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The Center for the Study of Islam Democracy

Narrative Report

Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID)


Seventh Annual Conference[1]


The Challenge of Democracy in the Muslim World


Marriott Wardman Park Hotel

2660 Woodley Road, NW, Washington, DC 20008


May 5-6, 2006


 Narrative Report


By: Sherif Mansour

CSID Conference Coordinator



The Center for Islam and Democracy (CSID) held its seventh annual Conference in Washington, DC on May 5-6, 2006 at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. With its main theme being “The Challenge of Democracy in the Muslim World“, the conference constituted twelve stimulating and lively debates sessions where more than 40 speakers and panelists addressed upwards of 250 participants. Attendees included decisions makers from all fields; including scholars, leaders of private and public sectors, policy makers and officials from the United States and the Muslim world. Keynote speakers included Dr. Saad Eddine El-Othmani, S.G. of the Justice and Development Party in Morocco, [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] Ambassador Randall L. Tobias, Administrator, United States Agency For International Development (USAID), [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] Carl Gershman, President, National Endowment for Democracy (NED), [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] Peter F. Mulrean, Middle East Partnership Initiative, Department of State, [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] and Laith Kubba, director of Middle East & North Africa, NED and former spokesman for the Iraqi government [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)]. Also among the participants were members of the Steering Committee of the Network of Democrats in the Arab World (NDAW), who presented their plans for the network and their ideas about the democratic transition in their home countries.


Dr. Radwan Masmoudi, President of CSID, [Bio] opened the conference by welcoming the guests and highlighting the importance of such an event at this critical time in the history. He noted that the annual conference has become a tradition where CSID and its friends show their commitment to the improvement of US relations with the Muslim world. Specifically, by supporting popular movements rather than oppressive tyrannies and corrupt regimes, building a global network of democratic Muslims who can exchange their skills and experiences, and helping those struggling overcome obstacles to establishing open and transparent democratic systems in their communities. 


Mr. Tony Sullivan, Vice-Chair of CSID, [Bio] welcomed the participants and then chaired the first session entitled “Theoretical Analysis of Democratization in the Muslim World”. The first presenter, Marina Ottaway [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] began her discussion for “The Crisis of Non-Islamist Parties in the Middle East” by talking about the necessity for democracy promotion in Arab countries. She noted that international attention is continuously raised for the success of Islamist movements in all countries that are allowing such parties to compete legally, whereas much less attention has been given to the decline of non-Islamist parties. Ms. Ottawy argued that the reason for the success of Islamists is that other political parties have virtually disappeared in many countries. Therefore, she asserted, while discussing the success of Islamist parties it is crucial to explore the reasons for the collapse of non-Islamist parties as well.


In his presentation, “Towards an Experiment in Libertarian Political Islam”, Anas Malik [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] raised the question of whether political Islam inherently fascistic or free. To answer this question, he argued that a vibrant and alternative understanding of political Islam, that can be seen as potentially and inherently libertarian, in fact exists, but unfortunately has not received significant attention or elaboration in academia. He noted that a closer examination of the issue shows that, contrary to popular belief, political Islam has a very rigorous and authentic attachment to libertarianism.


Mohamed Berween [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] examined his paper “Islamization of Democracy: The Requisite of Democracy in the Islamic World”. He began his argument by asserting that there are seven substantial challenges facing the process of Islamizing democracy in the Muslim countries over the coming years. He also conditioned the successful democratization in the Muslim countries by the success of active and peaceful participation of the Islamist groups in the political process. He concluded by emphasizing the necessity of Islamizing democracy in the Muslim world; it is the only process by which peace and stability can be brought to these nations.


Mr. Joseph Montville [Bio] chaired the second session entitled “State of Democracy in the Muslim World”. The first speaker, Husain Haqqani, [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] presented his case study ” Pakistan- Between Mosque and Military”. He pointed out that 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. For example the debate inside Pakistan about it’s dealings with India‚Äö√Ñ√Æspecifically how the government chooses between budgeting for military spending or building schools and health care‚Äö√Ñ√Ærepresents the history behind the army chief becoming president and have the right to interpret Islam in a social and legislative context. This “Government Military manipulation” has never succeeded to answer many critical questions. What Sharia law to use? Hanafi or Hanafi with Shi’ah exceptions? Also, the Islamization process has many issues like Zakat, finances etc. where Shi’ah and Sunnis have different ideas. While the role of the military is stronger than the Islamist influence, Islamists still play a “moral card”, while the military and non-Islamist parties are in office. He concluded that 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.


