The Cultural Consequences of the Arab Revolutions

Jun 11

Yesterday I attended a forum sponsored jointly by “Muntada Ibn Rushd,” roughly “The Averroes Society,” and the Iranian Cultural Center, the title of which was “The Cultural Consequences of the Arab Revolutions.”  Clearly, there was a disagreement as to what “Cultural” meant between the speakers and the audience, many of whom thought culture was narrowly limited to the arts.  Fortunately for me, however, the speakers and I were on the same page, namely, the Arab revolutions, and the future of political culture in the Arab world.  The speakers were, Abu Yarub al-Marzouqi, a Tunisian philosopher, who recently published a philosophical commentary on the Quran, Maryam Azzouz, a youth political activist, Radwan Masmoudi, a Tunisian-American director of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, headquartered in Washington, DC, Amal Balkhairi, a youth activist in one of the Tunisian political parties whose name escapes me but claims the political “center,” and last but not least, a representative of the Iranian government, Muhsin ‘Iraqi.  ‘Iraqi is a religious scholar who studied in the Hawza at Qum.  The clip of the event that I have included is limited to some of Balkhairi’s remarks.

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My Impression of al-Nahda

Jun 01

At 11:00 am today, I went to the new headquarters of the Tunisian political party, al-Nahda, and had the pleasure of witnessing Tunisian youth members of  “Sawty: Sawt Shabab Tunis (My Voice: The Voice of Tunisian Youth),” interview Hamadi el-Jabali and Ziyad al-Daulatli, both leaders of the Nahda Party.  The interview with Mr. Jabali was cut short after half an hour by what appeared to be an unexpected meeting that required Mr. Jabali’s immediate attention.  Thereafter, the youth were introduced to Mr. al-Daulatli who allowed the youth to question him on a wide variety of topics for almost two hours without interruption.  Without getting into the details of the discussion, I find it very difficult to believe that al-Nahda can be taken as a serious threat to democracy.  While by all appearances its leadership appears to be committed Muslims, they do not appear to be the kind of Muslims interested in imposing their beliefs on anyone.  In fact, I would say that any Egyptian government office that I have entered would have easily been more obviously “religious” in orientation than the Nahda’s official headquarters.  One thing that astonished me, for example, was the fact that the call to prayer was not even heard in their headquarters, much less was the meeting stopped to say Zuhr prayers.  This is hardly the behavior of a “fanatic” Islamist party, at least in my opinion. (Indeed, it is not at all unusual in Egypt, for example, to find that most government bureaucrats leave their desk to pray the Zuhr prayer; they are usually home by Asr time.)  Their rhetoric, moreover, continually emphasizes personal rights and freedoms, and that religious Tunisians religious and cultural rights should not be deemed any less worthy protection of Tunisians who are non-observant of Islamic norms.  Even were such rhetoric disingenuous, it has a price, and it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for them to climb down from the very strong claims they have made regarding the sacredness of Tunisians’ individual rights, including, their right to be bad Muslims. I heard that Yusuf al-Qaradawi will be visiting Tunisia next week, and it will be interesting to hear his perspective on al-Nahda’s proposed plan of governance and its intentional strategy of disclaiming any intent to apply Shari’a (which, in Tunisia, I have been told, means hudud and polygamy).

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