Project on Middle East Democracy
The POMED Wire Archives
Category: Political Islam
Iran: A Divided Nation
December 17th, 2010 by Jason
In two new pieces, Mehdi Khalaji
and Abbas Milani
explore cultural and political divisions in Iran.
Khalaji focuses on the growing split
between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini
. “Tension between the president and the Supreme Leader is built into the Islamic Republic’s core,” Khalaji writes, because the Supreme Leader is chosen, while the President “emerges from an electoral process.” This natural tension has caused conflict between Khameini and the two previous presidents, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
and Mohammad Khatami
. Khalaji concludes that “[t]he history of the Islamic Republic indicates that the power struggle between the Supreme Leader and the president never abates. It also suggests that the Supreme Leader will prove to be stronger.”
Milani takes a sociohistorical view of the divided Iranian identity. Looking back over the country’s history, Milani sees “a bifurcated, tormented, even schizoid cultural identity: pre-Islamic, Persian-Zoroastrian elements battling with forces and values of an Arab Islamic culture.” Milani goes on to detail the the struggle between the two identities, which conflict through art, film, language, and the meaning of modernity. Post-1979 Iran can be seen through this lens of bifurcation. Ayatollah Khomeini advocated for a Shi’ism that rejected modernity (i.e. the Shah and his insistence on a Persian national identity) and established a strong state that clashes with calls for greater democratization from many citizens. “[A] critical look at the past shows the bleak future of Khamenei and other champions of despotism. Violence can only delay but not destroy the rights of man in a nation that has embraced the cultural ethos of modernity.”
Iran: Ahmadinejad Profiled, Tensions Between Conservative Factions
November 30th, 2010 by Jason
Frontline’s Tehran Bureau has published two articles profiling President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
’s political history. The first article focuses on Ahmadinejad’s use of populism to set himself apart from the clergy, and his sometimes messianic self image. The second article explores the tensions between a more secular nationalism, often associated with Ali Shariati
, and the “Velaayat-e Faghih (guardianship of the Islamic jurist),” associated with Supreme Leader Khomeini and the Islamic revolution. The second article concludes by looking at various scenarios for the presidential election in 2013, including a “Putin-Medvedev Shuffle,” necessary because Ahmadinejad is constitutionally prohibited from running for a third consecutive term. Rahim Mashaei, a close aide to Ahmadinejad, is named as a possible successor.
in the Wall Street Journal, also chronicles the growing tensions in Iran between the several conservative camps, which has garnered recent attention due to a threat by some legislators to impeach Ahmadinejad. “Behind all this is the struggle for power between the mullahs and the rising generation of the military and their technocratic allies. […] Whatever the outcome, we are sure to witness a long and bitter fight within the ruling establishment. Because neither Ahmadinejad nor his rivals within the regime have anything positive to offer Iranians, both have to maintain the country’s state of permanent crisis.”
Egypt: MB Leader Calls for U.S. Support
November 29th, 2010 by Evan
Newsweek’s Babak Dehghanpisheh recently interviewed Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammad Badie. Over the course of the conversation, Badie explained the logic behind the Brotherhood’s decision to participate in the elections, shared his thoughts on the government crackdown before the election, and rejected assertions that the organization’s goal is to establish an Islamic state in Egypt. On the U.S. role in Egypt Badie said, “American administrations keep supporting regimes that are undemocratic. This is what gains them the hatred of the people in the street—even though their interests lie with the people. The governments will come and go, but it’s the people who stay. The Statue of Liberty can’t be divided into different parts. You can’t defend the freedom of one people in one place and not of another people in another place.”
POMED Notes: “The Future of the U.S.-Turkey Relationship”
November 11th, 2010 by Evan
The Center for American Progress (CAP) hosted a discussion titled “The Future of the U.S.-Turkey Relationship” on Wednesday. Brian Katulis, senior fellow at CAP, moderated a panel composed of Steven Cook, senior fellow of Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Michael Werz, senior fellow at CAP. As part of the larger discussion of Turkey-U.S. relations, the panelists addressed the development of democracy in Turkey.
