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April 11, 2012 | Washington, DC
FRANK ANDERSON, president, Middle East Policy Council
Good morning, everyone, and thank you for coming. I’m really grateful that you’re here. The subject is important, and I think we’ve prepared a fine collection of real experts to speak about it. I’m Frank Anderson. I’m the president of the Middle East Policy Council. For those of you that don’t know us, we’re an educational organization — a nonprofit and nonpartisan — and our aim is to inform the dialogue in this town and in this nation on developments and the realities of the Middle East that affect American interests.
We do this in four ways; usually I say three. Our flagship is our journal, Middle East Policy. It’s quarterly. The Institute for Scientific Research is sort of the Nielsen rating of — ratings organization of academic journals, and they measure their effectiveness by the number of times articles in a journal are cited in articles in other journals. And by that measure we’re never less than second, and usually first place on this subject. A lot of that is due to our editor and vice president, Anne Joyce, who’s here in the room.
The second leg of our four-legged chair are these conferences on Capitol Hill, organized by Dr. Tom Mattair, who’s also our executive director. What that means is that at the Middle East Policy Council Tom does all the work and I show up like this to take the credit. But Tom also comes to this from a long history of engagement with the Middle East Policy Council. He was our director of research in the 1990s before he went off to the Persian Gulf to spend six years at the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies.
Came back to us, and I’m pleased to — maybe the best, or one of the best decisions I made when I came to the Middle East Policy Council was hiring him as executive director. The proceedings today and at every one of our Capitol Hill conferences then become the first chapter in each issue of the journal or the transcript thereof.
Our third program is an educational outreach program. We cannot deal effectively — well, we can, but it is difficult — to deal effectively in educating people about the Middle East when they arrive laden with in fact a whole pile of negative and inaccurate stereotypes that come from being raised in our society. And our way of dealing with this is a teacher outreach program. Each year we conduct around the nation 50 or more teacher workshops, where we gather together 50 or so teachers and spend a day or two giving them lesson plans, information — I use the two E’s. We enable and excite them to teach about the geography, the history, the culture, the religions and politics of the region.
The fourth leg is represented with a lot of people with wires around here now, and that’s our online presence. And I encourage you to take a look at mepc.org online. Articles from the journal, access to the teacher workshop programs through teachmideast.org, are available there. And it’s the 21st century. It’s a major force multiplier and gets our publications, our discussions and our programs out in ways that we could never have done before technologies enabled that. And it’s a major value.
I’m not going to introduce our speakers. I’ll leave that to Tom as he begins his moderation. But let me say I’m delighted with two things: one, the timeliness — this is a subject of significant concern now; and two, the fact that we have — and it’s the wonderful thing about being involved and engaged Washington, D.C. — we’re able to reach out and in the neighborhood find true experts who have been studying this long before it became front page and have understandings that go way beyond bumper stickers. And I’m delighted that they’re going to be with us and enabling two things: what I’m confident is going to be a very enlightened discussion, and then I’m really excited to look at the first chapter of next quarter’s journal. Thanks very much, and I’ll introduce now Dr. Thomas Mattair. (Applause.)
THOMAS R. MATTAIR, executive director, Middle East Policy Council
Thank you, Frank, and thank you for coming. And just a footnote to what Frank said: We’re actually live streaming this event, so if you are in the virtual audience and you want to submit a question for the Q-and-A session, you would do it by emailing mepcquestions at gmail.com.
Now let me make a few brief introductory remarks and introduce the panel. Among the changes that are sweeping the Arab world, one of the most significant ones this year seems to be the success of what are often called Islamist movements but perhaps more accurately should be called movements within political Islam, “political Islam” being a term that means political ideology informed by the religion of Islam.
Today we’d like to identify some of the most important movements, some of the most important leaders, and ask a number of questions that are relevant particularly for an American audience: namely, does the United States even understand these movements well enough to know whether or not we should be concerned about their rise? We’re talking here about the Party of Justice and Development in Morocco, Ennahda in Tunisia, leaders like Ali Sallabi in Libya, Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan and Syria and their offshoot Hamas in Palestine, and even Shi’a movements like Al Wefaq in Bahrain.
Most Americans know that there is Arab Muslim anger at the United States, although they don’t necessarily understand all the reasons for that because most Americans have not examined U.S. policies in the region very deeply or very critically. And we in these conferences always try to do that, and we’ll do it again today. But there are other deeper, more elementary questions that we need to ask.
For example, what do various movements in political Islam see as a social and political order that is compatible with their Islamic values and interests? What do they see as the proper relations with the other domestic players, including the secular ones? What do they see as the proper relations with other — with external actors, including non-Arab ones? How might their ideologies and organizations and programs be changing in light of the upheavals of the last year and in light of the electoral dynamics of recent months and in light of governing responsibilities that they may have to take on? And what are the implications of all of this for American foreign policymakers? And finally, what can we do to mitigate Arab Muslim anger at the United States and improve our relations with new leaders in the world of political Islam?
As Frank said, we have a panel that can do that. And I will refer you to the invitation, where you have detailed biographical information about each speaker. And I will only mention the highlights of them. Our first speaker will be Professor John Voll of Georgetown University, who is also the associate director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and who was a professor at the University of New Hampshire for many years before coming to Georgetown and has lived in the Middle East and authored and co-authored a number of books. And the highlight I think that I want to mention here about him is that he’s a past president of the Middle East Studies Association, an honor that’s not conferred on everybody in the field.
I’d like to ask Peter Mandaville to speak second. And Peter is the director of the Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies and an associate professor at George Mason University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and during the year — during the past year of Arab upheavals was on the policy planning staff at the Department of State and can probably tell us something about how it was being viewed there; also is the author of a number of books and articles. And you’ll find the titles, I — as I said, on your — on your invitation.
Then a — then a third speaker will be Steven Kull, senior research scholar at the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland. And in fact he wears a number of hats at the University of Maryland and directs a number of centers and is a specialist in public-opinion polling. And I was very interested in inviting him because I — I’ve, you know, been reading his book, which is called “Feeling Betrayed: The Roots of Muslim Anger in America,” which I recommend to you.
And then I’d like Alexis —
ALEXIS ARIEFF: Arieff. (Chuckles.)
DR. MATTAIR: — Arieff — I know, I know — (chuckles) —
MS. ARIEFF: (Chuckles.) Sorry. No one can pronounce it. (Chuckles.)
DR. MATTAIR: — OK — (chuckles) — to bat clean-up, because she is going to drill down into some very specific countries in North Africa, where this started. And she is — she’s an analyst on Africa and the Maghreb at the Congressional Research Service, and therefore her work is pretty well-known to congressmen and congressional staff here on the Hill. And she has a history before the Congressional Research Service — for example, at the International Crisis Group.
And so I thank all of you for coming. And there are different approaches to being a moderator. The approach I’m going to take for the rest of the day is to get out of the way and let the panel take over. Professor Voll.
JOHN VOLL, professor, Georgetown University; associate director, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding
It’s great to be here, and I always enjoy having the opportunity to discuss the kind of issues that I think we need to talk about today. It’s a real pleasure, for a variety of reasons, to be able to work again with Anne and the whole policy — Middle East Policy Council. I still always have a little difficulty because early on 30 years ago — almost 30 years ago I published an article in a very distinguished journal published by the American Arab Affairs Council called American Arab Affairs, which is the ancestor — which tells you how old I am — it’s the ancestor of the journal that we heard described, and it was as good in its fourth volume as it was — as it is these days. And it’s always a pleasure to work with.
Now my instructions are to talk for 15 minutes. There is no clock in the room, but I do have my clock here. I want to start by confessing something, now that is that we were introduced as being experts and, you know, maybe we don’t really understand the movements that are involved and so on. And — but each of us has a very different kind of perspective. And you’ll notice, in terms of the speakers, my hair is the greyest.
And so that for understanding the movements — one of the things I’m going to talk about is one of the problems that I have, because in terms of my generation — in terms of my generation — my son and I have worked on this sort of terminology a little bit — in terms of my generation, houses had Windows. This is a tablet. And birds twittered. (Laughter.) And if you start with that — if you start with that mindset where you’re in trouble and you need then an interpreter and my now almost middle-aged son is almost not able to interpret what the 20-year-olds and the people — the people in middle school are technologically the best — the best adapters, I think, for knowing what’s going on in the subject matter that we’re talking about.
But I want to do is — my instructions basically are to sort of set the stage, do a broad framing and then we can talk about whatever we want to during the question-and-answer period. But the specific generalization is entailed in the title, “The Transformation of Political Islam in the Arab Awakening.” Basically we are in the midst of a really significant transformation — significant transformation in terms of politics, in terms of ideology, in terms of who does what in the public arena and in the very nature of the public arena itself. And as we — as we look at — as we look at what is going on, I think it is just worthwhile being reminded — as we are every day in the news reports, but in detail rather than in broad picture — being reminded of what kind of transformations we are talking about.
The very nature of the public sphere itself is being transformed. When — it was mentioned my wife and I lived for a long time in New Hampshire. We lived for 30 years in New Hampshire. And in Washington terms, that means seven New Hampshire primaries, you know. And that gives you a certain amount of perspective. The difference between how did one campaign in New Hampshire — if you were supporting Nelson Rockefeller in 1968, good luck — as we did — or if you were supporting Senator Muskie in ’72 and so on — the difference between how you did that and what you do now is remarkable and it is an important introduction to what is going on now because of the development of the new social media.
And as we look — there was a very interesting in article in a journal or in a magazine, depending on your terminology, called Wired, which is very up-to-date on contemporary media, social media and so on. Well, Wired did an article way back in 1996 talking about the impact of the new media on the public sphere. And the editor of Wired in 1996 wrote a very interesting sort of discussion, the public sphere of the past with pamphleteering, soapboxes and vigorous debate — the kind of politics that I grew up with — is being replaced by the Internet, which enables average citizens to participate in national discourse, publish in newspaper, distribute an electronic pamphlet to the world and generally communicate to and with a broader audience than ever before. It also enables average citizens to gain access to a vast and literally world-wide range of information.
Now that’s like transformation from the old politics to the new politics of the Internet. But that’s 1996. And what I find really interesting is that as I look at — I mean, and I’m in the process of working on some other projects, that looking at that description of the new public sphere from the vantage point 15 years later of the Arab Awakening makes that description sound interestingly archaic, you know, that that — that this sort of national discourse publish in newspaper, distribute an electronic pamphlet to the world, generally communicate and so on, that — the Arab Spring is one step beyond that in social media.
And the person who had written the 1996 article did an article just about a year and a half ago in which the title of it was, “The Web is Dead. Long Live the Internet.” And in that, the Internet is the real revolution, as important as electricity. Now that — if you’ve ever been without power, that’s probably an overstatement, but the Internet is the real revolution, as important as electricity. What we do with it is still evolving. As it moved from your desktop to your pocket, the nature of the Net changed. And I would argue that as we moved from the desktop Internet to the pocket global communications network, the nature of the political sphere in which we live has changed.
And so that, from the perspective of two — of 2012, the global Internet-based activism of the 1990s as seen in the global support, for example, for the Zapatista movement in Mexico, that that can be viewed as the emerging desktop public sphere. But as we get to the Arab Spring, we move from the desktop public sphere to the pocket public sphere. And with the pocket public sphere, you have a whole new mode of the political dynamics, the transformation of politics, the transformation of political activism becomes a very crucial, a very crucial kind of support so much so that somebody like Wael Ghonim — if you don’t know that name, he was the Google marketing executive who became then one of the heroes of Tahrir and the Arab Spring in Egypt.
