizing them. For a year now we have been engaged in a dialogue with a small group of people familiar with some of the different national branches of the Muslim Brotherhood, with Hamas and with Hizbullah. They do not formally represent these movements, but we believe that they do speak with authority. Some of them have been imprisoned for their beliefs and they describe movements which are arguably more democratic than the Arab governments concerned (who habitually rig elections to ensure that such movements do not win). They deny vehemently that, once voted into office, they will hang onto power if subsequently voted out.

Consciously or not, the movements seem to be adopting the theological belief that the voice of the people is in some sense the voice of God, which made possible the emergence of Christian democracy in Western Europe less than two centuries ago.

Perhaps the best evidence in their favor is the fact that they are criticized bitterly by those Muslim extremists who do advocate violence to bring in authoritarian clerical rule. For, when it comes to politics, Muslims are no more united than Christians. Political Islam itself varies from country to country, but there are much greater differences both between political Islamists and “official Islam” on the one hand and between them and the Jihadists on the other. Even within Sunni Islam there are bitter divisions between the exponents of official Islam, the political Islamists who seek change but who do not advocate violence to overthrow regimes, and the Jihadists, the Islamic extremists who do.

A spokesman for one of the Jihadist groups recently argued on a Jihadist Web site not only that all Arab regimes and the imams who support them (in other words official Islam), together with secularists, communists and nationalists, were heretics, but also that democracy was heresy. True believers, he insisted, should have nothing to do with the Muslim Brothers (who are the mainstream of Sunni political Islam) and their “defeatist secularist democratic program.” (The spokesman was even highly critical of Hamas, which he described as merely fighting for land).

It is such Jihadists, not the political Islamists, who see all Westerners as “Crusaders” and seek to throw them out of the Middle East. The popular Arab reaction to Western policies in Iraq and Palestine is strengthening the extremists at the expense of the political Islamists, but the extremists do not and probably cannot command a mass following.

The annual Arab Human Development Report is written by cosmopolitan Arab intellectuals, but the political Islamists are unanimous in believing, too, that reform in the Arab world is needed, whether there is progress toward a settlement with Israel or not. They point out that for too long corrupt regimes have used the Palestine issue as an excuse to maintain their power. Some of them are explicit in arguing that only democratically elected (and thus in their view probably Islamist) governments will have the legitimacy to make real peace with Israel. That may well be an honest view: while excluded from power and themselves under threat from extremists, the political Islamists have no reason to tackle the difficult issues that making peace with Israel will require; but it is striking that in Turkey it is an Islamist government which was able to take the difficult decisions needed to move toward Turkey’s integration with the European Union.

We believe that G-8 governments must now, perhaps indirectly, enter into a dialogue with such movements and involve them in the civil society track of the Broader Middle East Initiative. It will not be easy but, if we are to avoid a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West (or, even worse, with Islam in the West), and if we are serious about reform in the Middle East, we must do business with those who are struggling to relate their faith to the world as it is – and not as it was at the time of the Prophet Mohammad.

• Richard Murphy served as U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs in 1983-89. Basil Eastwood was director of research and analysis at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1991-96 and British ambassador to Syria in 1996-2000. They wrote this commentary for the Daily Star.
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Politics & Policies: Struggles with democracy
By Claude Salhani
UPI International Editor

Published 5/6/2005 8:18 AM

WASHINGTON, May 5 (UPI) — As the Arab world struggles to accept and adopt concepts of democracy, recent action by two U.S. allies — Tunisia and Saudi Arabia — worry human rights and democracy advocates. The recent arrest and conviction of a Tunisian lawyer and three Saudi men is seen as a major setback for pro-democracy advocates in the Arab World.

Despite shortcomings, President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali’s government seemed to be making progress as Tunisia appeared set on the path to showing greater respect for human rights. Georgie Anne Geyer, a well-respected nationally syndicated columnist who covers international affairs, called the pace of progress in Tunisia a “phenomenon.”

“We didn’t win over the (Islamist) fundamentalists in the 1980s with machine guns,” Tunisian officials told Geyer.

But recently attorney Mohamed Abbou found himself on the wrong side of the legal bar when a Tunis criminal court sentenced him to 3آ¬¨Œ© years imprisonment on April 28. His “crime” was publishing statements “likely to disturb public order” and for “defaming the judicial process.”