In his presentation on “Transition to Democracy in Algeria: Problems and Prospects“, John P. Entelis [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] gave an interesting study on how the Algerian people understand and perceive democracy based on the political reality and the complex political relation with local and international powers. He evaluated the policies of president Bouteflicka since he came to power and during his second term by admitting the fact that there was some positive progress in many levels, however a stable and a nationally reconstituted political order has yet to be translated into freedom, liberty, or democracy. He highlighted that the state and society under Bouteflicka managed to control the insurgency deaths, Participation rates are at low levels, but so is corruption, Berber – Kabyle regions are more stable than before, Human rights abuses by gangs and bombings still taking place, even though it’s at a lower level than before, and still police security condoning torture. He finally concluded that the Algerian government needs to resolve fundamental constitutional questions and Washington must stop being silent on Algeria’s political status.


The third presenter Louay Safi [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF) defended in his paper “Democratization in Syria and the Interplay of Culture and Structure” his thesis that there is no innate capacity for democracy in Syrian civil society. There’s no welcoming for compromise or power sharing. So he suggested that shortest way to democracy is to empower civil society. In order to explain how this can be done he gave a detailed review for the post-colonial era parties and ideologies in Syria. The conclusion of his review was that the political culture of the last 50 years is such that “leaders are seen as superheroes, power is the measure of individuals and there exists a looming notion of glory. Concept of equal law and equal rights and the common good doesn’t exist. Sharia is limiting the power of the state in society; laws enacted by functions of civil society. Health, education: projects of civil society. Law comes from within a community but is not imposed from above. We can’t bring the government down immediately because a mirror regime will take its place.”


The first two panel sessions were followed by two luncheon keynote addresses; each receiving wide national and international coverage. The Luncheon theme was “Strengthening Democracy and Improving Understanding with the Muslim World”


Ambassador Randall L. Tobias, [Final Paper (PDF)]  Director of United States Foreign Assistance, and Administrator of the United States Agency For International Development (USAID), began his speech by thanking CSID for that invitation and warm welcome to the conference. He asserted that Democracy, as Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has noted, is not “Western.” Traditions of public reasoning can be found in nearly all countries and is part of the common human inheritance. As President Bush has pointed out, more than half of all the Muslims in the world live in freedom under democratically constituted governments. The compatibility of Islam and democracy is reflected in a recent Gallup poll that examined views of the West in the Muslim world. Ambassador Tobias also highlighted that President Bush has a vision “to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”. The United States spent about $27.5 billion in 2005 on promoting such things as economic growth, social welfare (including health and education), and good governance in underdeveloped nations. The reason the government spends this money, he continued, is first and foremost due to our sense of moral obligation. He explains that we cannot turn our backs on the millions of children who succumb to starvation and disease each day, when the ability to address it is in our hands,  nor canwe turn our backs on citizens who toil under oppressive poverty.. The second reason, however, is that our futures are inextricably linked to those we seek to assist. Promoting freedom, democracy, and development are primary elements identified in the President’s national security strategy. It is part of our strategy for addressing the root causes of terrorism. Governments that rule justly, encourage economic freedom and opportunity, and invest in their people-the hallmarks of democracies-do not produce, let alone tolerate, terrorists. People who see a hopeful future for themselves and their families are not willing to bind bombs to their bodies. Our commitment to supporting self-determined transformation through effective foreign assistance is shared – and its importance understood – at the very highest levels of the U.S. Government.


Mr. Carl Gershman, [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] President of the National Endowment for Democracy in DC, gave the second luncheon keynote speech. He began by praising CSID’ efforts and activities; “following the activities and programs of CSID since the establishment of the organization in 1999 therefore, he can see clearly how fast and steady the organization has been developing and how popular and successful it has become now” he said. He asserted that such organizations work as ambassadors who represent and build bridges that can transmit and support and promote the values of Democracy and Human Rights and peace across the Muslim World.