Wael Ghonim says that what is really important is not activism but engagism. And the shift from hardcopy pamphleteering to desktop public sphering to pocket communication is a shift from ideologically-based, party-organized activism into this — we don’t have the labels yet for this kind of emotional engagism. And so that Wael is saying what I advocate is not activism but engagism. And in this then, we have a new mode of political operation.
I would like to suggest then a second thing. We’ve got the new mode — hardcore — all of these things still exist. I mean, you still have to hand out pamphlets. You still need to knock on doors. You still need to do some of the old politicking. But you have then a whole new mode of operation as well that we — that is visible — that was visible in Tunisia, that was visible in Egypt, that has been visible throughout the Arab Spring. It becomes — it is totally impossible to imagine Tawakel Karman, the Nobel Prize-winning, Yemeni Arab Spring activist or engagist — it’s impossible to imagine that young woman with her — with her hijab being a global figure without our pocket public sphere activism.
And so as we look then at what’s going on, the — there’s a — the second thing is the — is the emergence of what I would basically call a nonideological ideology. The article that I wrote 30 years ago in a sense was one that I went back and was reminded of that at that point in 1983 — 1982, 1983, we were in the midst also of a major transformation in the whole terms of how one creates the narrative for participation, for opposition and for political advocacy.
In the Arab world, in the first half of the 20th century, there was a great political narrative and it was the narrative of nationalism and anti-imperialism, which was articulated by the educated, upper middle-class, middle-class university politician, so that in Egypt, for example, you had the Waft Party of the 1920s with Saad Zaghloul. And you had then the Waft Party of Mustafa Nahhas in the 1930s and 1940s. Across the Arab world, you had a nationalist movement that was relatively secular in its orientation and that was clearly middle class. They were not going to have a major social revolution. And so you had that narrative, which, at the end of World War II, was the dominant narrative in the Arab world.
But come 1952, you had the Egyptian, quote, “revolution,” which was really a blood-less coup, where a bunch of young, idealistic military officers took control of the government. And you had then emerging in 1952 the new mode of political articulation of ideas and ideology and programs, the emergence of radical socialism so that the dominant ideology — the dominant ideology and the dominant — the dominant ideology was this sort of constructed radicalism of Gamal Abdel Nasser of the Baath Party as it emerged in Syria and then in Iraq, of the Neo-Destour Party of Habib Bourguiba in Tunisia, the Istiqlal Party of Allal al-Fassi and company in Morocco and so on. You had a relatively radical vision of the need for social reform, which was the dominant ideology in the political public sphere.
This was changing then as radicalism — as that kind of radicalism essentially failed. It became — in the modes of some of my then-radical leftist friends, it became bureaucratic state capitalism and things like that. But you had the emergence then of a newly-transformed political ideology that was highlighted by the Iranian Revolution and the Ayatollah Khomeini. But if one looks at ’81, ’82, ’83, you can see the new ideology that got labeled then political Islam.
Political Islam emerged in the 1980s as a specific political ideology, not sort of a generic term, but it emerged as a specific political ideology as articulated by people like Rashid Ghannushi in Tunisia and the Islamic Tendency Movement, which became the Ennahda Party, articulated by Hassan Turabi in the Sudan with the development of the National Islamic Front, articulated by elsewhere by people like Anwar Ibrahim and the ABIM, Islamic youth movement in Malaysia and so on across the board. And so you had then the transformation of — that was the third transformation essentially, the movement from old-fashioned, middle-class nationalism to the radical nationalism of the — of the current — of the young officers to the political Islam of the 1980s and 1990s.
There are legacies of all of those still in the Arab politics. But what we have at the beginning of the 21st century is the emergence of a new mode of what we might think of as pragmatic operationalism as an ideology, and that you get somebody like Wael Ghonim — if we had a visual — if we had visual imagery, it’s really kind of fun to put up pictures and just see — say who are the faces that we’re talking about? Who are, you know, the voices of this?
The old voice — the old voice — Mustafa Nahas, an overweight, plump Egyptian in suit and tie and a fez in the 1920s and (19)30s. Handsome, young, idealistic colonel, Gamal Abdel Nasser — I mean, you had to be — you had to be a good-looking, an earnest young man to be one of those keys for — in that visual imagery. I mean, even Bashar Assad’s father Hafez al-Assad had that sort of look for a while, and even Saddam Hussein before he got old and wrinkled. But you know, the key — the face of this radicalism was the earnest forward-looking, sincere young officer, who then became old and fat and rich.
But — and then you have — the typical thing, even though people like Vinushi (ph) and Harabi (ph) and Anwar Ibrahim were coat-and-tie people that sometimes wore more traditional garb, the face of political Islam is that picture of the Ayatollah Khomeini that many of us are familiar with, the long gray beard, the somber look and so on.
The face today is the face of a geek, you now, that you have — the picture — it’s fun — you have Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Ayatollah Khomeini and Wael Ghonim. And if you’ve never seen a picture of Wael Ghonim or if you’ve never seen him, Google and look. I mean, it’s — if you want to see the nonideological geekness of the Arab Revolution, look at a picture of Wael Ghonim.
Now, as we’re looking then at this, we have then a new ideology, if you will, which is pragmatic and practical. The thing was, get rid of the current regime. Get rid of the current regime, let’s do social justice, let’s get jobs for the newly educated and so on. There is very little ideology in the — in the programs of the Arab Spring in Tunisia or in Egypt or even with Tawakel Karman in Yemen. It’s pragmatic, practical: jobs, opportunities for the youth and so on.
And so that as we look then, the final thing that I would just say is, the real voice — the real voice of this is something that for those of us who studied ideology as graduate students and wrote books and articles on transforming ideology, the new revolution, the new public sphere does not have a Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” pamphlet. The new revolution has a soundtrack. The new revolution — the voice of the new revolution in many ways is the hip-hop rapper. Every country that had a major Arab Spring event or set of events has a blogger or a rapper, and so that if you looked in — the real ideology, the real ideology in — for example, in — for example, then, the Egyptian is Essam’s song, “two-minute song.” And the message of the ideology is simple: “Erhal.” Get out.
And you know, for much longer than my Beethoven-oriented musical tastes admit, “Erhal” becomes the message. And whether you’re talking about, what is it, (El-Haged ?) in Morocco or El General in Tunisia or a whole host of heavy metal and rap people in Egypt, you have a new vernacular. In the old days, ideology was articulated in classical, in Fusha Arabic or at best, Sat-al Arabs (ph) — modern-standard Arabic, and now you have hip hop and rap that even when they’re talking in English, for people of my generation is a little incomprehensible.
But at any rate, my message this morning is we are in the midst of a major transformation. The public sphere is being transformed. The nature of ideology is being transformed. And the voices presenting that ideology are new and different, and we need to cope with them. Thank you. (Applause.)
DR. MATTAIR: Thank you, John. Peter?
PETER MANDAVILLE, director, Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, George Mason University
Great. Well, good morning. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be with you today. My remarks are going to focus primarily on Islamic/Islamist groups in Egypt. And you can already hear in my sort of hesitation on terminology there an initial telegraphing of kind of one of the key themes in my remarks, which is the idea that old categories that we’ve been comfortable with, and terminology that we use to apply to these groups may perhaps no longer be that useful in capturing the reality of Islamic social and political space, amidst the upheaval that we’ve seen over the course of the last year.
I want to begin, however, by making a couple of remarks about some ways to think about the nature of these events more broadly, and then also to identify a couple of trends that seem to be at work particularly within Islamic, Islamist, political Islam-type space — not just in Egypt, but which I think apply to a number of other countries not just in the Middle East but across the Muslim-majority world.
There has been a lot of debate in the aftermath of 2011 about whether these events should be best understood as driven by socioeconomic or structural factors. Should they be understood as a sort of cry for democracy and political pluralism? And no doubt all of these factors were at work. But I’ve kind of found it useful, when trying to sort of thematize and capture in a pithy way what this was all about, to think of this as a set of events that were about a — populations who may have formally held the status of citizens but who were never really citizens in the substantive sense that we understand that term — you know, when we associate the notion of citizenship with particular relationships between the state and society, reciprocal duties and obligations, those kinds of things.
And really what this was about were populations coming forward and demanding to be regarded as citizens in the true sense of that term; that is, as peoples who would be treated by their governance — by their governments with dignity and as people who hold certain kinds of rights vis-à-vis that state.
And I think this question of coming into citizenship becomes, actually, relevant for engaging the question of political Islam going forward, because to my mind precisely one of the key questions that needs to be engaged is the question of when movements, parties, groups with an Islamic reference, with an Islamic character, with Islamic roots come to the political fore — there are questions that need to be asked about their conception of citizenship. Who counts as a citizen? You know, how can the full rights of all citizens in these countries, regardless of their religious, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, be guaranteed?
Talking about, kind of, trends within Islamic social and political space more broadly in the region — and one of the key things that seems to be going on is this — is an intense pluralization of Islamic space. The number of actors, groups that are claiming this label to varying degrees and in various ways has been exploding. Certainly, over the course of the last year, as these political systems open up — but arguably, even over the course of the last couple of decades, the number of actors and players that seek to relate their agenda, their activism, their work in the world to Islam is widening. And it’s happening in places that we don’t generally associate with Islamic social and political projects.
So of course there have always been Islamist parties — well, you know, for the last 80 years or so at least, Islamist parties. There have been of course religions institutions such as Al-Azhar in Egypt, and we can certainly talk about how that institution has been experiencing the events of the last year.
But staying with Egypt, you know, you want to think also of the rise over the last decade of figures such as Amr Khaled, you know, a sort of televangelist-type figure who doesn’t have the formal credentials of a religious scholar, is not involved in formal Islamist politics in terms of affiliation with the groups and parties that we recognize as political Islam; rather, his background has been in, you know, management training, accountancy — and yet has done a tidy business and become, certainly at the height of his popularity, a household name through the combination of elements of, you know, pop psychology and 12-step self-help programs, with an Islamic veneer kind of on top of it, you know.
This is a sort of new modality, if you will, of doing Islam in the world, you know. So what I want to kind of point to is the whole question that, you know, doing Islam in the world — Islamic activism, political Islam — what that means, what that looks like — is changing, potentially to a point that the term political Islam, or Islamism, are not necessarily analytically useful anymore, in that I sometimes have difficulty recognizing what an Islamist is or what political Islam as an ideological project is.
And so that’s the second kind of trend I want to point to. And it’s connected to this pluralization, but you know, it’s the idea of — in the Academy for some years we’ve been working with the idea of what we call post-Islamism. The term finally appeared in The New York Times last year so I guess it’s hit the mainstream now. So, you know, this is really the debate I’m engaging. Have we entered a post-Islamist age? On the face of it, that’s a counterintuitive point to raise because wait, these Islamist groups are doing phenomenally well politically. They are, you know, sweeping the elections. How can we be in a post-Islamist period?
Well, what those who are proponents of the post-Islamist thesis would put forward is the idea that yes, fine, these groups are politically prominent. But they’re no longer ideologically distinctive. I.e., in order to render themselves politically palatable to a critical mass, they’ve had to evacuate from their political discourse and from their political praxis much of the Islamic content; i.e., that which has made them ideologically distinctive has had to be shed in order to kind of find mass acceptance. So you know, let’s hold that open as a point of discussion.
So now on to Egypt more specifically — and I mean, I got to say, one is very wary of trying to say anything about Egypt right now, given the fluidity of the situation and the fact that, you know, during any given 24-hour period, you know, you wake up the next morning and find, oh, wait, things have changed significantly; not quite sure where we are.