Unfortunately, such verdicts are catchall phrases under which the judicial system becomes elastic, stretching laws to accommodate the political will and policies of government.

The charges brought against Abbou referred to an article he wrote in August 2004 comparing torture and ill treatment endured by political prisoners in Tunisia with the treatment suffered by U.S. detainees at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq.

“The human rights community in Tunisia has been under sustained pressure from police and other state agents for years, who have thwarted the legitimate activities of judges and lawyers carrying out the duties of their profession and have violently attacked and intimidated these individuals and members of their families,” claims Human Rights First, a non-governmental organization working to secure human dignity and respect of the rule of law.

“Mohammed Abbou has been sentenced to a harsh prison term for exercising his right to freedom of _expression,” Human Rights First said in a release.

But in a memo made available to United Press International, the Tunisian Embassy in Washington, claims there were two cases brought against Abbou.

The first case, the embassy said, “was initiated against Mr. Abbou by one of his female colleagues for severe violence against her. These acts led to the hospitalization of the latter at the emergency room and caused her, according to physicians, 10 percent permanent incapacity.”

The second case refers to “defamation of the judicial authorities and spreading false information that may disrupt public order.” The government further stated that there have been attempts “by extrazealous (sic) individuals” to disturb the court proceedings.

Neill Hicks, director of International Programs at Human Rights First, told UPI: “The Tunisian government are extremely dirty players in all of this.” Hicks said that there was indeed an earlier assault charge, pending from 2002, which the judge added “at a very late date.

“The way the assault charge was introduced was completely unfair,” said Hicks, adding Abbou’s lawyers were given no time to check the facts of the first charge.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, whose Crown Prince Abdullah recently walked hand-in-hand with President George W. Bush when the de-facto Saudi ruler visited the Texas ranch in April, charged three Saudi reformers at a hearing held behind closed doors.

The three men — Ali Al-Domaini, Matrook Al-Faleh, and Abdullah Al-Hamed — were charged with calling for a constitutional monarchy in Saudi Arabia. The trial was adjourned several times earlier this year on request of the prosecutor who asked for more time to “collect additional evidence” against the three.

The three men were part of a group of 116 who in December 2003 petitioned the Saudi government for comprehensive reforms in the Kingdom, and among 13 people arrested on March 16, 2004, for introducing “Western terminology” in asking for reforms, according to The Center for Democracy & Human Rights in Saudi Arabia.

The other 10 were released after the Saudi government pressured them into signing affidavits agreeing not to petition or speak publicly about democratic reform, nor to travel outside the country.

The trial of the three remaining reformers took on special significance when they demanded their court hearings be open to the media and the public, a right awarded to defendants in Saudi Arabia — on paper.

The Center for Democracy & Human Rights in Saudi Arabia describes their detention conditions as “inhumane.” It claims there have been “delaying tactics by the prosecution, and verbal acts of intimidation from the judge.”

The democratic reformers have so far stood their ground and have refused to crack under intense Saudi government pressure to give up their demands, says the Center for Democracy & Human Rights in Saudi Arabia.

“When we talk about Ali’s trial, we shouldn’t talk about it singularly. It is the trial of reform in Saudi Arabia,” says Fawzia al-Ouni, wife of Ali Al-Domaini.

A judgment is expected within the next few weeks. Few observers, however, anticipate the three will be acquitted and released.

Ali Alyami, Director of the Center for Democracy & Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, called on the Bush administration and the U.S. Congress to “stop regarding the Saudi royal family as sacrosanct and start holding them accountable for their violations of human rights.

“Defeating terrorism and eradicating religious extremism and intolerance require a genuine overhaul of Saudi political, social, religious, and economic institutions,” said Alyami.

– (Comments may be sent to

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CSID Seeking New Office Space

The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) is pleased to announce it is expanding its headquarters in Washington DC. The rapid growth shows both the success of CSID and the heightened interest and importance of CSID’s mission.

The overwhelming support of individuals like yourself has enabled CSID to triple its full time staff and to expand its programs within the US and around the world.

We are currently seeking office space in Washington DC that will fulfill the current needs of CSID and accommodate for future growth.

