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The Center for the Study of Islam Democracy

Street Law & CSID Book Launch

Islam and Democracy: Toward Effective Citizenship

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New Civic Education Book Links Democracy to Islamic Principles

Street Law & CSID Book Launch

November 29, 2005


Street Law Inc. and the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) celebrated the launch of their new text: “Islam & Democracy: Toward Effective Citizenship” in a reception held in the evening hours of Tuesday, November 29th, 2005 at the International Conference Center, 2099 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC. The reception was a great success, overshadowed only by the foreseen success of the book.

A great turnout of around 100 guests and journalists attended the launch eager to be a part of this initiative in whatever way they can. For CSID & Street Law, the event represented the zenith point in a project 1.5 years in the making; a project they poured much heart and energy into. An air of prolonged anticipation filled the room as Street Law President and Founder Mr. Ed O’brien approached the podium to introduce the book.

Street Law Inc., Mr. O’brien explained, is practical, participatory education about law, democracy, and human rights. It was founded in 1972, and in 1985 began to work in the international arena beginning with the co-development of a human rights text in South Africa entitled “Democracy For All.” As a result of this initial endeavor, Street Law programs that teach human rights and democracy-building now exist in more than 30 countries around the world.

Today and in keeping with this endeavor, Mr. O’brien continued, a new text is born through a partnership with CSID. Jointly, CSID and Street law Inc. will teach democracy in Morocco, Algeria, Jordan and Egypt. Mr. O’brien went on to introduce Dr. Radwan Masmoudi, President and Founder of CSID.

Dr. Masmoudi started by explaining the impetus behind the project. CSID, he explained, has since its inception been preaching to the choir: preaching democracy to the elite that need no convincing that democracy is a worthy pursuit. So the challenge was to reach the grassroots. The vision: an Arab/Muslim people engaging in peaceful demonstrations demanding freedom and democracy (as is seen in the West). The approach: explaining democracy in practical terms, tying these terms with such Islamic concepts as Shurah, Ijmaa’, Ijtihad, dignity, and freedom, and showing people that they need not choose between the all-trumping Islam and democracy; that they, in fact, must be democratic in order to be truly Muslim.

Dr. Masmoudi stressed the high expectations for the book, and spoke of the credibility and respect the eight authors of the book have in the Arab/Muslim world. He then introduced one of the book’s authors, Dr. Emad Shahin.

Dr. Shahin expressed his joy at working with Street Law, CSID and the authors (whom he described as “balanced”). The book, he explained, is an achievement to be proud of in terms of its content as well as its “noble” impetus. It is an Arabic-language guide/manual about democracy in Muslim societies, for leaders involved in grassroots education in their communities. What makes it special is that it “superimposes Islam and democracy without being superficial,” explained Dr. Shahin, and is “simple and yet not simplistic.”

Deputy Senior Editor at the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (US State Department) Mr. Ramiro Martinez was introduced next by Mr. O’brien. Mr. Ramirez thanked CSID and Street law for their “innovative and timely project to support democracy in the Muslim World.” He went on to reaffirm the efficacy and high potential for concrete results that the project presents through its “grassroots dialogue” approach, and urged CSID and Street Law to “keep up the hard work in the promotion of democracy and freedoms.”

Mary Larkin, Director of International Programs and Human Resources at Street Law Inc., spoke after Mr. Martinez. First, she answered the question of “what next?” On Sunday, December 4th, Ms. Larkin explained that she along with Dr. Radwan Masmoudi and Aly R. Abuzaakuk (Program Officer) from CSID, and Elizabeth “Bebs” Chorak from Street Law are off to Morocco and Algeria to teach the book to local NGOs through workshops. Local community leaders – leaders who have been waiting for the opportunity to work with grassroots people – will be taught (and taught how to teach) the book. Second, Ms. Larkin introduced the book sampler, briefly outlining the contents of every chapter and thanked others who worked behind the scenes: Ms. Victoria Zyp (Street Law) and Ms. Layla Sein (CSID).

Finally, the galvanizing force behind the project, Mr. Abuzaakuk assumed the podium. He gave a special thanks to the “soldiers behind the scene;” the unsung heroes, International Graphics. Dr. Abuzaakuk went on to speak passionately on the different manifestations of democratic developments in the Middle East & North Africa (the Palestinian and Egyptian Parliamentary elections, Nawal Faouri’s entry into the Jordanian Parliament and so forth). He emphasized that by way of the mounting internal pressures from local NGOs, and with some leverage from the outside, democracy will eventually take root in the region.

Dr. Abuzaakuk expressed his gratitude to all those who contributed to the project that were unable to attend the reception, and also expressed his hope that work to strengthen the roots of democracy in the Arab/Muslim world will continue its march forward.

Mr. O’brien once again thanked everyone for coming, and invited them to enjoy the refreshments, light snacks and Middle Eastern music.

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