Archive for May, 2014

Post-Revolutionary Islamism and the Future of Democracy and Human Rights in Egypt

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

[This is the third in a series of my notes on the 2013 International Institute of Islamic Thought conference on Islamic Reform Movements After the Arab Spring held in Herndon, VA. These notes have only been lightly edited and represent my perception of the discussion. The proceedings will be published by IIIT at a later time. Responsibility for any errors in the notes is mine alone. Names of participants (other than mine) in the general discussion have been omitted by request of the organizers.]

Post-Revolutionary Islamism and the Future of Democracy and Human Rights in Egypt
Islamism & Constitutionalism in Egypt: Before and After the Constitution

Abadir M. Ibrahim, candidate for J.S.D. at St. Thomas University

All states are made up of people who require for survival cooperation & coercion (police, military, courts, prisons, administrative structures), persuasion (divinity, sharia, democracy), and reward (war booty, slaves, land, bread, McWorld and TV) that make it better to live together than separately. We can compare states by analyzing their institutions (executive, judicial, legislative, administrative), agents/actors (elites, pol parties, pressure groups, masses/public), or environmental/structural factors (culture, religion, economy, int’l factors, resources).

What is democracy? Not Greek democracy, proletarian democracy, Khomeini’s ujamaa, no-party democracy, revolutionary democracy. Maximalists—most American Muslim scholars, as well as the Occupy movement, are in this camp—would say the US has yet to democratize. Minimalist definitions will call a state in which important decisions or decision makers are selected freely and fairly by the majority of adults.  This requires freedom of expression, etc.

Why the call for democracy in Islam? Why is it everyone wants to be a democrat? Khaled Abou El Fadl asks: Why not? Ghannouchi argues that the Qur’an doesn’t mention political ideology, but it mentions secular polities, like Yusuf and the Ethiopian King Najash over whom the Prophet prayed Janaza. [insert material from paper]

The politics of Egypt, rather than the text of the constitution, will demonstrate whether a democracy has been established. The text of Article 5 uses the term sovereignty of the people, which is distinctly democratic, but Article 2 says principles of Islamic sharia are the principle sources of legislation; yet in Article 4 al-Azhar is given a monopoly on the interpretation of sharia.

I have great concerns about human rights because it uses many words to say nothing. I used the phrase natural rights. Article 81 says, “rights are limited by ‘principles of state and society.’” Every time it talks about rights it talks about duties, as in the Cairo declaration of human rights, but no one clarifies what the duties are. International Human Rights law is given a very low status.

The drafting exhibits ineptitude and weakness. Freedom of religion and opinion is guaranteed by article 5 but insult or abuse of religious messengers or prophets prohibited by art insulting or contempt toward any human being is prohibited by article 31. Distinction of the people of the book is problematic. Do we need to protect the one hundred Jews in Egypt? What about the Shia, Bahai, etc.? Their existence is ignored. What of women’s rights? Article 10 is a quintessential example of how Islam can contribute, but there are many problems and the end product is a moderated majoritarianism.


Q: What about civil society and human rights? The notion of republic was corrupted in North Africa. The main western idea is human rights. Western modernity produced Nazism and Stalism. Elections are not sufficient. Even Saddam Hussein had an election that he won with 99.9% of the vote. Farabi dismissed democracy, as did Aristotle and Plato. It is the limits of government that we should learn from the West. It is a different point. The Egyptian government did not give as much power to religious elites as the Iranian did. Bashar Assad will be more qualified than his successor, but he has exceeded his time limit.

Ibrahim: I was thinking of the Indian constitution. Trained as a positivist lawyer I will agree that he US and Egyptian constitutions are not that positivist. Dubious jurisprudence is not clarified anywhere in the literature. Rights and duties discourse addresses not reciprocal rights but some other, in this case unspecified duties. It is true that the US constitution doesn’t recognize international law, but that is bad.

Ahmad: Democracy is not morally superior. As Thoreau observed, “[T]he practical reason why, when the power is once in the hands of the people, a majority are permitted, and for a long period continue, to rule, is not because they are most likely to be in the right, nor because this seems fairest to the minority, but because they are physically the strongest.”

Q: The Egyptian constitution is written by people who don’t really understand what democracy is about, but they do want accountability and empowerment (political participation). Democracy is not about documents. The notion of rights among religious people is not clear. The constitution should be to limit the power of the state, not of the people.

Q: The issue of rights and responsibilities was raised by Ben Nabi.

Ibrahim: Give one example of a duty.

Ahmad: Paying taxes.

Q: Tunisia is trying to have a consensus constitution. A constitution must aim at uniting a diverse society.

Q: Mubarrak claimed 99.99% support. He once challenged a humorist how can he make jokes about his regime when he has 99.99% of the support. “Believe me sir, I am not the source of that particular joke.” Which is the least evil constitution?

Ibrahim: Shurah is an example of “extended release” meaning in the Qur’an. Tariq Ramadan has done the best work on why democracy is the best system for the implementation of Islamic society, i.e., to promote good and discourage evil. I don’t think there is a single constitution that is the least evil.

Q: We speak of the Arab spring as if it’s over. Mao said a revolution is never a tea party. The Ikhwan have had the longest experience to exercise social power in society, but is the Ikhwan today the same as that under Hasan al-Banna and his successors? Probably not.  They were working towards an Islamic state to begin with and a pan-Islamic state like that envisioned by al-Afghani, but times have changed and values have evolved.  Islam and democracy can coexist but they are not the same thing.

Q: Unfortunately we have no access to the hundreds of hours of debate that went into the constitution that may give us a better understanding.

Q: I view democracy as a form of reasoning. I see democracy without democrats that is behind the ambiguities in the Egyptian constitution.

Ahmad: Taxes are not the flip side of a human right. It may surprise you to hear me say it, but I would prefer constitutions empower the state and limit the people, because where they are silent the power belongs to the people. What constitution would you start with?

Ibrahim: Just to answer that question will require more knowledge than I have at this moment. Even the Ethiopian constitution can be used as a starting point and I would not impose the American constitution on Ethiopia. The constitutional debate may explain a lot but it doesn’t excuse them. There are things that should have been put in the preamble.

Q: I think we are seeing not the end of history but the end of politics. We are seeing the end of capitalism because of its internal contradictions. There is no space to which the market can expand. Can we dare think of a post-capitalist future or shall we keep speaking about democracy.

Q: You sound like a positivist while the critical school is about questioning the foundations. If you are from the academy you suffer from a blind acceptance of the capitalist world view. I understand you are an absolute critic but that criticism could have been better distributed.

Q: Article 10 of the Egyptian constitution is something American feminists have been begging for.

Ibrahim: I prefer to discuss comparative studies not methodology. If my work is orientalist it is only as orientalist as Egypt, the MB, or the Egyptian constitution.  I use a positivist realist methodology because I think the Egyptian situation demands that. Critical studies was raised only because some critiques of the work were raised from that perspective.

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

News and Analysis (5/12/14)

Monday, May 12th, 2014

“Attacks include scurrilous media articles and the so-called Trojan Horse plot in Birmingham, which sees Muslim educationalists and school governors accused of plotting to ‘Islamise’ state schools in the city. The real Trojan Horse plot is the planting of neo-conservative apparatchiks in key positions”:

If “secularist revolutionaries are essentially waiting for a series of public apologies before they will even deal with the group again …, they’re likely to keep waiting. The group, in recent months, had begun internally debating the mistakes and missteps of the Morsi era …[,b]ut those discussions are so far being kept behind closed doors” …

… meanwhile, “Sisi refused to comment on mass trials and sentences against Brotherhood members,” on the one hand professing “the courts were independent” while similultaneously promising to crush “any religious leadership “parallel  to the state and its religious institutions”:

“The government of America is putting a lot of pressure on the Pakistani government for the release of Dr. Shakil Afridi…. Our mission and our wish also was to get him released, but our courts are free and they have to work according to a set procedure. I therefore did not like America’s unjustified pressure”:

“While such crimes are not unusual — a monitoring group found that 32 religious buildings have been vandalized or subjected to arson attempts in the past four years — the frequency of such incidents appears to have increased in recent weeks”:

One “idiot’s rationale seem[s] to boil down to his desire to ‘free’ Muslim women from their men, so that he could call them the names that he dishes out to every other woman that he comes into contact with…. And he wasn’t the only one either”:

As the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program climaxes in a cross-current of hopes and denunciations …

… we have to ask if America’s cavalier drone deployment has ended in proliferation of that controversial technology:

As Boko Haram continues it violent spree, the one thing that is certain about their abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls is how much is uncertain:

“In the past week, Chinese ­authorities have clashed with residents of the restive western province of Xinjiang, sentenced others to prison and announced new measures that critics say amount to religious and ethnic persecution”:

“Police officials described the debriefing team’s interviews as ‘conversations,’ as opposed to interrogations. But many of those interviewed said that as Muslim immigrants in a post-9/11 world, they felt they had little choice but to cooperate” demonstrating the department continues on people for their religion”:




News and Analysis (5/9/14)

Friday, May 9th, 2014

The court found that prohibiting inmates from gathering “in groups of more than four for unsupervised religious services” and providing “staff to supervise only one hour of religious services per week for each faith group …. violated Muslim inmates’ rights … and that they do not relate to a “legitimate penological interest”:

“Proposals to make EU laws more like America’s are ?hugely controversial … particularly among groups who say the opaqueness of the US system tramples human rights”:

“Abu Hamza’s decision is unusual. Defendants rarely testify in the US. Lawyers advise against it because the defendants may come across poorly during cross-examination. Sometimes, though, they speak. ‘He has nothing to lose,’ says Marc Sageman, the author of Leaderless Jihad”:

“The six powers and Iran are striving to find an acceptable compromise that would enable Tehran to carry on with … restrained enrichment, geared solely to yield energy for civilian uses, would be closely monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency”:

“Yemeni authorities on Thursday expelled without explanation an American journalist who for years has used his singular access to show the gritty realities of the country’s counterterrorism struggle, from profiling casualties of US drone strikes to revealing the US interception of Al Qaeda’s internal communications”:

“A court in Karachi today granted bail to Joel Cox, an FBI agent who was arrested Monday after he tried to board a domestic flight with a magazine of 9mm bullets. His detention sparked speculation in Pakistan that he was a CIA agent and triggered memories of Raymond Davis”:

The Asad regime holds 270 rebels in Homs after their comrades break the agreement under which they were to be given safe passage out of Homs:

Politicians, celebrities, Muslim religious leaders, and young Muslim girls are unanimous in their contempt for Boko Haram’ …

… but “Amnesty International says it was told by several credible sources that the military was given more than fours hours’ warning of the raid”:

News and Analysis (5/7/14)

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

With pressure building for action to save the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram and threatened with sale into slavery …

… it is important to recognize how the repression of the movement’s nonviolent founder led to the rise of its current terrorist leader …

… and it would help if the media would stop mistranslating “boko” as “Western education, when in reality it “is a word that came to be applied to a century-old British colonial education policy that many Hausa-speakers saw as an attempt, more-or-less, to colonize their minds”:

“Senator Rand Paul and the American Civil Liberties Union are threatening to derail the confirmation of one of President Barack Obama’s nominees to the federal judiciary until the Obama administration releases secret legal opinions the nominee wrote blessing the killing of US citizens without trial in extreme circumstances”:

“Andalusia was one of the wonders of what we now call multi-culturalism. The Spanish don’t want it back” — Robert Fisk:

Sisi’s campaign promise in the face of the economic disaster military appropriation and mismanagement of the economy is to force people to work “harder and longer” and to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood:

The “fiercely pro-business” newspaper has hypocritically “used the restaurant chain’s business decision to whip up another story” warning that “the eight million strong non-white minority groups will more than double in total to 20 million”” and ignoring the fact that Jewish and Muslim slaughter methods prioritise animal welfare“:

“Police have arrested three of the eight men and are hunting for the others. East Aceh police chief Lt. Col. Hariadi said those arrested are being questioned on charges of rape…. The criminal charge of rape carries a maximum penalty of 15 years”:

Erdogan’s demand for “the extradition of Pennsylvania-based Islamist preacher Fethullah Gulen … is very unlikely to be approved,” but its denial “is something which will help Erdogan domestically,” as it will permit him to parlay growing anti-American sentiment into votes:

“Recommendations, which are not binding, included scrapping exit visas which can prevent immigrant workers leaving, and giving legal protection against what Belgium said was ‘persistence of violence against women and girls'”:

“President Moncef Marzouki…, addressing Tunisian jihadis, said, ‘You are fighting an imaginary enemy’ and death won’t lead to martyrdom. He said the offer applies only to those who haven’t killed”:

News and Analysis (5/5/14)

Monday, May 5th, 2014

As Boko Haram’s reveals the depth of it s unIslamic depravity by threatening to sell the girls it has abducted into sexual slavery, the Nigerian government seems more interested in suppressing peaceful protests than in protecting innocent innocents from its violent enemies:

“The Syrian cease-fire holds even as the evacuation of rebels is delayed without explanation, but the rebels internecine warfare continues to threaten civilians:

“Even two-year-old children who could barely walk have been shot dead. I have never witnessed such scenes in my life” — state minister for border areas, Siddique Ahmed, “after visiting the affected areas that his government and the ruling Congress party had failed to protect the victims” …

… but the front-running BJP PM candidate Narendra Modi blamed the victims, calling them “infiltrators” from Bangladesh and warning them to “have their ‘bags packed’ if he wins the election”:

According to Iranian officials, the inspections will be the final steps in fulfilling the the United Nations’ demands”:

“The baby’s death was part of a rapidly expanding death toll and humanitarian crisis among the Rohingya, a Muslim minority that Myanmar’s Buddhist-led government has increasingly deprived of the most basic liberties and aid even as it trumpets its latest democratic reforms”:

Egypt was ranked “the third deadliest country for the press last year. Television stations were shut down, foreign television station offices were attacked, six journalists were killed, and more than 20 arrested, including four foreign journalists” for interviewing MB members  “or covering their protests and activities”:

News and Analysis (5/2/14)

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

The rejection of political expulsion sends a strong message that our revolution continues, without revenge,” Khemais Kessila of Nidaa Tounes was quoted as saying by the Reuters news agency. “It shows that we are avoiding any divisions”:

“Security cooperation and the peace deal with Israel are trump cards in Washington, whichever party is in power… Egypt’s current military leadership and their president-in-waiting … are betting that Obama is no more wedded to his democracy agenda than either Bush or Bill Clinton” …

… and a former senior intelligence analyst for the US State Department focused on the Middle East … connects the terrorism-first thinking on Egypt to the Obama administration’s mishandling of Iraq” …

… and Robert Kagan argues, “If one believes that any hope for moderation in the Arab world requires finding moderate voices not only among secularists but also among Islamists, America’s current strategy in Egypt is producing the opposite result” …

… but Michael Dunne takes hope in the fact that this “is the first time in 40 years any US administration has suspended military deliveries to Egypt for any reason”:

“Riot police in Turkey have used tear gas and water cannon to prevent demonstrators defying a ban on protests on Istanbul’s central Taksim Square. The Anatolia news agency said several demonstrators were injured and at least five detained”:

“Qatari women outnumber men 2 to 1 at university, but a lack of work opportunities used to mean that a college degree was the end game. That’s changing”:

“[M]utual mistrust between Shia majority and large Sunni minority appears to have been vindicated lately by reports that … reinforced a popular sentiment in Iraq that there are elements in Saudi Arabia who are masterminding what they consider to be a regional war against Shia Islam…

“The Ministry of Defence breached English law, Afghan law, human rights legislation and international law by allowing British troops to detain Afghans for long periods without trial, the high court has ruled in a judgment with potentially huge implications for military commanders”:

“At least 18 people, including 11 children, have been killed in two suicide bombings in the Syrian province of Hama, state media has reported”:

“Dubbed ‘A Million Woman March,’ participaSyria Hama ‘suicide attacks kill 11 children’ ()nts held signs reading ‘Find our Daughters.’ Speaking at the march in Abuja, a former Nigerian cabinet member Obiageli Ezekwesili said the military had ‘no coherent search-and-rescue” plan'”:

“[W]e would better cherish the memories of the dead if we could bury hatred altogether. Everybody can become partners in this, and for our own part we see clearly that unless justice is done for others it will not be done for us”:

The Plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

[These are my answers to a set of questions from a journalism student at the University of Maryland on the situation in Myanmar]:

Q. Why are the Rohingya Muslim minority despised by the rest of Myanmar?

A. Although the Rohingya claim to be Muslims indigenous to Burma long before it became Myanmar, the Buddhist majority accuses them of being recent immigrants from Bangladesh. However, this dispute is only an excuse for the Buddhists’ bigotry since historical records prove the Rohingya were present at least 25 years before the 1823 cutoff for citizenship in Myanmar’s constitution. A more plausible explanation for the persecution is that the Rohingya, being over 10% of the population, are a large enough minority that the Buddhists fell threatened by them.

Q. Why has there been a recent explosion between the Muslim Minority and the Buddhist Majority in recent years?

A. The recent violence began in 2012 when the rape and murder of a woman in Rakhine state was blamed on Muslims, leading to the indiscriminate revenge killing of ten Muslims. That this flareup was merely a manifestation of fear of the empowerment of a large minority during democratization is supported by the fact that the location of the flareup was a state in which the Muslims are about 25% of the population of Rakhine state, far larger than elsewhere in Myanmar.

Q. How is Aung San Suu Kyi significant to Myanmar politics? What do you think about her turning a blind eye to the suffering of the Rohingya community?

A. Aung San Suu Kyi is the most significant player in the democratization movement and thus her silence over the atrocities against the Muslims is disturbing as it underscores how even the most courageous politicians may feel the need to condone or acquiesce to the fear of large minorities.

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