The third Session was chaired by Abdallah Schleifer [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] and was titled “Debate on Media and Democratization in the Muslim World“. He began the session by highlighting the fact that even American TV/ journalism suffers tremendously and info is shallow and low. But media in the Arab world is largely Over-politicized. Everything gets played out in the media and not in everyday life as it usually does. Also, News Broadcasting channels like the BBC and Al-Jazeera etc. are not charities and there is an influential political economic force behind them. 

Phillip Seib, [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] was the first to speak commenting on the “Al-Jazeera Effect” which is a relatively new phenomenon but may become more significant in the Arab and Muslim world. He noted that communications and information technologies could be potent tools in fostering political transformation, although they remain to varying degrees dependent on political institutions and other non-media factors. So the effect of new media on democratization is very much a work in progress, as reflected in the Middle East by various elections in 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.


Abdurrahim Foukara, [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] highlighted the many types of democracy and the many different Muslim worlds. He also reviewed the relation between governments and media in the western countries. He said that Tony Blair’s government subjected the BBC to its editorial command and the BBC fell under this pressure and misreported solid, objective journalism. Also, the US news institution and security news broadcasting responded to the Iraq invasion/war the same and no one questioned the motives of the war. On the other hand, Al-Jazeera took a critical stance at the US role in Iraq and Arab governments.


The fourth session on “NDAW: Voices of Democrats from the Arab World” was Chaired by Abderrahim Sabir, CSID Program Officer & Coordinator of the Network of Democrats in the Arab World. He began the session by informing the participants on the network’s goals, plans and activities. He noted that the network is unique in its formation since it is the first regional network that includes voices of both Islamist and secular Democrats in the Arab World. He then invited some of the members of the steering committee of the network to talk.


Hani Hourani, Jordan, talked about the capacity of this network to empower civil society to create a network and provide protection and support for democratic voices. Jamal Benabdullah, Morocco, highlighted the ability for networking to encounter and face to challenges of oppression and despotism in the region. He also asserted that the network effort is a long-term process that needs work and perseverance. Dina Dahkqan, Jordan, highlighted the importance of the network in serving the cause of women’s participation in the Arab world. Mokhtar Benabdullaoui, Morocco, pointed out that the network is responsible for Moderating debates between secularists and Islamists. This is why the CSID offices in Morocco and Jordan can play a critical role in organizing the development of dialogue between these groups. Kamal Ben Younis, Tunisia, examined the deteriorating political climate in his country where parties are divided and denied a role in government. He added that this network gives them a unifying platform and a way to communicate and possibly work together. He also expressed his surprise that Islamists and secularists could actually get along and see eye to eye on some issues. Marwan Awad Faouri, Jordan, pointed out that in every country there is room for democracy and change for a more civic society. And the purpose of this network and other networks is to try to maximize the use of this room. Boudjema Ghechir, Algeria reviewed the struggle for democracy in his country through the past decades and how the single party rule needs to be eliminated in order for a real democratic process to emerge.


The first day of the conference ended with the Annual Banquet which featured Mr. Saadeddine Elothmani, [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)]  was chosen to be the Muslim Democrat of the Year Award. He addressed the participant with paper on “Islamist Political Parties and Winning the Challenge of Democratic Reform” where he presented his party and his own thoughts concerning Democracy and Human rights issues. Mr. Othmani asserted that the Islamist movement adopts the Islamic reference as many other movements around the world who used the cultural pattern and reference dominating its history. He argued that “Identity and cultural precondition is a fundamental and necessary introduction to any reform”, “However, he continued, that References, by nature, must be subjected to criticism, revision, and renovation”. He made an example by the Madina Charter as it was the first implementation to that fact. He also pointed out that In Islam, the state is civil, not religious in the sense commonly known in Western political thought. The experience of the State of Madina is evidence that Islam takes off rulers’ practices and decisions all sorts of sacredness and impeccability. And even though Islam has no fixed form of governance or of citizen participation there in, it left for human creativity and to be decided by man’s ever-changing circumstances. “The fact that the state in Islam is civil, deriving legitimacy from its own citizens makes the Muslims continually open to develop their own pattern of governance in light of any mechanisms and systems men may innovate, but In any case, the people’s will is the decisive criterion in all this. People can be ruled only the way they agree on, or else they would never rally themselves with the government, and this is the essence of democracy” he said. He finally concluded that the major function of the state, or of any political authority, is not to interfere in citizens’ beliefs, or to impose specific religious conceptions or judgments on them. Instead, it should be more concerned with managing public affairs within the framework of the local value system. The state is also to ensure the freedom of opinion and of expression, the right to worship and build religious institutions for all citizens in an open and tolerant atmosphere. The political parties with Islamic reference have the duty to take part in political reform, and not to impose ‘religious’ solutions.


The second day included eight panel sessions and one luncheon keynote address. Session five on “Challenges to Democracy: Domestic and External” was Chaired by Abdulwahab Alkebsi, [Bio] National Endowment for Democracy, and it had three presentations. The first presenter, Mustafa Khalafi, [Abstract] [Bio [Final Paper (PDF)] presented his paper on “U.S. Policy toward Political Reforms in Morocco“. In it he examines U.S. involvement in the democratic development in Morocco from the early 1990s until 2004. He gave a thorough analysis of the internal and external factors that had impact on reform in Morocco while evaluating the real challenges for reform and the possible ways to encounter them. He finally examined the general Moroccan perception and attitude toward the U.S. policy in this level.


In her paper “Confronting the Real Enemy: An Islamic Perspective for Fighting Corruption“, Maryam Knight, [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] tracked the word “Fasad” in the Islamic tradition, highlighting the fact that “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, requiring execution or exile, an obvious impediment in Muslim states for individuals who might confess to the crime in a secular democracy”. She also gave insight to the situation in Egypt and recent events there. She proposed raising the concepts of accountability as key solutions to fight corruption, but at the same time she thinks that the best way is to convince the mofsedeen (corrupt people) to stop and give charity and Zakat to poor people.


Reza Eslami, [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] Professor of Human Rights, talked about the “Reform Movement in Iran“. He pointed out that the reform movement in Iran is continuing despite the result of the recent presidential election. He argues that the movement is deeply rooted inside the Iranian society among youth, women and activists who are willing to continue struggling for their rights. To support his views he cited some of the reform issues that are highly debated in modern Iranian society. They include : religious reformers searching for more acceptable and modern interpretations for Human Rights issues that may contradict with the west, active calls and activities of NGOs and labors associations, and the remarkable social change in the Iranian life. He concluded by suggesting some ways to help reform movement inside Iran


Session six, entitled “Prospects for Democracy in the Muslim World“, was chaired by Dan Brumberg [Bio] of Georgetown  University. The first speaker, Neil Hicks, [Abstract] [Bio [Final Paper (PDF)] examined in his presentation on “The Intersection between Human Rights and Democratization” the Bush administration’s perceptions of the Middle East. He argued that it is inconsistent, shaky and composed  of policy that is conjectural at best; in essence, there are double standards. “Cheney is in Lithuania criticizing one government and then going to another country to praise the same policy implementation!”, “US rights agenda seems soft or phony” he said. 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 continues to impede the spread of democracy in the region. 


Joshua Muravchik, [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] in his presentation on “Are elections in the Muslim world in America’s interests?” tried to measure the impact of the strong showing of Islamists in the Arab world on Washington and whether or not it had triggered a pervasive second-guessing of the American policy of promoting democracy in the region. He asks “What does the US expect from democratic countries? The standard answer is that these countries support US policies. “This is a bad standard to have” he argues because France, Sweden and Belgium don’t support US policy. He then explained that the real question is that most parties in the Muslim World are not interested in US policies. US policy makers don’t realize that democracy won’t happen overnight . In addition, US leaders fail to understand the ideology of authoritative regimes. He then pointed out the theory of a democratic peace: democracies never go to war with one another, it has to do with the attitudes that people in a democracy have.


The third speaker, Alon Ben Meir [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF) discussed in his paper “Core Strategic Challenges for Successful Democratic Reforms” the fact that Democracy and freedom don’t automatically translate into one another. According to Meir, this is why the Middle East region is misunderstood. He asked: What does the US really know about Iraq? Tribes, religious differences, tradition and culture were and are completely ignored. Why Hussain and Asad are enemies of democracy and not Mubarak, for example? We need to devise means to approach democracy. Who are better organized than the Islamists in the Arab world? Democratic organizations need to organize and touch the heart and mind and soul of the people like the Islamist parties do with health care, social services and religion. He concluded that it is impossible to successfully introduce democracy there without an initial transitional period. During this period, homegrown forces will work to shape an emerging democratic system consistent with each society’s unique needs and environment.


Session Seven discussed the “Islamists and Democratization” and was chaired by Najib Ghadbian, [Bio] the conference chair. The session had four scholars and was the most attended and debated discussion. The first speaker, Carrie Wickham, [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] in her paper “Democratization and Islamist ‘Auto-Reform’: Preliminary Findings from Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait“, she examined Islamists’ internal processes of self-conscious redefinition of their goals and strategies. She did not want to exaggerate their democratic shift nor dismiss them as window dressing, instead she tried to explore to what extent it is a strategic response to opportunities and restraints. She argued that Islamists only advocate elections because it would benefit them and their interests. This happened through softening their positions on issues such as women and minorities to bolster democratic credentials. In essence by self-limiting participation in the political process (Muslim Brotherhood did this to deflect suspicion that it aims to dominate the process) they prevent a sweeping victory that would alarm opponents. Experience of running for and winning elections subjects them to pressures for accountability, and as the most popular bloc in the opposition, Islamists know they would be 1st to benefit from relaxed controls in politics. However, she still believes that they can be accredited with several remarkable changes; there has been a qualitative change in their values and beliefs, as well as the emergence of a critical mass of middle generation leaders in Islamist groups. Informed by the new Islamist discourse such as Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, they take a centrist approach, moving away from insisting on application of sharia to more general ideas like an Islamic frame of reference,


Sean Brooks [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)]  in his paper “Islamist Democrats: Assessing and Evaluating the Democratic Commitments of Islamist Parties in Turkey, Morocco, and Jordan  assessed and evaluated the democratic commitments of Islamist Parties in these countries in order to analyse their approach. He recognized three main moderate Islamist groups, AKP in Turkey, the Justice and Development in Morocco, and IAF in Jordan. Each of them has its own model for democratization that can easily be illustrated from measuring behavioral, attitudinal, and constitutional change. He concludes 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.  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.


In her discussion to “The Inter-Relations between Moderate Islamists, their Media and Democratization in the Arab World“, Carola Richter[Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF) 

examined the theoretical frame for analyzing the relationship between Islamists, the media, & democratization in the pre-transitional and transitional stages. She pointed out that Islamists should be understood during these stages as functional actors for democratization; they can mobilize people and confront the regime, but there is a fear that they will re-implement authoritarian structures. Permanence of authoritarian regimes ensures the moderation of opposition groups, therefore when the regime breaks down, challengers must moderate their discourse. Since strategies of media use, media discourse and public perceptions of media reflect Islamist activity, Islamists challenge the monopoly of power of the regime through niche media. This happened clearly in Egypt where the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Amal Party managed to overcome the government by using Internet technology to escape the confiscation of their publications.


Shadi Hamid [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)in his paper “To Engage or not to Engage? The Emerging Consensus on US Policy” discussed Democracy promotion policy in the current US administration. He argued that since it is usually framed in national security concerns the policy is still about interests, not ideals. Therefore it is hard to justify democracy when it stops being in US interests. This is why US has contradictory objectives to promote democracy but contain the power of Islamists. How did this happen? He answered: “Bush administration rhetoric & government and civil society involvement in the issue even neo-cons recognized that the risk of including Islamists was a risk worth taking. But the tipping point: January 2006 – backlash after Hamas victory, the tone and ideas have changed. Op-eds like  ‚Äö√Ñ√≤Be careful what you wish for‚Äö√Ñ√≤, showed that both conservatives and liberals have criticized US dem. Promotion, new consensus like: democracy promotion is important, but too much of a good thing can be bad”. He concluded that the problem with Bush’s approach is that he made it into a panacea and raised expectations too high. In addition, they tied it to strategic interests, which is problematic because they can change or choose to selectively support democracy. According to him, democracy is not always in US short-term interests, but that shouldn’t dissuade us from supporting it – we should support it because we believe in it


Tony Sullivan [Bio] chaired session eight on “Citizenship in Islam”. The first speaker, Rachael Scott, [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] presented her paper “Citizenship and non-Muslims in Modern Islamic Thought” She examined the concept of citizenship in Egyptian Islamist thought in relation to the rights of non-Muslims, specifically Egyptian Christians. She compared the kind of citizenship that is articulated in Islamic thought with Western assumptions of the notion of citizenship, highlighting the points of congruence and the points of difference. Finally, she concluded 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.


The second speaker, Alan Cordova [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] author of “Difficulties Encountered by Muslims in Granada, Spain” began his talk by giving a historical background of Islam in Spain and highlighted that there is 800,000 Muslims in southern Spain alone. He pointed out that there is no multi-cultural policy in Spain right and Educational policy is top-downso religion in public schools is taught as a way of citizenship. Islam is taught in schools to Muslims only and Catholicism is taught among all children in schools as a basic ethic and moral basis for Spanish society. On the other hand NGOs are working with the Muslim community, which is divided between Moroccans, the Spanish converts, and the non-Muslim community from Jews and Christians who are living together.


Vanessa Ruget [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF) presented in her paper on “Citizenship and Democracy in Kyrgyzstan, one year after the Tulip Revolution” a case study on what she thinks will be “a model of democracy in the Caucus region”. She identified Citizenship as “membership and knowing rights and responsibilities in the region which acts as a positive and strong link for identity in a democracy”. She highlighted the uniqueness of the Kyrgyzstan model as the country has more than eighty ethnicities, and has a strong sense of citizenship over ethnic identity. And even though many people support democracy, their primordial Identity: clan identity, north and south divide of the country, ethnicity, and religious identity is prevailing. Around 75% of the population is Muslim however Islam in central Asia is not very dogmatic due to the Russian, communist bloc. It is more of a culture and identity than a legislative, dogmatic religion. Radical Islam is active among groups who feel excluded. Organized political groups are more active and dangerous than radical Islamic groups. She therefore asserted that threats to a strong citizenship come from economic and social exclusion more than from nationalist or religious radicalism


The luncheon keynote address afterwards was devoted to discuss the American role in promoting Democracy in the Middle East. The first address was made by Peter F. Mulrean, [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] Middle East Partnership Initiative, Department of State, on “MEPI and Democracy Promotion:  What Did We Learn?”. In his speech, Mr. Mulrean evaluated the three years of existence of MEPI and reviewed the challenges of promoting democracy and US policy in the Middle East region. He argued that even though strong disagreements with US policy are apparent, there are also positive aspects of the US policy in the region. There is also increasing numbers of individuals who are raising their voices on issues concerning political and social institutions. There is tangible support for democratic reforms in the region. He also, asserted that internal challenges have prepared the US policy makers to support reformers on the ground. Governments in the region are not really committed to reform, just words. Democracy activists and civil society organizations are weak and centered on single personalities, even though, MEPI has supported 350 projects-most of them from non-governmental actors, independent media outlets, women in democracy, in the law and in politics and young people.


The second speech was given by Laith Kubba; [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] Director of Middle East & North Africa, NED and former spokesman for the Iraqi government. He tried to illustrate “Lessons from Iraq:  What went Right and what went Wrong“. Mr. Kubba presented many explanations for the failure in Iraq. According to Kubba, the American point of view is “there have been too many assumptions and not enough planning and tactical errors”. Islamists on the other hand blame only the US because of dynamics and rules have been laid out by US policy. Kurds are rather stable Sunni Arab and Shia communities political scene is dominated by religious leaders and figures. He then asked what their stands on key issues were. In 1958 there were no Islamic political forces. When the Baath came to power the Muslim brotherhood dissolved and DAWA grew up, SIRI was established in Iran in the shadows of the Iran-Iraq war, Al Sadr group and Al-Sistani. Shared communal affiliates, real politic formed their perspectives and dogma and sectarianism formed their reach and community loyalty. Islamic groups thought differently about Islamic social change. Mr. Kubba concluded that in Iraq the leaders have shown little experience in power and dealing with the political agenda in the country. Islam has strong appeal in the country and any future plans should accept and deal with this reality.


Louay Safi, [Bio] CSID Board Member, chaired session nine on “Developing New and Just Interpretations of Islamic Principles for the 21st Century”. The first presenter, Wael Nawara, [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)began his presentation on “Bridging the Gap: Revisiting the Way We Interpret Islam” by reviewing his experience in the Egyptian Parliamentary election where he was running for parliament seat as a member for The al-Ghad party is a liberal party. He then presented his new approach to interpret Islamic teachings: “it’s our culture that needs to change, not the Quran”. “We need a reform movement to understand our religion”, he continued. He argued that there’s always a gap between divine will and human understanding. Interpretation is temporal, relative, and personal. Looking to Islam as a liberal movement by freeing slaves, liberating from prejudice and discrimination, and increasing rights of women in addition to freeing Muslims from fear, poverty, bias, and inherited beliefs. We need another modernization movement in order to restore that.


Asma Afsaruddin [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] in her paper “Democratic Governance and the So-called Islamic State” examined the perception of “Islamic States”; specifically as it was represented by some to be the same as it was the early Islamic history and the modern Islamist ideologues who insist that their idea of Islamic government extends back to early Islam. She argues that there are two recurring topics in this literature: the first is talking about early caliphate practices and the second notions of divine sovereignty and human agency. The first for many people, provide guidance on governing an Islamic polity. After the Prophet’s death, people debated who should succeed him. People offered their allegiance to Abu Bakr. Omar described the situation as happenstance. There was no blueprint for an Islamic government set out in this process. They devised a solution based on human reason. The second however refers to God’s judgment of people’s actions and believes that “hakimiyya” used by Islamists to refer to divine sovereignty; “khilafa” is primarily a political figure and was not seen as God’s representative on earth or having a divine mandate in early Sunni thought. Therefore we can question many of the stated premises of those who espouse the concept of Islamic government, because they do not adhere to early Islamic history. She concluded by asserting that the eclectic nature of the Islamic political tradition bodes well for the future.


The third speaker, Abdulaziz Sachedina, [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] examined the question, “Can there be Democratic Governance without the Separation of Religion and Politics?” He began by pointing out that religion and politics are intertwined in Islam; Muslim people are very political and “Islam is a world-accepting religion, not a world-denying religion, so engagement in politics is important” “Politics is not dirty or un-Islamic – part & parcel of Islamic doctrines” he said. For long, religious reformation has always meant political reformation. According to Mr. Sachadina they haven’t been separate; people must be actively engaged. This was especially evident even in Abu Bakr’s acceptance speech when he became the caliph. He then argued that democratic governance based on the project of modernity couldn’t be authentic if it requires separation of religion and politics in Islam. He concluded by asserting that Islamic government can’t be a theocracy because the leader must still be accountable to the public therefore democracy in the Muslim world should allow freedom of religion and freedom of conscience


In Session ten entitled “The Status and Role of Women in the Muslim World” Mr. Robert Schadler, [Bio] introduced two female speakers to present their papers. Mariam Memarsadeghi presented Freedom House’s Comparative Study on “The Status and Role of Women in the Middle East”. This Freedom House publication looked at law of the land and how to guarantee women’s rights in society, investigating the state and non-state actors for perspectives on women’s place inside these societies. The rating system of 1-5 was evaluating each social context in its perspective towards women’s rights and activism. However, because Freedom House is a US institution, it is even more difficult to access women’s rights in the region. She believed in judging democracy by women’s participation in the community, country, and region is critical information.


The second speaker, Sarah Swick [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] in her case study on “Moroccan Women and Democracy” asked: if democracy can benefit and improve the rights of women, then how can women improve democracy in their communities and countries? She then answered by highlighting the Moroccan experience where women have lobbied for democratic representation for women working outside the normal political scene. But even though in 1998 thirty seats were open for women in ministerial positions and another 35 were elected by the years 2002-2003, the women managed to win only .5% of local representation. This is mainly because The Ulama issued a fatwa and declared that women’s participation was unlawful. She then pointed out that attention increased towards women’s progress through protests, women groups, lectures and political parties, helped pushed for electoral reform. Pressure of women’s organizations also called for international publicity for their right to participate. Only then were Moroccan women finally able to pass citizenship to their children. She concluded by asserting that there are great challenges ahead for the Moroccan women, but the movement thus far has been strong. 

Session eleven on “Challenges for Democracy in Muslim Asia” was chaired by Louis Cantori, [Bio] Univ. of Baltimore. The first presenter, John Keane [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] presented his paper titled “Why Democracy? On the Need for Fresh Thinking about an Old Ideal” It investigated the history of democracy since its origins in the Near East. He argued that it contained many different and conflicting accounts of why democracy is a desirable way of life – a good life to be struggled for and defended. Therefore, 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 fresh thinking about democracy considered as a normative ideal and way of life. He drew upon his work on the history and future of democracy, and put the case for a new understanding of “humble democracy”.


The second speaker, Nilofar Sakhi, [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] discussed in his study “Domestic and external challenges to democracy in the Muslim world Case studies: Turkey and Afghanistan” the many and diverse challenges in the Muslim world concerning Shariah law and the limits of government power inside Muslim society. He then gave examples from recently democratic movements in Afghanistan and Turkey which brought very positive changes in the country like women’s rights, stable political systems (i.e. Cabinet and Parliamentary election), free markets and so on. But on the other hand still many challenges are facing them ahead. He then pointed out that 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.


Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] in his paper “Creating a Productive Discourse on Democracy in the Muslim World” examined the current discourses on the establishment of democracy in the Muslim world and concluded 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. He argued that 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.


Asma Afsaruddin of CSID chaired the twelveth and last session titles “A Modern Islamic Democratic Discourse”. The first speaker, Alberto Fernandez, [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] in his paper on “Liberating Islam from Bondage: The Radical Democratic Discourse of Al-Sadiq al-Nayhum” examined the continuing relevancy of Libyan political thinker Al-Sadiq Al-Nayhum’s analysis of the Arab dilemma. He argued that 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? Al-Nayhum 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. He sees perfect freedom rather than perfect obedience as being the beating heart of an original, Qur’an-based Islam. He then concluded by asserting that the call for popular reinterpretation of the Qur’an should be reactivated in order to establish firmer Islamic foundation for democracy in the 21st century.


Saeed Khan, [Abstract [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] the second speaker, in his study “A Comparison of the Compact of Medina and the Early Development of the United States Constitution” argued that 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.  He began by examining 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, as well as the measures taken by the U.S. government in modifying the document as circumstances dictated.  Then he analyzed 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. He finally compared the two constitutions and the effect each had to the future political conformation of each respective society.


In her paper “The ‚Äö√Ñ√≤Ulama of Egypt: As a Progressive and Moderate Religious Authority?  Shaznene Hussain [Abstract] [Bio] [Final Paper (PDF)] argued that elements within Islam can and should be combined with secular democratic ideals in creating moderate and progressive democratic societies in the Muslim world. She examined the potential for religious scholars, the ‚Äö√Ñ√≤ulama’, to be a progressive and moderating force in Islam, and in Egyptian society in particular. “Even though the ‚Äö√Ñ√≤ulama’ have not always acted as a moderating force in society, their potential to do so has always been great” she said. She argued that the Egyptian ‚Äö√Ñ√≤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.


At the end of the conference, Mr. Radwan MasmoudiCSID President, Mr. Najib GhadhbianChair of Program Committee and Ms. Asma AfsaruddinChair of CSID, gave closing remarks thanking the participants for their contributions and persistence which enriched the discussions throughout the two days.


[1] The 7th Annual Conference was cosponsored by Freedom House






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