Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

CSID Lecture: Islamists in Muslim Democracies

Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy
Can we have Arab Democracy without the Islamists?
September 27, 2006

The overwhelming answer to the question posed at the discussion was, “no.” Both speakers, Neil Hicks (Director of the Human Rights Defenders Program at Human Rights First) and Amir Hamzawi, agreed that the Islamists are forever going to be a part of any democracy in the Muslim world. Each however focused on different aspects of the Islamist movements around the world, with Hicks focusing on implementation of safeguards against the threat of popularly elected leaders becoming authoritarian, and Hamzawi discussed the problems with implementing democratic reforms in the Muslim world.

According to Hicks, there are two types of safeguards, internal (free and independent press, strong state institutions, and an independent civil society) and external (regional and intergovernmental bodies). He said that the major problem with internal safeguards is there are no incentives for a government already in power to implement them. This is where the external safeguards come into play, i.e. dangling membership into organizations in front of countries (EU and Turkey) in order to elicit the desired reforms. The most powerful of external safeguards comes from regional organizations, however the Arab League has done a poor job, and need significant amount of work, perhaps by establishing an Arab Charter like that found in Africa. Hicks cited a poll in which the majority of Islamists do not even want Shari’a law to be the law of the government, whereas the word tends to have a negative connotation in the Untied States (and the West as a whole) of being extremists.

Hamzawi spoke of the impediments to democracy, stating that they are not from the Islamist movement, but from the authoritarian and autocratic rulers. He gives the three key problems: 1) there is a clear penetration of state institutions by the ruling parties 2) the role of the security apparatus in enforcement and oppression and 3) a lack of a culture of democracy in the Muslim world. He also broke down the Islamist movements into two categories 1) those that participate in legal politics and 2) those that participate in unstable ways. He puts Egypt into the second group, claiming that since the Muslim Brotherhood is outlawed (even though they unofficially hold seats in the parliament) they have an unstable role in the politics of Egypt. On the subject of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamzawi classifies their relations with the government in two possible ways, at times the Muslim Brotherhood attempts to reach out to the regime, and at other times they seek direct confrontation with the Mubarak regime (which is where they currently are).

Democracy in the Muslim world will always bring along Islamists, the key is integrating any armed factions into the legal process. Since the recent outbreak of war in Lebanon, there has been an unfortunate shift from domestic politics (the platform that Hamas ran and won on in Palestine) to regional politics (such as the Arab-Israeli Conflict or Iraq). This is the most dangerous impediment to the process of democratization in the Islamic world.

The website for the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy is www.csidonline.org


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