Please inform us if you know of any locations, within the District of Columbia or in Northern Virginia (close to a metro station), that rent for $28.00 to $32.00 per square foot. We are seeking approximately 1800-2000 square feet of office space, in addition to shared secretarial, meeting, and conference space.
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REPORT ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ” CSID Conference on Islam & Democracy, in Tunis, Tunisia

An intellectual forum that caught the attention of leftists, Islamists as well as liberals:
Tunis: Arab academics and intellectuals discuss the relation between Islam and democracy

Muhammad Furati, Tunis

A number of Arab and Tunisian intellectuals, academics and legal scholars demanded that democracy should be adopted as a life-style among all elements of the nation and as a way of development. In a forum held in the capital city of Tunisia, the participants also called for dialogue among all Arab and Islamist trends as a means to solve differences and renovate Islamic thought so as to go side by side with world changes in all political, cultural and social fields.

About 120 Tunisian and Arab political leaders, thinkers and scholars met in a conference entitled ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨Democracy and Islam: Questions on the Relationship and Its Horizons‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ held on December 15-16, 2004, and co-organized by the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID), the Arab Institute of Human Rights, and the Jahidh Forum. The forum was attended by a number of diplomats, and the first session was attended by the US ambassador and a number of former ministers in the Tunisian government. To some of the participants, the dialogue including Islamists, leftists, nationalists and liberals was considered as a shake of the legacy of the Arab intelligentsia among the intellectual circles of which the dialogue had been absent for quite a long time.

A number of leftist intellectuals emphasized that Islam as a religion should not be dragged into man’s general affairs, and demanded separation of religion and state and that Islam should remain an individual affair and the Quran a book of worship not a constitution of worldly life. According to Abdil-Majid al-Sharfi, a scholar and professor at the Tunisian University, the problem of interpretation never succeeded in finding wholesome solutions for hanging questions along the history of Islam. He cited several historic events and disputes among various Islamic sects and schools of thought, all of which were solely based on the interpretation of the text and attempting to monopolize the truth.

Rajaa Ben Slama called for going past the religious text in regard with women‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s issues and taking up positive laws and the world proclamation of human rights to be the basic sources of statute laws. She raised the questions of polygamy, male superiority and equity of inheritance, in which the text can hardly be ignored by scholars should they remain captives of the religious text. However, Radwan Masmoudi, President of the CSID, talked about the relativity of the talk on the question of human rights and democracy in the West as well as in other nations. He added that Islam, in its texts as well as its historic experiences, comprises so many bases of human rights in their modern sense. Islam, in Masmoudi‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s point of view, was in so many ways ahead of other civilizations in respecting human dignity and working for man‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ”and woman‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s- rights. Masmoudi called also for developing Muslims‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢 religious and intellectual discourse so as they may be able to convince others that there is no contradiction between Islam and democracy and human rights on the one hand, and to be able to depart from the stage of traditionalism to that of creativity.

It is unfair to claim that religion is a purely individual affair. For the individualistic soon turns into social, and consequently, into something related to the political.‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ Naifar also added that Islam‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s relation to democracy is liable to discussion and development. To him, this relation is critical in a world that tends more and more toward the necessity of co-existence among different cultural references.

Muhammad Gumani criticized the view that excludes religion from public life, asserting that Islam includes all aspects of Muslims’ life, and this, to him, is a fact many secularists have failed to realize. The Quranic text and the canonical system in general comprise two parts: religious rites and behaviors. The latter is the one with which this forum is particularly concerned.

Sami brahim claimed that the challenge that many modernists, who exclude religion from other aspects of life, confront is that their discourse remains utopist and superjacent in the Muslim community. For in man’s life in general, religious beliefs cannot be separated from behavior. Consequently, religion as a life system intervenes in all aspects of the believers’ life, including trade, marriage, social relations, education, politics, etc. Brahim urged secularists to try to understand the relationship between Islam and man, which cannot be exclusively ritual, or else Islam would become just a package of ecclesiastical rites. The speaker has also asserted that the juristic experience all along the Islamic history has always been a positive, humanistic one and has never been a sacred one, and that the jurists have always dealt with the religious text in free manner. As a result, several schools have emerged and interpretations varied whereas Islam never lost its influence in man’s life. This requires that human mind at present should make effort to understand this religion and its text in accordance with the requisites of reality rather than excluding them from all aspects of life.

