Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May-June 2007, pages 60-61

Muslim-American Activism

Georgetown Symposium on Islamist Politics

Georgetown Prof. Samer Shehata (at podium) and Prof. Barbara Stowasser, chair of the panel, discussing “Islamists, Elections, and Parliament” (Staff photo M. Hall).

THE GEORGETOWN University Center for Contemporary Arab Studies held its annual symposium in Washington, DC March 22 and 23, on the theme “Islamist Politics: Contemporary Trajectories in the Arab World.”

An appreciative audience of experts, students and interested observers took part in two days of lively discussion. The panelists, who represented a variety of universities, think tanks, political parties and media in the Middle East, discussed a wide range of topics, including historical and current Islamic theorists, the role of social networks in Islamist parties, Islamists and national liberation parties, and current Islamist groups in power.

“Islamists as Opposition Movements” panelist Dr. Francois Burgat, a noted political scientist with the National Center for Scientific Research in France, cited Morocco, Egypt, and Palestine as examples of a major difficulty facing Islamist parties. As a party achieves power and gains stature, he explained, its ability to influence and make policy is largely taken away by government figureheads, leaving the party with little more than “empty power.” Dr. Nathan Brown of the Carnegie Institute for Peace agreed, adding, “Islamist parties lose elections deliberately, due to international and domestic limitations placed upon them.”

Mohamad Saad El Katatny, chief representative of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (MB) Parliamentary bloc, concluded the conference by delivering a strong statement about the relationship between Islamists and the West. He charged that Washington’s unequivocal support for the Mubarak regime is anti-democratic because of the regime’s repressive nature, and drew attention to a set of unpopular constitutional amendments Egyptians would vote for on March 26.

“U.S. support for unpopular regimes is one of the main reasons for the popularity of Islamists,” El Katatny contended. “Moderate groups like the MBs will continue to struggle, but more people will be driven to radical discourse by repressive governments. This is most harmful for Western security.”

—Margeret Hall

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