So we have of course the headline of last week, which is the Muslim Brotherhood, after having said for so long that they would not do so, announcing Khairat al-Shater as their official presidential candidate. And now just in the last couple of days, we’ve had the, I think, very significant event of Egypt’s administrative court essentially putting an end to the activity of the assembly charged with writing a new constitution. And it’ll be, I think, very important to see how the supreme court in Egypt deals with that, whether that ruling is upheld.
And I think it speaks directly and in very important ways to a tussle, if you will, that has been in the making for some time between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, who of course over the last year have enjoyed something of a symbiotic marriage of convenience. But it was clear that at some point the two were going to start to clash. And I think we’re now starting to see that really come to a head as we roll towards presidential elections and presumably some sort of handover to civilian rule.
Speaking about the Muslim Brotherhood in particular — I’m not going to get into the background and history of the movement; I’ll assume that most of you kind of know something about where it comes from. I kind of want to raise the question of what is this thing? How should we think of it? As a broad-base social movement? Yes. As a political party? Yeah, it has one of those now, too.
But I think it’s very difficult for us to think of the Brotherhood in a singular, monolithic, cohesive sense. It is riven with different factions, different cleavages. And so, in many ways, the Brotherhood today I think is a coalition of a variety of different projects and interests that are loosely held together by the label “Islamism” or the kind of titular label “Muslim Brotherhood,” but which are not necessarily politically cohesive.
And so we’ve seen episodes of this. These cleavages, this fragmentation inside is increasingly playing out in public ways, right? At the time that Mubarak fell from power last year, there was a very intense debate within the Brotherhood about whether it should set up a political party immediately or not. You know, would it — would it be better for the Brotherhood to bide its time — you know, not risk exposing itself politically and continuing to work primarily in the realm of sort of society? Or should it go for broke and kind of rush into this new, changing political opportunity structure and try and move forward? And it’s — you know, it’s clear how that debate turned out.
Likewise, we’ve had a similar debate in the Brotherhood over the past weeks about the question of whether it should endorse and/or run its own presidential candidate. And indeed, much of this, I think, is at one level an evidence of, you know, different sort of camps within the Brotherhood, but also the fact that there’s just a lot of improvising going on. The political situation is very fluid now. And I think that’s why we see, you know, statements that were made at one time being reexamined, in light of subsequent events.
So what are these, kind of, key divisions and camps within the Brotherhood? It’s most common, I think, for people to speak of a division between generations, sort of old Brotherhood guys and young Brotherhood guys. There’s some truth to that, but it’s not simply a matter of young and old. And the idea I think is out there that the young ones are a little bit more kind of liberal or open-minded — but the old guys are kind of keeping to the, you know, ideological structures of the 1920s and the Hassan al-Banna vision and yadda yadda.
And that’s not exactly true. You will find older Brotherhood leadership figures who are relatively pragmatic and liberal; likewise, you will find very young Brotherhood figures who are incredibly conservative in their orientation. Sometimes it has more to do with the position of the Brotherhood within Egyptian politics at the time that a given individual was socialized into the movement. You know — was this a time when the Brotherhood was being heavily oppressed, or was it a time when they had sort of relatively wide latitude of operation? You know, these are some of the operative effects. You see rural and urban divides to some extent.
But what is clear is that, you know, in terms of internal divisions spilling out into open tension within the movement itself — we saw very clearly after the fall of Mubarak one of the youth wings — segments of the — of the Brotherhood formally leave. They cut themselves off, and they left the Brotherhood and set up a rival political party called the Egyptian Current Party. And they basically threw their lot in with the revolutionary protest activist figures in Tahrir Square. These were the young guys who in the early days of the revolution — January 25th, 26th, 27th — because remember, the Brotherhood itself didn’t show up in Tahrir Square until January 28th. These guys who broke away were the ones who said from day one, from January 25, we need to be out there. This is our struggle. This is the Egyptian people’s struggle, and it’s ours.
The Brotherhood at that point in the early days was still very — don’t know, could be dangerous to get involved; this whole thing might not work, and then if we’re in there in the square, then we’re going to really get in trouble. So you know, for the first three days of the revolution there was an official order within the Brotherhood that members of the movement should not join the protest. This youth group basically said: Forget that; we’re in the square. And they subsequently left to set up their own party.
And this is not the only moment of tension. This is tensions that had been emerging over years. This is — and you know, John has already alluded to this sort of broadening public sphere that’s been made available through social media and Internet spaces. This younger generation that broke away is sort of the bloggers generation of the Brotherhood, if you will. These are young activists who had been running their own blogs for years. And moreover, these are blogs in which they would often quite openly discuss the Brotherhood’s internal dirty laundry. They’d kind of talk about different factions and rivalries and arguments going on within leadership circles. And this was not something that the older guard of the movement appreciated, right, because this has generally been a fairly closed movement in terms of the extent to which its internal deliberation are visible to the outside world. So we have these sorts of tensions going on.
What we have the Brotherhood in right now, I think — to kind of summarize that segment of remarks — is a fairly complex three-way dance, where on the one hand they’re trying to maintain certain kinds of credibility with the street in Egypt, if you will, with the population at large and, certainly last year, with the protesters and activists who were the kind of core energy of the revolution itself. They were trying to kind of maintain and prove their revolutionary credentials at the same time as they’re trying to maintain good relations with the SCAF.
And so you saw that manifested in events such as last November in the run-up to the elections, when there were a number of protests called to express discontent about some of the policies that the SCAF had been following with respect to detentions, the use of military trials for civilians and the such. And there, once again, the Brotherhood told its people not to join those protests. You’ve got this kind of dance going on, and now post-election period, you have this complex relationship with the Salafi parties to manage.
And this, again, is a manifestation of this pluralization of the public sphere, where on the one hand the Brotherhood very early on, when the Salafis did so well, was very keen to say we’re not them. You know, just because we have this Islam thing in common, don’t think that we’re the same. You know, and I remember being in meetings where Brotherhood and Salafi figures were kind of sitting across the table from each other, and the Brotherhood guy turned to the Salafi and said, look, you know, if you want to coalition with us based on public health and economic growth issues, we’re all for that. But if you want to coalition with us based on Shariah, we’re not interested in playing that game.
But of course, what you see now is another dimension of that competition, which is the kind of politics of holier than thou, if you will. Who’s the real representative of Islam in the political sphere? And so you see the Brotherhood starting to do things like reinitiate the debate that began back in 2007 when it leaked its first draft political party platform, the debate about whether or not Egypt needs something like a council of religious scholars that would look at all of the legislation that comes out of the parliament and pronounce upon whether or not those laws conform to Shariah or not. You know, and so these are some of the ways that they’re having to kind of square this issue with the Salafis.
Let me kind of start to wind down my remarks by talking a little bit about the Salafis. And I think their phenomenal rise is probably the political development that has caught most observers by surprise. And I think they’re also the least understood of the major political actors that are present on the scene in the Middle East now. Of course, we think of them most in relation to Egypt given the amazing success of the — of the Al-Nour Party, but we see Salafis elsewhere in North Africa, of course. And they’ve been kind of part of the woodwork, if you will, of Islamic space in the Middle East for decades and decades and decades.
All right, so these are groups that are, you know, ultra-conservative theologically, if you will, but have generally historically been apolitical. They’ve not been prone to involvement or engagement in politics, kind of with the idea that, you know, politics is sort of a dirty, impure space and so you wouldn’t want to bring the purity of religion into that messy, ugly political fray.
In Egypt, Salafis have been present, even you could make the case — and John Voll would be able to explain in great detail how they’ve been present, in one form or another, for centuries. But the modern Salafi movement has been present since the late 19th, early 20th century. There have been Salafi institutions in Egypt since the 1920s. And while their political success has certainly been surprising, I think people who have been watching Salafi space in Egypt over the last decade were not really that surprised. And I think there’s kind of four factors that we have to look at in terms of understanding what’s driving this phenomenal Salafi success.
First is the fact that since about 2005 you’ve had the emergence in Egypt of a distinctly Salafi public sphere, to invoke the Salafi — the public sphere notion that John mentioned. And these are a set of television — satellite TV channels, funded largely by the Saudis, whose content is sort of 24/7 Salafi religious teaching-type programs. And you have a number of superstar Salafi figures that kind of become household names through their positions on those satellite TV channels. So you had a sort of media space that was distinctly Salafi.
You also had — in the run-up to the fall of Mubarak, those years — you actually had the Egyptian regime itself giving the Salafis a little bit of space to operate politically, and actually kind of patting them on the back and pushing them into that space, precisely so that they would act as a counterweight to the Brotherhood, right? So this looks remarkably like what Israel was doing in the run up to the Intifada, where they were actually encouraging Hamas so that Hamas would be a rival force against Fatah. And then it simply took on a life and snowballed — took on a force of its own.
Likewise, the Egyptian regime was encouraging Salafis, you know, and once that — those chinks were open, this thing snowballed very quickly. And what’s allowing it to snowball, I think, is a combination of financial support coming out of a number of countries in the Gulf but also the fact that the Salafis have been able to capitalize on the fact that they are new political players. They are the fresh-faced — they are the fresh face of Islam. The Muslim Brotherhood are kind of incumbents, they’ve been there for so long their modus operandi vis-à-vis the regime, their place in society had become kind of institutionalized. So although they had been serving and acting as an opposition force, they were actually kind of pretty well integrated, you know? They’re not really new actors, whereas the Salafis have been able to say, look, if you want something new after this revolution, and if you want to shop Islamic in political terms, we’re the people who are both new and not tainted by whatever compromises the Brotherhood has had to make with the regime in order to be able to continue to operate.
I’ll note here at the end of my remarks that in addition to the obvious kind of large players of the Salafi groups — and I think we need to make a distinction, let me add, between those Salafi groups that have formed political parties and are in the formal political process, who will of course be subject to some of the conventional forms of political pressure that can be applied and Salafi groups that operate at the level of society and are less easily influenced.
In addition to the Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood, I think it’s worthwhile pointing that there have been a number of efforts to kind of create cross-ideological spaces of political discourse in Egypt that will allow — you know, these are spaces where liberals, leftists, Islamists of various sorts can come together to kind of work out what a national agenda of priorities might look like.
I don’t want to overplay this, because it’s not been that politically influential, but such spaces do exist. I think the new al-‘Adala Party that was formed after the revolution is interesting to watch in this regard. Its founder, Mustafa Al-Naggar, has I think played an interesting and sometimes pivotal role in the proceedings of the new parliament and the al-‘Adala Party also has a set of kind of think tanky, cultural dialogue spaces around it, where it’s been kind of, you know, creating these spaces of conversation that have fed into some of the ideas around constitution drafting.
Tom mentioned that I served — I was in government at the time that this all was going down, and was specifically focused on the question of U.S. policy towards Islamists. And I’m, you know, happy to kind of talk about that dimension of things. But let me close with just one thought that kind of presented itself to me after several months of working this portfolio in the State Department, which was my sense that the U.S. domestic conversation about this issue was as important for getting our policy right as what we actually chose to do in Egypt.
And I’m speaking here of what I take to be a need to kind of reconfigure the conversation on political Islam on Capitol Hill and in the broader public discussion at large. To my mind, it tends to be kind of be polarized. Either you have people saying, oh, groups like the Muslim Brotherhood are pretty much the same as Hamas or just a little bit different. And they have concerns about the Brotherhood that’s really associated with broader regional security issues, terrorism and such. And on the other hand you have people saying, oh, no, no, no, they’re fine — they’re democrats, you know? They’ve evolved, they’ve changed, they’re committed to democracy. You know, neither of these two poles is that helpful. You know, there are issues and questions that need to be raised about these groups, but we need to recalibrate the conversation so that it’s actually focusing on the questions we need to be worried about. And to my mind, these are really questions ultimately, at the end of the day, about commitment to human rights, commitment to political pluralism. That’s kind of where this conversation needs to be going on.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
STEVEN KULL, director, Program on International Policy Attitudes; senior research scholar, University of Maryland
Good morning. Thanks for being here. So this question about who are the major players in the process of political Islam in the post-Arab Spring world: Now, most of the people you’re going to be hearing from today, the others, are — have been talking in terms of groups and institutions. Well, I’m actually a psychologist, so it might not surprise you that I’m going to be talking more about the forces as they — as they move within an individual, the tensions that individuals feel. I’m going to try to answer the question, you know, well, what happened in Egypt and Tunisia, but especially Egypt. I mean, initially we saw these demonstration that made us think, oh, there we go. There’s, you know, Jeffersonian democracy breaking out in the Middle East. And — but then there were the results of the parliamentary election and we saw the ascendance of Islamism, Islamist parties, enough so you could wonder, wow, is Egypt on its way to becoming like Iran or something like that? Are others going to follow in their wake?
And the answer I’m going to offer is that there is, within most Muslims and in the Middle East, of course, a kind of inner clash of civilizations. There is an attraction to liberal, democratic values, and there are Islamist aspirations. And the key thing that we need to remember is that neither of these are going to go away. Both of them are going to be present. Both of them are strong forces within the majority of Muslims. This is based on polls that have done — been done before and after the Arab Spring and it’s also based on focus groups that I’ve done throughout the region.
Let me just give you a few examples of the kinds of numbers you see in polls on these questions. On whether a democratic political system is a good way of governing our own country: 83 percent of Egyptians say it is; 90 percent of Moroccans, 88 percent of Kuwaitis, 81 percent of Jordanians, 85 percent of Palestinians, 76 percent of Iraqis. Democracy may have its problems, but it is better than any other form of government — again, large majorities in Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Morocco.
And here’s one that I think is, in a way, particularly interesting, the statement: The will of the people should be the basis of the authority of government — you get large numbers of Muslims agreeing with that, including 98 percent of Egyptians as well as 67 percent of Iranians. So — and what’s particularly interesting about that is that that goes against — it’s somewhat contrary to the principle that Islam or Shariah should be the basis of the authority of government. And you get majorities agreeing with that in Jordan as well.
Pew asked a question where they sort of put up in front of the respondent the argument that democracy is a Western way of doing things that would not work here versus is — versus democracy is not just for the West and can work well here. And large majorities rejected the view that this is simply a Western way of doing things — and that democracy can work here —including Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestinians, Egyptians, Moroccans and so on.
You also find that throughout the Middle East there’s very strong support for principles — liberal principles related to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and so on. Now, OK — oh, this whole Jeffersonian image is just starting to solidify, yes, that this is — they’re just on their way to becoming all like European countries. And then there are a whole set of poll questions that show strong support for Islamist principles, that Islam should be a — play a central role in government is endorsed by 92 percent of Egyptians. Eighty-five percent of Egyptians say that it should be the official religion of their country. And even when you present them the counterargument that our government should not make Islam the official religion, because this would be unfair to citizens of Egypt who are not Muslim, 57 percent of Egyptians say, no, no, it should be the official religion.
Now then there’s the question of Shariah. We presented the — we said, here are a number of goals of al-Qaida. Do you — how do you feel about those goals? So it’s framed in this — al-Qaida’s not popular, but if you say but here’s some goals and one of them is to require a strict application of Shariah law in every country, well, 71 percent of Egyptians and 60 — and 76 percent of Moroccans endorsed that goal. Fifty-seven percent of Egyptians said that Shariah should play a larger role in — than it does today in Egypt.
Now there was even one poll that Arab Barometer did where they gave two statements, one, the government should implement ONLY the laws of Shariah — majorities agreed — large majorities, 86 percent in Morocco, 80 percent in Jordan, 80 percent in Algeria, 77 percent in Kuwait, 55 percent of the Palestinians. And then in the same poll, the government and parliament should make laws according to the wishes of the — of the people, and 82 percent of Morocco agreed, 62 percent in Kuwait, 59 percent in Algeria, Jordan and the Palestinians and so on. So clearly there is some tension here.
Another example is around the issue of vetting laws that Peter mentioned, an idea that the Muslim Brotherhood has put forward that there should be a council of religious scholars who have the power to overturn laws that it believes are contrary to the Quran. This is — the Muslim Brotherhood put this forward but then — but then, even before the Arab Spring, backed away from it, but it’s still kind of there in the background. And so presented the argument that there should be a body of senior religious scholars that has the power to overturn laws when it believes they are contrary to the Quran, as opposed to the liberal position that if laws are passed by democratically-elected officials and are consistent with the constitution, that they should not be subject to a veto by religious scholars — majorities endorsed the Islamist position in favor of this vetting, 75 percent in Egypt, 63 percent in Iraq, 62 percent in Iran, 59 percent of Palestinians.
But at the same time, if you — when moral values presented the statement that men of religion should have no influence over the decisions of government, you got majorities agreeing with that in Morocco, the Palestinians as well as a plurality in Algeria. But majorities did disagree in Kuwait and views were divided in Jordan. You also see in the statement, religion is a matter of personal faith and should be kept separate from government policy does get majorities — majority agreement in Lebanon, Turkey, Kuwait, Morocco. But in Jordan, a slight majority disagree and Egyptians are divided.
So what you see here are real tensions. Obviously substantial numbers of people are agreeing with both liberal positions and Islamist positions. It’s an internal tension. It’s an internal conflict. And there is a rejection basically of the — of al-Qaida and its view that — of a pure Islamist model. That is not popular. At the same time, Muslims do want to preserve the kind of Islamic foundations of their society. They believe that Islam has served them well, is a source of pride, it is their most fundamental identity — more fundamental than their national identity. And they want Shariah to — Shariah to play a — Shariah to play a role. They want a kind of quality of piety in their — in their culture. And this is — this is a — the idea that this is going to go away — see, the liberal model is not that religion should play no role, but that religion should be a private experience, while the Islamic model is that it should be part of the public sphere. And most Muslims endorse that idea, that Islam should play some role in the public sphere.
Now I need to mention that there’s one other force operating in the — in a — the Middle East that we need to track to some extent, which is that there is still some attraction to authoritarianism. Asked if they would opt for a democratic form of government or would rather rely on a leader with a strong hand, now most say that they would — they favor a democratic form of government, 65 percent Kuwait, 52 percent in Jordan — not that many, right. And — but a majority of Palestinians favored a strong leader and Egyptians were divided. This is before the Arab Spring. So you need to keep in mind that there is some attraction to the — to the authoritarian system. It is one other factor, particularly when things get kind of unstable.
All right, so how is all this playing out in the present environment? Well, first of all, the Arab Spring as a phenomenon is generally endorsed. It’s seen as a positive thing. The Arab Center for Research and Politics polled 12 Arab countries and overall 70 percent said they supported the revolutions and two-thirds said that they support democracy and reject the position that — based on the attraction of stability and security. In Egypt, Gallup did some polling in the fall and found a quite positive attitude — 79 percent said that this has improved Egypt’s status in the world with Mubarak resigning. They reject the idea that these — this — it’s due to the foreign influences. And interestingly, too, majorities support the protesters against Assad in Syria. They — they’re eager for the — they have — they were expressing eagerness for the elections to move forward — 87 percent. And 89 percent believe that parliamentary elections would be fair.
So you get — well, that sounds, you know, pretty upbeat, pretty optimistic. And in — and — but at the same time, more modest numbers say that their own situation has improved as a result of the Arab Spring. Forty-seven percent said that it has improved, 16 percent that it — that it’s gotten worse in Egypt, about 35 percent no impact. But in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, UAE, you do have these — almost half in every case saying that it is — has improved. Jordan, not so — only 18 percent say that it’s — the Arab Spring has improved things for them, 25 percent say it’s made it worse, 58 percent say no impact. And the Lebanese are divided on the question as well.
When you look at how Egyptians are feeling about the future, there’s a lot of optimism, really quite interesting. Asked how — whether they’re going to be better off in five years, 85 percent of Egyptians expressed this optimism. And in 2009 when the same question was asked, only 39 percent expressed optimism. So that’s a really significant change. Things are up also significantly in Morocco with substantial optimism, also Saudi Arabia. And all these are movements, all these are changes, so there’s a kind of upbeat movement — but not in Jordan and not in Lebanon. In fact, things are kind of downturn in Jordan.
Liberal forces, democracy, all that’s very strong in — and in — and it actually has solidified. There’s been a movement away from this argument in favor of a strong hand in Egypt and Jordan. And you know, support for freedom of expression and so on is very, very high. At the same time, you still see the support for Islamist forces. Asked whether laws should strictly follow the Quran, 62 percent in Egypt, 70 percent in Jordan, 36 percent in Lebanon. And of course, you see this huge increase in the support for the Muslim Brotherhood. And that went through a — there was a very sharp upward movement just in August. It was only 17 percent, while in December it was 48 percent of polled said that they supported it and this upward movement with the — with the (Nour/newer ?) party.
So you see this — both of these forces operating, and which brings me around to this key point that Peter was alluding to, which is that the Muslim Brotherhood and Ennahda in Tunisia have basically taken a new space, which is that they are presenting themselves as basically being the middle ground. We tend to look at them as being, you know, the Islamists — the Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood are this sort of unitary actor. But I don’t think that is how most Egyptians see it. And the Ennahda Party has — is working really hard — well, both of them working very hard — to not be associated with that. Ennahda has actually come out and said, we don’t have to have it in the constitution that Shariah is the basis of law, which is a rather radical shift for them to make.
So you have this effort on their part to create this kind of middle ground. And I — and I think that they’re playing their hand quite well. They’ve got the Salafists on their right that they are now distinguishing themselves from. But they’re making many affirmations of liberal principle. They also are developing — have tried, up till recently, to have these good relations with the military to create this sense of continuity. The military continues to be — to be popular. There’s confidence in the military. It might surprise you, some of these numbers. There’s — in Egypt, there is confidence that the military will hand over power.
So there’s a — the Muslim Brotherhood has played well in that — in that. But that is kind of fraying now. And it’s hard to say where it’s going to go as the military seems to be resisting letting go of control and how — just how the Muslim Brotherhood is going to maneuver between the Salafists and the secularists. It’s a real question, too, how are the — is the Muslim Brotherhood going to raise again this idea of having a body of religious scholars to review the laws.
Now I want to say just one — a few — just a few minutes on — in closing about relations to the U.S. And views of the U.S. in the Middle East continue to be quite negative. After Obama was elected, all around the world views of the U.S. improved dramatically, but not in the Middle East, not in Pakistan. And very large majorities have unfavorable views of the U.S. there now; the exception is Lebanon. And the perception is that relations with the West are bad. And there’s also a perception that the government cooperates too much with the U.S., and plurality in Egypt, a majority in Jordan, majority in Lebanon.
The U.S. is basically seen — in terms of the Arab Spring, the U.S. is seen as being behind the curve. They didn’t — they didn’t — they just tried to get out in front of the parade once it was inevitable. They’re — 73 percent in Egypt say that the U.S. is not serious about promoting democracy in the region. Seventy-one percent oppose economic aid from the U.S. And this whole issue with the civil society groups, 74 percent oppose U.S. aid to Egyptian civil society groups. So this whole move to go after the IRI and NDI, they were playing to — playing to the crowd in this. This is not something they were doing (to spite ?) the crowd.
So let me just say briefly — put this, what is going on now, in the context of views about the United States. Views of the United States, which is what I talk about in my book, is driven by what I call this narrative of betrayal. There is this attraction to much about — that’s associated with the U.S. democracy, human rights and so on, international law. And then there’s a perception — religious tolerance is another key one. And so there is this — there is this — you know, it’s a complex feeling. It’s not as simple as that people in the Middle East have a negative feeling. They are drawn to a lot about America.
And then there’s a perception that the U.S. doesn’t abide by those principles and that the U.S. is fundamentally driven by hostility toward Islam. Now that sounds — can sound crazy to us, but this is widely believed. There is a real perception that the U.S. is determined to break down Islam. Oh yeah, OK, it’s fine for people to go to the mosque, you know, when they want to, but the idea is — that Islam would be in the public sphere is perceived as something the U.S. is hostile to and trying to break down through promoting liberalism. And then — and the presence of U.S. military forces in the region is seen as part of this effort, part — it’s — there is a perception that the U.S. is using military force, it has a kind of gun to the head of the Muslim world, and is saying: Back off of Islam, accept our secular model of how society should be organized.
So when the United States is perceived as in any way trying to intervene and impact anything going on in their — in their society, they’re quite suspicious of it. And it has this effect that’s contrary to whatever the U.S. is trying to do. So if the U.S. is perceived as trying to promote secular principles, this creates a reaction of, oh, to hold onto my Islamic identity, I need to dig my heels in deeper, I need to identify more deeply with Islam because there is this threat. And this just gets generalized to all kinds of things: to cultural products, to television — which they are drawn to, and then they feel, oh, wait a minute; I’m being — I’m being polluted by these forces. So there’s this — the intensity of feeling toward the U.S. is hard to comprehend. The perception of the U.S. is so pervasive in their life that it is affecting them in so many ways is as hard for us to understand. We know this term “the Great Satan,” like a cosmic force — I used to — thought that was just an epithet. Well, in fact, it describes something that they experience as the — of the U.S. as being so powerful.
It’s very much associated though, at the same time, with the changes that come with globalization and modernity, many of which they are drawn to. But they also don’t want to be overwhelmed by it. So it’s — you see this kind of love-hate relationship, attraction/fear, want to move toward and afraid it’s going to overwhelm you, but you still don’t want to actually abandon it; this feeling that, oh, those principles that are guiding it are great, oh, but then it lets us down, and thus the feeling of being betrayed, which is the title of my book. Because — and then this persistent voice that comes through in the focus groups and so on: Can’t you make them see — I mean, it’s like whenever I was leading focus groups, there would always be this sort of beseeching tone: Can’t I go back to Washington and get people to remember their higher values that they so much respect?
Just a few — one last comment. What can the U.S. do? I’m not going to obviously be able to take on this — that broad question, though I do address it in the book. And — but the key thing is that the U.S. needs to embrace the idea that Islam is going to be part of these societies and needs to take a friendlier posture toward moderate Islamist parties, make a distinction between Islamist parties that are willing to work democratically and those radical Islamists who are actually trying to use force in those goals.
The idea that the U.S. is going to pick a winner — see, if the society was broken into groups — and that’s what was going on; it’s primarily, you know, a bunch of ball bearings, people who are strongly secular and people who are strongly Islamist — you could say, OK, well, let’s aid the people who are secularists and then they all get stronger and then they’ll get the uncertain ones. Well, but if the division is within a person — as we can see by having these large majorities expressing these contradictory — seemingly contradictory positions, then anything you do to promote one side produces a reaction on the other side within the person, right? So you — so they polarize. It creates a polarizing reaction. So any effort on the — on the part of the United States to pick a winner in this situation and to promote it, that winner, is going to backfire. And it’s so hard for America to not act upon things, right? (Chuckles.) But that is — that is the sort of Zen principle here of nonaction.
Any departure from liberal principles is very costly, because it leads to that perception that the United States is again abandoning its principles, and produces that reaction of betrayal. And any use of military force needs to be understood and viewed as being very costly. Any military presence in the region is costly. It doesn’t mean you — this isn’t the only thing that’s going to drive policy. But it needs to be understood that it elicits this image of the U.S. as having a gun to their head and trying to impose on them the secular model that drives them closer to the Islamic side of the equation and knocks out of balance what is a process of integrating these forces of liberalism and Islamism.
And it’s a — it’s — there’s — you know, there — they understand that this is a problem. And there are a lot of thoughtful people who are working on it. And the Muslim Brotherhood understands and is trying in some way to create that integrative process. And the U.S. needs to in some way understand that it needs to align itself with that rather than to choose one side over the other. Thanks. (Applause.)
ALEXIS ARIEFF, analyst, Congressional Research Service
Hi, everyone, and thank you for being here. And thank you to the Middle East Policy Council for organizing I think a very timely discussion on these phenomena. I’m going to focus my remarks on the Maghreb region of North Africa. Interestingly to me these days, you know, historically the Maghreb has been considered to be at the fringe of the Arab world. But in many ways its experience has presaged wider dynamics in the region, showing some truth to the sort of analytic concept of a — of an Arab world and clearly demonstrating that populations in the central Middle East are also watching what goes on in these countries.
Of course most recently the Arab Spring started in Tunisia. But also Algeria’s experience with experimenting with free-range political liberalization in the late 1980s, culminating in the 1992 military coup that presented — that prevented the Islamic Salvation Front from winning legislative elections, continues to be a touchstone of debate among analysts and elites throughout the region regarding questions of the legitimacy of restrictions on democracy, the legitimacy of the use of violence against authoritarian regimes and other debates that remain quite sort of relevant for the region today.
So the international community today is closely watching Egypt and Syria. But it’s worth examining Tunisia, Morocco and even Algeria as examples of what might be shaping up as an emerging regional order, albeit one that is shaky and prone to vast divergences among countries and cases.
In that vein, much attention has been paid to power struggles between Islamists and secularists over the shape of emerging political orders and political systems within transitional countries in particular. This dynamic is particularly notable in Tunisia, which has a long history of liberal secularism, and where the ban on Islamist groups under the former regime under President Ben Ali was most exhaustively maintained.
However, I think less attention to date has been paid to dynamics of competition within and among emergent Islamist groups. And I use Islamist just because it’s a convenient term; I agree with what’s been said about sort of the analytic usefulness — (chuckles) — of this — of this concept. And in fact these parties do not refer to themselves as Islamist groups, so we should wonder sort of what we should be calling them and how to deal with this. In any case, after giving a brief overview of where we are today in Tunisia and Morocco, I’m going to speak a little bit to these emerging dynamics within and among Islamist organizations.
With regard to Tunisia, the results of the Constituent Assembly elections in October 2011 confirmed the rise of the moderate Islamist party Ennahda, which was founded in the early 1980s by Rachid Ghannouchi, who was mentioned, and Abdul Fatemoru (ph). Ennahda won a strong plural — excuse me, plurality of seats, about 41 percent. And their share of the vote was more than the next eight parties combined, i.e., almost every other party that won at least one seat. Ennahda has formed a coalition with two center-left secular parties whose own strong electoral performance compared to more stringent secular parties seemed partly to stem from the fact that each had signaled a willingness to work with the Islamists.
As Tunisia seeks to remake its political system and to find a new consensus among elites about the rules of the political game, Ennahda has therefore found itself at the center of emerging debates over religion, state and identity. Ennahda leaders portray themselves as moderates who espouse democratic participation, support the separation of religion and state, oppose religious extremism and seek to preserve and expand, even, women’s freedoms.
A major test of this — of these promises came to pass recently with the debate within the party over whether to reference Shariah in the constitutional draft. And indeed the party decided in the end to overrule its own parliamentarians and not refer to Shariah. Secularist detractors accuse the party, however, of a double discourse, i.e., of displaying moderation in order to enter government but with the intention of gradually introducing more restrictive laws and institutions. And whether that — those fears come to play out I think has yet to be seen.
In Morocco, unlike in Tunisia, the political system has largely remained in place. A new constitution adopted in 2011, amid a surge in domestic protests led by a youth group calling itself the February 20th movement, does not represent a radical shift in Moroccan politics. Instead it upholds the monarchy’s preeminent role in political decision making. However, it might provide a basis for greater power-sharing negotiated among elites between the monarchy and elected officials.
The moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party, PJD, also known as Al Misbah or the beacon, won a plurality of seats in early legislative elections held in November and is currently leading the government for the first time in a coalition with nationalist and leftist parties. Unlike in Tunisia, the boundaries of the PJD’s authorities are more restricted due to the monarchy’s continued role. Some analysts view the PJD as unlikely to enact significant political change, as the party’s leaders have long been primarily concerned with garnering acceptance from the monarchy in exchange for integration into the political system. In addition to its support for the monarchy, the PJD has sought to reassure secularists by indicating that it will not seek to impose strict Islamic codes of behavior or other, you know, contentious social issues.
At the same time, as a constituent-driven party, unlike a lot of political parties in Morocco, the PJD may have electoral incentives to challenge the monarchy, if mostly behind closed doors, over issues such as authority over state appointments, oversight of the economy and the fight against corruption.
So in both countries, Islamist parties have found themselves at the helm of government in a time of political uncertainty and great economic hardship. They’re also contending with a new form of political debate and a new, emerging political sphere that was described by John that involves a new and sort of very different popular — dynamic of popular oversight of public administration, which did not use to exist. In the case of Tunisia, Ennahda wasn’t even able to exist within Tunisia at all for nearly two decades. The leadership was either in prison or abroad. In the case of Morocco, the PJD has had more time within the system, albeit in the opposition, to forge shared policy positions within the party but is still finding its way within this new role.
In both cases, organizations that initially evolved under stringent restrictions, and as social and religious movements primarily, are now undergoing — and with the case of PJD has been over going for — undergoing for some time — also arguably in the case of Ennahda’s exiled leadership — a potentially difficult transition from movements into political parties subject to pragmatic considerations, compromise and being blamed when things go wrong. They’re grappling with the pragmatic imperatives that have been described by other panelists, as well as perhaps this post-Islamist phenomenon described as well.
These parties are therefore now coping with both internal divisions over policy issues such as the role of Shariah, but also potentially over personal backgrounds: those who were in prison versus those who were in exile, generational splits, those who were longtime movement activists versus those who have joined the movement now that they are a viable party, et cetera, et cetera; and with challenges as well from more conservative Islamist movements, including Salafi group which are flexing their muscles in both countries.
In Tunisia there’s been much attention to Salafist intimidation of secularist activists, artists and university professors. This might present an opportunity for Ennahda to portray itself as relatively moderate and to sort of prove that it does diverge from these organizations ideologically. On the other hand, it’s also highly problematic for Ennahda, and I think that Ennahda leaders recognize this quite clearly.
It appears in fact, from the point of view of Salafis, that their efforts to agitate the public space and to influence the public discussion about policy is at least as much aimed at forcing Ennahda to make tough decisions between placating secularists and international partners versus retaining greater credibility among more conservative population segments, this sort of holier-than-thou phenomenon.
This dynamic contributes and has contributed to greater polarization between Islamists and secularists by moving the policy conversation considerably to the right of where Ennahda sort of would have preferred to keep it — or considerably toward a more conservative interpretation. And it has further undermined trust among Tunisian elites over the best response to this sometimes violent agitation and sometimes threats to secularist actors.
Some Salafist — Salafi groups in Tunisia have attempted to register as political parties. To date they remain banned from doing so under a political parties law adopted under the 2011 interim government; while others appear to wish to influence the system mainly through popular mobilization without actually joining the political sphere as legal actors. And others of course, as Salafist groups have elsewhere in the region, you know, continue to opt out of politics entirely and sort of are more concerned with personal behavior.
Ennahda’s approach to date has been focused on negotiation with Salafi groups. Party leaders say that they want to avoid antagonizing Salafis, who were oppressed for so long under previous regimes, so as to eventually sort of tame them and bring them into the system. And in describing this approach, Ennahda makes a distinction between terrorist actors who might actually be prone to violence and who are not interested in politics, versus the sort of more numerous Salafi groups who are — who are holding demonstrations and who are, again, at times threatening, but are to be distinguished ideologically.
However, what form this eventual integration will ultimately take is very uncertain, as is the timeline. And the status of the political parties law in fact is ambiguous. It was adopted by a political reforms commission after Ennahda left that commission and declined to participate in its drafting. So in a way there’s a legal ambiguity about the grounds for legalizing a party. Ennahda leaders say that they want to review the law and then submit it to parliamentary approval in the assembly. It’s unclear sort of the timeline and status of that review.
There’s also an ambiguity over the existence and mandate of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which is an institution that stems from sort of a French secularist concept of the role of the state in regulating religious space and practice, and that was continued as an institution under Bourguiba and Ben Ali, and which in fact exists today. But you know, as — I think that there are debates within Ennahda over the legitimacy of such an institution and that the future of it has yet to be seen.
At the same time, the future of the — of the party itself is very much in question. Rachid Ghannouchi has said that he will step down soon, although — (chuckles) — it’s unclear exactly when, as Ennahda’s president. He currently holds no formal position in government but clearly plays a major role in shaping policy positions within the party — (ahead ?) of the party’s first congress within Tunisia in decades. It’s unclear who will lead the party after he is gone, particularly ahead of national elections that are currently expected to take place in early 2013.
In Morocco the PJD is struggling to assert its political influence within the government and is primarily focused on the dynamic between the party and the government on the one hand and the monarchy on the other. At the same time, it is undoubtedly warily watching groups such as (Al Adl Wa Al Ihssane ?), the Justice and Charity Organization, which is a massive grassroots Islamist movement led by a charismatic figure, Sheik Abdessalam Yassine. Yassine does not recognize the legitimacy of the Moroccan monarchy, unlike the PJD. And therefore his movement is formally banned from politics, not that he has ever sought in fact to formally participate in politics, although the movement is tolerated and often flexes its muscles through street demonstrations.
The Justice and Charity Organization played a key role in orchestrating turnout for the leftist, secularist-led February 20th movement in 2011, which was an interesting case of strange bedfellows that we have yet to see elsewhere in the region. While Yassine generally calls for boycotting elections, the PJD has likely benefited from votes by individual adherents to this organization. In January, after formally breaking with the February 20th movement, Yassine then publicly lashed out at the PJD, essentially accusing them in an open letter of being palace lackeys. Each organization might see the other as a threat to its popular legitimacy. At the same time, the PJD’s electoral success is likely sparking debates within the justice and charity organization of whether to seek to participate more formally in the political system and what such a decision would entail in terms of compromise with the regime.
PJD leaders may also be watching developments among Morocco’s Salafist community. The king has appeared to grant greater space to Salafists over the past year, for example, granting royal pardons to dozens of Salafists who had been jailed in connection with the 2003 Casablanca bombings and other incidents. A well-known Salafist leader, Mohamed Fizazi, who was released from prison last year, has made statements in recent years, including from prison, showing an increasing interest in participating in some way in a democratic system and recently indicated that he might form a political party.
In conclusion, in a rapidly changing region, competition within and among these Islamist groups could be equally, if not more influential in terms of determining the political path taken and the future shape of Maghreb societies. In some ways, Algeria is already experiencing this, albeit in a very Algerian context. Algerian politics have long been characterized by factionalism within and outside of the government and since the mid-1990s by efforts to divide and co-opt certain Islamist movements.
Today political competition, ahead of legislative elections scheduled to take place next month, features much jostling for position between long-standing Islamist parties, such as the Movement for a Peaceful Society, the MSP — which has historic links to the Muslim Brotherhood, which participated in the government from the mid-90s until earlier this year — and a significant array of newly created Islamist parties that have been licensed over the past few months.
In addition to emergent Islamist groups, it’s worth asking about the future role of youth movements and how they will recalibrate strategies, if at all, to deal with this new political reality. Urban youth, of course, played a decisive role in protest movements in Morocco and Tunisia, but their cohesiveness and ability to put forward a shared political vision have faltered over the past year. Will we see other outsider coalitions between student groups and grassroots Islamist movements as we saw in Morocco? It seems unclear to me, but this is something that we should be watching.
I’ll leave it to the Q-and-A at that. (Applause.)
DR. MATTAIR: I would just like to ask one question to get it started and then I’ll come to you — I’ll come to you. In a funny way we started with youth and we ended with youth. And John, my question is: If we have a transition to something called emotional engagism and use of technology, how relevant is that going to be when — how relevant has it been when you move into the cycle of elections and contests for power between winning parties and entrenched institutions? Where is Wael Ghonim now and how much do the people who came into the streets first have to say about what’s going to happen now anywhere — in any of these countries?
DR. VOLL: I think — I think that this points to what is a very important part of the dynamic of the contemporary public political sphere, and that is that the new emotional engagism, the social media flash mobs, if you will, do not have the kind of organization that is needed for 20th century-style electoral politics.
And I think that this is one of those — one of the dynamics of the last — of the last six months, in Egypt in particular, is that you have the old-style politics being well organized enough to win old-style elections. But at the same time, you have then the new mode, that however much people like the rappers and the hip-hop people, the rappers and the hip-hop people don’t get out and get actual hard-copy votes.
And so one of the competitions — one of the important competitions is the competition between the new mode of participation as opposed to the old institutional modes of political — of political operation. I think that no political party in the old institutional mode can survive for long if it doesn’t make some kind of effective adaptation to that other half of the political sphere.
And I think that this is — this is the battle between Abdel Fatouh Marouh (sp) — Abdel Fatouh or some of the people in the — in the younger part of the Brotherhood, the splits that Peter was talking about. But this is — this is one of those things that, yes, it’s a competition that winning an election no longer means winning the street.
DR. MATTAIR: OK, let’s open it up to the audience. And we do have a podium and if you — I mean, we do have a mic and that would be very helpful for the live streaming if you went to the mic and we would — we would hear everyone better. Would you like to start?
Q: Two questions. One on this issue of leadership in the context of these cyber movements — cyber revolutions you may call them. I mean, following — (inaudible) — and putting your life on the line for them is not quite the same thing as following somebody on Twitter. (Laughter.) And in fact, one of the most stupid things Mubarak may have done was to cut the Internet. Many of these kids were quite happy sitting behind their computers playing revolution and when the Internet was cut they went out in the street, where it really matters. So you know, we may be falling into this realm of technologyification (ph) and exaggerating the role of the tools because many of those elements — critical elements are the same enduring ideas and so forth.
The second thing — you know, we talk about how many of these movements have shed their ideological components — are less ideological, but I feel like we haven’t, you know, deep down shed that Cold War, John Wayne, you know, approach of — you know, with a bit of cowboy swagger, which reflected in the IRI — you know, we’re going to go there and we’re going to teach them, as opposed to graduating into a more mature approach where we’re going to learn from each other and maybe invite Egyptians to teach us about democracy and movement building and so forth, so that we can counter these negative perceptions, which in some way are rooted in reality.
I mean, I don’t know what this guy — you know, this son of secretary of transportation, they never said what his credentials was. You know, I don’t think he had much of any — you know, he was just the son of the secretary of transportation. So that whole realm, that so-called democracy promotion, I think should be brought for some serious reviews.
DR. MATTAIR: Responses? Yes.
DR. KULL (?): Go for Peter, yeah.
DR. MANDAVILLE: So on the — on the question of the role of social media — I mean, I agree with you completely that the idea that these were Twitter revolutions is heavily overblown. That said, I think in the case of both Tunisia and Egypt, you can point to particular moments, in some cases almost to the hour and day, when these technologies played a pivotal role in terms of putting out onto the street, in the case of Egypt, enough people for a broader population that was hesitant to come out onto the street. And I’m talking about a broader population that had no access to the Internet, but who started to see a critical mass of people stop fearing the security apparatus. And I think that was absolutely crucial.
In the case of Tunisia, I think it was when the regime imposed a blackout — a media blackout on the demonstrations. And certain activist figures on social media were key in getting the eyes of the international media focused on Tunisia, so — you know, which means that these technologies are relevant. But frankly if you’re trying to understand what caused these events to happen, it’s certain the decisions made by the military leadership of both Tunisia and Egypt that really were pivotal in deciding which way these events went.
I share your concerns with respect to the way that U.S. democracy promotion plays out sometimes, particularly with regard to some of the actors and partners that these organizations choose to work with. And this is something that Egyptians would complain to the U.S. government about consistently — not the fact that U.S. democracy assistance was present in Egypt, but that the U.S. was willing to work with certain groups that were known to be heavily tied in, in nepotistic ways, to the ruling regime. And so there was nothing — it was a simulation of democracy promotion. It was a sham; it was a game.
With respect to what groups like NDI and IRI were doing in the aftermath of the revolution however, I think it’s fair to say that these groups understood themselves to be trying to provide basic skills and know-how to a whole new set of political actors that were saying we want to be engaged and to be involved, but we don’t know the first thing about running a political campaign. I just don’t know how to do that.
And so NDI and IRI’s programs, if you look at them, they weren’t there to evangelize the values of liberal democracy, they were there to teach people and connect them to other regional mentors who could help them do very practical things like, you know, mount a fundraising campaign, know how to, you know, get out to vote — do get out to vote-type activities. So I do share some of your concerns, but I think there’s another side to it as well.
DR. KULL: I think it was — staying with the IRI, NDI part of the equation — there was a congressional stipulation that no aid or education should go to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was a real problem, and that was sending a really problematic signal. That seems — that whole posture seems to have changed. And I think that when the reception of the delegation — Muslim Brotherhood delegation last week was a really important step. But the idea that we could go in and promote democracy selectively was really quite misguided.
DR. VOLL: One just quick observation. I tend, because of my generation, to agree with the thought that one may be exaggerating the role of the tool as we’re talking about social media, but I think it’s also very important to recognize that — what I think of as a tool of communication is, if I’m looking at my students correctly — a mode of thinking. It isn’t a matter of exaggerating a particular tool where people are still thinking in the old way. I think that the younger generation who are participating in the electronic — in the electronic public sphere are thinking in different ways as well, even in terms of how they compose the words that they use for when they are making a political statement.
Q: Thank you. I have — my name is Heath Mitchell. I’m from the Institute for Policy Studies, and I have three questions, if I may.
First, to Dr. Voll, I was wondering, what your thoughts might be on what I’ve heard from some people from the Internet, but from some protesters as well, that they really want to this to be a faceless movement, that this was — it’s intended to be a movement for all Egyptians, all Syrians. They don’t necessarily want to have a Martin Luther King-type figure spearheading it.
Next, for Professor Mandaville, I was curious in terms of the Muslim Brotherhood and I thought it was really great how you pointed out their shift in policy in becoming more moderate and yet striving — or wanting to appeal to that still-conservative core and how they’re evacuating that. I wonder if you might talk about how they might have — be forced to do that by virtue of being in power now as opposed to when they were oppressed. And before they had the luxury of saying basically whatever they wanted because they knew they didn’t have the power to implement it.
Lastly, Dr. Kull, I apologize if I didn’t give you a fair shake when I was listening to your — to your lecture. I think Samuel Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilization” is a very controversial topic. And the correlations between what you’re saying and what he was saying led to a few questions for you. First, do — are you — do you feel like some of your research might — and I with all — I don’t mean any disrespect, but treat Islam as kind of a monolith and not necessarily respect the different variations of Islam and especially — even of Shariah law, that there are variations and interpretations.
And I appreciate your — that you did differentiate between different populations, but also maybe a fear that running all these different nations together without any — without taking consideration to the different situation in each country, what dangers we might — might arise out of kind of lumping Arabs together.
And lastly, I was wondering if you think there is an explanation — one possible explanation for this contrast you find between people wanting more Islamic or a pro-Islam-type reform and also more democratic reform — if there’s kind of a tyranny of the majority situation going on where because people see themselves as Muslim, then it makes perfect sense that they would also want Islamic law, because it’s both representing them and still being Islamic. Does that make sense? OK. Thank you very much, all of you.
DR. MATTAIR: Thank you, thank you. The first question was for Professor Voll, the third one was for Professor Kull and the second one was —
Q: Muslim Brotherhood — (inaudible).
DR. MATTAIR: OK, so —
Q: Thank you.
DR. VOLL: OK, I have a quick answer. My experience is the same as yours in terms of this idea of an aggregate community sort of networked identity rather than a politically defined identity. And in terms of all Egyptians or, you know, the subtitle of Wael Ghonim’s book: The power of the people is greater than the people in power. And it’s “the people,” which is a nonideological, pragmatic kind of operational term.
DR. MANDAVILLE: So yeah, the Brotherhood has this dilemma now. It’s easy to talk smack about the regime and tell them, you know, explain how everything they’re doing is wrong, and Islam is the solution for this and that and that and then, oh, we’re in power now, right. So how do we prove that Islam is the solution? And you look at a lot of their answers in the realm of economics and you’re tempted to say, where’s the Islam in that? It sounds a lot like entrepreneurship promotion and business — creating business-friendly environments. Well, you know, these things are in tune with Islam, et cetera, et cetera.
So you know, I think this question was precisely at the heart of the debate within the Brotherhood about whether they should expose themselves politically by creating a party, by rushing into this space. And they decided to do so. And my sense that there are a good number of leaders — senior leaders in the movement that are genuinely committed to providing pragmatic, practical solutions to problems and will figure out how to explain those to the base in terms of Islam.
There lingers, however, the temptation — and this is what I fear — that if things go south in the country — if this doesn’t work out well and the Brotherhood needs to be able to appeal to something to cling on, there will be a lot of temptation to kind of turn back to those core — to that core base constituency and re-engage in a lot of sloganeering and finger pointing about how really the problem is that people aren’t being Islamic enough. And that’s when the Salafi factor becomes operative.
I can’t resist saying something briefly about the question of levels of support expressed for Shariah in opinion polls, because I have also observed this as well. If you understand Shariah to be a given, objective set of laws written down that could just be plunked into the, you know, statute books of a given country, then there is indeed a contradiction between people saying they want that and people saying that they want laws made by humankind or the citizens.
If however, as I suspect, many Muslims take a question about Shariah to be kind of a mom and apple pie question about whether they would like their country to be ruled according to morality, justice and rule of law, then it’s not at all difficult to explain why people express very high levels of support for Islamic law.
DR. MATTAIR (?): (Inaudible.)
DR. KULL: On the question of the clash of the civilizations, I wasn’t meaning to in any way endorse this concept, I was describing — the term I used was an inner clash of civilizations, which is an apparent tension that many Muslims feel between the process of modernity and Islamic tradition — modernity and the adoption of liberal principles. The — there — yes, there are variations, and I did, you know, provide numbers for specific countries so that it’s not — I wasn’t just making sweeping generalizations, and there are even more of them in my book if you want differentiation, there’s a lot of it there.
But the — but there — I did find that throughout the Muslim world, not just in the Arab world, this is a recurring theme. This is a source of tension. And it’s not hard to understand, that when you have a set of principles that are fairly well elaborated that you will have — that were developed at a different point in history that the process of globalization and liberalization, pluralism and so on does pose some kind of challenge to it.
This question of the tyranny of the majority, yes, that in a way is a critical part of the problem: How do you have pluralism in a — in a — in a state that is explicitly committed to Islamic law as a core basis of law. I mean, I do think, differing a little bit with Peter here, that, I mean, Shariah does have more specific content than a kind of generalized, you know, be good and nice and Islamic.
And there are some specifics. And you have — I mean, a graphic example, I think, is the principle of apostasy that says that if you — if a Muslim wants to convert away from Islam he should be executed. And the — there have been polls that have asked about that, and there are substantial numbers, in some countries even majorities, that endorse that principle. And that obviously is quite at odds with the principle of freedom of religion. And people will both endorse the principle of freedom of religion and the principle of apostasy. So that is, to me, an indication of the — of a kind of clash of civilizations, which we did find in — throughout the Muslim world.
DR. MATTAIR: I’d like to ask you a question, Alexis, that might tie a few issues together. Could you just recap for us what were the — what were the main points of Rashid Ghannushi’s recent statements about his views on secularism and the relationship between Islam and secularism. And is that a way of staying — is that a way of keeping the street with the party? Is that tactical? Is that legitimate? Is that honest? But basically we’ve been very abstract today. So from a factual point of view, what did he say and what did he mean?
MS. ARIEFF: Do you mean his statements in reaction to the party’s decision not to include Shariah?
DR. MATTAIR: Well, the most recent thing he said about his views on secularism within the last six weeks or so. Or — (inaudible) —
MS. ARIEFF: I mean — (chuckles) — one of the things about Ghannouchi is that he speaks all the time. I mean, you know — but —
DR. MATTAIR: OK, if we can’t — if we can’t identify the —
MS. ARIEFF: — but certainly — I mean, you know, in general I would say that — and I don’t want to be in the position of saying exactly what he means, because sometimes it’s a little bit unclear sort of what he means. And that’s a complaint that his opponents make about his speech — about his discourse. But I think he has consistently, at least over the last several years — and there is — there has been an evolution in his own thinking over time, I think it’s fair to say, although he sort of would — you know, he thinks that he’s been fairly consistent over time, but I think it’s clear that there’s been some evolution over time. And at times he’s referred to that evolution in other contexts.
But I think that Ghannouchi has portrayed Ennahda as encapsulating this middle ground of sort of capturing an Islamic Arab identity among Tunisians which is very strongly felt, and not seeking to use the state as a tool to impose a certain set of Islamic practices on the wider population, and tolerating the existence of secular political movements within the Tunisian society, but while expressing a great deal of faith that the Ennahda vision has more popular currency than secularism.
So it’s kind of a fine line that involves elements of sort of theological exegesis but also pragmatic, you know, old-school political parsing — (chuckles) — of what exactly it is that you mean. And so for example, in attempting to elucidate the party’s decision on — not to — you know, not to insist on including Shariah in the — in the draft constitution, he was reported to have made a statement along the lines of, well, Shariah never left Tunisia, so why do we need to insist on bringing it back?
So that’s the kind of statement where a lot of Tunisians — that’s a very politically effective statement in Tunisia. And a lot of Tunisians point to that and say, right, that’s how I feel. On the other hand, his sort of secularist opponents, who really think that Ennahda is driving a wedge into Tunisia, you know, and has some kind of deep-hidden agenda and is playing a very long game, point to that and say, well, look, isn’t this ambiguous? You know, he’s not saying that the government should be a government of men necessarily. He’s saying that maybe there is room for sort of that religious textual interpretation of legislation or what system of government to employ. So I think — I think it’s actually — he’s — he has toed a very careful line among many of these different currents.
I would say on the issue of conversion, I mean, he has said recently — I think in remarks while he was here in Washington in November — that that was one element of personal evolution on his part. At least he was — he was quoted as saying that, you know, initially as an Islamic scholar he didn’t understand how you could permit conversion from Islam, but that more recently he had, you know, studied the texts and determined that actually it was possible to tolerate such a thing.
So you know, the party is wrestling with these things. I think that Ghannouchi himself is a very savvy political figure. I think that the leadership of Ennahda is very savvy. The question as we move forward is to what extent that leadership will remain in control of the party, to what extent internal factions within the party will pronounce themselves, and to what extent the party can hang onto this middle ground while it’s being buffeted from both sides.
DR. KULL: Just to add that —
DR. MATTAIR: Sure.
DR. KULL: — the — Islam is not — as we were saying earlier, not monolithic. And if you just think about the Bible and all the things that are in the Bible — (chuckles) — right, some of which are — seem quite contradictory, Islam is very complex and rich. And there’s a process here of trying to adapt Islam to the current time, and with the — with the example that you just mentioned. And there are a lot of Islamic scholars who are working on these issues. And it’s a — so it’s not that Islam is crystallized. It is — it is evolving. And that’s a — that’s something that we should see as being a positive and productive process.
DR. VOLL: And I think a part of this — just when he was here in the — in the visit, I had a chance to chat with him. And I — and I asked him sort of — he’d just come from talking with Senator Lieberman and Senator McCain. And I said, well, what did you say, you know — the normal question is: Is Islam compatible with democracy? And he said, I don’t ask that question. I don’t answer that question, because I think that democracy is a part of Islam. And if a system is not democratic, then it can’t be identified as being Islamic. And this is that kind of maybe elegant theological parsing. But it is also, I think, the standard really important kind of resolution to the tension that you’re talking about, of saying that the tension doesn’t exist because both sides are part of legitimately understood Shariah.
DR. KULL: It’s often a real challenge — I mean, there — I had this meeting with a key person in Pakistan who’s responsible for Islamic ideology. And he says, you know, well, we work on it. But then there are all these hotheads that show up on the street with these very extreme, literal interpretations and — you know, and that it becomes really quite difficult for them. So it’s a political process — (chuckles) — not just a kind of intellectual process of somehow reconciling these different strains.
DR. MANDAVILLE: I think this Shariah question is crucial, and it’s one where some of these parties have been the most ambiguous in terms of giving full detailed answers to questions that are asked of them. And so you know, we continue to ask them, you know?
And while I — you know, I agree with Steve that there is more specific content to Shariah, absolutely. My point is that when Americans hear this term, their minds rush first to the cutting off of the hands’ of thieves and the stoning of adulterers and apostasy-type issues. And those exist, but they’re part of this very narrow penal code, the Hadud, which is not even implemented in most countries whose constitutions claim Islam is a source of legislation. That’s very rare. So my point is just that when Muslims hear the term Shariah, that’s not where their mind goes first. Where their mind goes first in terms of practical, specific provisions more has to do with issues of personal status code, whether, you know, issues relating to marriage, family law and inheritance will be governed according to the specific provisions of Shariah. So there is this disjuncture in how those issues are viewed here and in the Muslim-majority world.
DR. MATTAIR: Another question?
Q:I was just — I want to pose this question to the panel. Since this distinction is made between, say the secular West and then various movements here — we’re talking about political Islam — but actually, when I’ve talked to some of the Islamists — I don’t like that term either — they will make the argument, no, that’s — the people who are using that term secular West are actually misusing a term and are producing an invalid concept. For example, the youth activists or whatever you want to call them, revolutionary youth, for example on the April 6th Movement, Ahmed Maher, were actively networking with people from the old solidarity movement ??? in Poland to understand how to organize their democratic system or organization in Egypt. And I talked to the head of a leading think tank in Poland, Mr. Zaborowski, and he said, well, this makes perfectly good sense. Poland is a Catholic country; I mean, we identify as Catholic. And we’re a conservative country — I mean, we’re not France. The secularists didn’t take over here. I mean, France has a subculture perhaps Catholic, but basically because of the laws (are ?) — for example Germany, many of the moderate Islamic parties will say: Well, what’s wrong? We’re an Islamic party. Well, go to Germany, they have, you know, Christian Democrats, Christian Socialists, this, that. What — nobody gets upset because the word “Christian” is in the name of the party, referring to their tradition. So therefore I think it’s — I’d just say, if you talk to an Islamist, they said: Wait a minute. Don’t tell me about the secular West. That doesn’t even exist. You’re talking about perhaps a very radical sort of Hillary Clinton-radical liberalist West, which doesn’t have much to do with even what people called liberal West 30 years ago during the Cold War. So, a quick comment on that?
DR. MATTAIR: Any responses?
DR. MANDAVILLE: Yeah, I mean, look, the Egyptian activists who were making common cause with counterparts in Serbia and Poland, let’s be clear: Those guys were not Islamists. Those were among the most secular political forces in Egypt you could find. They had no interest in Poland because Poles were Catholic. They had no interest in the religious convictions of their Serbian counterparts. They were interested in making common cause with them for purely pragmatic reasons, because these were people who had successfully overthrown authoritarian regimes, and they wanted to know how to do it.
That said, this notion of a secular West I agree is problematic. You know, if I want to understand the nature of Islamic space in Egypt right now, to me the best analogy is the conservative movement in the United States. You have your evangelicals, they’re called Salafis, right? You have sort of mainstream social conservatives, that’s the Brotherhood, you know? And you have all kinds of spaces in between.
You know, so when people — and this plays into the political discourse in the United States, you know? Prior to 9/11, Muslim American — immigrant Muslim Americans tended to vote Republican — for every good reason. Republicans were social conservatives and they were fiscal conservatives and they’re pro-business, and those are the positions that these families take, right?
Post-9/11, that politics has played out in very odd ways. And so when in the aftermath of all of this, you know, you see certain Muslim figures trying to reengage the Republican Party here — which is actually their natural home in many ways — and this starts getting spun as efforts by Islamists to infiltrate the Republican Party. No! They’re just going to their natural political home.
Q: So I feel like there’s been a lot of sort of criticism of U.S. foreign policy in the past, especially, you know, in Egypt with our support of Mubarak in the past. And my question is just how do we form better relations with this younger generation that has such a huge presence on Twitter and in sort of the blogosphere — just to the whole panel.
DR. MATTAIR: Who wants to take that?
DR. KULL: Well, that’s a broad question. The — you know, the young people, there’s a very diverse population. The idea that the young people represent this sort of secular Western-oriented demographic as opposed to older age groups is really not correct. Actually, you find some of the most fanatical elements in among the younger people, more so. The older people are a little mellower about some of these issues. So to say the young people as a kind of unitary thing I think is difficult.
So the — what does bind most of these societies together vis-à-vis the U.S. is a perception that the U.S. is bearing down on them, is coercing them, doesn’t respect them and isn’t — and is hostile to Islam. And I think there’re a variety of ways that those can be addressed, those — affirmative statements can be made, symbolic moves can be made. And again, the — I — (chuckles) — it’s such a broad topic it’s hard to not get into specifics.
I mean, there are issues about oil. There’s a perception, for example, that the United States with the Carter Doctrine has made a claim on all the oil in the — in the Middle East. And if we don’t — if they don’t give it to us, we’re going to come and get it. And that’s very offensive because it’s a violation of their sovereignty. Actually the Carter Doctrine doesn’t say that, but we never made any efforts to clarify that it — we don’t mean what they think we mean. And that’s just one example.
So if we — if we really systematically look for efforts to reduce the impressions that the U.S. is coercing people in that region and that the U.S. is hostile to Islam, it would — it would go a long way with — at all — at all generations, you know, and without really any big difference between the generations.
DR. MATTAIR: Before you, John, my fast answer would be go into government and produce better American foreign policy.
DR. VOLL: Yeah. I have a quick list of very, very specific things to answer the specific question about what can we do with youths and perform better relations. First thing, which is something that can be done relatively easily I think, and that is give real attention to our immigration policies. Our best export is American-educated Muslims. You know, and yet students coming here — the — our programs for international student exchange have been cut. They — by people here in this building, our international student exchanges have been cut. If we — our information services have been cut.
Now I’m, again, older generation; I thought that the U.S. Information Service, USIS, was one of the best cutting-edge vehicles for dealing with the younger generation. Our USIS libraries around the world were places where students could have real access. I loved the little American libraries now that, you know, take up about five square feet of things. But those simply are ineffective.
When I have students — when I have students who want to visit, somebody — for coming — I can’t tell a young Iranian student, oh, just apply for a visa and come. I can’t even tell a young Egyptian student that. If his name is Ahmed and he wears a beard, you can count on two hours at Kennedy Airport before he can even come in. And so immigration, visa, student exchange, information, helping students overseas through library support for university students in Cairo and so on — this is a very practical thing. And it’s cheap. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper than lots of rockets and things.
DR. MANDAVILLE: You know, I would endorse the merit of some of those practical things, but — and you can imagine this is something we wrestled with at the State Department in the aftermath of these events. And there were all kinds of ideas out there like, oh, if we build the right Facebook sites and Twitter sites, they’ll think we’re cool and in tune with their revolution. (Laughter.) And it’s — you know, it’s — it — what it misses is the fact that this is, yes, a technologically engaged generation, but it’s an incredibly politically conscious and savvy generation. They know what’s going on.
So after the revolutions, the U.S. sounds all very, we’re supportive of your revolution. Their first question to us, of course, quite rightfully, is why? Why should we believe that you now support democracy in the Middle East, because you’ve just spent the last 60 years pursuing policies that would suggest quite the opposite; which means that they’re watching what we do very carefully. So we can have the coolest and hippest and most elegant social media strategy, but if what — but what they’re watching is what we do in the actual realm of policy. And that’s what the U.S. has to get right.
DR. KULL: I want to add just — add one point on that, because I agree with what you said 98 percent. I do think that there are some elements of a kind of public diplomacy that do go beyond policy. I mean, generally it’s really all about policy. But there are elements — and it’s like manners. When you say “please” and “thank you” — (laughter) — what you’re doing is you’re saying, you don’t have to do what you’re doing. You’re doing it of your own free will, and I recognize and affirm that.
And that is something that doesn’t come through. And then all kinds of little ways we can communicate in that relationship — we can affirm their autonomy, affirm their right to make their own choices. And right now that is not how — that is not how we are experienced. We are experienced as constantly, in all kinds of ways, trying to control them, not giving them space — (chuckles) — to make their own choices and develop their societies the way they think is best.
Q: Hello. Professor Mandaville? My question regarding the Constituent Assembly in Egypt and the fact that the liberals have left the room and basically are leaving the Muslim Brotherhood and some other like parties right in it — do you think here that the Muslim Brotherhoods will want to write a constitution that will work in their favor, not because they are Muslim Brotherhoods but simply because they are human beings and they are politicians, and they would want to — anybody who is a politician would want to write a constitution, is offered the opportunity to do so, in a way that will privilege his interests and potentially make him be re-elected for (few mandates ?).
And second question is — and I would like to agree with you on the fact that the Muslim Brotherhoods are a loose coalition of different interests that are there — how do you see this force — how do you see it — would it be divided if — when they will go into power? Because it’s easy to be stuck together when you’re opposition; but once you are in the government, then you need to make some choices, and some of them will I think make this coalition of the Muslim Brotherhood perhaps get (split ?). What’s your view on this?
DR. MANDAVILLE: So on the Constituent Assembly, my sense is that the leadership of the Brotherhood would indeed prefer to have a more inclusive process. But I think that the current political conditions and stakes in Egypt have forced them to take a more aggressive position in this process because what they’re looking at primarily is their relationship vis-à-vis the military council.
So their politics and their policy around the Constituent Assembly right now is a function of the fact that for them the predominant relationship that they need to manage is that with the armed forces. And in that regard, I think they feel the need — they perceive the military as having said to them, all right, you’ve got the parliament, and that’s all that you’re allowed to have; you will stop there. And so their foray into both the presidential realm and also how they’re handling the Constituent Assembly I think is their way of saying, you will not be the arbiter of our political future.
This question of how factionalization plays out once they’re in power — look, the Brotherhood is a very broad space, but it does have within the — (inaudible) — within the guidance bureau — there are various forms of hegemony and disciplining that work very effectively to keep their policies around certain issues quite cohesive. So — and it’s — and it’s the key figures there that have the upper hand right now.
So I don’t expect the Brotherhood in power to immediately manifest these sorts of internal cleavages that I’ve identified. Rather, I think watching these cleavages tell us — tells us something about where the Muslim Brotherhood as a movement is likely to be 10 years down the line, rather than what happens six months from now.
DR. MATTAIR: I think this’ll have to be the last question because we’re about out of time, but — no, please, this will be the last question.
Q: Yeah, sure. Yeah, on the question on the image of the U.S. in the Arab world, I would like to disagree with you. I don’t think it — that it is that bad, given the U.S. policy in 2011. I mean, U.S. supported the Libyans against Gadhafi. They were there doing a job that is well perceived by Syria. And they have been behind the curve in the events in Tunisia and Egypt, which is seen positively actually.
I think one element that you have quickly mentioned — and I would like you to enlighten us on it — is the perceived American support to Israel, or I would say rather the inability of the U.S. of putting forward the peace agenda and the creation of two states. I think — (inaudible) — plays a role in the — somehow in the negative perception in the Arab world. What are your views on this?
DR. KULL: I would like to report that the views of the U.S. have improved in the post-Arab Spring period, but there are — there are no numbers to support that. And I mean, I think logically, well, gee, we were — (chuckles) — before the Arab Spring, I heard in focus groups and so on this — the U.S. will never let blank happen. And you know, that blank was basically what happened in the Arab Spring, so — that the U.S. military forces would prevent it; you know, they would never let the Muslim Brotherhood make any headway. They would never let the military and — have any compromise to the — to the military’s power, and so on.
And so I would — I thought, oh, maybe this is going to result in some improvement. The Libya situation is actually — it does not poll well. The — there is disapproval of U.S. — the U.S. role in that. It’s, you know, once again the U.S. using its military power; not that it — not that Gadhafi was popular, just that he’s — they just aren’t comfortable with the U.S. using its military power to take out a — take out a leader.
Now the subject of Israel — you’re right, it’s kind of curious how little we discussed it. Why is the Israel — Israeli-Palestinian issue so in foreground, so intense? I think that what you have there is a — it’s a — it has become a very visible, almost iconic image of the West victimizing Islam. And you know, you can talk about it vaguely, but when it comes down to those images of Israelis with American support — with weapons that the Americans gave to them — victimizing Palestinians, and you see it right there on your television, you go, there; that’s it; that’s what we’re talking about. We feel victimized by that, right?
And thus there’s a — there’s — it’s not so much, I think, that the — that Muslims feel so strongly about the Palestinians as people. I mean, they haven’t always treated the Palestinians all that well themselves. But it’s — it — but they identify with them in that relationship. And so the message is, as long as that’s happening we will not believe that there is any fundamental change.
It’s not that it’s — I mean, this — some people say, oh, the problem is entirely the Israeli-Palestinian issue. And if the Israeli-Palestinian issue was resolved and we had a two-state solution, then, you know, relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world would just, you know, clear right up. It would go a long way, but it wouldn’t — I don’t think it is the — it’s the cause as much as it is a clear symbol that pulls a lot of other feelings into it that are — that are related to broader issues.
DR. MATTAIR: I’m glad I took the last question, because I think it’s an important one and I think you got some pretty good answers. Thank you very much for coming. We — by the way, we have a website, www.mepc.org. You’ll find archives of our journal articles and videos of our conferences and links to our teacher workshops. Please visit. And thank you for coming. (Applause.)