The relationship between Islamic political movements and democratization aroused deep passions, especially in the presence of a number of figures from the Nahda Movement recently released from jail, like Mr. Ali al-‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮکUrayyid, speaker of the Movement.
To some, Islam as a religion and democracy as a mechanism of political practice are contradicted, since each of them has its own turf. This view was expressed by both Muhammad Mawa’da and Muhammad al-Houni, from the Arab Institute of Intellectual Modernization in Lebanon. The latter has stated that the Muslims today should realize that there is no such thing as a religion that is good for all times and all places save in form and expressional rituals. When religion interferes in organizing the relations among men, it definitely gets desecrated as a result of profane conflicts following each human dispute. Thus, both religious and secular elites should stand up today to rescue this religion by ridding it from the claws of politicians and the opportunism of jurists, or else Muslims will sooner or later face urgent questions that must be answered.

Afif al-Bouni, an Arab-nationalist scholar and writer, claimed that Islam as a comprehensive religion does intervene in the Muslims‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢 daily life and that it is futile to try to irrevocably exclude it from life, for this is procedurally impossible. Moreover, developing the religious text from one period of time to another is possible depending on how developed the human mind is, and that is what is meant by ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨good for all times and all places‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌.

Slaheddine al-Jourshi, chairman of the Jahiz Forum, praised the friendly atmosphere of dialogue among all participants. He appealed to all parties, Islamists as well as secularists, to reject extremism on either side and to work on understanding the mechanisms of Islam and its relation to mankind, which makes it a religion different from all others. This, in Jourshi‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s point of view, is due to the fact that Islam is a religion that is open to dialogue, interpretative judgment and plurality of understanding, which is a source of strength that has kept it alive in the hearts of the believers for fourteen centuries. Muhammad al-Rahmuni, an academic, described the dialogue of civilizations as ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨a dialogue of the deaf‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌. He called all political trends and the Arab governments to open the way for alienated academics and intellectuals to activate a real dialogue among all different elites, away from all sorts of elimination or accusation of infidelity.

According to Mohsen Marzouk, a leading leftist and democracy activist in Tunisia, the governments must give access to Islamist movements into the field of political participation and integration in the wider community, first because those are public movements; and second, their access to the political arena may lead them to develop their discourse.

Saa’deddin Ibrahim, chairman of the Ibn-Khaldoun Center in Egypt, insisted that the participation of Islamists, especially moderates, in the political life has become a necessity. He described his direct dialogues with Islamists in the prisons of Egypt, which convinced him of the necessity to have the Islamist movement integrated in public life as a means to confine violence and extremism. Ibrahim has also called for democracy for all: “The only way out of the state of dictatorship and backwardness for our nation is to practice democracy and support dialogue among all parties, governments and oppositions, politicians and ideologists.

Muhammad Ujar, a Moroccan scholar and a former minister of human rights, reviewed the democratic experience in Morocco, praising the participation of the Justice and Development Party, and enumerating the points of strength achieved by this Moroccan political party in parliament in connection with several positive attitudes toward some urgent issues that arose in the country. Ujar said: ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨I would like to assure my secularist countrymen and I understand their worry over the Islamists‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢 access to the political arena. However, I may safely claim that the Islamist movements‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢 participation in the democratic process is a safeguard to the success and not a cause of failure of the process.‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌

In an interposition entitled ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮکThe Dialectic of Islam and Modernity in Turkey‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢, Abdallah Turkumani, a Syrian scholar, reviewed the experience of the Justice and Development Party in Turkey. Following his review of the historic development of the experience, he claimed that Turkey is even more democratic, just, economically stronger, less corrupt and more secure. The experience, in his point of view, will wind up in a rich expertise not only for the Turkish society but also for all Islamic revivalist movements all over the world.


CSID Conference Held In Partnership With
Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Iran On
December 1-2, 2004, in Mashhad and Tehran

By Professor Abdulaziz Sachedina, Chair
Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy

In recent years, a number of attempts to engage Iran in a productive dialogue regarding the development of constitutional democracy have been thwarted by internal Iranian politics and external negativism led by the American government towards Iran. For almost a decade a number of American based foundations have led delegations to meet with Iranian religious leaders and other political activists to seize the opportunity for political reform that was provided with the election of reformist president Muhammad Khatami. However, none of these foundations were seen as empathetic to the Iranian political intricacies by the Iranian themselves, and were, in most cases, regarded as ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨American‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ agents intrinsically opposed to Islam and anything Islamic.

