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Islamist politics and the prospects for Arab democracy


Three-Day workshop organised by the Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster

The Board Room, University of Westminster
309 Regent Street, London W1B 2UW

Thursday 2 November 2006



The recent string of electoral successes by Islamist parties in a number of Arab countries, of which the recent victory by Hamas in Palestine is the most dramatic, seems to indicate that this phenomenon is far from transient. It is a highly significant and potentially transformative trend and calls for an urgent examination of its impact on democratization and political stability in the region. In response to recent events and in order to address new challenges posed by “electing Islamism”, in the Arab world, the Democracy and Islam Programme (in partnership with the University of Durham, the Program for Dialogue between Civilizations, Faculty of Economics, Cairo University and the International Foundation for Islamic Dialogue) is proposing to hold a three-day workshop in London, at which invited participants from a number of Arab states will have the opportunity to debate current developments with academics, policy-makers and opinion-formers from Britain and the EU.

 Format of workshop


The workshop will be open only to invited participants (a maximum of 80). It will take place on 3-5 November 2006 at the University of Westminster in central London. It will take the form of a roundtable debate. A briefing paper, prepared by the Centre for the Study of Democracy and outlining the issues to be addressed, will be circulated in advance of the meeting. Selected participants (elected politician, EU/US policy makers and academics) will be invited to make brief presentations on each of the topics to be debated.




Friday, November 3, 2006
600: – 8:30 pm: Inaugural Session
Chair: Dr Simon Joss, CSD
Welcoming Remarks: Dr Abdelwahab El-Affendi, CSD
Keynote Speech: Designated US Official (to be announced)
Comments and Opening Remarks: Dr Ibrahim al-Jaafari
Comments and Opening Remarks: Sheikh Rachid al-Ghannoushi
8:30-9:30 Reception

Saturday, November 4, 2006
9:30 – 11am: First session
Chair: Dr Emma Murphy, University of Durham
• Addressing the Islamist Challenge: Too Much Ambition or Two Little?
Discussion paper presented by Dr Abdelwahab El-Affendi, CSD,University of Westminster

• Discussants: Dr Tariq Ramadan, Dr Abdolkarim Soroush, Dr Madawi al-Rashid

11 – 11.30am: Coffee break

11.30 – 1pm: Second session
Chair: Dr. Mohamed Reza Khatami
• Islamist vision(s) for political change, peace in the Middle East and relations with the West.
• Speakers: Dr Nasir al-Sani’, Mr Jaafar al-Shaib, Dr Azzam Tamimi

1 – 2pm: Lunch

2 – 4pm Third session
Chair: Dr Ahmet Davutoglu

• EU and US concerns over policies advocated by Islamist groups
• US European policy: Time for change?
• Speakers to be announced

4 – 4.30am: Coffee break

4:30 – 6:30 pm Fourth session
Chair: Professor John Keane
• Islamist commitment to democracy and accommodation: lessons from Egypt, Jordan and Morocco
• Speakers: Dr Abdulhamid Ghazali, Professor Ishaq al-Farhan, Dr Saad El-Din Uthmani,

8 pm Dinner

Sunday, November 5, 2006

9:30 – 11am: Fifth session
Chair: Dr Radwan Masmoudi
• Re-evaluating the Iraqi Experience:
• Speakers: Dr Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Dr Laith Kubba, Dr Usama Takriti.

11 – 11.30am: Coffee break

11.30 – 1pm: Final session
Chair: Dr Maria Holt
• Summaries and Conclusions



While one should treat with caution the results of elections held in Arab countries, given the many distorting factors at work, there is no avoiding the conclusion that the results of a series of recent elections in at least five Arab countries indicate that Islamism as a phenomenon is here to stay. In parliamentary elections held in Egypt, Palestine and Iraq, and municipal elections in Saudi Arabia and Palestine, Islamists made a strong showing across the board. In elections for professional and trade union bodies in Sudan, Islamists also managed to retain hegemony against expectations. This confirms a trend seen in earlier contests wherever elections have been held, whether in Bahrain, Morocco, Kuwait, Jordan or Algeria. These results are more remarkable given the many obstacles put in place to prevent such outcomes. In Egypt, for example, the Muslim Brotherhood is considered an illegal organisation, and government tactics have specifically targeted its activists and voters with arrests and assaults before and during the elections. The Brotherhood deliberately fielded candidates for only a third of the seats in parliament, but ended up winning close to a quarter of all parliamentary seats, a success rate of nearly two thirds.

The emerging Islamist groups have shown signs of pragmatism and an inclination to accommodate rival forces. They also appear to have learned the lessons from failed or troubled Islamist experiments, such as those in Iran, Sudan or Afghanistan. This has shown itself by the emergence of what could be termed as “post-Islamist” parties, such as the Justice and Development party in Turkey, and its namesake in Morocco. Equally significant is the radical transformation of radical Islamic parties, such as those currently leading the ruling coalition in Iraq, into moderate pro-democracy parties. Islamists also appeared eager to reassure critics and rivals, as shown by the tendency of parties in Egypt, Jordan, Algeria and Morocco to deliberately restrict the number of candidates fielded to avoid winning a majority.


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