Archive for January, 2011

News and Analysis (1/31/11)

Monday, January 31st, 2011

“The military command, which may be keener to preserve a 60-year-old system of army-backed government than to prolong the personal rule of the 82-year-old Mubarak, issued a statement on Monday calling protesters’ demands ‘legitimate'”:

Mohamed Nimmer offderes advice to Western leaders on how to avoid a repeat of past mistakes the West has made in the face of Muslim resistance to its home-grown despots:

To emphasize that it is not the leader of the current protests, the Muslim Brotherhood took “a back seat” at the funeral of its first martyr of the current unrest …

… yet, “Mubarak’s lie that … even the slightest weakening of his oppressive, authoritarian regime would result in the” Talibanization of Egypt is now “being peddled to Americans by people like Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, two men whose views on the role of religion and politics are almost identical to those of the Muslim Brotherhood:

Et tu, Sudan?

Both “Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad … had a great impact on Gandhi”:

Decision Making at a Crossroads of History: The Test to Western Leaders

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Decision Making at a Crossroads of History: The Test to Western Leaders

U.S. policy failures in the Arab and Muslim worlds are matched by instances of change in Muslim-majority countries that have taken Western leaders by surprise. Yet, in the most recent surprises, the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, the most powerful Western leader, President Obama, may still have a chance to change the course of U.S. relations with the Arab world–perhaps even the whole Islamic world. (Arabs represent less than 20 percent of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, but they are the largest ethnic group among them).

However, Obama and his aides need to stop shooting themselves (and America) in the foot. Vice President Biden should apologize to Egyptians for his defense of the imperiled dictator of Egypt. The Obama Administration should clarify its dealing with the Egyptian military chief, General Tantawi, who came for a short visit to Washington the day the Egyptian uprising turned into a full-fledged revolution (January 25, 2011) and left with no American public announcement about his trip. This man is in a position to facilitate Mubarak’s departure, as his Tunisian counterpart did with Ben Ali. Now his tanks and soldiers are in the streets of Egypt. The Obama silence on the nature of the visit could be interpreted by Arabs as double-dealing at a time that requires clarity. Holding the stick from the middle between a people in revolt and a falling authoritarian regime is neither ethical nor rational. Since the U.S. is intensely involved in the Egyptian crisis, the American government should reassure the Egyptians that Tantawi was advised not to use force.

The fall of Ben Ali, like the pending fall of Mubarak, shattered the myth that Arabs neither understand nor want democracy. Today they are dying to end dictatorship. Egyptians, like their Tunisian brothers and sisters, clearly want their oppressive regimes gone and their states remade in response to their nations’ aspirations. Any ploy to promote political figures from the old regime will face the same fate as the failing attempt by the Tunisian PM to refashion a government with personalities from Ben Ali’s junta. It is time to recognize that the U.S. and European alliance with Arab dictators is coming to an end. Managing the crisis with the old notions of stability while reality is evidently changing reveals impotence and lack of vision at a time when a new chapter of Arab political history is being written.

The stakes are high for America and the West, far beyond Tunisia and Egypt. Indeed, these two countries could be only the first cases in what history will know as the Arab anti-Dictatorship Revolution of 2011. The conditions of high unemployment and political corruption and police abuse that caused the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings are present in many Muslim-majority countries, particularly the Arab region. The expression of people power in Tunisia and Egypt is adding a significant new factor in the conversation about the possibilities of democratic change in the Muslim world. The abstract debate of whether Islam and democracy are compatible is now moot.

The changing Arab political culture compliments the existence of an institutionalized civil society, which is comprised of NGOs, professional syndicates and worker unions in addition to social movements. Moreover, different leaders of political parties outside the ruling factions have had dialogue on political reform since the mid-1990s. The growing capacity to organize explains the quick success of Egyptians and Tunisians to form self-defense committees to provide security when the police in their respective countries abandoned their responsibility. In Egypt, the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood looms large. Western governments have to learn how to cope with this growing Islamist influence. A serious dialogue with the Muslim Brothers should aim to move them in one of two directions: (1) become a Muslim democratic party willing to share power, or (2) follow the model of Turkey’s Gulen Movement, stressing a mission of service and fostering social harmony while allowing members to form or join political parties on their own.

But it would be a mistake to exaggerate the influence of Islamists. Rachid al-Ghannouchi, exiled leader of the Islamist Al-Nahda group, has returned to Tunisia. There were a thousand people waiting to welcome him—hardly an event comparable to the 1979 return of Khomeini to Iran. Al-Nahda will have its rightful place in shaping the transformation of Tunisia from dictatorship to representative government. Islamists could come to power in the coming period of representative Arab governments, but the emerging anti-dictatorial culture in the Arab world will check any authoritarian tendencies.