To read full notes, continue below or click here
for a pdf copy.
POMED Notes: “Roads Not Taken: AKP Trajectories Since 2007”
November 11th, 2010 by Evan
On Wednesday, Dr. Nora Fisher Onar, professor of Politics and International Relations at Bahcesehir Unverisity in Istanbul and visiting research fellow at Oxford University’s Centre for International Studies, spoke on differing schools of thought within Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
To read full notes, continue below or click here
for a pdf copy.
Can Christian Democracy Movements Provide Lessons for Islamist Politics?
November 5th, 2010 by Anna
In an article for the Boston Review, Jan-Werner Muller of Princeton University details the history of the Christian democratic movement and asks whether “the historical analogy between Christian and potential Muslim democracy…perhaps suggest[s] promising alternatives to the authoritarian rule that dominates the Middle East.” He asserts that “institutional structures are what matters, not political ideas or programs” – as such, he concludes that “calls for liberalizing Islam and arcane disputes about the Qur’an’s compatibility with democracy are largely beside the point. Programmatic moderation, if it happens at all, will be a result of democratic political practice, not its precondition.” In the case of Christian Democracy, Muller writes, leaders drew in voters by basing their platforms on a particular body of thought, while simultaneously “reassuring nonbelievers that those of faith had accepted pluralism.” By delicately balancing various principles, Christian Democrats made themselves appealing to both Christians and non-Christians. Whether this is possible for Islamist politicians, Muller writes, remains unclear. He points out that “the political mobilization of believers does not necessarily result in a one-to-one translation of private religious identities into public political identities,” and that identities are reconstructed in pluralist arenas where compromise is key. Thus, he concludes, “blanket condemnations of Islam as incompatible with Democracy overlook the fact that religious doctrines do not strictly determine politics.”
Iran: Khamenei Courts the Clerical Establishment
November 1st, 2010 by Jason
In a new, detailed piece
at Tehran Bureau, Muhammad Sahimi
explains the history of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s troubles with the clerical establishment, and what, if anything, his recent trip to the holy city of Qom accomplished. “Unlike his predecessor as Supreme Leader — Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini — Khamenei has never had his own independent base of popular support.” The process through which Khamenei rose to the position of Supreme Leader was heavily influenced by Hashemi Rafsanjani
, who thought Khamenei was “weak in religious credentials and therefore pliable.” The recent trip to Qom was an effort to “have the most senior grand ayatollahs and ayatollahs greet him as he entered the holy city, where about 30 Marjas taghlid currently reside. It became quickly clear, however, that aside from Khamenei’s reactionary supporters…no credible cleric would agree to that.”
Sahimi calls into question reports that Khamenei was able to achieve the main goals of the trip: to officially become a Marja taghlid, or figure of emulation, and to be named the Marja-e omoom, the foremost of the Marja. He said that it does not matter how various “daily hardline mouthpieces” and “other reactionary websites” refer to Khamenei. “The great aspect of Shiism is that it is the people who decide whom they want to follow, whom they want to emulate, whom they consider a true and pious Marja,” he says.
Egypt: Brotherhood Pushes to Keep Slogan, Announces Social Justice Agenda
October 29th, 2010 by Anna
Al Masry Al Youm reports today that the Muslim Brotherhood is urging the High Elections Commission to uphold a court order allowing the campaign slogan “Islam is the Solution.” In The Brotherhood’s Opinion, a weekly post by the group, the Brotherhood criticizes the regime’s arrests of group members and calls on the government to treat all candidates fairly. Saad al-Katatni, a Brotherhood spokesman, also asserts that the High Elections Commission “must take a neutral stance as it is not an affiliate of the NDP.” Muslim Brotherhood sources also say that the group will focus on social justice issues in its campaign platform during the upcoming parliamentary elections. The specific election program – which outlines strategies to tackle unemployment, the uneven distribution of wealth in Egypt, women’s issues, Coptic relations, and other social and political challenges – will be released in the coming weeks.
POMED Notes: “The Ayatollahs’ Democracy: An Iranian Challenge”
October 14th, 2010 by Jason
The New America Foundation (NAF) held an event today marking the release of Hooman Majd’s new book, “The Ayatollahs’ Democracy: An Iranian Challenge.” Majd was introduced by Steve Clemons, Senior Fellow and Director of the American Strategy Program at NAF.
(To read full notes, continue below the fold or go here
Posted in DC Event Notes, Elections, Freedom, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Islam and Democracy, Political Islam, Protests, Public Opinion, Reform, US foreign policy, sanctions | Comment »
Iran: Khameini Pressures the Ayatollahs
October 13th, 2010 by Jason
Writing at Tehran Bureau, Mea Cyrus reports that the Supreme Leader of Iran is making his first trip to the holy city of Qom since the controversial re-election of President Ahmadinejad. Cyrus says that the trip is notable due to the participation of some clerics in the Green Movement, including Mehdi Karroubi
, and the recent steps taken by the regime to silence criticism from clerical quarters. “Khamenei is going to Qom for several important reasons, among them to show his authority and intimidate those clerics, both grand and junior, who dare to oppose him and his puppet president publicly or privately.” Cyrus points to the recent shut down of senior cleric’s websites and the centralization of control of religious endowments as areas where Khamenei is applying pressure. Cyrus also mentions the recent news that Azad University is being taken over by the government concluding, “[m]aking this announcement right before his trip to Qom is a calculated step, a warning to other clerics and a move to isolate Rafsanjani and his followers, clerical and nonclerical alike.”
POMED Notes: “Do Jordan’s Elections Matter?”
October 4th, 2010 by Anna
On Monday, October 4th, The George Washington University hosted a panel entitled “Do Jordan’s Elections Matter?” The event was moderated by Marc Lynch, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs and director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington. The panelists were Curtis Ryan, Associate Professor of Political Science at Appalachian State University, Anne Mariel Peters, Assistant Professor of Government at Wesleyan University, and Jillian Schwedler, Associate Professor of Political Science at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The speakers were asked to discuss Jordan’s upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for November 9th. In a few opening remarks, Mark Lynch pointed out that much of the discussion about democracy in the Middle East has been “telescoped” on Egypt. Amidst hopes for reform in Jordan, however, it seems important to ask whether these elections will bring change. What role will Islamist groups play, and what election reforms have been made? More broadly, do the elections matter at all?
The full event notes are below - otherwise, find the PDF here.
POMED Notes: “Between Religion and Politics”
September 29th, 2010 by Jason
An event was held today at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace celebrating the release of the book “Between Religion and Politics”, coauthored by Amr Hamzawy and Nathan Brown. Marwan Muasher acted as the moderator for the event, where the authors explained the process they utilized in the researching of the book and explored, in depth, the case studies of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
(To read full notes, continue below the fold or click here
Posted in Civil Society, DC Event Notes, Egypt, Elections, Freedom, Hamas, Islam and Democracy, Islamist movements, Muslim Brotherhood, Palestine, Political Islam, Public Opinion, Reform | Comment »
Lebanon: Hezbollah Still Ahead in Governance
September 15th, 2010 by Anna
, a freelance journalist based in Lebanon, profiled the evolving nature of Hezbollah in a piece for The Middle East Report Online on Monday. He asserts that, among other successes, the group’s partial reconstruction of some of Beirut’s southern suburbs after the July 2006 War demonstrates that “the party remains ahead in the governance game compared to the woeful Lebanese state,” which remains fragmented and weak. Dick suggests that the party’s domestic reputation has only been improving in recent years, especially in areas where law and order are kept by the party, not the state. Dick describes Hezbollah’s social service provision to its Shiite base as “large-scale and usually efficient,” and adds that its reconstruction projects have been run with considerable professionalism. In contrast, Dick writes, the government has been widely accused of fund mismanagement, corruption, and overall incompetence. Although the party’s performance “has not been spotless in the eyes of its base,” its leaders have cultivated a “domestic political aura of seriousness and anti-corruption” and have engaged in domestic political debates about how to conduct elections, reform, and privatization among other issues.
