The Middle East Program and the Istituto Affari Internazionali hosted a conference on Islamist movements, focusing on the divide between Western theories and Islamist thought. The discussion touched on a range of issues, including the role of religion in politics, the significance of sharia for the political/legal system, individual rights and freedoms, pluralism, the rights of minorities.
On March 29, 2007, Rachid Tlemcani, visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center, argued that since the civil war of the 1990s, violence in Algeria has decreased and the economic and political situations are stabilizing. Daniel Brumberg, professor of government at Georgetown, served as discussant and Marina Ottaway, Carnegie Endowment, moderated.
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in partnership with Wilton Park, held a conference October 6-8, 2006 on the challenges of top-down, managed reform efforts in Arab countries. Discussion focused on how reformers within or close to ruling establishments view prospects for reform inside their countries as well as the impact of pressure for change coming from outside.
On November 12-13, The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Italian Istituto Affari Internazionali, in partnership with the German Herbert-Quandt-Stiftung, organized a two-day workshop in Rome to discuss the policy preferences and reform strategies of non-violent Islamic movements in different Arab countries.
For decades, Arab regimes have used scare tactics to encourage the United States and Europe to support their repressive measures toward Islamist movements by invoking the image of anti-Western fanatics taking power through the ballot box. However, today’s moderate Islamists no longer match this nightmare.
In the last few years, Arab liberals have been gradually reaching out to moderate Islamists and engaging them in campaigns calling for reforms. These are steps in the right direction and the U.S. and Europe should learn from this example. The cause of political transformation in the region is best served by bringing in Islamist movements and their popular constituencies.
Drawing on the insights of some twenty-five leading Western and Middle Eastern scholars, Islam and Democracy in the Middle East highlights the dualistic and often contradictory nature of political liberalization. Political liberalization—as managed by the state—not only opens new spaces for debate and criticism, but is also used as a deliberate tactic to avoid genuine democratization.
Despite predictions that the American march into Baghdad would unleash either a wave of democratization or a plague of repression throughout the region, in reality most Middle Eastern states are too preoccupied with domestic problems to be moved profoundly by events in Iraq. Iraq will have a political impact on the region, but changes are likely to come in smaller steps than commonly predicted.