Iranian experiment with Islam as a source of governance to replace the historical monarchical system still awaits full and impartial evaluation. The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy with its mission to search for the compatibility between religion and democratic politics had special interest in the Iranian experiment.

The subject of democracy and religion has been controversial in the Islamic Republic of Iran since its establishment under the late Ayatollah Khomeini. The government has been divided on the question of exact nature of Islamic state from its inception in the 1978-79 constitutional debates. With the rise in anti-Americanism as an important rhetorical vehicle to keep the religious establishment in power, it is not surprising to observe extreme sensitivity on the part of Iranian academic establishment not to be seen as encouraging American interference in the internal politics of the country.

On its part, FUM welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with CSID, took all the necessary precaution to forestall any problem that could arise, and applied for official permission to hold the conference in Mashhad, which was fortunately approved at the highest level in Tehran.

Preparations and Logistics:

One of the major concerns for the CSID was to hold the conference with inclusive participation of important voices, both proponent and opponent, of constitutional democracy in Iran. It was easier to enroll the participation of the secularist-modernist academicians like Dr. Abdol Karim Soroush and his group of Iranian thinkers. The critical task for CSID/FUM was to get the traditionalists ulema (the opponents to democracy as a Western imperialist ploy) to participate in the dialogue. For that purpose alone, Dr. Jamshidi, with excellent connection to the seminarians, was appointed as a ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨shuttle diplomat‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ to get as many members of the conservative ulema on board as possible. His diplomatic efforts paid off and the conference was able to enlist well-known figures whose views about a religious democracy were important to include in the larger debate about the role of clergy and Islam in a modern nation state.

As soon as the CSID delegation, made up of Drs. Masmoudi, Sachedina, and Antony Sullivan, arrived in Mashhad in the morning of November 30, they learned that Ansar-i Hizb Allah, an extremist group, had actually demanded that five prominent scholars, who formed the liberal group in support of democratic governance in Iran, be barred from participation. More seriously, the group had threatened the lives of these five scholars, including Dr. Soroush and Dr. Mohsin Kadivar, a member of clergy with liberal views.

Ironically, these threats afforded the badly needed publicity to bolster the cause of democracy and freedom of speech in Iran. CSID/FUM moved quickly to arrange for alternative programs in Mashhad and Tehran, where a number of key participants had been asked to stay until further instructions from the conference organizers. Next day, that is, on December 1, the CSID delegation met with several faculty members in the Theology School and Faculty of Arts and Humanities. In the evening, some prominent scholars who were already in Mashhad met for about three hours in FUM to present their views and discuss issues connected with democratization in a basically ideological nation state.

The Mashhad Meeting on December 1:

It is important to keep in mind the circumstances under which this meeting was being held that evening. The atmosphere was tense and discussions were open and critical of the role religion was playing in the Iranian politics. There was unanimity among the participants that unchecked religiosity could lead to dangerous and tyrannical system of governance, as the events of the last few years indicated.

Besides Dr. Masmoudi and Dr. Sachedina, Professor Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari, a member of clerical establishment, Professor Gholam Abbas Tavassoli, Drs. Mohammad Reza Beheshti, and Arjomand, among the Iranian group, led the discussion about secularism and the problematic of modern democratic society in which the role of religion had to be privatized by limiting its scope to the area of spiritual and moral well being of the people. There were also interesting exchanges about critical conceptual clarity about democracy and its cultural relativity.

Dr. Beheshti’s presentation raised important issues in the emerging intercultural dialogue that had to deal with the truth claim in world religions. Peaceful coexistence among peoples of different religions depended upon resolving the exclusionary attitude generated by exclusive theology of faith communities. The unique aspect of this frank exchange between Iranian thinkers was the total absence of anti-American rhetoric, which was quite common among the members of clerical authority. The entire discussion was a demonstration of sophisticated understanding of the relevant issues related to the development of democratic freedoms within the framework of a secular state that respected the wisdom of religion in directing its internal and external policies.

The Tehran Meeting on December 2:

Tehran meeting compensated all that was lacking in Mashhad meeting the previous day. The atmosphere was relaxed and the participants contributed extremely well in terms of quality and transparency that the subject demanded in the Iranian context. The issue that dominated the afternoon was not whether religion and democracy are compatible. Rather, that was taken as a given, without any defense of the position or any concern with the solution offered by those who maintain liberal democracy, namely, secularization through privatization of religion and its separation from the public square.

Liberal democracy with its questionable support for immoral social behavior, as pointed out by Dr. Soroush, did not agree with Muslim sensibilities. The search was for political democracy with accountable government that legislated for the people as citizens and not as believers. Dr. Reza Eslami took up the concept of citizenship and whether the Shari’a could endorse such a concept without first going through conceptual transformation to move from the language of faith community to the inclusive idiom of secularity. No reformation could ignore the critical need to make the official religion sponsored by the state more inclusive in terms of guaranteeing the human rights of all its citizens.

Dr. Forough Jahanbakhsh, the only woman participant in the session, presented an overview of the theoretical attempts offered by different Muslim scholars since the beginning of 20th century. The significance of her contribution was the focus she provided to underscore the paradigm shift in the Muslim modernist discourse on religion and democracy and what obstacles confronted the reformers who believed in democratic governance for Iran. Dr. Mohsen Kadivar, a member of clergy, spoke about various readings of the Islamic tradition that had emerged during the last century. One of the prevalent readings dealt with Islam’s privatization and its separation from the public square that should be left to radical pluralistic democracy with its commitment to freedom of religion as an ongoing policy of the state rather than one time endowment by the legislature. In some important ways Dr. Kadivar’s position on democracy took Mohammad Mojtahed Shabistari’s relativism in the religious readings a step further by actually providing an alternative paradigm for democratic governance to become deeply ingrained in the Iranian political processes. Dr. Ali Paya’s model of democracy argued for an efficient political system that can respond to the needs of modern men and women searching to implement the best in the society. Democracy should respond to Muslim values and create an Islamic democracy to suit the needs of Islamic societies. In this way Islamic democracy can compare with the existing best Western counterparts. Yet, the Islamic democracy has to be based on minimalist-rationalist reading of Islam.

Among the papers that were submitted in writing but could not be presented in person two deserve special mention. These were by two prominent traditionalist scholars. One of them was by Ayatollah Mohamed Jannati. In his paper he discussed the compatibility of the concepts of freedom and equality, the two pillars of human rights, with human nature and ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨divine religions‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ in which natural law provided the basic understanding of human rights. According to Ayatollah Jannati, freedom is the sum of rights recognized for human beings, who are free to accept them. However, human freedom, having private and public dimensions, should not be exercised in a way that causes harm to others or threatens other people‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s moral values. In Islam freedom is not absolute; it is delimited by the law that regulates freedom in the context of mutual rights and duties to one another. The other paper was by Ayatollah Amid Zanjani. His paper critically assesses the crisis over democracy in the Muslim world, which led to either total rejection or conditional acceptance of democratic governance. As evidence, he traces the history of political transformation in Muslim countries that led to democracy taking the central stage in reforms that were introduced in the age of neo-colonialism for political reasons. His prescription for democratic politics is the adoption of middle path in espousing Western models in Muslim societies. No people, as he advises, should adopt alien systems of governance without assessing cultural legitimacy for them. Iran is no exception.

Suggestions for future activities in Iran:

CSID learnt a different lesson in Iran. The usual media presence that dominated the conference in other countries, where such meetings and workshops have been held, were conspicuously absent in Iran. This was intentional, so that the proceedings could maintain seriousness in deliberations with the clear goal of making these available to the large reading audience in Iran through timely publication. People in Iran devour reading materials. There is a dearth of serious materials on religion and democratic governance in Persian. CSID partners in Iran remain keen to publish the proceedings. Dr. Sachedina has formed a committee at Ferdowsi University to undertake the task. In consultation with a number of active members of the committee that organized the conference following suggestions were made:

1. CSID should organize a follow up conference in the year 2006 in Tehran. Tehran offers the necessary open ambiance for such deliberations.
2. CSID should work more closely with Iranian democrats in the country by establishing contacts with people like Dr. Reza Eslami of Beheshti University and Dr. Ali Khazaeefar of Ferdowsi University, in addition to religious scholars like Aytollah Amid Zanjani, Dr. Mohsin Kadiver, and Dr. Mohaghegh Damad.
3. CSID should make its publication available in Persian, both online, as well as through published distribution to major institutions and prominent activists in Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia.
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For questions or comments about the information in this bulletin, contact
Zahir Janmohamed at

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Copyright 2004 Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID).
All Rights Reserved.

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