Dick concludes: “For now, the party is benefiting from its expanded civil, political and state responsibilities [and] has managed to run its ministries without becoming tarred with accusations of corruption and squandering of resources.” He dismisses accusations that the party’s Islamist inclinations threaten the “Lebanese state and political order.”
POMED Notes: “Is Turkey Becoming Less Democratic?”
September 13th, 2010 by Anna
On Monday, September 13th, POMED hosted an event entitled “Is Turkey Becoming Less Democratic?” The event was moderated by Bill Schneider, Distinguished Senior Fellow and Resident Scholar at Third Way and the Omer L. and Nancy Hirst Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University. The discussion featured three panelists: Gonul Tol, Executive Director of the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute; Daniel Brumberg, Director of the Muslim World Initiative at the U.S. Institute of Peace; and W. Robert Pearson, former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey and President of the International Research and Exchanges Board.
POMED’s full notes continue below or read
them as a pdf.
Posted in Democracy Promotion, Elections, Freedom, Human Rights, Islam and Democracy, Judiciary, Kurds, PKK, Political Islam, Political Parties, Reform, Secularism, Turkey | Comment »
POMED Notes: Press Conference “Without a Stable and Democratic Egypt, the Future of a Two State Solution is in Jeopardy”
September 1st, 2010 by Jason
Today at the National Press Club, a press conference was held to discuss the Mubarak government’s prominent role in the upcoming negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Hosted by The Coalition of Egyptian Organizations and the Egyptian Association for Change-USA and moderated by Tarek Khalil, the event featured a panel of Egyptian activists.
For full notes continue below the fold or click here
Posted in Civil Society, DC Event Notes, Egypt, Elections, Foreign Aid, Freedom, Human Rights, Islam and Democracy, Islamist movements, Mideast Peace Plan, Political Islam, Protests, Reform | Comment »
Egypt: Support Democratic Processes, Despite Concerns about Islamists
August 30th, 2010 by Anna
, a Stanford University fellow, and Ty McCormick
, an intern at the American University in Cairo, argue
in the Huffington Post today that the Obama administration has “respectfully declined” to press for political reform in Egypt. In their view, “this policy reflects a sincere belief on the part of the Obama administration that Islamists cannot be democrats.” Ferguson and McCormick criticize the view that Islamic groups like the Muslim Brotherhood might eliminate democratic processes and institutions if elected to office. This type of thinking, they reason, stems from the notion that Islamists are a monolith and have one particular, rigid view of democracy and the role of religion in public life. The authors suggest that the Obama administration has, in effect, “declar[ed] the incompatibility of Islam and democracy,” thereby ignoring the possibilities for elasticity and synthesis in that relationship. Ferguson and McCormick assert that “the U.S. should seize the opportunity presented by ElBaradei [and] attempt to engage positively with his diverse group of followers,” so as to enhance the credibility of Washington’s rhetorical support of democracy in the region.
Turkey: Referendum a Step Forward?
August 30th, 2010 by Evan
An editorial in The Nationalcontends that despite consternation in Turkey’s secular circles, the AKP-backed constitutional referendum scheduled for September 12th is a needed step forward: “Although internal bickering has cast the referendum as a power struggle between Islamists and secularists, the fact of the matter is that Turkey’s constitution has long been in need of reform.” The piece continues, “…if Turkey wishes to position itself as a truly democratic power, particularly as it keeps its eye on EU membership, such reforms are an inevitable step in its maturity as a flourishing nation state.”
Meanwhile, writing at RFE/RL Abbas Djavadi suggests that regardless of the results of the referendum, the real challenge facing both secular and Islamic politicians will be forging political compromise over the next year: “Undoubtedly, the 1980 constitution needs to be amended. It no longer suits the stronger, more democratic Turkey of the 21st century. But can the politically deadlocked country move in this direction without resorting to violence or illegal measures? If it cannot find a process of compromise and consensus, much of the progress of recent years could be in danger.”
Islam and Democracy
August 24th, 2010 by Farid
at Comment is Free, Brian Whitaker discusses the Quilliam Foundation’s claim that “violent and nonviolent Islamists broadly share the same ideology and disagree only on tactics.” According to the Quilliam Strategic Briefing Paper, “Preventing Terrorism: where next for Britain?, “Although some Islamist groups have accepted aspects of democracy, political pluralism and the concept of universal human rights, few — if any — Islamist groups have accepted all of these principles either fully or simultaneously.” The paper goes on to say that Islamism constitutes a threat to secular democracy and “tolerant society,” adding that Islamist ideology promotes an “anti-democratic, fascist state” comparable to racial apartheid.
Presenting a different analysis, Whitaker argues that the key issue is not Islamist violence, but the fact that Islamists “believe in the ’sovereignty of God,’” which “conflicts with democratic ideas about the sovereignty of the people.” According to Whitaker, the underlying problem is “an anti-libertarian assumption that linking the state with religion is both legitimate and necessary. Not only that, but religion claims the right, at least in some circumstances, to override the will of the people.” Whitaker attributes the increasing popularity of Islamist groups in the world to Western support of undemocratic regimes, adding that “the lack of scope for political and religious debate means that their basic ideology often remains unchallenged in the public discourse.” However, responding to Whitaker, Inayat Bounglawalapoints to Turkey as model for reconciliation between Islamic values and democracy. In his assessment, he writes that “across the Islamic world, polls have repeatedly found widespread support in favour of the implementation of both democracy and Islamic values.”
Moderate Islamism- Key to Democracy?
August 13th, 2010 by Jennifer
director of research at the Brookings Doha Center, argues
in a new policy briefing that the U.S. must reassess its policy toward moderate Islamist groups in the Middle East, or potentially see a trend of radicalization emerge. According to Hamid, major Islamist parties– in particular, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan’s Islamic Action Front (IAF), which operate within countries that are key U.S. allies and leading recipients of U.S. aid –find themselves in “a state of crisis” as they face both increased repression from the current regimes and internal party divisions. Under these circumstances, he points out, moderate groups are reconsidering their positions on a number of issues, including participation in and validation of crucial upcoming national elections in both countries. To support these groups and prevent the rise of more radical elements in their place, Hamid says that the Obama administration should take two important steps. First, it should “publicly affirm the right of all opposition actors, including Islamists, to participate in upcoming elections,” and back up this affirmation with “a consistent American policy of opposing not just the arrests of secular activists but Islamist ones as well.” Second, the administration must “empower U.S. embassies to begin substantive engagement with Islamist groups.” In Hamid’s estimation, though “the Obama administration has emphasized its belief in engaging a diverse range of actors,” thus far “it has failed to reach out to many of the largest, most influential groups in the region”– a situation that must be remedied.
Iran: Islamic Repuplic or Iranian Republic?
August 2nd, 2010 by Farid
Majid Mohammadi argues at Gozaar that the Green Movement in Iran has “reshaped the Iranian political factions” inside and outside of the country. Noting two different tendencies both inside and outside of Iran, Mohammadi writes, “One section of the movement pursues its goals within the framework of the existing regime and its constitution, while the other does not believe the regime is capable of reform and aims to overthrow the regime through a series of non-violent actions.” Mohammadi says that those in favor of working within the current system– Islamists –and those against it– secularists –are debating the vision of an Iranian republic vs. an Islamic republic. Describing the secularists as “revolutionary in substance,” Mohammadi explains that they “want regime change.” On the other hand, Mohammadi points out that Islamists do not hold the Islamic Republic responsible for the “misery of the Iranian people,” but rather hold “Khamenei’s regime to be a deviation from the original idea of the Islamic republic.”
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