CSID 19th Annual Conference

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CSID 19th Annual Conference Report:


Authoritarianism and Democratic Decline:

In the Age of Sectarianism and Populism

 
Thursday April 26, 2018
The Mayflower Hotel   
1127 Connecticut Ave NW,
Washington D.C.

 

The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) is proud to present this full report of its 19th annual conference in Washington D.C. that discussed “authoritarianism and democratic decline in the age of sectarianism and populism.” The annual meeting has become one of the most anticipated events in Washington D.C. In its 19th Annual meeting, the speakers gathered to explore democracy in the context of Muslim majority societies in an age where sectarianism and populism raise their ugly heads not only in the Middle East but in parts of Europe and the United States as well.
 
In her opening remarks, Dr. Asma Asfaruddin, the Chair of the Board of Directors of CSID, talked about the crucial role the center plays in studying Islamic and democratic political thought and merging them into a modern Islamic democratic discourse. Briefly, Dr. Asma addressed the history of establishing CSID in 1999 by a diverse group of academicians, professionals, and activists both Muslim and non-Muslim from around the United States. She mentioned the active branch of CSID in Tunisia which is promoting grassroots support among various sectors by maintaining a very active agenda of hosting lectures, conferences, seminars and training workshops and symposia on Islamic democratic thoughts, practices and related matters.
 
In his introductory remarks, Dr. Nader Hashemi, the Program’s Committee Chair for this year's conference, stressed the importance of questioning democracy in Muslim-majority societies amongst these depressing and disappointing landscapes that envelop this conversation. Hashemi addressed the impacts of the decline of democracy in the United States on the Arab and Islamic world not just as a result of Donald Trump’s policies, but as a connection between the rise of authoritarianism and the West and how that connection links up and reinforces authoritarian trends.

Panel 1: Egypt and the Contradictions of Liberalism

The first panel of the day was moderated by Dalia Fahmy, Associate professor of political science, at LIU Brooklyn.

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Dannish Farqui

Dannish Faruqi, a Visiting Scholar for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights at Rutgers and a Former Fulbright Recipient in Morocco, started the panel’s discussion about his book, "Egypt and the Contradictions of Liberalism", addressing the responsibilities of Egyptian liberal activists and intellectuals in giving rise to the counter revolution of 2013. Instead of explaining his book’s thesis, Dannish analyzed the language used in the Arabic Language press and the shocking unifying threads he found in its coverage. Faruqi criticized the gynecologist and political activist Mohamed Abou El-Ghar and the writer and journalist Ibrahim Essa’s ways of opposition to president Abdel fattah El-Sisi stressing that the two offered nothing to the most important political moments in Egypt since 2013. Faruqi also mentioned the Egyptian novelist Gaber Asfour, the former Minister of Culture, who, like, Ibrahim Essa spent part of the election week similarly expressing his sympathies at the passing of the novelist Ahmed Khalid Tawfik.
 
Faruqi went on criticizing Mohamed Abou El-Ghar’s justification to Sisi’s repressive regime and crackdown on civil society. According to Faruqi’s analysis, liberals in Egypt have learned nothing since the elections of 2011 and 2013 stressing on the necessity of rethinking their contradicted liberalism.

 

CSIDAndrew Miller

Andrew Miller, Deputy Director of Policy at POMED, thanked Dannish for shedding light on how liberal intelligentsia subverted democracy and human rights. In his assessment of the implications of Sisi’s sham elections on the future of the political spectrum in Egypt, Andrew made five major points about the elections and what it meant to the stability of the regime and president Sisi in particular. The first point was the ultimate outcome of the March presidential elections in which Sisi was reelected with over 97% of the vote that doesn’t provide a meaningful indicator of popular support for his candidacy. Sisi’s systematically eliminated all credible competitors to his reelection, he explained, putting all military and civilian candidates under heavy pressure while others were detained or arrested. With numbers, Miller showed how politically bankrupt this election was reflected in the reports of turnout of 41% which was lower than the 47% in 2014 and about 50% in 2012.
 
Miller made his second point on the way Sisi managed the outcome of the elections and his plans to control the country moving forward. The degree to which Sisi’s power is dependent on the military’s continued loyalty to his policies became apparent in the way he pushed out two military competitors by detaining Ahmed Shafik and arresting Sami Anan. In this speech, Miller explains, Sisi suspected that elements of the military were responsible for challenging his position which made him angrily denounce that he will not allow a scenario like 2011 to repeat itself. In his third point, Andrew discerned that Sisi is dependent on the military and that his survival will likely depend on whether he can keep the perceived cost of his removal higher than the perceived cost of his remaining in power. Miller added that the military’s continued support to Sisi would suffer massive damage if perceived so out of step with the public at large.
 
Andrew’s fourth and fifth points concerned the most immediate threats that might face Sisi’s regime and the specific conditions that might lead the military to take action against him. Sisi’s position will hinge on two challenges; the economy and the security situation in Egypt. In a country where over 30% of the population lives in poverty and the unemployment rate is around 33% while inflation remains over 13%, the situation is expected to remain troublesome in Egypt. Sisi’s policy is unlikely to deliver inclusive economic growth. Andrew added that although Sisi proclaims he has made progress in eliminating terrorism from the Sinai Peninsula, progress has been relatively short-lived. He concluded that the most challenging situation for Sisi is his ability to contain what’s taking place within the peninsula amongst the repeatedly terror attacks in Egypt. Even if Sisi was able to change the constitutional amendments to benefit his position and authority, there would remain so many potential external factors over which Sisi has little control such as the grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam or a global economic downturn. Either of which could destabilize Egypt and undermine his standing within the country.

 

 

CSIDAmy Austin Holmes

Amy Austin Holmes, an Associate Professor of Sociology at the American University of Cairo, focused her presentation on civil society and Sisi’s primary objectives that fundamentally altered the nature of the relation between the state and society. Amy said that the crackdown authoritarian regimes practice over civil society is not something new in the autocrats’ handbook, but Sisi’s cracking on independent organizations that entirely adhere to the governmental objectives is what’s new in this era. Even Mubarak allowed NGOs and civil society initiatives and to some extent social movements to exist. In Sisi’s regime, no one is capable of doing so even organizations that try to operate entirely within the scope of the state’s plans and that are only asking for rights already stipulated in the Egyptian constitution. These organizations are harassed and shut down, their activists are arrested and imprisoned for no obvious reason but shutting down all reformists. 
 
In Amy’s research on civil society in Egypt, she found out that civil society organizations that advocate upholding the existing laws on underage marriage in Egypt and are not challenging the regime are being harassed and deprived from receiving funds. Another example Amy made was a Coptic Christian Association that promotes understanding between Christians and Muslims to combat sectarianism which is also being prosecuted and harassed by the government.
 
As part of her research, Amy made a trip to Aswan in an attempt to gather facts and findings about Nubians who were displaced from their lands at the time of Nasser which, according to the 2014 constitution, is illegal. Holmes made her visit when two dozen Nubians were arrested, imprisoned, and kept at a facility run by the central security forces in Aswan. One of those people was Gamal Sorour, the president of the general Nubian Union in France who was well known for defending Nubian rights before he died in November 5th in prison of medical neglect because Egyptian authorities refused to provide him with his diabetes’ medications. The state-controlled media launched a defamation campaign after the death of Sorour. Amy said that such attacks on human freedom dehumanize defenders of Nubian rights in the eyes of the public.

 

 

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Mohamed Elmenshawi

Mohamed Elmenshawi, a Washington-based foreign affairs columnist for Egypt’s daily Al-Shorouk newspaper and a Former Manager for Al-Araby TV, addressed the Egyptian and U.S. military relations and the role of Egypt as a strategic partner in the MENA region. Elmenshawi invoked the contradictions in the U.S. foreign policy toward Egypt that pushed the Arab countries into a peace treaty with Israel, while maintaining the same unfair and oppressive domestic policies in the MENA region.
 
Mohamed criticized the U.S. late reaction in supporting the Egyptian revolution back in January 25, 2011 which, according to Elmenshawi, carried a hidden message of support to Omar Suleiman, the Head of the Egyptian Intelligence. Mohamed pointed out to the lobbyists’ power in Washington D.C. in forming the U.S. politics such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Israel, and the impacts these lobbyists have over the political scene in Egypt.
 
Commenting on Egypt’s foreign policy, Mohamed pointed to the secret relations between Egypt, Russia, and North Korea and to what extent that could affect U.S.-Egyptian relations. He also talked about the 'intelligent' way followed by the current regime in controlling Sinai and suffocating civil society.


 
Questions and Answers:


Mohamed Elmenshawi said that al-Sisi learned a lesson after the removal of Hosni Mubarak which is to keep himself in a close relationship with the military establishment that he now represents entirely meaning that removing Sisi would mean removing the military’s upper hand over Egypt.
 
With regard to which country has the most influence over Egypt, Andrew Miller said that influence is difficult to measure as there is no country that could simply dictate terms to Egypt and elicit immediate response. Andrew believed that if Israel, Saudi Arabia, or the U.S. could sustain pressure on Egyptians for an extended period of time, they still secure certain types of concessions or gains in return. In terms of what the Egyptian military has learnt from predecessors, Miller said that the military is not a democratic or human-rights friendly institution that will change its way of governing and adhere to people’s demands by looking back to past experiences.   
 
Amy explained that she spoke to Egyptians outside of Egypt in the diaspora but for the sake of finding results for her particular project, she focused on NGOs and civil society associations within Egypt and primarily outside Cairo because, she said, this is where 80 million Egyptians live and their livelihood to a large extent depends on associations and charities helping increase awareness about basic issues such as underage marriage, people’s constitutional rights, or basic rights as citizens. Amy stressed that with these organizations even working within the scope of the draconian laws in Egypt, they’re still harassed and oppressed.
 
Miller argued that the U.S. government is a bureaucracy and bureaucracies admit the need to change policies very slowly. The United States tends to act once the die has been completely cast, Miller said. He also quoted Churchill’s popular saying that “the U.S. does the right thing after they have tried everything else” which according to Miller’s answer, remains the situation up to this point. However Miller referred to individuals in the State Department and the White House who are increasingly skeptical to Egypt’s value to the United States and the trajectory the country is on today. 
 
With regard to the culture of fear imposed by the military in Egypt, Dannish Farqui said that it is a palpable concern that figures under consideration are operating in a threatening political climate. These figures are championing for democracy in the liberal rule of law under very difficult contentious political terrains for lack of a better term. This culture of fear is hard to end under current circumstances, as Dannish put it.

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Panel 2: Interpreting the Iran-Saudi: Rivalry and Rise of Sectarianism


Dr. Nader Hashemi, the Program’s Committee Chair for this year, moderated the discussion on examining the relationship between the Islamic republic of Iran and Saudi Arabia amongst their current rivalry and its consequences on the politics of the Middle East. “The conflict in Yemen today is really in its essence a war between the two main sects of Islam over a seventh century struggle with respect to the secession of the prophet Mohamed” Hashemi quoted the prominent commentator and analyst of U.S. foreign policy Thomas Friedman. His read the nature of the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia as one of power and piety.

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Hussein Ibish

Hussein Ibish, a Senior Resident Scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington D.C., analyzed the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran as strategic and political rather than religious and sectarian. Hussein pointed to the struggle in authority within the Islamic world mainly between Saudi Arabia –which asserts authority based on history and geography of the custodianship of the holy mosque and its claim to be more Islamic than anybody else– and the Islamic Republic of Iran which claims to be the vanguard of popular uprisings in the name of Islam. Ibish asserted that the conflict between the two countries is an ideological patina on top of a struggle of power.
 
Based on these ideological struggles, the region to a large extent is divided as many sunni people tend to side with Saudi Arabia and its allies while Shia and other non-Sunni Muslims tend to side with Iran. 
 
In his comment on the U.S. decision to withdraw from the JCPOA, Ibish said that Trump’s attempts to have a deal with Kim Jong Un to denuclearize North Korea doesn’t indicate that he would go completely toward scuttling the JCPOA not just with Iran but with the other five signatories (the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany). Hussein mentioned the dangerous situation in Syria and the northern Israeli border in the occupied Golan Heights where Iranian and Iranian-backed forces including Hezbollah are becoming much stronger and entrenched in addition to jihadist groups such as ISIS which in turn lead the Israelis to be more nervous in the region.

 

Ibish also pointed to potential places of conflict in the region in the Iraqi Syrian border at al-Qa’im and Al Bukamal in addition to Al Houthi missiles that continue to fall on the Saudi cities which is one of the major irritants in the region and if that’s not stopped to extract the Arab expeditionary forces in Yemen, there might be a war there. Hussein stressed on the need for a bilateral dialogue between Iran and the United States and praised the recent policy of Riyadh in Iraq that started to engage in a non-traditional way to establish a dialogue with Iraqis. The same policy could be adapted by the United States in dealing with Iran and Saudi Arabia without the need to isolate a country to deal with the other to avoid worse disasters, Ibish added.


 

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Trita Parsi

Trita Parsi agreed with Hussein that most of the struggle happening in the Middle East now goes back to the absence of established balance of power since 2003. Parsi discussed the American policy in the region that still centers on adapting the dual containment policy of isolating Iran and Iraq while centering on the security of Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Egypt primarily.
 
Based on Parsi’s reading to the nature of the continued struggle in the MENA, it was George W. Bush who destroyed the American order in the region when he invaded Iraq thinking that he will be able to establish a new order, but all what he managed to do was destroying the existing order of the United States and weakening its influence to the point in which the U.S. no longer has the capacity to enforce a new equilibrium on the region. Historically, the idea of isolating Iran was not common, Parsi added, and there is now an opportunity for the U.S. to move towards a new balance that have an indigenous ability to sustain itself.
 
Dr. Trita, however, disagreed with Hussein about the current possibility of containing the danger in Syria, Iraq, and the occupied Golan Heights and explained his disagreement to the situation in Washington D.C. where John Bolton, who did not hide his desire for a military confrontation and Mike Pompeo are now on the U.S. political scene. Parsi said that the world is now dealing with unconventional administration that adapt a different logic in dealing with JCPOA. He assessed that Trump shows his willingness to walk away from any deal that North Korea would put forward unless it is the one he wants. As a result, he is showing himself to Kim Jong Un as the tough guy in the JCPOA negotiations and signaling his readiness to kill an existing deal with Iran.
 
Trita stressed that the era of excluding Iran from the regional dialogue is over which is one of the reasons why Saudis are not interested at this point to sit-down on the same table with Iran. Until Americans show their willingness to change their policies in the region, the situation will remain problematic particularly under Trump’s administration that tries to pave the way to a military confrontation.

 


 

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Mujeeb R. Khan

Mujeeb R. Khan, a Ph.D. candidate in the Dept. of Political Science at UC Berkeley, welcomed the fact that Hussein Ibish, Dr. Trita Parsi, and himself agreed on rejecting the primordial list theories, but criticized the consensus on valorizing the state as a unitary rational actor in the region in pursuing its interests for a balance of power. Mujeed distinguished between the nation and the state asserting that much of politics in the region is not propelled by the unitary state actor model but rather by regimes whereas the regime and the state are not necessarily the same thing.

 

For example, according to the neo-realist theories, a country like Saudi Arabia seeks to maximize its state capacity and military power –which was not the situation in the past for Saudi Arabia that preferred to keep its military in a weak condition. Khan went back to the Arab cold war, post ottoman empire, and Sykes-Picot agreement addressing that the movements that followed these times meant to modernize and secularize itself from the Islamic past. 
 
Mujeeb invoked the regional dilemma of sectarianism in the Middle East asserting that Iran did not start this sectarian trap but fell into it and advised Iranians to step back from this trap. In his reading to the current U.S. policy towards JCPOA, Mujeeb saw that even if Trump did not intend to escalate the nuclear negotiations with Iran, he hired the most fanatical people like Mike Pompeo and John Bolton.


 
Questions and Answers:


Trita’s answer to the first question about the U.S. change in policy towards Iran was that the first option the U.S. might be considering in today’s policies with Iran will not be military but rather killing the nuclear deal while imposing stricter sanctions and isolating Iran again. Trita explained that the belief behind this policy would likely aim to roll back Iran’s influence in the region and break its economy which was the same U.S. calculation in 2010 and 2011. However, Trita clarified, the United States discovered a new policy in dealing with Iran in 2013 when Americans accepted Iran as a nuclear power rather than going to war. In today’s U.S. policy, the situation might be different as Trump and his allies in the Middle East are increasing the economic pressure on Iran, but, as Parsi advised, the U.S. could still roll back and change the balance of power without going to war as Iran most likely won’t sit idly while all these sanctions are imposed.   
 
In his answer on potential solutions for the complicated relationship between Iran and Israel, Trita said that the era of secret relations between Iran and Israel is over, but, as Hussein Ibish pointed out before, this relationship is in a very dangerous phase. However, the degree of recklessness to which other parties have reached in the region doesn’t exist in the relationship between Iran and Israel. Both forces tried to have rules of engagement in Lebanon and they’re capable of having similar ones in Syria.
 
When asked about the effects this rivalry could have on the democratic transition in Tunisia, Hussein Ibish said that the impact of the Iranian-Saudi rivalry will be limited in North Africa and specifically Tunisia. Based on Hussein’s analysis, everybody will end up supporting the Tunisian experiment to a democratic system.

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12:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.   Keynote Luncheon


Why the Arab World Needs Democracy…

Now, more than ever?


Keynote Speaker:

Jamal Khashoggi
Saudi journalist, columnist, and author


In his opening remarks, Dr. Radwan Masmoudi, President of the CSID, welcomed Mr. Jamal khashoggi, Saudi journalist, columnist, author and the general manager and editor-in-chief of Al Arab News Channel, as the keynote speaker for CSID 19th annual conference. Dr. Masmoudi addressed khashoggi’s writings about human rights and democracy in the Arab world.
 

    

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Mr. Khashoggi started his talk about the debate of whether democracy is compatible with Islam. Jamal said that the issue of relating democracy to Islam rose with the start of the Arab Spring in 2010. He talked about the new ways in which Saudi Arabia is approaching modernity today like cinemas, arts, gender equality, opening up to the world to depart from radicalism and the attempts to get rid of religious establishments’ upper hand over people’s choices in life. Although these are great attempts toward modernity, Saudi Arabia still rejects any form of democracy in the country, Jamal said.
 
He also addressed the new narrative Saudi Arabia is using to reject democracy which is originated from a deep belief that absolute monarchy is the best way of governing in the country. According to Jamal’s analysis, Saudi Arabia sees democracy as a barrier that would stand in the way between great Saudi leaders and a prosperous future for the country. He explained that the Saudi government’s mindset in rejecting democracy is based on the belief that Saudis in particular and Arabs in general are not ready for democracy and, when cornered, they claim that Muslim brotherhood and extremists stole the experiment of democracy for their own interests.
 
Khashoggi mentioned that democracy in the region is under attack from salafists, extremists, and terror groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda. For that reason, he applauded the efforts made by organizations like CSID in advocating for democracy and freedom of speech and helping save the Middle East from drowning in dark ages of dictatorship. Mr. Khashoggi stressed that the only way out for the Middle East is choosing the path of democracy and getting over sectarianism. Khashoggi concluded that the lack of interest in the current U.S. administration to defend democracy in the region would makes it harder for activists and NGOs to continue their mission in demanding a just and a democratic system.

 


Questions and Answers:

Mr. Jamal khashoggi said that the gulf backing of counter revolutions will continue as long as Monarchies stay in power as they’re not revolutions-friendly institutions. They will be opposing any democratic movements in the whole region as they believe that they were "hired by God" to save these countries. Gulf states are specifically worried of any democratic movement in Egypt because they’re certain that it will have a long-term impact over their regimes. Saudis, however, lost a lot by not supporting democracy in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Syria which boosted Iran’s influence. 
 
No one now has an absolute monopoly of information today, khashoggi said. It’s hard to control people’s access to information in the age of social media but also stressed that that state-controlled media could have a great share in misleading people and creating false perceptions. The prevailing thought that dominates the way monarchies rule is that economic reforms will take the country in the right direction. They don’t want political freedoms or institutions. They only want to lead regardless of the consequences and that’s why they’re so much into into mega projects.  

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 Keynote Panel: Where is Turkey Headed?
Assessing the State of Democracy in Turkey

The Keynote panel was moderated by Prof. Asma Afsaruddin, Chair of the Board of CSID.
 

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Kemal Kirisci

Kemal Kirsci, Senior Fellow and Director at Brookings Institution, started his remarks on how Turkey was once a role model. Kirsci said that governmental reforms in Turkey started before the AK party, but Erdogan propelled the country in many ways when he formulated a wide coalition that included liberals, centrists, and Muslim Democrats. Kemal praised Erdogan and AKP for achieving a great deal of diversity inside the party. However, as Kirsci put it, Turkey stands in a completely different place today in terms of democracy and human rights.

Kirsci mentioned the similarities between Hungary, Poland, and Turkey in terms of how the three countries dismantled the constitutions of these countries and the rule of law. He addressed the pillar of democracy which is power and the determination to stay in power with the ability to feel Machiavellianism in one’s own genes while moving forward to maintain this power and manipulate the system. Kemal talked about the right of Muslims to elect a leader and then defer governance to the leader. He recommended the attendees to read about the law that paved the way to the referendum in April 2017 for the constitutional amendments.

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Gonul Tol

Gonul Tol, Director of the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute, addressed Turkey’s illiberal state-centric tradition that the AKP inherited and the role played by neoliberals in Turkey’s current drift into authoritarianism. Tol criticized the AKP narrative that the country is going through a difficult time especially after the failed coup in 2016 saying that Erdogan is using the failed coup attempt to justify the actions taken by his government against civil society and journalists that led to creating an authoritarian regime.

Tol also criticized the Turkish government controlling the media and social sphere on the internet and the intensified meddling of the government in the criminal justice system that was represented in reassigning judges, prosecutors, police officers. Tol also addressed the Turkish violations to freedom of expression and freedom of associations and crackdown on civil society.
 
Gonul addressed Turkey’s failure to change the terrorism law neglecting U.S. demands to change it. She asserted that the Turkish government is using the coup attempt as a pretext for clamping down on anyone opposing the regime. Gonul spoke about the detention of Othman Kavalah, one of Turkey’s biggest philanthropist and liberal activist, and the sentencing of Henri J. Barkey, American professor at Lehigh University.

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Harun Armağan

Harun Armağan, the Vice Chair of Human Rights at the AK Party, defended the AK party and its accomplishments asserting that the party has tripled its GDP in the last twenty years and that Turkey has managed to build three new universities since 2012. Harun mentioned the economic growth in Turkey which is the highest in Europe and Asia since 2017. He also mentioned the increase of the IMF’s estimate to Turkey untill 2018. However, Harun did not deny the concerns that professors, researchers, and policy makers raise about the current political climate in Turkey saying that some of these concerns are legitimate, while others are not based on evidence.

Armağan asserted that the Turkish government doesn’t violate people’s freedom of speech or journalists’ rights to practice their profession. On press freedom, Armağan addressed the diverse media atmosphere Turkey has with more than 50 nationwide newspapers published every day while 14 of these newspapers are published in other languages such as French, Germany, English, Kurdish, Armenian, Greek, and Russian and a total of 100,000 journalists working in Turkey and 150 foreign journalists from 40 countries live and report from inside Turkey. On the Judicial process, Armağan asserted that the Turkish government operates with checks and balances’ system. He concluded that the Turkish government is working hard to overcome the challenges facing the judiciary system to ensure a fair process during trials.   

 
Panel 3: Challenges to Democratic Consolidation in Tunisia

The third panel was moderated by Dr. Radwan Masmoudi, President of CSID.
 

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Oussama Essghaier

Oussama Essghaier, Member of the Tunisian Parliament and Ennahdha Party, talked about the transitional democratic process in Tunisia that started in 2011. Essghaier defined a couple of challenges that still face Tunisia in having a democratic system such as establishing democratic parties that contain different perspectives. He said that the Arab National party, for instance, is still affiliated to dictatorship regimes that try to suffocate democratic movements in Tunisia. Essghaier asserted that Elnnahda party is working hard to make sure younger generations have more opportunities to participate in political life. He also talked about the lack of consensus between parties in Tunisia and the society that is more based on conflict than compromises.

Finally, Essghaier addressed the threat of terrorism in Tunisia and the whole MENA region as a transitional barrier to democracy, and stated that Tunisia has made tremendous progress in fighting extremism and terrorism in the country, and has not had any terrorist attack since 2015. But employment and economic growth remain major challenges for the nascent Arab democracy.

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Khaled Chouket

Khaled Chouket, Member of the Executive Committee of Nidaa Tounes, said that the committee of Nida Tounes is running now difficult negotiations with the Union. Chouket invoked a couple of challenges faced by Tunisia that include the full implementation of the Tunisian constitution, security threats, economic, social, and political conflicts, and corruption.

 

Chouket referred to Ennahda and Nidaa Tounes as the main political parties in winning local elections. What put Ennahda and Nidaa Tounes in a unique position is the containment strategy they’re adapting to include independent candidates. The two parties now have more than 55 percent of candidates running for elections divided equally between women and men. In terms of terrorism and sectarianism, Khaled asserted that there is no place for terror groups or sectarianism. However, the situation is still difficult in some poor areas where young people get easily attracted to extremist thoughts and ideologies. Chouket addressed the necessity for changing people’s mentalities in relying solely on the state and teaching them to be more productive and entrepreneurial.

In conclusion, he said that Ennahda and Nidaa parties separated Islamic Dawah from politics and adapted a moderate conservative thinking while maintaining the Islamic identity of the society.

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Andrew March

Andrew March, Fellow, Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, interpreted the democratic theory as a successful story in Tunisia, a failure in Egypt, and a risk in Turkey which to a large extent has to do with political ideology and the individual interpretation of Islam and democracy. March revoked the idea of the individual conception of morality and human rights that couldn’t be quantifiable but also a non-insignificant factor.
 
He addressed a series of Islamic transitions that were formulated by Rached Ghannouchi and others before the revolution explaining that there is no single theory of democracy even in western thought. He articulated the complicated relationship between party ideology and the understanding of Islamic political theory amid a new constitutional order.

March referred to a number of important essays, speeches, and articles written by Ghannouchi that addressed some of the questions he was trying to answer. In Ghannouchi’s Public Freedom and the Islamic State book, the people and only the people are the source of all political institutions (الشعب مصدر السلطات). So, according to this claim, it is the political system being applied that is held rigorously to the standards of the rule of law. March also addressed the constituent authority of the people that is to a large extent widespread in classical Islamic theories. Based on that, the rule of the people is not only legislating on worldly (دنيوي) areas (areas that pertain to the merely public welfare (مصلحة), but also determine what aspects of the Islamic Sharia are to be applied in political life that was assigned to legislative and even public institutions that people participated in directly.
 
March pointed out to a couple of important aspects of Ghannouci’s pre-revolutionary political philosophy that are not represented in the post-revolutionary order. First, it is a perfectionist theory of political life as the purpose of politics is not just to manage conflict, get rid of terrorism, deal with the IMF agriculture policy, but to make humans better and create the ideal conditions for as many people as possible in which they could flourish. Second, unlike a lot of democratic theories particularly Madison or Montesquieu with a purpose of political institutions to balance ambition, power against power and to manage conflict, Ghannouchi’s democratic theory suggests that the purpose of all institutions is to represent and harmonize a certain kind of moral unity, so he sets a division between judiciary, executive, and legislative powers but they are meant to be united around certain aspects of moral purpose that are determined by Islam.

March compared that interpretation to the republic of virtue that in many ways is deeply democratic but it’s a democracy that both relies upon assumptions and aspires to self-governance of the people who are united around a conception of virtue and religious commitments. Finally, March interpreted Ghannouchi’s theory as a vision of democracy in which Sharia would remain sovereign –a deliberative Sharia that emerges out of institutions, public opinion, and the participation of the people in trying to figure out what is the appropriate representation at a particular time and place of this dialectic between text, traditions, and contemporary moment.

None of these values or aspirations appear to be represented in the 2014 constitution, Andrew said. Most of Ghannouchi’s thinking before the revolution and the Islamic thinking since then could be described as the arch metaphor for Islamic political thought in which people are God’s caliph (representative) and that’s why Islam is interpreted as “Dean wa Dawla” religion. What Ghannouchi’s philosophy established is the commitment to a radical kind of pluralism, March concluded.

EricCSID Brown

Eric Brown, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, spoke about the policy side of the democratic movement. Brown said that Tunisia is the only success story from the Arab Spring in a region where the largest displacement of humanity since the end of WWII exist. This makes Tunisia’s efforts to form itself as a civic republic impressive if not heroic. Brown empathized that the United States as another successful republic should deeply invest in Tunisia and come up with a strategy that sees far into the future of the country and helps create the conditions in which Tunisian patriots have the security, economic, and political conditions that build the republic and make it last. 
 
Brown stressed the need of individual freedom that produces great prosperity and the capacity for moral improvement. He pointed to the inescapable heterogeneity of human society and that the real challenge of politics is how to deal with that fundamental heterogeneity of societies, but if societies try to suppress this heterogeneity, they end up creating tyrannies and republics that keeps failing.

Brown brought up the importance of maintaining the heterogeneity of human nature in societies to explain the heroism of the Tunisian republic that is so profound when compared to what is in happening in the Middle East today. He argued that the United States has a strategic interest in seeing the Tunisian republic succeed because it shows the Middle East that there is another way of moving forward. Tunisia is not just challenging unprecedented and ideological convulsion in the Middle East, but also the anti-republicanism that could be seen in Sisi’s government in Egypt and even in Erdogan’s government in Turkey.
 
Brown also criticized the selfish strategy adapted by the United States in the Middle East that must come to an end to see the MENA as a livable region again. From a practical perspective, Brown asserted that one of the things that are making the democratic transition a tough experience in Tunisia is the failure of politics and the disputes between and within the parties which is making it very difficult to drive forward the deep structural reforms which Tunisia desperately needs to consolidate its republic. So, based on Brown’s analysis, the role the United States can play in helping Tunisians is creating the best possible circumstances for sovereignty, but not in a limited fashion by focusing on the security side of things. Brown ended his presentation by stressing on the importance of developing the U.S. diplomacy with its allies particularly in the GCC states.

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Panel 4: Islamic Politics, Populism, and Coalition Building


The moderator of the fourth and final panel of the conference was Qamar-ul Huda, Director of Security & Violent Extremism, at the Center for Global Policy (CGP).
 

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Dalia Fahmy

Dalia Fahmy, Associate Professor of Political Science at Long Island University, said that Egypt has a more strategic importance to the United States than any other country in the region, and so the stability of Egypt militarily and ideologically has a greater relevance to the way the U.S adapts its policies for regional stability. Dalia talked about the role the U.S. played during the transitional moment as the army was stepping in and the same military relation the U.S. maintained as before the Arab Spring broke down. 
 
Fahmy revoked the “let’s deal with the devil we know versus the devil we don’t know” long-time adapted strategy by the United States in the Middle East that was reused before, during, and after the Arab Spring not just in Egypt, but in the whole MENA region. Fahmy said that using the U.S. military aid as a mitigator in so many different aspects such as Camp David accord in directing Egypt’s domestic and foreign policies must come to an end. 
 
Fahmy concluded her presentation by pointing to the high level of impunity in the U.S. policy to undemocratic actors in the region which is happening now in a very interesting way under president Trump, as Fahmy put it. Fahmy quoted Trump’s phrase about Sisi when he said “Sisi is a fantastic guy” asserting that praising authoritarian regimes and elected autocrats doesn’t signal any support to the Egyptian people or to civil society.


CSID

Colin Powers

Colin Powers, PhD candidate at Johns Hopkins University, spoke about the threat of the young emergent democracies born in 2010 and 2011 since Arabs revolted. Some factors like the Sisi’s counter-revolution in Egypt or the Saudis sponsored repression in Bahrain are tactile and ambiguous. Colin addressed the need for sociological imagination to interpret the meaning or effects of Saudis’ tanks and evaluating how bulldozing the pearl roundabout speaks to democracy’s future in the domain of the Khalifa, the massacre in Rabaa square, and Morsi’s imprisonment. 
 
Powers focused on the subtle threats to democracy in the contemporary Middle East mentioning the Tunisian transition as a case study. He argued that democratic consolidation in the home of the Jasmine revolution remains precarious and fragile and contended that this is a consequence of the country’s experience with liberal democratization in structuring, regulating, ordering, and disciplining the transition. Powers invoked the point of liberal democratization as a collaborative project jointly engineered by international and domestic actors that has functioned to do two things; hollow-out Tunisian democracy and excise economic policymaking from the remit of both elected officials and popularly accountable majoritarian institutions more generally.
 
Powers explained why installing a democracy that is elite-managed and non-sovereign –at least vis a vis the economy – could translate into policy outcomes severing or weakening the basic linkages that are constitutive of popular rule through connecting society to party and society to state. As he put it, the FDI dependent market on the global periphery will not deliver the labor productivity gains, the requisite investment, or the high value added to exports that are needed to power sustainable and equitable economic progress. Liberal democratization’s devotion to neoliberalism renders Tunisia’s new democracy permanently unstable and guarantees that it will endlessly get subverted by social dislocation, unemployment deprivation and resentment.
 
Powers recognized that unlike the post-communist transitions that were to a considerable extent undertaken in the name of political liberalization, the Arab Spring revolted for different reasons. The revolts of 2010 and 2011 were a rather direct reaction against the region’s experience with capitalism and that was verified in the principles and slogans around which protesters were organized; bread, freedom, dignity, and social justice. Powers found many of the traditional debates on Islamism and politics in the Middle East a little more of a showcase for orientalist dog whistling and a lazy trope in Tunisia’s case. He concluded that one cannot understand the fragility of Tunisia’s political, social, and economic future as more than 207 protests and riots recorded between January 1st and March 22nd of this year alone and the dissatisfaction revealed in public opinion data and the energy of anti-system political actors by Salafists and leftists, or in the decline in voter participations between 2011 and 2014 apart from the country’s experience with liberal democratization in reproducing and revitalizing economic policies that can’t help but generate social dislocation, inequality, and low growth in disenfranchising revolutionary actors.

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Deina Abdelkader

Deina Abdelkader, Associate Professor of Middle Eastern/ Muslim World Politics at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, hypothesized the causal relation between the actors involved in social change and the transition to democracy whether it’s from below or from above to a more of a democratic transition. Abdelkader addressed oppressing social movements and civil society in the Middle East and mentioned that a lot of problems related to oppressing social movements and civil society organizations are apparent now within various degrees in the region besides the lack of major political openness.
 
Abdelkader’s presentation analyzed how societies operate through those restricted spaces that aspire for political rights. Her talk went in total disagreement with the so-called cultural exceptionalism as an explanation of the social movement in the Arab Spring. As a political player, the Egyptian military is involved in regional politics with the United States, Abdelkader explained. In addition, she examined the relationship between Egyptians and the military as an intriguing one because although the army was repeatedly defeated over the years, images of nationalism have played different roles in Egypt. She addressed the power of military propaganda in claiming victory in each war they lost through controlling media, art, and most importantly education.
 
Abdelkader explained the army’s relentless hold on power that led Hosni Mubarak to establish a strong police force in his attempt to hand over power to his civilian son and protect his own tyranny from the military. The other factor that affects the existential conflict is the economy. From everything in the country, Deina said, like housewares and military gear production to farming and tourism, the revenue from these enterprises goes straight to the military’s pockets without any degree of state oversight. Abdelkader also explainined that U.S. arm sales and financial aid to Egypt are still given in the same fashion to a regime involved in a bloodshed and incredible human rights violations.

Although the U.S. has been funding the military, Egyptians have not received any funds that enhance civilian control or promote democracy in their country. Abdelkader concluded that the imbalance of power between the military and civilian institutions in Sisi’s era is unheard of and this is not how democratic transitions work to create a civilian society.


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Tahir Kilavuz

Tahir Kilavuz, a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame, stressed the necessity of collaboration during difficult transitional times. He distinguished between authoritarian breakdowns and democratic movements. Not all revolutions lead to democracy as the process of building democracy is more than toppling a dictator, Kilavuz explained. He provided more clarity to the term “cooperation” as a dynamic process in strategic calculations in moving toward tangible social and democratic change.

Kilavuz compared “cooperation” to a game in which different groups try to benefit and then compromise the benefits they get. In the Middle East, Tahir said that the first interactions usually happen between Islamists and secularists opposition actors and then they move to interact with the regime. He stressed the importance of having the same level of cooperation back between Islamists and secularists to make it more likely for the regime to co-operate with all political actors. Kilavuz also talked about the importance of establishing credibility when different groups come together for an opposition coalition under the reign of authoritarian regimes.
 

 
Questions and Answers:


Kilavuz’s answer to the lack of collaboration between secularists and Islamists applies specifically to Egypt as there was no coalition building efforts similar to the Tunisian case before 2011. Both sides, secularists and Islamists, claim that they were willing to dialogue and negotiate, but that was not what happened on the ground and so when both parties sat with the regime or with the military, there was no clear strategy to deal with it and eliminate its control over political life.
 
Fahmy said that the problem of the U.S. policy in Egypt is related to the fact that the U.S. has confused access with influence. She explained that the U.S. no longer has influence over the Egyptian military, but has access in a way that doesn’t benefit Egyptians. 
 
In Powers’s answer to why people think democracies must have economic benefits and how much could that be problematic in a transitional moment, he explained that he did not argue that the outcomes should be purely economic and that was not what he intended in his talk. But certainly, there was an absolute aspiration for political liberty that should be accompanied by economic reforms, he said. Egypt for instance, Powers explained, had more than 10 thousand labor actions between 2003 and 2011, so excluding basic questions of economy from the grievances that were sort of underlying popular frustration is not fair. However, Powers agreed that this way of analysis might be problematic, but he can’t decide how people are evaluating democracy. So, he reflects of how in a lot of transitional democracies, there is this belief that material gains must be delivered as the performance of the government is read as the performance of democracy wit large. 
 
At the conclusion of the conference, Dr. Masmoudi said that the struggle for democracy continues and it is a long path that deserves the effort and stressed that all countries should learn from past mistakes and work toward realizing democratic and just systems in the Middle East. Masmoudi thanked everyone for coming to the conference wishing for a better future in the Middle East and all countries that still struggle for basic human rights.


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Co-Sponsored by:
 
 

CSID

 

 

 

  • Dr. Asma Afsaruddin

    Asma Afsaruddin is Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures in the School of Global and International Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington and Chair of the Board of Directors of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID).

  • Dalia Fahmy

    Dr. Dalia Fahmy is Associate Professor of Political Science at Long Island University where she teaches courses on US Foreign Policy, World Politics, International Relations, Military and Defense Policy, Causes of War, and Politics of the Middle East. Dr.

  • Khaled Chouket

    Dr. Khaled Chouket, is a former Tunisian minister and deputy and one of the current leaders of Nidaa Tounes Party. Born in Sfax in 1969. Graduated in International law and political sciences from Oujda university in Morocco and Leiden university in the Netherlands.

  • Jamal Khashoggi

    A contributor to the Washington Post’s Global Opinions, Jamal began his career as a correspondent for the English language Saudi Gazette. Between 1987-90,

  • Amy Holmes

    Amy Austin Holmes is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the American University in Cairo. She began teaching there in 2008, after finishing her PhD at Johns Hopkins University. She has been awarded fellowships from Harvard University, Brown University, and was a Fulbright scholar in Germany.

  • Mohamed Elmenshawy

    Mohamed Elmenshawy is Washington-based political commentator / journalist focusing on U.S. and major Middle East issues. Elmenshawy held senior positions with respected Arab media outlets such as Alaraby TV, Shorouk News and Taqrir Washington.  

  • Andrew Miller

    Andrew is the deputy director for policy at the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) and a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He has nearly 10 years of experience working on the Middle East for the U.S.

  • Hussein Ibish

    Hussein Ibish is a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. He is a weekly columnist for The National (UAE) and is also a regular contributor to many other U.S. and Middle Eastern publications.

  • Trita Parsi

    Trita Parsi is an award winning author and the 2010 recipient of the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. He is the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council and an expert on US-Iranian relations, Iranian foreign politics, and the geopolitics of the Middle East.

  • Nader Hashemi

    Nader Hashemi is the Director of the Center for Middle East Studies and an Associate Professor of Middle East and Islamic Politics at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.

  • Dr. Radwan Masmoudi

    Radwan A. Masmoudi is the Founder and President of the Center of the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID), a Washington-based non-profit think tank dedicated to promoting democracy in the Muslim world. Radwan is also Advisor to Sheikh Rached Ghannouchi on US-Tunisian Relations.

  • Andrew March

    Andrew F. March is a Berggruen Fellow at the Edmond J Safra Center for Ethics, and Law and Social Change Fellow at the Islamic Legal Studies Program, Harvard University.

  • Eric Brown

    Tunisia and the U.S. Must Stick Together

  • Colin Powers

    Colin Powers is a PhD candidate at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. His research interests primarily concern political Islam, Islamist economics, the international political economy of (under)development, and neoliberalism’s effects on democracy.

  • Deina Abdelkader

    Deina Abdelkader is an Associate Professor in the Political Science Department, a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University (2016-current), previously a Visiting Scholar at Alwaleed Islamic Studies Program, Harvard University (2014-2016).

  • Emrah Celik

    Emrah Çelik received his PhD at Keele University, United Kingdom in 2015. The PhD research was on negotiation of Muslim identities, expressions, and practices in the modern secular world specifically in Turkey among university students.

  • M. Tahir Kilavuz

    He is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame.

  • Kemal Kirisci

    Kemal Kirişci is the TÜSİAD senior fellow and director of the Center on the United States and Europe's Turkey Project at Brookings, with an expertise in Turkish foreign policy and migration studies.

  • Shirin Saeidi

    Part-time lecturer at George Mason University George Mason University. She recently completed my post-doctoral fellow at the Kate Hamburger Kolleg Center for Global

  • Oussama Sghaier

    Mr. Oussama Sghaier was elected to serve on the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) in October 2011. During his time in the NCA, Mr.

  • Gonul Tol

    Gönül Tol is the founding director of The Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies. She is also an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Institute for Middle East Studies.

  • Harun Armağan

    Harun Armagan is At the k Party Deputy Chairman of Human Rights, and previously served as spokesman for Turkey's ruling AK Party.

CSID

CSID 19th Annual Conference Report:


Authoritarianism and Democratic Decline:

In the Age of Sectarianism and Populism

 
Thursday April 26, 2018
The Mayflower Hotel   
1127 Connecticut Ave NW,
Washington D.C.

 

The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) is proud to present this full report of its 19th annual conference in Washington D.C. that discussed “authoritarianism and democratic decline in the age of sectarianism and populism.” The annual meeting has become one of the most anticipated events in Washington D.C. In its 19th Annual meeting, the speakers gathered to explore democracy in the context of Muslim majority societies in an age where sectarianism and populism raise their ugly heads not only in the Middle East but in parts of Europe and the United States as well.
 
In her opening remarks, Dr. Asma Asfaruddin, the Chair of the Board of Directors of CSID, talked about the crucial role the center plays in studying Islamic and democratic political thought and merging them into a modern Islamic democratic discourse. Briefly, Dr. Asma addressed the history of establishing CSID in 1999 by a diverse group of academicians, professionals, and activists both Muslim and non-Muslim from around the United States. She mentioned the active branch of CSID in Tunisia which is promoting grassroots support among various sectors by maintaining a very active agenda of hosting lectures, conferences, seminars and training workshops and symposia on Islamic democratic thoughts, practices and related matters.
 
In his introductory remarks, Dr. Nader Hashemi, the Program’s Committee Chair for this year's conference, stressed the importance of questioning democracy in Muslim-majority societies amongst these depressing and disappointing landscapes that envelop this conversation. Hashemi addressed the impacts of the decline of democracy in the United States on the Arab and Islamic world not just as a result of Donald Trump’s policies, but as a connection between the rise of authoritarianism and the West and how that connection links up and reinforces authoritarian trends.

Panel 1: Egypt and the Contradictions of Liberalism

The first panel of the day was moderated by Dalia Fahmy, Associate professor of political science, at LIU Brooklyn.

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Dannish Farqui

Dannish Faruqi, a Visiting Scholar for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights at Rutgers and a Former Fulbright Recipient in Morocco, started the panel’s discussion about his book, "Egypt and the Contradictions of Liberalism", addressing the responsibilities of Egyptian liberal activists and intellectuals in giving rise to the counter revolution of 2013. Instead of explaining his book’s thesis, Dannish analyzed the language used in the Arabic Language press and the shocking unifying threads he found in its coverage. Faruqi criticized the gynecologist and political activist Mohamed Abou El-Ghar and the writer and journalist Ibrahim Essa’s ways of opposition to president Abdel fattah El-Sisi stressing that the two offered nothing to the most important political moments in Egypt since 2013. Faruqi also mentioned the Egyptian novelist Gaber Asfour, the former Minister of Culture, who, like, Ibrahim Essa spent part of the election week similarly expressing his sympathies at the passing of the novelist Ahmed Khalid Tawfik.
 
Faruqi went on criticizing Mohamed Abou El-Ghar’s justification to Sisi’s repressive regime and crackdown on civil society. According to Faruqi’s analysis, liberals in Egypt have learned nothing since the elections of 2011 and 2013 stressing on the necessity of rethinking their contradicted liberalism.

 

CSIDAndrew Miller

Andrew Miller, Deputy Director of Policy at POMED, thanked Dannish for shedding light on how liberal intelligentsia subverted democracy and human rights. In his assessment of the implications of Sisi’s sham elections on the future of the political spectrum in Egypt, Andrew made five major points about the elections and what it meant to the stability of the regime and president Sisi in particular. The first point was the ultimate outcome of the March presidential elections in which Sisi was reelected with over 97% of the vote that doesn’t provide a meaningful indicator of popular support for his candidacy. Sisi’s systematically eliminated all credible competitors to his reelection, he explained, putting all military and civilian candidates under heavy pressure while others were detained or arrested. With numbers, Miller showed how politically bankrupt this election was reflected in the reports of turnout of 41% which was lower than the 47% in 2014 and about 50% in 2012.
 
Miller made his second point on the way Sisi managed the outcome of the elections and his plans to control the country moving forward. The degree to which Sisi’s power is dependent on the military’s continued loyalty to his policies became apparent in the way he pushed out two military competitors by detaining Ahmed Shafik and arresting Sami Anan. In this speech, Miller explains, Sisi suspected that elements of the military were responsible for challenging his position which made him angrily denounce that he will not allow a scenario like 2011 to repeat itself. In his third point, Andrew discerned that Sisi is dependent on the military and that his survival will likely depend on whether he can keep the perceived cost of his removal higher than the perceived cost of his remaining in power. Miller added that the military’s continued support to Sisi would suffer massive damage if perceived so out of step with the public at large.
 
Andrew’s fourth and fifth points concerned the most immediate threats that might face Sisi’s regime and the specific conditions that might lead the military to take action against him. Sisi’s position will hinge on two challenges; the economy and the security situation in Egypt. In a country where over 30% of the population lives in poverty and the unemployment rate is around 33% while inflation remains over 13%, the situation is expected to remain troublesome in Egypt. Sisi’s policy is unlikely to deliver inclusive economic growth. Andrew added that although Sisi proclaims he has made progress in eliminating terrorism from the Sinai Peninsula, progress has been relatively short-lived. He concluded that the most challenging situation for Sisi is his ability to contain what’s taking place within the peninsula amongst the repeatedly terror attacks in Egypt. Even if Sisi was able to change the constitutional amendments to benefit his position and authority, there would remain so many potential external factors over which Sisi has little control such as the grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam or a global economic downturn. Either of which could destabilize Egypt and undermine his standing within the country.

 

 

CSIDAmy Austin Holmes

Amy Austin Holmes, an Associate Professor of Sociology at the American University of Cairo, focused her presentation on civil society and Sisi’s primary objectives that fundamentally altered the nature of the relation between the state and society. Amy said that the crackdown authoritarian regimes practice over civil society is not something new in the autocrats’ handbook, but Sisi’s cracking on independent organizations that entirely adhere to the governmental objectives is what’s new in this era. Even Mubarak allowed NGOs and civil society initiatives and to some extent social movements to exist. In Sisi’s regime, no one is capable of doing so even organizations that try to operate entirely within the scope of the state’s plans and that are only asking for rights already stipulated in the Egyptian constitution. These organizations are harassed and shut down, their activists are arrested and imprisoned for no obvious reason but shutting down all reformists. 
 
In Amy’s research on civil society in Egypt, she found out that civil society organizations that advocate upholding the existing laws on underage marriage in Egypt and are not challenging the regime are being harassed and deprived from receiving funds. Another example Amy made was a Coptic Christian Association that promotes understanding between Christians and Muslims to combat sectarianism which is also being prosecuted and harassed by the government.
 
As part of her research, Amy made a trip to Aswan in an attempt to gather facts and findings about Nubians who were displaced from their lands at the time of Nasser which, according to the 2014 constitution, is illegal. Holmes made her visit when two dozen Nubians were arrested, imprisoned, and kept at a facility run by the central security forces in Aswan. One of those people was Gamal Sorour, the president of the general Nubian Union in France who was well known for defending Nubian rights before he died in November 5th in prison of medical neglect because Egyptian authorities refused to provide him with his diabetes’ medications. The state-controlled media launched a defamation campaign after the death of Sorour. Amy said that such attacks on human freedom dehumanize defenders of Nubian rights in the eyes of the public.

 

 

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Mohamed Elmenshawi

Mohamed Elmenshawi, a Washington-based foreign affairs columnist for Egypt’s daily Al-Shorouk newspaper and a Former Manager for Al-Araby TV, addressed the Egyptian and U.S. military relations and the role of Egypt as a strategic partner in the MENA region. Elmenshawi invoked the contradictions in the U.S. foreign policy toward Egypt that pushed the Arab countries into a peace treaty with Israel, while maintaining the same unfair and oppressive domestic policies in the MENA region.
 
Mohamed criticized the U.S. late reaction in supporting the Egyptian revolution back in January 25, 2011 which, according to Elmenshawi, carried a hidden message of support to Omar Suleiman, the Head of the Egyptian Intelligence. Mohamed pointed out to the lobbyists’ power in Washington D.C. in forming the U.S. politics such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Israel, and the impacts these lobbyists have over the political scene in Egypt.
 
Commenting on Egypt’s foreign policy, Mohamed pointed to the secret relations between Egypt, Russia, and North Korea and to what extent that could affect U.S.-Egyptian relations. He also talked about the 'intelligent' way followed by the current regime in controlling Sinai and suffocating civil society.


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 CSID 19th Annual Conference Panel 1 Mohamed Elmenshawwy

 
Questions and Answers:


Mohamed Elmenshawi said that al-Sisi learned a lesson after the removal of Hosni Mubarak which is to keep himself in a close relationship with the military establishment that he now represents entirely meaning that removing Sisi would mean removing the military’s upper hand over Egypt.
 
With regard to which country has the most influence over Egypt, Andrew Miller said that influence is difficult to measure as there is no country that could simply dictate terms to Egypt and elicit immediate response. Andrew believed that if Israel, Saudi Arabia, or the U.S. could sustain pressure on Egyptians for an extended period of time, they still secure certain types of concessions or gains in return. In terms of what the Egyptian military has learnt from predecessors, Miller said that the military is not a democratic or human-rights friendly institution that will change its way of governing and adhere to people’s demands by looking back to past experiences.   
 
Amy explained that she spoke to Egyptians outside of Egypt in the diaspora but for the sake of finding results for her particular project, she focused on NGOs and civil society associations within Egypt and primarily outside Cairo because, she said, this is where 80 million Egyptians live and their livelihood to a large extent depends on associations and charities helping increase awareness about basic issues such as underage marriage, people’s constitutional rights, or basic rights as citizens. Amy stressed that with these organizations even working within the scope of the draconian laws in Egypt, they’re still harassed and oppressed.
 
Miller argued that the U.S. government is a bureaucracy and bureaucracies admit the need to change policies very slowly. The United States tends to act once the die has been completely cast, Miller said. He also quoted Churchill’s popular saying that “the U.S. does the right thing after they have tried everything else” which according to Miller’s answer, remains the situation up to this point. However Miller referred to individuals in the State Department and the White House who are increasingly skeptical to Egypt’s value to the United States and the trajectory the country is on today. 
 
With regard to the culture of fear imposed by the military in Egypt, Dannish Farqui said that it is a palpable concern that figures under consideration are operating in a threatening political climate. These figures are championing for democracy in the liberal rule of law under very difficult contentious political terrains for lack of a better term. This culture of fear is hard to end under current circumstances, as Dannish put it.

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 CSID 19th Annual Conference, Panel 1 QA Session

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Panel 2: Interpreting the Iran-Saudi: Rivalry and Rise of Sectarianism


Dr. Nader Hashemi, the Program’s Committee Chair for this year, moderated the discussion on examining the relationship between the Islamic republic of Iran and Saudi Arabia amongst their current rivalry and its consequences on the politics of the Middle East. “The conflict in Yemen today is really in its essence a war between the two main sects of Islam over a seventh century struggle with respect to the secession of the prophet Mohamed” Hashemi quoted the prominent commentator and analyst of U.S. foreign policy Thomas Friedman. His read the nature of the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia as one of power and piety.

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Hussein Ibish

Hussein Ibish, a Senior Resident Scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington D.C., analyzed the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran as strategic and political rather than religious and sectarian. Hussein pointed to the struggle in authority within the Islamic world mainly between Saudi Arabia –which asserts authority based on history and geography of the custodianship of the holy mosque and its claim to be more Islamic than anybody else– and the Islamic Republic of Iran which claims to be the vanguard of popular uprisings in the name of Islam. Ibish asserted that the conflict between the two countries is an ideological patina on top of a struggle of power.
 
Based on these ideological struggles, the region to a large extent is divided as many sunni people tend to side with Saudi Arabia and its allies while Shia and other non-Sunni Muslims tend to side with Iran. 
 
In his comment on the U.S. decision to withdraw from the JCPOA, Ibish said that Trump’s attempts to have a deal with Kim Jong Un to denuclearize North Korea doesn’t indicate that he would go completely toward scuttling the JCPOA not just with Iran but with the other five signatories (the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany). Hussein mentioned the dangerous situation in Syria and the northern Israeli border in the occupied Golan Heights where Iranian and Iranian-backed forces including Hezbollah are becoming much stronger and entrenched in addition to jihadist groups such as ISIS which in turn lead the Israelis to be more nervous in the region.

 

Ibish also pointed to potential places of conflict in the region in the Iraqi Syrian border at al-Qa’im and Al Bukamal in addition to Al Houthi missiles that continue to fall on the Saudi cities which is one of the major irritants in the region and if that’s not stopped to extract the Arab expeditionary forces in Yemen, there might be a war there. Hussein stressed on the need for a bilateral dialogue between Iran and the United States and praised the recent policy of Riyadh in Iraq that started to engage in a non-traditional way to establish a dialogue with Iraqis. The same policy could be adapted by the United States in dealing with Iran and Saudi Arabia without the need to isolate a country to deal with the other to avoid worse disasters, Ibish added.

Click here to Watch the Video
 

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Trita Parsi

Trita Parsi agreed with Hussein that most of the struggle happening in the Middle East now goes back to the absence of established balance of power since 2003. Parsi discussed the American policy in the region that still centers on adapting the dual containment policy of isolating Iran and Iraq while centering on the security of Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Egypt primarily.
 
Based on Parsi’s reading to the nature of the continued struggle in the MENA, it was George W. Bush who destroyed the American order in the region when he invaded Iraq thinking that he will be able to establish a new order, but all what he managed to do was destroying the existing order of the United States and weakening its influence to the point in which the U.S. no longer has the capacity to enforce a new equilibrium on the region. Historically, the idea of isolating Iran was not common, Parsi added, and there is now an opportunity for the U.S. to move towards a new balance that have an indigenous ability to sustain itself.
 
Dr. Trita, however, disagreed with Hussein about the current possibility of containing the danger in Syria, Iraq, and the occupied Golan Heights and explained his disagreement to the situation in Washington D.C. where John Bolton, who did not hide his desire for a military confrontation and Mike Pompeo are now on the U.S. political scene. Parsi said that the world is now dealing with unconventional administration that adapt a different logic in dealing with JCPOA. He assessed that Trump shows his willingness to walk away from any deal that North Korea would put forward unless it is the one he wants. As a result, he is showing himself to Kim Jong Un as the tough guy in the JCPOA negotiations and signaling his readiness to kill an existing deal with Iran.
 
Trita stressed that the era of excluding Iran from the regional dialogue is over which is one of the reasons why Saudis are not interested at this point to sit-down on the same table with Iran. Until Americans show their willingness to change their policies in the region, the situation will remain problematic particularly under Trump’s administration that tries to pave the way to a military confrontation.

 

Click here to Watch the Video
 

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Mujeeb R. Khan

Mujeeb R. Khan, a Ph.D. candidate in the Dept. of Political Science at UC Berkeley, welcomed the fact that Hussein Ibish, Dr. Trita Parsi, and himself agreed on rejecting the primordial list theories, but criticized the consensus on valorizing the state as a unitary rational actor in the region in pursuing its interests for a balance of power. Mujeed distinguished between the nation and the state asserting that much of politics in the region is not propelled by the unitary state actor model but rather by regimes whereas the regime and the state are not necessarily the same thing.

 

For example, according to the neo-realist theories, a country like Saudi Arabia seeks to maximize its state capacity and military power –which was not the situation in the past for Saudi Arabia that preferred to keep its military in a weak condition. Khan went back to the Arab cold war, post ottoman empire, and Sykes-Picot agreement addressing that the movements that followed these times meant to modernize and secularize itself from the Islamic past. 
 
Mujeeb invoked the regional dilemma of sectarianism in the Middle East asserting that Iran did not start this sectarian trap but fell into it and advised Iranians to step back from this trap. In his reading to the current U.S. policy towards JCPOA, Mujeeb saw that even if Trump did not intend to escalate the nuclear negotiations with Iran, he hired the most fanatical people like Mike Pompeo and John Bolton.

Click here to Watch the Video


 
Questions and Answers:


Trita’s answer to the first question about the U.S. change in policy towards Iran was that the first option the U.S. might be considering in today’s policies with Iran will not be military but rather killing the nuclear deal while imposing stricter sanctions and isolating Iran again. Trita explained that the belief behind this policy would likely aim to roll back Iran’s influence in the region and break its economy which was the same U.S. calculation in 2010 and 2011. However, Trita clarified, the United States discovered a new policy in dealing with Iran in 2013 when Americans accepted Iran as a nuclear power rather than going to war. In today’s U.S. policy, the situation might be different as Trump and his allies in the Middle East are increasing the economic pressure on Iran, but, as Parsi advised, the U.S. could still roll back and change the balance of power without going to war as Iran most likely won’t sit idly while all these sanctions are imposed.   
 
In his answer on potential solutions for the complicated relationship between Iran and Israel, Trita said that the era of secret relations between Iran and Israel is over, but, as Hussein Ibish pointed out before, this relationship is in a very dangerous phase. However, the degree of recklessness to which other parties have reached in the region doesn’t exist in the relationship between Iran and Israel. Both forces tried to have rules of engagement in Lebanon and they’re capable of having similar ones in Syria.
 
When asked about the effects this rivalry could have on the democratic transition in Tunisia, Hussein Ibish said that the impact of the Iranian-Saudi rivalry will be limited in North Africa and specifically Tunisia. Based on Hussein’s analysis, everybody will end up supporting the Tunisian experiment to a democratic system.

Click here to Watch the Video

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 CSID 19th Annual Conference Panel 2 Iran Saudi

 

 
12:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.   Keynote Luncheon


Why the Arab World Needs Democracy…

Now, more than ever?


Keynote Speaker:

Jamal Khashoggi
Saudi journalist, columnist, and author


In his opening remarks, Dr. Radwan Masmoudi, President of the CSID, welcomed Mr. Jamal khashoggi, Saudi journalist, columnist, author and the general manager and editor-in-chief of Al Arab News Channel, as the keynote speaker for CSID 19th annual conference. Dr. Masmoudi addressed khashoggi’s writings about human rights and democracy in the Arab world.
 

    

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Mr. Khashoggi started his talk about the debate of whether democracy is compatible with Islam. Jamal said that the issue of relating democracy to Islam rose with the start of the Arab Spring in 2010. He talked about the new ways in which Saudi Arabia is approaching modernity today like cinemas, arts, gender equality, opening up to the world to depart from radicalism and the attempts to get rid of religious establishments’ upper hand over people’s choices in life. Although these are great attempts toward modernity, Saudi Arabia still rejects any form of democracy in the country, Jamal said.
 
He also addressed the new narrative Saudi Arabia is using to reject democracy which is originated from a deep belief that absolute monarchy is the best way of governing in the country. According to Jamal’s analysis, Saudi Arabia sees democracy as a barrier that would stand in the way between great Saudi leaders and a prosperous future for the country. He explained that the Saudi government’s mindset in rejecting democracy is based on the belief that Saudis in particular and Arabs in general are not ready for democracy and, when cornered, they claim that Muslim brotherhood and extremists stole the experiment of democracy for their own interests.
 
Khashoggi mentioned that democracy in the region is under attack from salafists, extremists, and terror groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda. For that reason, he applauded the efforts made by organizations like CSID in advocating for democracy and freedom of speech and helping save the Middle East from drowning in dark ages of dictatorship. Mr. Khashoggi stressed that the only way out for the Middle East is choosing the path of democracy and getting over sectarianism. Khashoggi concluded that the lack of interest in the current U.S. administration to defend democracy in the region would makes it harder for activists and NGOs to continue their mission in demanding a just and a democratic system.

 

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Questions and Answers:

Mr. Jamal khashoggi said that the gulf backing of counter revolutions will continue as long as Monarchies stay in power as they’re not revolutions-friendly institutions. They will be opposing any democratic movements in the whole region as they believe that they were "hired by God" to save these countries. Gulf states are specifically worried of any democratic movement in Egypt because they’re certain that it will have a long-term impact over their regimes. Saudis, however, lost a lot by not supporting democracy in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Syria which boosted Iran’s influence. 
 
No one now has an absolute monopoly of information today, khashoggi said. It’s hard to control people’s access to information in the age of social media but also stressed that that state-controlled media could have a great share in misleading people and creating false perceptions. The prevailing thought that dominates the way monarchies rule is that economic reforms will take the country in the right direction. They don’t want political freedoms or institutions. They only want to lead regardless of the consequences and that’s why they’re so much into into mega projects.  

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 CSID 19th Annual Luncheon Jamal Khashoggi
 
Keynote Panel: Where is Turkey Headed?
Assessing the State of Democracy in Turkey
The Keynote panel was moderated by Prof. Asma Afsaruddin, Chair of the Board of CSID.
 

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Kemal Kirisci

Kemal Kirsci, Senior Fellow and Director at Brookings Institution, started his remarks on how Turkey was once a role model. Kirsci said that governmental reforms in Turkey started before the AK party, but Erdogan propelled the country in many ways when he formulated a wide coalition that included liberals, centrists, and Muslim Democrats. Kemal praised Erdogan and AKP for achieving a great deal of diversity inside the party. However, as Kirsci put it, Turkey stands in a completely different place today in terms of democracy and human rights.

Kirsci mentioned the similarities between Hungary, Poland, and Turkey in terms of how the three countries dismantled the constitutions of these countries and the rule of law. He addressed the pillar of democracy which is power and the determination to stay in power with the ability to feel Machiavellianism in one’s own genes while moving forward to maintain this power and manipulate the system. Kemal talked about the right of Muslims to elect a leader and then defer governance to the leader. He recommended the attendees to read about the law that paved the way to the referendum in April 2017 for the constitutional amendments.

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 CSID 19h Annual conference, Keynote Panel
 

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Gonul Tol

Gonul Tol, Director of the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute, addressed Turkey’s illiberal state-centric tradition that the AKP inherited and the role played by neoliberals in Turkey’s current drift into authoritarianism. Tol criticized the AKP narrative that the country is going through a difficult time especially after the failed coup in 2016 saying that Erdogan is using the failed coup attempt to justify the actions taken by his government against civil society and journalists that led to creating an authoritarian regime.

Tol also criticized the Turkish government controlling the media and social sphere on the internet and the intensified meddling of the government in the criminal justice system that was represented in reassigning judges, prosecutors, police officers. Tol also addressed the Turkish violations to freedom of expression and freedom of associations and crackdown on civil society.
 
Gonul addressed Turkey’s failure to change the terrorism law neglecting U.S. demands to change it. She asserted that the Turkish government is using the coup attempt as a pretext for clamping down on anyone opposing the regime. Gonul spoke about the detention of Othman Kavalah, one of Turkey’s biggest philanthropist and liberal activist, and the sentencing of Henri J. Barkey, American professor at Lehigh University.

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 CSID 19h Annual conference, Keynote Panel
 

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Harun Armağan

Harun Armağan, the Vice Chair of Human Rights at the AK Party, defended the AK party and its accomplishments asserting that the party has tripled its GDP in the last twenty years and that Turkey has managed to build three new universities since 2012. Harun mentioned the economic growth in Turkey which is the highest in Europe and Asia since 2017. He also mentioned the increase of the IMF’s estimate to Turkey untill 2018. However, Harun did not deny the concerns that professors, researchers, and policy makers raise about the current political climate in Turkey saying that some of these concerns are legitimate, while others are not based on evidence.

Armağan asserted that the Turkish government doesn’t violate people’s freedom of speech or journalists’ rights to practice their profession. On press freedom, Armağan addressed the diverse media atmosphere Turkey has with more than 50 nationwide newspapers published every day while 14 of these newspapers are published in other languages such as French, Germany, English, Kurdish, Armenian, Greek, and Russian and a total of 100,000 journalists working in Turkey and 150 foreign journalists from 40 countries live and report from inside Turkey. On the Judicial process, Armağan asserted that the Turkish government operates with checks and balances’ system. He concluded that the Turkish government is working hard to overcome the challenges facing the judiciary system to ensure a fair process during trials.   

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 CSID 19th Annual Keynote Panel Harun Armagan

 
Panel 3: Challenges to Democratic Consolidation in Tunisia

The third panel was moderated by Dr. Radwan Masmoudi, President of CSID.
 

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Oussama Essghaier

Oussama Essghaier, Member of the Tunisian Parliament and Ennahdha Party, talked about the transitional democratic process in Tunisia that started in 2011. Essghaier defined a couple of challenges that still face Tunisia in having a democratic system such as establishing democratic parties that contain different perspectives. He said that the Arab National party, for instance, is still affiliated to dictatorship regimes that try to suffocate democratic movements in Tunisia. Essghaier asserted that Elnnahda party is working hard to make sure younger generations have more opportunities to participate in political life. He also talked about the lack of consensus between parties in Tunisia and the society that is more based on conflict than compromises.

Finally, Essghaier addressed the threat of terrorism in Tunisia and the whole MENA region as a transitional barrier to democracy, and stated that Tunisia has made tremendous progress in fighting extremism and terrorism in the country, and has not had any terrorist attack since 2015. But employment and economic growth remain major challenges for the nascent Arab democracy.

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 CSID 19th Annual Panel 3 Khaled Chouket
 

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Khaled Chouket

Khaled Chouket, Member of the Executive Committee of Nidaa Tounes, said that the committee of Nida Tounes is running now difficult negotiations with the Union. Chouket invoked a couple of challenges faced by Tunisia that include the full implementation of the Tunisian constitution, security threats, economic, social, and political conflicts, and corruption.

 

Chouket referred to Ennahda and Nidaa Tounes as the main political parties in winning local elections. What put Ennahda and Nidaa Tounes in a unique position is the containment strategy they’re adapting to include independent candidates. The two parties now have more than 55 percent of candidates running for elections divided equally between women and men. In terms of terrorism and sectarianism, Khaled asserted that there is no place for terror groups or sectarianism. However, the situation is still difficult in some poor areas where young people get easily attracted to extremist thoughts and ideologies. Chouket addressed the necessity for changing people’s mentalities in relying solely on the state and teaching them to be more productive and entrepreneurial.

In conclusion, he said that Ennahda and Nidaa parties separated Islamic Dawah from politics and adapted a moderate conservative thinking while maintaining the Islamic identity of the society.


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 CSID 19th Annual Panel 3 Oussama Sghaler
 

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Andrew March

Andrew March, Fellow, Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, interpreted the democratic theory as a successful story in Tunisia, a failure in Egypt, and a risk in Turkey which to a large extent has to do with political ideology and the individual interpretation of Islam and democracy. March revoked the idea of the individual conception of morality and human rights that couldn’t be quantifiable but also a non-insignificant factor.
 
He addressed a series of Islamic transitions that were formulated by Rached Ghannouchi and others before the revolution explaining that there is no single theory of democracy even in western thought. He articulated the complicated relationship between party ideology and the understanding of Islamic political theory amid a new constitutional order.

March referred to a number of important essays, speeches, and articles written by Ghannouchi that addressed some of the questions he was trying to answer. In Ghannouchi’s Public Freedom and the Islamic State book, the people and only the people are the source of all political institutions (الشعب مصدر السلطات). So, according to this claim, it is the political system being applied that is held rigorously to the standards of the rule of law. March also addressed the constituent authority of the people that is to a large extent widespread in classical Islamic theories. Based on that, the rule of the people is not only legislating on worldly (دنيوي) areas (areas that pertain to the merely public welfare (مصلحة), but also determine what aspects of the Islamic Sharia are to be applied in political life that was assigned to legislative and even public institutions that people participated in directly.
 
March pointed out to a couple of important aspects of Ghannouci’s pre-revolutionary political philosophy that are not represented in the post-revolutionary order. First, it is a perfectionist theory of political life as the purpose of politics is not just to manage conflict, get rid of terrorism, deal with the IMF agriculture policy, but to make humans better and create the ideal conditions for as many people as possible in which they could flourish. Second, unlike a lot of democratic theories particularly Madison or Montesquieu with a purpose of political institutions to balance ambition, power against power and to manage conflict, Ghannouchi’s democratic theory suggests that the purpose of all institutions is to represent and harmonize a certain kind of moral unity, so he sets a division between judiciary, executive, and legislative powers but they are meant to be united around certain aspects of moral purpose that are determined by Islam.

March compared that interpretation to the republic of virtue that in many ways is deeply democratic but it’s a democracy that both relies upon assumptions and aspires to self-governance of the people who are united around a conception of virtue and religious commitments. Finally, March interpreted Ghannouchi’s theory as a vision of democracy in which Sharia would remain sovereign –a deliberative Sharia that emerges out of institutions, public opinion, and the participation of the people in trying to figure out what is the appropriate representation at a particular time and place of this dialectic between text, traditions, and contemporary moment.

None of these values or aspirations appear to be represented in the 2014 constitution, Andrew said. Most of Ghannouchi’s thinking before the revolution and the Islamic thinking since then could be described as the arch metaphor for Islamic political thought in which people are God’s caliph (representative) and that’s why Islam is interpreted as “Dean wa Dawla” religion. What Ghannouchi’s philosophy established is the commitment to a radical kind of pluralism, March concluded.

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 CSID 19th Annual Panel 3 Andrew March
 

EricCSID Brown

Eric Brown, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, spoke about the policy side of the democratic movement. Brown said that Tunisia is the only success story from the Arab Spring in a region where the largest displacement of humanity since the end of WWII exist. This makes Tunisia’s efforts to form itself as a civic republic impressive if not heroic. Brown empathized that the United States as another successful republic should deeply invest in Tunisia and come up with a strategy that sees far into the future of the country and helps create the conditions in which Tunisian patriots have the security, economic, and political conditions that build the republic and make it last. 
 
Brown stressed the need of individual freedom that produces great prosperity and the capacity for moral improvement. He pointed to the inescapable heterogeneity of human society and that the real challenge of politics is how to deal with that fundamental heterogeneity of societies, but if societies try to suppress this heterogeneity, they end up creating tyrannies and republics that keeps failing.

Brown brought up the importance of maintaining the heterogeneity of human nature in societies to explain the heroism of the Tunisian republic that is so profound when compared to what is in happening in the Middle East today. He argued that the United States has a strategic interest in seeing the Tunisian republic succeed because it shows the Middle East that there is another way of moving forward. Tunisia is not just challenging unprecedented and ideological convulsion in the Middle East, but also the anti-republicanism that could be seen in Sisi’s government in Egypt and even in Erdogan’s government in Turkey.
 
Brown also criticized the selfish strategy adapted by the United States in the Middle East that must come to an end to see the MENA as a livable region again. From a practical perspective, Brown asserted that one of the things that are making the democratic transition a tough experience in Tunisia is the failure of politics and the disputes between and within the parties which is making it very difficult to drive forward the deep structural reforms which Tunisia desperately needs to consolidate its republic. So, based on Brown’s analysis, the role the United States can play in helping Tunisians is creating the best possible circumstances for sovereignty, but not in a limited fashion by focusing on the security side of things. Brown ended his presentation by stressing on the importance of developing the U.S. diplomacy with its allies particularly in the GCC states.

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 CSID 19th Annual Conference Panel 3 Eric Brown
 

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Panel 4: Islamic Politics, Populism, and Coalition Building


The moderator of the fourth and final panel of the conference was Qamar-ul Huda, Director of Security & Violent Extremism, at the Center for Global Policy (CGP).
 

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Dalia Fahmy

Dalia Fahmy, Associate Professor of Political Science at Long Island University, said that Egypt has a more strategic importance to the United States than any other country in the region, and so the stability of Egypt militarily and ideologically has a greater relevance to the way the U.S adapts its policies for regional stability. Dalia talked about the role the U.S. played during the transitional moment as the army was stepping in and the same military relation the U.S. maintained as before the Arab Spring broke down. 
 
Fahmy revoked the “let’s deal with the devil we know versus the devil we don’t know” long-time adapted strategy by the United States in the Middle East that was reused before, during, and after the Arab Spring not just in Egypt, but in the whole MENA region. Fahmy said that using the U.S. military aid as a mitigator in so many different aspects such as Camp David accord in directing Egypt’s domestic and foreign policies must come to an end. 
 
Fahmy concluded her presentation by pointing to the high level of impunity in the U.S. policy to undemocratic actors in the region which is happening now in a very interesting way under president Trump, as Fahmy put it. Fahmy quoted Trump’s phrase about Sisi when he said “Sisi is a fantastic guy” asserting that praising authoritarian regimes and elected autocrats doesn’t signal any support to the Egyptian people or to civil society.


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 CSID 19th Annual Panel 4 Dalia Fahmy
 

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Colin Powers

Colin Powers, PhD candidate at Johns Hopkins University, spoke about the threat of the young emergent democracies born in 2010 and 2011 since Arabs revolted. Some factors like the Sisi’s counter-revolution in Egypt or the Saudis sponsored repression in Bahrain are tactile and ambiguous. Colin addressed the need for sociological imagination to interpret the meaning or effects of Saudis’ tanks and evaluating how bulldozing the pearl roundabout speaks to democracy’s future in the domain of the Khalifa, the massacre in Rabaa square, and Morsi’s imprisonment. 
 
Powers focused on the subtle threats to democracy in the contemporary Middle East mentioning the Tunisian transition as a case study. He argued that democratic consolidation in the home of the Jasmine revolution remains precarious and fragile and contended that this is a consequence of the country’s experience with liberal democratization in structuring, regulating, ordering, and disciplining the transition. Powers invoked the point of liberal democratization as a collaborative project jointly engineered by international and domestic actors that has functioned to do two things; hollow-out Tunisian democracy and excise economic policymaking from the remit of both elected officials and popularly accountable majoritarian institutions more generally.
 
Powers explained why installing a democracy that is elite-managed and non-sovereign –at least vis a vis the economy – could translate into policy outcomes severing or weakening the basic linkages that are constitutive of popular rule through connecting society to party and society to state. As he put it, the FDI dependent market on the global periphery will not deliver the labor productivity gains, the requisite investment, or the high value added to exports that are needed to power sustainable and equitable economic progress. Liberal democratization’s devotion to neoliberalism renders Tunisia’s new democracy permanently unstable and guarantees that it will endlessly get subverted by social dislocation, unemployment deprivation and resentment.
 
Powers recognized that unlike the post-communist transitions that were to a considerable extent undertaken in the name of political liberalization, the Arab Spring revolted for different reasons. The revolts of 2010 and 2011 were a rather direct reaction against the region’s experience with capitalism and that was verified in the principles and slogans around which protesters were organized; bread, freedom, dignity, and social justice. Powers found many of the traditional debates on Islamism and politics in the Middle East a little more of a showcase for orientalist dog whistling and a lazy trope in Tunisia’s case. He concluded that one cannot understand the fragility of Tunisia’s political, social, and economic future as more than 207 protests and riots recorded between January 1st and March 22nd of this year alone and the dissatisfaction revealed in public opinion data and the energy of anti-system political actors by Salafists and leftists, or in the decline in voter participations between 2011 and 2014 apart from the country’s experience with liberal democratization in reproducing and revitalizing economic policies that can’t help but generate social dislocation, inequality, and low growth in disenfranchising revolutionary actors.

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 CSID 19th Annual Panel 4 Colin Powers
 

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Deina Abdelkader

Deina Abdelkader, Associate Professor of Middle Eastern/ Muslim World Politics at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, hypothesized the causal relation between the actors involved in social change and the transition to democracy whether it’s from below or from above to a more of a democratic transition. Abdelkader addressed oppressing social movements and civil society in the Middle East and mentioned that a lot of problems related to oppressing social movements and civil society organizations are apparent now within various degrees in the region besides the lack of major political openness.
 
Abdelkader’s presentation analyzed how societies operate through those restricted spaces that aspire for political rights. Her talk went in total disagreement with the so-called cultural exceptionalism as an explanation of the social movement in the Arab Spring. As a political player, the Egyptian military is involved in regional politics with the United States, Abdelkader explained. In addition, she examined the relationship between Egyptians and the military as an intriguing one because although the army was repeatedly defeated over the years, images of nationalism have played different roles in Egypt. She addressed the power of military propaganda in claiming victory in each war they lost through controlling media, art, and most importantly education.
 
Abdelkader explained the army’s relentless hold on power that led Hosni Mubarak to establish a strong police force in his attempt to hand over power to his civilian son and protect his own tyranny from the military. The other factor that affects the existential conflict is the economy. From everything in the country, Deina said, like housewares and military gear production to farming and tourism, the revenue from these enterprises goes straight to the military’s pockets without any degree of state oversight. Abdelkader also explainined that U.S. arm sales and financial aid to Egypt are still given in the same fashion to a regime involved in a bloodshed and incredible human rights violations.

Although the U.S. has been funding the military, Egyptians have not received any funds that enhance civilian control or promote democracy in their country. Abdelkader concluded that the imbalance of power between the military and civilian institutions in Sisi’s era is unheard of and this is not how democratic transitions work to create a civilian society.


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 CSID 19th Annual Panel 4 Deina Abdelkader
 

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Tahir Kilavuz

Tahir Kilavuz, a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame, stressed the necessity of collaboration during difficult transitional times. He distinguished between authoritarian breakdowns and democratic movements. Not all revolutions lead to democracy as the process of building democracy is more than toppling a dictator, Kilavuz explained. He provided more clarity to the term “cooperation” as a dynamic process in strategic calculations in moving toward tangible social and democratic change.

Kilavuz compared “cooperation” to a game in which different groups try to benefit and then compromise the benefits they get. In the Middle East, Tahir said that the first interactions usually happen between Islamists and secularists opposition actors and then they move to interact with the regime. He stressed the importance of having the same level of cooperation back between Islamists and secularists to make it more likely for the regime to co-operate with all political actors. Kilavuz also talked about the importance of establishing credibility when different groups come together for an opposition coalition under the reign of authoritarian regimes.
 

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 CSID 19th Annual Panel 5 M. Tahir Kilavuz

 
Questions and Answers:


Kilavuz’s answer to the lack of collaboration between secularists and Islamists applies specifically to Egypt as there was no coalition building efforts similar to the Tunisian case before 2011. Both sides, secularists and Islamists, claim that they were willing to dialogue and negotiate, but that was not what happened on the ground and so when both parties sat with the regime or with the military, there was no clear strategy to deal with it and eliminate its control over political life.
 
Fahmy said that the problem of the U.S. policy in Egypt is related to the fact that the U.S. has confused access with influence. She explained that the U.S. no longer has influence over the Egyptian military, but has access in a way that doesn’t benefit Egyptians. 
 
In Powers’s answer to why people think democracies must have economic benefits and how much could that be problematic in a transitional moment, he explained that he did not argue that the outcomes should be purely economic and that was not what he intended in his talk. But certainly, there was an absolute aspiration for political liberty that should be accompanied by economic reforms, he said. Egypt for instance, Powers explained, had more than 10 thousand labor actions between 2003 and 2011, so excluding basic questions of economy from the grievances that were sort of underlying popular frustration is not fair. However, Powers agreed that this way of analysis might be problematic, but he can’t decide how people are evaluating democracy. So, he reflects of how in a lot of transitional democracies, there is this belief that material gains must be delivered as the performance of the government is read as the performance of democracy wit large. 
 
At the conclusion of the conference, Dr. Masmoudi said that the struggle for democracy continues and it is a long path that deserves the effort and stressed that all countries should learn from past mistakes and work toward realizing democratic and just systems in the Middle East. Masmoudi thanked everyone for coming to the conference wishing for a better future in the Middle East and all countries that still struggle for basic human rights.


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 CSID 19th Annual Panel 4 QA Session
 

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Co-Sponsored by:
 
 

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The Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy 19th Annual Conference
Authoritarianism and Democratic Decline :  in the Age of Sectarianism and Populism
Thursday April 26, 2018 The Mayflower Hotel 1127 Connecticut Ave NW Washington, DC 20036

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