ANALYSIS: "Political Islam And The Future of Democracy in the Middle East"


The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID), an organization with strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, has posted an article by its President claiming to support the development of “democracy” in the Arab world but a closer reading suggests the presence of an agenda supporting the Brotherhood. Radwan A. Masmoudi opens the article with a plea for the U.S to stop supporting dictatorial governments in the MIddle East:

If we hope to achieve long-term peace, stability, and development in the Middle East, and in the world, we must end our double standards and stop supporting oppressive and illegitimate governments in the Middle East.

He then goes on to suggest that was is needed is a coalition of “moderate reformers and democrats”:

Change in the Middle East is inevitable, and the only question is what kind of change: will it be slow, peaceful, and progressively move us toward real democracy, or will it be violent and revolutionary, and lead us toward another form of dictatorship. To guard against anarchy and the possibility of a theocratic state, we need a strong coalition of moderate reformers and democrats (both moderate Islamists and secularists)

Masmoudi then sets the stage for defining the Muslim Brotherhood as a moderate movement. First, glossing over widespread support by the Brotherhood for “jihad” in various forms, Masmoudi asserts that Islamists “reject violence”:

What does “Islamist” mean and what do Islamic movements stand for? While extremist and radical fringe groups exist, the overwhelming majority of those who call themselves “Islamists” reject violence and theocracy, and simply want to reform their societies based on Islamic values of justice, equality, and accountability. In short, they want a democratic form of government that respects Islamic values without imposing them on citizens or on society.

Without mentioning the Muslim Brotherhood by name, Masmoudi then includes local Muslim Brotherhood organizations operating under the name “Islah” as well as long time Muslim Brotherhood figure Anwar Ibrahim as examples of such moderates:

Moderate Islamic movements today range from the Justice and Development Parties in Turkey and Morocco, to the reform Islah or Wasat parties in Kuwait, Yemen, and Jordan. Prominent moderate Islamist leaders include Anwar Ibrahim in Malaysia, Saadeddine al-Othmani in Morocco, and Abdulwaheed in Indonesia.

Laster on, Masmoudi appears to include Hamas and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood as example of democratic outcomes in the Middle East:

One of the most disappointing developments occurred after the 2005 elections in Egypt and the 2006 elections in Palestine when the US seems to have suddenly lost its appetite for democracy in the Middle East for fear that the Islamists were going to win.

Finally, Masmoudi introduces Ijtihad, which he conveniently defines as “rational thinking”, as a necessary component of democratic reform:

The effort to re-open the door of Ijtihad (rational thinking), to reinterpret Islamic texts and modernize Islamic thought is not new. It started at the end of the nineteenth century with famous reformers, such as Al-Afghani, Abduh, al-Kawakibi, and many other prominent scholars. It was delayed or slowed down by the struggle for independence for about 50 years, and then by oppressive and corrupt regimes for another 50 years. However, it is now back on track and is moving at a much quicker pace, and it is on the agenda everywhere — in the United States, in Europe, and in every Muslim country. I believe that American and European Muslims are called upon to lead in this effort as we enjoy the freedom, the means, and the opportunity to create the atmosphere necessary to foster democratization.

In fact, Ijtihad, better defined as making an Islamic legal decision by independent interpretation of the legal sources, is a concept associated with global Muslim Brotherhood leader Youssef Qaradawi who has ruled in favor of suicide bombings and harsh treatment of homosexuals as well as being associated with anti-Semitism.

Somewhat shamelessly, Masmoudi concludes his piece, by suggesting that his own organization is best placed to guide the transition to democracy in the Islamic world:

Our support begins by providing the intellectual and philosophical support for the simple and basic truth that Islam and democracy are indeed compatible. Without doing so, democracy will not become accepted by the masses and democratic cultures and ideals will not become imbedded in local cultures and traditions. The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) is in the best position to demonstrate this.

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