Arabs are achieving political emancipation despite brutal suppression. Connecting with the Arab masses at this critical juncture will only ease Western relations with future Arab governments. However, this requires abandoning the stereotype that Arabs only understand charisma and force. It also requires allowing the Arabs to abide by the results of free and fair elections and not have them overturned by outside forces as in the case of the Palestinian elections.

Mohamed Nimer
Assistant Professor of Islam and World Affairs
American University

News and Analysis (1/29/11)

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

As Mubarak insists on staying in power …

… and sends a message by naming his security chief VP (the first in his tenure as President) …

… the Israeli media is focused on the unrest  …

… and protesters win the battle in Alexandria:

Could an Egyptian style turnoff of the Internet happen in the U.S? Sen Lieberman introduced a bill to give the President “the president the authority to shut down the Web in a national cyber emergency”:

Two attorneys who were on the plane with the underwear bomber say the accused was being denied boarding for lack of a passport until “a man in a tan suit with an American accent” intervened:

News and Analysis (1/27/11)

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

As protesters persist despite police crackdown, ElBaradei returns to Egypt and demonstrations spread to Yemen and Gabon:

Anwar Ibrahim says Tunisia offers the U.S. “a lesson about the myth that secular tyrants and dictators are its best bet against Islamists. Revolutions … are born of a universal desire for autonomy. The common thread that binds the Iranian revolution and the Tunisian upheaval is the rising discontent of the people after years of suffering under oppressive rule”:

The leaked documents show that not only has the U.S. been “Israel’s lawyer” rather than an honest broker, but “has helped Israel entrench the occupation and sabotaged Palestinian democracy” and the peace process “is all a bluff. Mitchell has no cards up his sleeve, and the other players are no longer even at the table”:

The victim’s cousin told “AFP news agency that the incident occurred as they were farming near their village. He said one of a group of four settlers standing on a nearby hilltop opened fire, hitting Uday [the 18-year-old shepherd] in the chest”:

“The American national told us he … saw motorcycle riders and one pulled out a pistol. The man told us he then pulled out his pistol and fired in self-defense;” a “third Pakistani was later killed in an accident with a car from the US consulate that was sent to aid the employee”:

News and Analysis (1/26/10)

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Is Egypt following in Tunisia’s footsteps?

“The attacker can’t claim that he is defending himself;” Turkey challenges Israeli whitewash with a report of its own:

As the opinion of the UK’s senior minister in Iraq comes to light that “”What might have been an uneasy acquiescence was too often turned into anger and resentment by military tactics which were heavy-handed and disdainful of the Iraqis” …

… Al-Maliki positions himself to be the new Saddam Hussein:

VP of Chile’s Palestinian Federation calls “a US suggestion made in 2008 that Palestinian refugees be permanently resettled in Chile and Argentina … ‘contradicts our inalienable right to return to our own homeland’:

“With Iran’s extended family increasingly joining the ranks of power – first in Gaza, then Iraq and now Lebanon – there also comes pressure to moderate and make other compromises often required from those in charge”;

Rejecting defense  requests “for leniency in recognition of Mr. Ghailani’s alleged mistreatment during harsh US interrogations … the judge imposed the maximum sentence on the 36-year-old Tanzania national” saying anything he suffered “pales in comparision to the suffering and the horror he and his confederates caused”:

Bad news for Ben Ali: Tunisia has a bilateral extradition agreement with the Saudis:

Natural Law and Sharia

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

My paper on “Natural Law and Sharia” has been accepted for publication in the proceedings of the 2009 IIIT Summer Institute on “Contemporary Approaches to Qur’an and Sunnah.’  The Introduction is reprinted below and a preprint of the entire paper is available at

On Natural Law and Shari`ah

a paper delivered August 3, 2009

to the IIIT Summer Institute 2009

on “Contemporary Approaches to Qur’an and Sunna”

by Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.

Minaret of Freedom Institute


Contemporary writers are sharply divided on the issue of the compatibility of the notion of “natural law” as it is contemplated in the West with the Islamic concept of shari`ah. This issue was highlighted in last year’s IIIT summer seminar in contesting perspectives offered by a number of panelists, most notably in the views of Mahmood Ayoub and Robert Crane. I shall outline the historical development of both of these notions, explore the points of congruence and tension, and offer tentative conclusions about their reconciliation that should make a fertile starting point for continued discussion and analysis.

A principle issue is the fact that the understanding of natural law itself changed in the West between the time of the ancient Greeks and modern times. I shall argue that the stereotype of a “Western” understanding of natural law that has been uniform through time is fallacious and that, to the contrary, ancient and modern Western conceptions of natural law are in tension with one another in ways that parallel the debates in Islam between, for example, the philosophers and al-Ghazali.

I shall propose an analytical framework for understanding the issue in which we segregate the notion that natural law constitutes principles about nature that are logically unavoidable (epistemological rationalism) from the notion that it constitutes principles that are God-given (divinely dictated). I shall attempt to adduce Qur’anic textual support for the latter conception and then to demonstrate that this understanding is found in Islamic scholarship in opposition to epistemological rationalism. Further, by comparing the writings of al-Ghazali and Ibn Tufayl with modern Western writers like John Locke I shall argue that modern Western natural law theory is closer to the view of law as God’s word than to the ancient Greek notion of axiomatic truth.

Finally, I shall argue that not only is the debate of natural law vs. Shariah misframed, but that it is misguided in that the important debate today is between natural or divine law on one hand and positive or man-made law on the other. The important question is the one put to us by the Qur’an: Shall we be ruled by Allah or by men?

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

News and Analysis (1/24/11)

Monday, January 24th, 2011

To the distress of the Palestinian Authority, Al-Jazeera claims to have “more than 1,600 internal documents from a decade of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations”…

… that show “that Palestinian negotiators offered far-reaching concessions on borders and Jerusalem in 2008, but that their Israeli counterparts balked”:

As Israel further sabotages its relations with Turkey by exonerating its military for killing civilians during their piracy on the ships delivering aid for Gaza …

… Gazans  “accuse Israel of damaging the goods during security checks, or leaving sensitive medical supplies in the elements” making a mockery of its promise to deliver seized the relief goods:

“Hezbollah and its allies are willing to be part of a new unity government with their rivals in Lebanon’s Western-backed political bloc if the candidate they are backing [Lebanese telecom tycoon Najib Mikati] is chosen to be prime minister”:

Standing up to the imagined threat of Shariah law in America, New Jersey’s Republican governor Chris Christie appoints a second Muslim judge to the Superior Court:

Amid Pakistan’s rising intolerance, cheers for Veena Malik for demanding from her accuser “”What does your Islam say, mufti sir … [about issuing] edicts on the basis of hearsay”:

As Steven Emerson ironically accuses Peter King of “McCarthyism” for not inviting him to name names at the forthcoming Muslim radicalization hearings, King attributes his alineation from the Muslim leadership to their initial reluctance in the days after 9/11 to believe that the act was committed by their coreligionists:

As a teacher’s strike exacerbates the crisis in Tunisia, Minaret of Freedom Institute president Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad summarizes an expert panel’s analysis of

Oil isn’t the only point of contention in Abyei; as in neighboring Darfur, grazing rights are an issue: “The 2005 peace agreement promised the Misseriya continued grazing rights in Abyei regardless of whether the land ended up in the north or the south”:

The Tunisian Uprising and U.S. Relations with the Muslim World

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

The Tunisians uprising that began last month has already forced the country’s president out of office and lead to the formation of an interim government designed to oversee a new election. A panel discussion presented as part of American University’s “Washington Semester” program addressed such questions as:  Will this expression of people power yield the first democracy in the Arab world? Other Arabs are showing high level of interest. Tunisians are 98 percent Muslim. What do these dynamics mean for U.S. relations with the Muslim world? What should the Obama administration do?

Panelist Radwan Masmoudi, President of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy,  summarized how demonstrations started in the south but quickly spread to all areas. He remarked that Tunisia is often cited as a good student of the IMF and the World Bank, but that political reform did not match economic development and corruption was the rampant result. Tunisians are sick and tired of the promises President Ben Ali has made but not fulfilled since his inauguration. People fear Ben Ali’s party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), will “steal the revolution to stay in power.” Masmoudi, like all the panelists, expressed his opposition to banning any party. He argued that the Tunisian people should be allowed to vote on their future. He noted that Tunisia is homogeneous, all Arab and all Maliki Muslims. The main question is whether the secular elites dominating Tunisia will  recognize the Nahda party. Masmoudi feels that holding clean, free, and fair elections within six months is critical. Corruption is the main issue in every Arab country.  All panelists agreed that so far the army has sided with the people and declined to intervene. It is important also that the U.S.  should not take sides, but defend the rights of all political parties to participate.

Daniel Brumberg, Editorial Board Member of the Journal of Democracy , observed that the Arab world is “clever at liberalized autocracy” and for this reason he does not anticipate “a tsunami effect.” He is reminded of Chile and South Korea and effect of the emergence of a middle class. The downturn in the economy brings to a head the dissatisfaction with the regime. He argued that there are both structural and leadership preconditions for a revolt to turn into successful reform. A favorable factor in Tunisia, as compared to Algeria, is that there is a clear split with opposition.

Brumberg emphasized the importance of recognizing “necessary compromises,” as Nelson Mandela did in the reform of South Africa. He argued that one must begin with political pacts first within the opposition and then with the state. His opinion is that the U.S. must be really involved to facilitate the development of these pacts without tainting the process.

Noureddine Jebnoun, Adjunct Professor of the Center for Contemporary Arab studies at Georgetown University emphasized that necessity that the Tunisians themselves must feel ownership in any reforms. He also argued for an end to the “ambiguities that encourage cultural confrontation” between the West and the Arab world.

Neil Hicks, International Policy Adviser at Human Rights First, noted that for several years we have talked about an authoritarian backlash to democratization and asked if this is a backlash to the backlash. He reminded us that Ben Ali took power with a declaration the “November principles” but Tunisia is back where it was then. Tunisia was not a high priority for the U.S. It claimed to be a bastion of women’s rights and professed freedom of expression against incontestable evidence to the contrary. Corruption within the presidential family was well-known, but no one felt any urgency on this. He opines that the fact that the U.S. offered Ben Ali no assistance may reflect the low esteem in which he was held. His ilk must now feel this chill of legitimacy. He feels that this is a moment of great opportunity for us human rights efforts. He says this moment is different because it comes from the Tunisian people and not the U.S.

Masmoudi added that the significance of Wikileaks in these developments is that they showed the U.S. no longer supported Ben Ali. Brumberg warned that it is a mistake to confuse Tunisian cultural homogeneity with political homogeneity. Jabnoun pointed out that Ben Ali was the U.S.’s man in Tunisia even before he took power.

Jabnoun, who had taught at the Tunisian War College, attributed the Tunisian army’s exemplary behavior to the fact that it  is republican and liberal. He noted when Gen. Ammar refused Ben Ali’s order to fire on demonstrators, he was put under arrest, but the military remained loyal to him. He resisted his colleagues’ suggestion to take advantage of the situation to stage a coup and instead ordered his troops to comply with Ben Ali’s request to give him safe passage out of the country.

There was a consensus among the panelists that Tunisians want to trash the constitution and replace the presidential regime with a parliamentary regime. There is also a necessity to severely cut back  the security state apparatus. It is the police rather than the army that has been means of repression.  Tunisia has  180,000 police for a population ten million compared to 120,000 bobbies for England’s population of sixty million. Jabnoun suggested that the first step in cutting the security apparatus should be to put them under the justice department.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

News and Analysis (1/20/11)

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

“At the RCD headquarters, workmen were removing the large plaque from the outside of the building bearing the party’s name…. A mustachioed military officer whose unit was guarding the building told the crowd: “Translate this as you wish: the RCD is going away:”

It “has traditionally shunned violence in favor of gradual reform of society along religious lines. But the movement’s success in winning seats in parliament was reversed last November when official rigging of the elections result deprived the Islamic movement of a single seat”:

The Torah warns against building your house on sand, but with Israel denying Gazans cement and steel, the Palestinians are building houses with sand:

With Peter King planning to appear on a program whose host believes ‘Every practicing Muslim is a radical Muslim,” co-Founder, “Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue” and Religious Freedom USA Joshua Stanton says …

… meanwhile, a deputy police commissioner reverses himself admitting that a hate film he had denied had been shown to officers was actually shown twice by “mistake”:

In Europe anti-Islamic bigotry  “even passes ‘the dinner table test’, ie that comments directed against Muslims pass without question in polite society”:

As Turkey and Qatar follow Saudi Arabia in withdrawing from mediating  the escalating Lebanese crisis, Christian opposition leader Michelle Aoun says the opposition will not accept Hariri’s return as head of state:

News and Analysis (1/19/11)

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

King Abdullah warns “that the crisis could lead to the “partition” of Lebanon”:

The American judge tells “the government that it should make arrangements to allow Mohamed to return before the end of this week unless it could produce evidence against him”:

“Secrecy under veteran former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia, meant that the number of those detained for political reasons was never made public”:

Swiss officials ordered a freeze on any funds held there by Mr Ben Ali:

“[T]he player’s parents had to release liability before she could play in the second half”:

The accused claims innocence in the face testimony of fellow soldiers that he was “part of an eight-man firing squad that executed between 1,000 and 1,200 Bosnian Muslims at the Branjevo Farm in July 1995”: