Live-Blog: “Democratic Transitions in the Arab World” #CSID14

PITAPOLICY is live-blogging the 14th Annual Conference “Democratic Transitions in the Arab World: Two Years After the Arab Spring”, hosted by the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy in the International Trade Center in Washington, DC.  Speakers review Islamic interpretations of governance, democracy, and how to ensure “civil political culture”. (PITAPOLICY had to put civil political culture in quotes because the presenter on this subject, from the UK, was toooooo judgemental and narrow about his application of civil, civilized, and civic-minded.  In our view, these are all different traits.  A people are not a monolith in their attitude and behavior towards systems and citizenship.) 


Rached Ghannounchi, President of the Nahdha Movement in Tunisia Visions for a New Tunisia: How Islam & Democracy Can Support Each Other

Hady Amr of US Agency for International Development in the Middle East (@USAIDMIDDLEEAST)

  • “Responded to Arab Spring by establishing a mission b/c we can be a partner, as highlighted by Secretary John Kerry.
  • We have two goals:

1) Supporting economic empowerment & Inclusive Economic Growth

~Economic growth by spurring small business growth…and building a 21st century workforce.

~Working in the Education space: in process of launching Egypt Education initiative, which will invite hundreds of Egyptians to study in the U.S.

2) Strengthening Participatory democracy via transparency and accountability

~Great example in Yemen w/r/t electoral systems and constitutions.

~Regarding Syria: half of $250 Million gone to refugees in surrounding countries; working with programs in Turkey and Jordan.


  • How will Tunisia deal with its corruption–even the charges post- Ben Ali?
  • How to implement transitional justice–especially as a model to fellow Arab Transition countries?
  • What is Ennahda’s Islamic identity? asked by Human Rights First
  • What do you plan to do to ensure that the blasphemy law does not spiral out of control? (it’s not in the Constitution, though).
  • Are you concerned about the breakdown of dialogue with certain groups, like the peaceful Salafis? asked by Tunisian journalist based in Tunis
  • What about transparency for lower-level officials? (Reminiscent of a recent incident of another Tunisian setting himself on fire.)

Ghannouchi: WE will not export the revolution to others…just the model.

  •  No revolution can be claimed by 1 leader. It’s the success and gift of our young people.
  • On transitional justice and reconciliation: We don’t want revenge…we have no grievances.  We encourage our brothers to forgive.
  • We must reeducate police and train them.  The police must work within the law.
  • If we’ve described what our goals are, what is left of our Islamic identity? Some people understand Islam as a sort of punishment. The main goal of government is not to punish, but to give services. So people conclude that we should get rid of Islam.
  • Salafis are not a monolith; similar to what I said about Islamists.
  • Democracy is not only a rule or system of government…it’s also a system of education.

Social & Economic Challenges

  • Economic Challenge: Employment still stuck as Tourism slowly recovering, e.g. Number of tourists=6 Million in 2012
  • Security Challenge: Revolution has weakened the state and the authority, which has given opportunity for some groups to cross the law. Extremists on both sides of the Right and the Left have tried to impose their views.
  • Salafi challenge is the “fruit of the Ben Ali regime” that needs to be resolved. (he’s being sarcastic)  Need to push Salafists, like the violent ones, to work w/in the law.

First country to be both Democratic and Muslim

  • And we feel the burden of responsiblity. Our revolution isn’t for experts, but for our people
  • We could’ve formed a government that was purely secular, but we want to reflect the wide political spectrum
  1. Doesn’t mean we exclude secularists either, just b/c they didnt win majority in election.
  2. Also, State’s role isn’t supposed to impose a type of life, but a security and services to the people so that they may make their own choices regarding how they live their daily life.
  3. Constitution: establishes citizenship and responsibilities. Refers  to “Saheefa” of the first Islamic state, which established citizenship. (PITAPOLICY: What are the responsibilities of citizenship, aside from tax payments?)
  • Organized through a process of consultation with political parties and NGOs on human rights — which lasted 5 weeks.  We decided not to include Shari’ah (Islamic law) in the Constitution. We compromised between a mixed system of Parliamentarian and Presidential.
  • Some people in our party accused of becoming the party of “compromise”, but we say we have the responsibility to include in order to move forward.


  1. What is Islamism? Answer by Panelist: “Islamism might not have any weight as a monolithic ideological project. It doesn’t have any distinctiveness anymore.” ( We think Mandeville responded.)
  2. What do they have in common?
  3. “How did Syria uprising turn violent?” (We would’ve phrased it differently: What did the Assad regime do to facilitate a violent revolution in Syria?)

Panel 4 (happening in Parallel): What the USCan Do to Support Democratic Tansition in the middl East, Chaired by Michael Miklaucic
Radwan Ziadah “The Obligation of the International Community Towards the Syrian People”

  • People are seeing their sons and daughters being killed for nothing… there is no forced gap stop as systematic killings continue.  Arab League, and UN sent Observers, but the killing continues.
  • Describes the ongoing massacres which amount to more deaths than chemical weapons incidences reported. (What more to do than focus on chemical weapons…the U.S. is stuck on this point while we can’t move forward with addressing illegitimacy of Assad regime.)

Peter Mandaville “The Evolution of US Policy Towards Islamists”

  • People are going to start counting beards 2C how many Muslim Brotherhood or other groups fill up Ministerial positions.
  • (Is this a fair measure of pluralism…or represents the US evolution in noting Islamists?)

Marc Lynch, George Washington University “The Challenge of Islmaists in Power to US Democracy Promotion”

  • Arab Spring is not over…just started
  • Bahraini regime is in trouble, Kuwait in its biggest political crisis in its modern history; Saudi Arabia is not as comfortable as we think

Marina Ottaway, Woodrow Wilson Center “Problems of Transition: Lessons from Other Countries”

  • We continuously move from short term to short term strategy. We aren’t, but need to, reconsider a change in our policy towards Saudi Arabia, for example.
  • We cry that there are too many political parties in Egypt and Tunisia…so what? Those not working will dissolve
  • Clash of experience: e.g. Islamist groups…of course, this is normal in a transition b/c we’ve had parties that monopolized power and experience for SOOOO long. This is where the U.S. may play a positive role. Here’s where I’ve thought of some good suggestions. e.g. bring people over to the U.S. to study practical things.
  • Study: for example, we had someone from Morocco interning in a Congressman’s office, now he’s leading a Moroccan ministry. (Ummm…this may be more controversial for both Americans and Moroccans ;))
  • Legitimacy and Legality do not coincide…if it had, there would not have been an Arab Spring. Now we have to work to get them to coincide, which will bring about stability. “Legitimacy is in the eye of the beholder”

Panel 3: Democratic Transition in the Region Challenges and Opportunities Chaired by Robert Schadler
Daniel Brumberg, U.S. Institute for Peace “The Legacies of Protection Racket Politics: Egypt and Tunisia in Comparative Perspective”

Abdelhamid Abdeljabar “Social Media and the Arab Spring- The Vehicle that Made the Revolution Possible”

Three stages of news

  • Uncensored reporting, where Pres. AlGannouchi first seen by Tunisians on Al Jazeera television.
  • More satellite channels emerged: Al Arabiya from Saudi Arabia; Arab News Network from London; Sky News Arabia; US established Al Hurra
  • Digital Wave, which gives way to Citizen media, basically used by youth–educated mostly: social media and internet…which is shifting communication into dialogue all at the same time
  • Tunisia in 2010: 10% internet users were on . In 2011- jumped to 17%. 15% blogs talking abt  ~Prof. Abdeljabar
  • Egypt’s famous website “We’re all Khaled Said” gained 70K online supporters w/in a few days
  • Social media used to share symbols and mass proliferate throughout coffeehouses and through Youtube.

Maria Holt “Women and the ‘Arab Spring’: A Case Study of Yemen”

  • Although Tawakol Karman protested elections and quota systems are still not implemented, there are some positive developments…e.g. the background of activism continues to make up Yemen’s social fabric regardless of scholarship’s hesitancy to dig deep on Yemen in the general Gulf area.
  • Iconic Symbols of Empowerment: Women in Islamist organizations are in a unique position to activate voice, e.g. Islah Party….”when they speak, they speak w/confidence” attest some of her Yemeni women interviewees
  • Paradox: Concerns the role of Islam how it both “constrains and restrains women” during revolution and aftermath in Yemen.
  • Considers the Amnesty International Report not adequate to characterize the role of women in Yemen, despite their observations of discrimination b/c women assumed a strong role during Yemen revolution in 2011–even in 1967 regarding women’s rights. Considered more progressive. e.g. Boys and Girls studied together; minimum age for marriage.
  • Notes Tawakol Karman, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner hailed from Yemen –
  • During Revolution, fathers, brothers and husbands encouraged their sisters, wives to participate — however, in San’aa, some Islamist factions encouraged segregation

Note: Daniel Brumberg, US Institute for Peace had to excuse himself from panel.

Lunch Remarks via @PITAPOLICY Tweets

Questions from Audience:

  • What are best practices for managing elections?
  • Wouldn’t removing blasphemy laws still divide the society?
  • Marina Ottaway: Shouldn’t liberals also be more tolerant?

Panel 2: Can Tunisia Succeed as a Model?

Note: “Tunisia’s draft constitution must be revised to comply w/int. treaty obligations, argues Human Rights Watch


“Electoral Formula and the Tunisian Constiutent Assembly”
John Carey, Dartmouth College

  • Note:Tunisia held the first post-ARab Spring election, for 217 members of its Constituent Assembly, by closed-list proportional representation
  • Used an electoral formula “Hare Quaote” where largest party was awarded less than a majority of seats and pushed them to negotiate with other groups in drafting a constitution.
  • Review of how Hare Quota operated as an Electoral Formula: Carey’s paper uses district level data to demonstrate that , had the other most commonly used electoral forumla been employed, the largest party would have been awarded a super-majority in the Assembly and been in a position to impose a consittution. Goving forward, the invcentives for party system fragmentation generated by the Hare Quota system could impede the development of Tunisian democracy, and reformers in taht country should consider replacing that formula with a divisor system.
  • 3 Things Right for Constituent Assembly: Single Tier Vote as opposed to Egypt, so level of transparency was high
  1. Selected Proportional Representation: meaning
  2. Magnitude: Governates that have higher populations, were divided up into Electoral districts
  3. Transparency: Voters should be able to know what their choice is getting them


  • Systematic: Know how their votes translates into number of seats…
  • Majority: How majoritarain governments form during narrow margins
  • Opportunities for Individual Accountability: How can voters “punish” parliamentarians through votes when not legislating constructively

Joelle Fiss Human Rights First “Blasphemy, Freedom of Speech and Democratic Transition: The Case of Tunisia”

  • 200 cases of blasphemy laws violating #humanrights after 2011 – 5 in #Tunisia and growing problem #CSID14
  • Rec to Tunisia: happy that it’s not introduced into Tunisia constitution. hope that in post-constitutional phase that crimininalization is narrowly defined. violence response is absolutely unacceptable…even if one is deemed offended.
  • Call on Tunisians to protect those who have been accused or speak out against blasphemy laws – including parliamentarians.
  • Suffocates #civilsociety as mobs convene.Tunisia Sept 2012 where led to violence and poses citizen against citizen, forced govt authorities to take sides, lose-lose situation  incitement is different from blasphemy…look at intent.  the more you are offended, the more one feels entitled to more extreme responses… blasphemy becomes politicized

Alexander Martin, 1st Year Phd “Building common ground for democratiziation in Tunisia through the development of civil society and civil political culture”

  • Civility is the tolerance, or mutual accommodation in day to day dealings.
  • Civil society needs 2 things: state to protect the civil society and civil society to be protected from State.
  • Quoted some Orientalist works about how “Arabs lack civility within society”

Radwan Masmoudi, Center for Study of Islam & Democracy: “Building a Stable democracy in Tunisia What will it take?”

  • Transitional Justice is a big topic: related to accountability w/o turning it into a dictatorship.
  • Cleaning up the system: as in those who served Ben Ali. How to replace those who were corrupt…pace of reforms.
  • Reforming Media, Judges, and Judicial system.
  • Civil society is striving…it takes only a couple of days for NGOs to register. Reason optimistic  that Tunisia is going to make it.


  • Prblm w/dictatorship: They reject reforms. That’s why revolutions start. Prblm w/Rev: Happen suddenly & must destroy state. This is costly…almost becomes an anarchy.
  • The question in Tunisia: has to do w/pace. Haven’t had an opportunity to discuss them b/c focusing on Constitution.  Some people think we’re going too fast, whereas some feel that we’re going too slow. e.g. Constitution is behind schedule-it’s at one year in development–but it’s not about getting 10 experts to write it. The challenge is building consensus among people and the parties…that’s what takes time.
  • It’s easier 2 agree when discussing theory, harder 2 agree in practice
  • Why focus on Tunisia? B/c if building democracy doesn’t succeed in Tunisia, won’t succeed anywhere in other Arab transition countries.


Questions from Audience:

  • Can we ever point to a time that Islam had an ideally democratic phase in history?
  • Did Islam ever develop an economic theory outside of Zakat (Islamic require?


Panel 1: How a Proper Undersandinf of Islam Can Help Democracy? Chaired by Tamara Sonn
Abdulaziz Sachedina: “Can Islam of the Islamic parties in the Arab Sprng lead to democracy? Text and Textualism”

Nader Hashemi“Why Islam (properly understood) is the Solution: Reflections on the Role fo Religion in Tunisia’s Democratic Transition”

Abdulkarim Soroush, Scholar-in-Residence at Yale University:  “Lessons learned from the iranian Revolution”

  • The core of democracy is the judiciary. We overlooked this in Iran, where it’s weakest now.
  • My humble rec to Tunisia is to focus on the judiciary. ~Abdulkarim Soroush
  • Iran produced a “Theory-less” revolution….meaning that EVEN after 34 years, we still don’t have a theory about Islamic economics. Weakness of #Iranrevolution.
  • Neither the Shah or Khomeini offered a positive solution or theory.

Asfaque Syed: “Universal Dimensions of theQur’an and Historic Specificity of Islam’s Theological Sciences”

  • Islam and shariah law are not the same. Multiplicty of ways, broad moral laws of Islam.
  • Opinion=Ray’ and Islamic law is fallible
  • Supposed to protect minorities in politics and civic life Chapter 39, Verse 14
  • Argues for confidential voting
  • 10 Golden Rules
  1. any attempt must not be done w/in vaccuum, consider historial moral legacy w/some level of scrutiny, dismiss slavish imitation
  2. Establish process of redress and separation of power Chapter 9 and verse 122
  3. Allow for pluralism Ch 2, v 142
  4. Provide a space for people to discharge their duties


Leave a Comment

Filed under Interests, Politics

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *