Isobel Coleman, Ed Husain, and Michael Willis discuss the relationship between Islam and politics following the Arab uprisings, including how Islam affects women's and minority rights, democracy, and secularism.
This session was part of a CFR symposium, Implications of the Arab Uprisings, which was made possible by the generous support of Rita E. Hauser, and organized in cooperation with University of Oxford's St. Antony's College.
DEBORAH AMOS: (In progress) -- council meeting, so whatever you all say will be on the record.
I'm going to introduce our panel. I'll do it shortly; otherwise, we can spend all day with their accomplishments. Ed Husain is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies here at the council. Isobel Coleman is also a senior fellow here, director of the Civil Society, Markets and Democracy Initiative at the council. And she's the author of a great book, "Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women Are Transforming the Middle East."
And we're lucky to have Michael Williams (sic). He's the director of Middle -- of the Middle East Centre and King Mohammed VI fellow at -- in Moroccan and Mediterranean studies at St. Anthony's (sic) College, University of Oxford, and a man who answers emails from complete stranger journalists -- (laughter) -- and helps them when they have to go to Morocco. So I will be eternally grateful for that.
I want to start off in a place that we haven't addressed this morning yet, and that is women in the revolutions and how they will fare afterwards. I think we were all heartened to see, in the first act of the Arab Spring, women on the front lines of Tahrir Square. We know that in Syria, it's actually two women who are the beginning of organizing the revolts in Syria. In Tunisia, there were women on the streets -- not so much in Libya. But Isobel, you are the best person to address, when we talk about Islam and politics, what do we have to watch for with how women's rights are addressed? And where and how will they fare in this new political order?
ISOBEL COLEMAN: Thank you, Deb.
I just want to give a little shoutout to the women in Libya because actually, it was women protesting in front of the prison against the fact that their loved ones had disappeared that in many ways sparked what turned into a very bloody revolution there.
But I think that, you know, women have been a fault point in -- a fault line in the Middle East for a long time. And what you're seeing are some remarkable cross currents in society right now. You have, as you pointed out, this terrific mobilization of women that is going on across the region that is driven by a number of different factors.
The Arab world, as many people have mentioned, is a place where -- which has lagged in terms of women's investment, women's empowerment, women's education. But particularly in education, they've been closing the gaps in recent years. You have the best-educated generation of young women today. They're having fewer children. Tunisia, by the way, has a below-replacement-level fertility rate at 1.7. You have more women working. You have more women role models. You have a dramatic and profound change that has gone on within media. With the opening of satellite television, you have many more ideas being discussed in the region, talk shows, women on talk shows, clerics debating each other over what is the role of women in Islam, all of these cross currents.
And now this remarkable mobilization, you know, in December you saw the largest female protest in Egypt since 1919. You know, more -- thousands and thousands of women took to the streets to protest the mistreatment of a woman who was known around the world as the blue bra girl because she's been dragged brutally through Tahrir Square and stomped on.
So you have this real mobilization and awakening of women -- Tawakul Karman, of course, from Yemen, won the Nobel Peace Prize -- at the same time that you have an awakening of a political resurgence of Islamism in the region. And there are strains of Islamism that take a very narrow and conservative view towards women and have talked about -- for example, in Egypt, there has been banter about segregating the schools, about segregating the beaches, about not allowing women to do certain jobs. You know, this is talk that goes on, that -- and of course, of rewriting the current personal status laws, which have an enormous impact on people's day-to-day lives, on divorce, custody, inheritance, these types of things. And I can guarantee you that when they're rewritten, they will not be in women's favor.
And so you see a lot of cross currents going on. And women are very much -- and women's rights are a fault point in society because it really -- you know, attitudes towards women and women's rights align very closely with a number of very important issues. You know, if you have a progressive view on women, women's rights, you're more likely to have a progressive and tolerant view towards minority rights, religious freedom, freedom of speech. All of these types of things, they tend to go together. So you're really seeing women very much on the -- on the front line of these frictions.
AMOS: I'm going to ask Michael and then Ed, when we talk about Islam and politics, and particularly now when we're talking about democracy, Islam and politics, is it clear to you that the Brotherhood or the Salafists or any of the groups who are emerging have a clear idea of where they want to go with women's rights; minority rights, which is in some ways a subset of that -- is that clearly defined? And if it's not, what are the pressures, one way or the other, that will define, as we watch in the next couple of years, how this gets played out?
WILLIS: I think the -- the straight -- the straight answer to that question is no, in part because things move too quickly. I don't think that any of them have a really clear idea of where exactly they want to go on this.
That said, I think it's been -- the Islamist movements, the Brotherhood and the other linked ones, have been thinking about these issues and other issues, though I think the question of women has been further down the agenda. They were beginning to think about it, talk about it. But with such a rapid movement of the events, I think it hasn't really been thought through, and these things are being thought through at the moment.
I think on the issue of women, I think just one thing to sort of throw into the mix is, in the case of Egypt and Tunisia, you had states that portrayed themselves as overtly feminist, and that's created some tensions --
WILLIS: Backlash. I think in both cases they were window dressing, that there was no -- unless -- the only women who got advancement under the Mubarak and Ben Ali regimes were people who actually happened to be physically related to the president.
The other issue I think is going to be interesting -- and it's still emerging -- is the issue of -- with the opening of the -- of the systems and with the involvement of Islamists is the role played by Islamist women.
Now I have a graduate student looking -- she's looking at this, and what she's found is quite startling. First of all, she says that nobody's really done any research on Islamist women, and also most researchers say that this is an illegitimate topic, we know what Islamist women think, they're just told to do what -- by the men. And already in her research she's finding that's not the case.
And if you look at the Tunisian parliament, a quarter of it, the new parliament -- a quarter of it is women and that's all of Islamist women. So they have a significant role to play.
But she found that there's been a -- there's been a completely inflexible view that Islamist women don't matter, that they're a known quantity; we don't even need to talk to them. And I think the role that they play in the evolving situation, as Islamist movements play a bigger role and Islamist women become involved -- and they've important activists, particularly in Tunisia. When most of the men were locked up in the '90s, the women played a very significant role. And I think that's going to be (played ?).
If you talk to some Islamist movements and they talk about things like the -- reforming the family code, a lot of Islamist women will say, well, whatever we want, the women in our movement would have something to say about that, so therefore we have to think about this. There's an input coming in from Islamist women. That's one thing. We don't know quite how that will emerge, but I think that's one aspect that will play into all of this.
AMOS: And just quickly, before we move on to Ed, can you also speak to the Moroccan situation, where there are liberal laws for women, but when the Islamists come in, they only have one woman in their Cabinet, and people are scandalized by that in Morocco? And what does that mean? Is that a mistake that they will correct, or is that a sign?
WILLIS: I think it's something they're sensitive to. I mean, the argument that the PJD come back with is, they're saying, there is only one woman in the Cabinet, and she's from our party, and it's a full party coalition. They say, where are the women from the other parties? OK, we're dominant, but where are the others?
But they are sensitive (for ?) that. They're pushing Basima Haqawi, who has been prominent, and I think they realize these sort of pressures. And like with a lot of things, now that they come into -- are coming into power, they're under more scrutiny on the issues. And I think that's something they feel quite sensitive about, and I think it does say a more conservative mindset, clearly, and that could cause -- that could cause them some problems.
ED HUSAIN: I'm in broad agreement with my co-panelists. I turn for a moment perhaps to the base -- best case study to illustrate mass Arab thinking on this. It'll be easier for all the obvious reasons -- population, history, geostrategic importance, culture, intellectual leadership and so on.
And within Egypt, if we look to the Muslim Brotherhood as an archetype perhaps for mass Islamist thinking, to some extent, with all its flaws, there are two dimensions, one inside the Muslim Brotherhood and the way it has and has not treated women, and then without and outside of the Muslim Brotherhood and how it's been handling it -- the public dealings with women's rights in the public sphere since the revolution.
Inside the Muslim Brotherhood, women cannot officially be members of the Muslim Brotherhood because it's not the Muslim Sisterhood. It is the Muslim Brotherhood, and it's called the Brotherhood for a reason. The Maktab al-Irshad, or the highest committee -- bureaucratic committee within the Muslim Brotherhood, does not allow for women. Women are patronized, as they were in the Mubarak years, by virtue of being daughters and wives and sisters to the leaders.
So Khairat al-Shater, who's the deputy of the brotherhood and ultimately the powerhouse inside the Muslim Brotherhood, controls the women's faction or portrays himself as being a controller of the Muslim Brotherhood women because his daughter and his wife and his daughter-in-laws are leaders of the female faction of the brothers. And that's no way to illustrate genuine commitment to women's rights if you have that kind of paternalistic, almost sexist attitude towards women. So I'd be, you know, critical, I think, of the brotherhood and its internal politics and the way in it -- and the way in which it's been addressing women within for the last 40 to 50 years.
But that said, their excuses would be, we've had higher priorities, we -- you know, we've been fighting for mere survival, and now post-Arab revolutions, this is on our agenda, but then economics and global politics and the elections and the constitutions and everything else is pressing. So I grant them that.
Now, outside of the Muslim Brotherhood, to be fair to them, the -- they were perhaps the only party that ran female parliamentary candidates side by side with their male candidates in almost every constituency, unlike, say, the Salafis, who ran women candidates without their faces showing or with pictures of their husbands as campaign material rather than the women themselves. And it happened the Ikhwan, or the Brotherhood, didn't. So to their credit, there's that.
But then of late -- and I don't want to go on -- you know, let's turn to other questions -- of late there's been this huge debate over the last two days in Egypt over female genital mutilation. And you would have thought FGM would be something that the Muslim Brotherhood would have a clear position on and abhor it and condemn it. And yet there's been a split within the Brotherhood, some coming out and saying, well, it's an individual female's choice -- who chooses to mutilate anything -- or others saying, well, no, it should be banned, and others saying it's not for the state to intervene in. So for the Brotherhood to be embroiled in that sort of debate or members of the Brotherhood at least to be embroiled in that kind of retrogressive debate rather than come out with a clear public statement to say this is a barbaric practice from the past about -- with which we will have nothing to do is an indication, I think, of the Brotherhood still trying to pander to an agenda that's destructive for women's rights more broadly.
AMOS: Let me broaden this out to the notion of minorities. It's not an issue in Tunisia; it's not an issue in Libya. It's an issue in Egypt, and it's also a demonstration project for almost everybody else in the region. If you're a minority in Syria or in Lebanon or in Iraq, for that matter, you really don't trust, except for a strong power, to protect you. Is there any notion that as Islamists begin to talk about democracy and what that means that protecting minority rights is on the agenda?
And let me start with Ed and come back this way.
HUSAIN: Most Islamist organizations are still stuck with the mindset that democracy means elections; democracy means majority rule. Granted, there are exceptions to that, but the vast thinking hasn't yet come down to understanding that democracy is not just elections, but it's also a democratic culture and understanding of the rule of law and minority rights and transparent government and repeated elections.
And the issue on which they get most stuck on, which is sovereignty, sovereignty for God -- (in Arabic) -- or is it sovereignty for the people through parliament? Now, you may say these are theological debates and political debates, but the bottom line is we really haven't had clear black-and-white statements from leaders of, in the case of Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood, saying that sovereignty now rests with the people. Khairat al-Shater, Aboul Fotouh, who's a current presidential candidate not from the Brotherhood but formerly involved with the Brotherhood, has made these kind of noises.
So Islamists and democracy and human rights -- it's -- I think it's fair to say that these are ideas that are still in contention; they're in flux; there's no clear black-and-white answer from most Islamist leaders. But if there was ever going to be a moment in which we would have clarity from them, this is it. And the leadership we've seen from Rachid al-Ghannouchi in Tunisia, for example, has been encouraging on many of these fronts. But they still get stuck because of the push that they're -- the Muslim Brotherhood and the so-called mainstream Islamist movements face from, say, the Salafis, the more literalist, rigid, Saudi-influenced form of Islamism, because those -- (inaudible) -- and I'll sort of end this answer with this quick anecdote.
When the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt -- (inaudible) -- Mohamed Badie, comes out openly and says, what the Brotherhood as an organization wants is a civil state, dawla madaniya, and manages to carry the rank and file of the Muslim Brotherhood with that message -- in other words, away from an Islamic state, what happens is the following day the Salafis (rock up ?), and their message is quite clearly, no, we don't want a dawla madiniya or a -- or a -- or a civil state, we want a dawla Islamiya, an Islamic state.
The risk there, of course, is for the Brotherhood and its members and its support are now being out-Islamed by the Salafis. So that's the kind of debate that's being played out on the ground in Egypt, and the challenge is, I think, for the Muslim Brotherhood to come out, like the Turks have or the Tunisians have -- (audio break) -- only for pluralism and a religiously neutral public space, in the sense that no one religious interpretation is imposed on the masses. And I think the Turkish prime minister, for all his faults, deserves credit for lecturing the Muslim Brotherhood leadership on the virtues of secularism.
Yes, I think -- I think this is going to be an issue. I mean, traditionally if you asked the Islamists in the past about the issue of minorities, they'd give you a very sort of (pat-on ?), saying, well, of course, in the classical Islamic formula, there's a special status for Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews -- (inaudible) -- people of the book, et cetera. It doesn't say about other religions and people of no religion and atheists. And also, that classical sort of framework is not one of equality. And I think that (pat-on theory ?) is becoming more difficult to deal with.
And I think it's absolutely right that the issue is the civil state, and there has been quite an evolution in certain places, the idea about an Islamic state, what does that actually mean, and that you can have a civil state where Islam plays a role in society but not -- there is a certain civic identity of the state which all citizens can belong to, whilst Islam informs other aspects. And I think -- I agree that in Tunisia, the (Ennahda ?) party have dealt with it; I think in Turkey, as you say, have dealt with it; and I think the Brotherhood and other Islamist organizations are grappling with that. And I think several of them are finding the Tunisian solution to be quite a useful way of dealing with this sort of issue.
AMOS: When you talk, Isobel, about women's rights, are Egyptian women talking to Tunisian women, talking to Moroccan women, talking to -- is there this counterpush?
COLEMAN: Yes. And let me just also add a point on minority rights. It ties to your earlier question. It is evolving. I mean, if you look at the Muslim Brotherhood's first party platform that they put out, I think it was 2007, where they articulated their party platform, in it they said that neither a non-Muslim, meaning a Copt, or a woman could be president. And, you know, they've had years now to debate this internally, and you've seen divisions on this point. So you're seeing somebody like an Abu Fatouh come out much more strongly. He's made quite strong statements about what citizenship means and what that's based on, but you see a whole spectrum of this within the Egyptian political system today across Islamist parties.
Regarding women, women very much are looking -- and have been for years across the region -- at what works in other countries. And this point you made earlier about the state co-opting women's rights is a very important one, because there has been a backlash against state-led feminism, and there's also been a rise of Islamism. And so many women have said, well, we need to argue for our rights on multiple levels. You know, we can't only have state-led feminism, because that's illegitimate for many people. We can't only appeal to universalist principles, because Islamists don't buy that. And so they've been looking at Islamic arguments. And in Morocco you had a very successful grass-roots movement to reform the Mudawanna there, the family code, which drew upon many different sources, including Islamic thought, on how to reconcile Sharia and aspects of what they were looking for in the family code.
And that has -- you know, there is a similar movement today in Egypt. In fact, I just got an email recently from a human rights group, a very secular human rights group, saying, oh, I read your book about this and now we want to use Islamic arguments to argue for human rights in Egypt. I mean, this was just a matter of weeks ago.
But you're seeing this all over the region, and there are many different international groups that are connecting women from, say, Morocco -- look at Iraq, which is very interesting. You have -- to go back to your point about Islamist women, in the women who've been elected, Iraq has a quota; 25 percent of the parliament is female. And they are Islamist women. They are elected on party platforms. And how -- what do they think? How have they been negotiating these things in Iraq, in Afghanistan?
Iran has been -- I mean, talk about the importance of Islamist women. You've seen the regime in Iran use Islamist women to justify the regime. And they did, for a long time. And then they said, hey, we don't buy it anymore. And those same women, daughters of the revolution, are the ones who are very much protesting against the regime now, and many of them have been arrested.
So you do see this evolution within Islamists, within -- among Islamist women, and also this transfer of ideas from one country to another.
AMOS: What I hear all of you describing is a system in great flux. We've had a number of revolutions. People are finally being able to talk about ideas of democracy but not fully formed.
And in the earlier panel, there was this notion that our role as the United States should be to make clear our liberal values, that that would be a good thing for us to do. Is that enough in a region where these ideas are not formed yet? They are forming. I mean, should we be more active in finding out who the -- you know, the seminal figures are and identifying them and where the arguments are and having more of an activist role?
COLEMAN: Well, I think that there are lots of different levels that we can play on. The most sort of brute force, lecturing, giving tons of money, in a very overt way, is the least useful. But there are more subtle things that you can do. You can certainly give people a platform, you know, by inviting them to the United States, to the White House, giving them awards -- you know, the Women of Courage Award at the State Department -- you know, these types of things.
And what I've come to learn is that the -- it can cut both ways, this type of assistance, but nobody is a better arbiter of whether it's going to hurt or help them than the individual himself. And they're sophisticated, and they know -- if I'm, you know, invited for a meeting with a very high-profile American diplomat or policymaker, is that a good thing for me or not? And most of them will say, actually, at the end of the day, it's a good thing for me. Look at how the Salafis themselves have been -- and the Muslim Brotherhood have been falling over themselves to meet with American policymakers when they come to Cairo. I mean, I was just there two weeks ago; they were very open to me and very happy to meet with me and discuss their ideas with me.
And so I really think that there are a number of ways you can engage and assist. And let's not forget that the groups -- NDI and IRI and Freedom House -- that were working in Egypt and being criticized for being -- taking all this American money and doing what they were doing, when in Egypt, the talk was, yeah, but what about the Salafi groups that have gotten hundreds of millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars in funding from the Gulf? And no one seems to be talking about that. So it's not a level playing field, and I think we'd be naive to think that we can -- you know, that the people that -- whose ideas are most important, that they don't need some type of assistance.
AMOS: Michael, do you think we hurt them or harm them? Are we too standoffish because we don't quite understand what's happening?
WILLIS: I think it's got to be done subtly, and I think it's got to be done from the technical point of view. As I made -- at the risk of repeating myself from the first session, I think the values -- using the language of values of problematic, and -- because it's linked in with issues of civilization.
One of the most depressing and, I think, destructive things that happened in the first decade of the 21st century was we allowed globally to get ourselves sucked into a debate that there were two civilizations that were vying it out. There was Western civilization that had been women-friendly and tolerant for 2,000 years, and you had this other civilization focused on the Muslim world which was anything but, and that there was this big divide, and the only way, certainly, from a Western (civilization ?), was to convert this other backward civilization.
Now, this was a rhetoric which was completely endorsed by bin Laden and al-Qaida and the extreme Islamists, and the far right in the West. And unfortunately, the vast majority of the rest of us got sucked along with this discussion. So I think this idea that somehow we need to fix this broken part of the world through our values -- which, again, most of our values on women, how long have we -- how long have we -- women weren't even given the vote until the last hundred years, weren't even given equal pay, were not even treated the same. I'm not saying you can -- you can move into that relativism, but we need to have a certain humility.
And I think the way of doing it is, this is a problem we had in our society; this is the way we fixed it; do you think this might be a way of dealing with it? If you look at somebody like Rachid Ghannouchi again, his view has been a political view, the leader of the Tunisian Islamist movement, is he looked at the problem, for example, of authoritarianism and dictatorship. And he started by saying, the West, whatever else I think -- I think about or we Muslims think about it, has seemed to have solved this problem; how technically did they solve that problem?
So if we put it in terms of, technically, this is an issue to solve, rather than saying, we have a certain set of superior values that you need to adopt before you even get to changing things; here is a technical way of looking at it -- this way you'll find you'll solve this; you'll find your society is much more productive if you involve women. The more you involve women, the more productive and the -- and the more dynamic the society becomes. This is not about values; it's about using the society. And I think that would be the way forward.
AMOS: Ed, are there thinkers that we should now all be following who are arguing this out on what democracy in the Arab Middle East is going to look like?
HUSAIN: There are several in Turkey. Mustafa Akyol comes to mind. Among Islamist movements, in Tunisia, Ghannouchi is prominent. The Turkish foreign minister is perhaps another one. In Egypt, less thinking has been done. In Saudi Arabia, from among the Salafis, Sheikh Salman al-Auda -- I mean, many of these names, you're probably familiar, or not, for many of you. So I don't want to bore you with the details. If anyone is interested in particular names, I can -- I can certainly respond to that.
But I want to, if I may --
HUSAIN: -- just bounce off a little from Michael's point.
I think that young Arabs on the streets of Tahrir Square or on Tunis or Libya or even in Hama and Homs have repeatedly called for Western involvement in the -- in the difficulty that they face. Go back to January of last year when hundreds of thousands of people were in Tahrir Square, and the White House was dithering as to whether it should or should not support a(n) uprising that was peaceful, against a dictatorship, calling for transparent government, calling for dignity, higher rates of employment, education, health care, housing, all the bread-and-butter issues. Day in and day out, from Tahrir Square, the message was: Where is the White House; where is Obama? Every time Obama spoke, for the first two or three times, when his messaging was more or less hedged, there were boos in Tahrir Square against the U.S. administration.
Now, that kind of sitting on the fence doesn't necessarily aid the growth of democracy in an organic sense. This was not U.S.-engineered, as some people -- I'm sorry to say, maybe one or two of your colleagues at Oxford -- I think Tariq Ramadan has recently written a book about blaming certain think thanks, like RAND Corporation; I've just reviewed his book for Monday's Financial Times. There is this conspiracy theory mindset, but that's not what the people on -- in Tahrir Square have advocated previously. Even most recently in Maspero when the SCAF opened fire on Christian protesters -- Christian protesters -- people there repeatedly said these were gas canisters and bullets that were made in the USA. Where is Barack Obama now? Controlling SCAF's response.
Now, I understand there is this "damned if you do, damned if you don't" dichotomy to play with, but we've got to understand that this is the -- I mean, people in the Middle East rising up against dictatorships weren't motivated by China, you know. You know, they weren't motivated by, you know, I'm sorry to say, the French. You know, they looked towards one part of the world in which there were free and fair elections every four years, presidents came, presidents went. And guess which country that is? I'm sorry if I sound like a neocon on this, and I'm not a neocon, but the point I make is that there is a civilizational debate going on.
And my last point on this would be this: that when I lived in Saudi Arabia during 2005, for most of 2005, every Friday morning there was a television show that went around -- well, there was a group of five young Saudis that joined a Muslim scholar here in the U.S. by the name Sheikh Hamza Yusuf Hanson, and here I was, a Brit in Saudi Arabia, watching Friday morning television; it's like Sunday morning television, for many of you who are Christians, or Saturday morning television if you're -- if you're Jewish. So everyone was watching it, and the program was called Ahri Halamashi Hamza (ph).
I remember watching one particular episode and going to the Friday prayers at the mosque in Jeddah, and the imam was discussing the particular episode. What was the episode about? The episode was (Sheikh Hamza ?) goes to the Library of Congress. There's a dome in the Library of Congress in which it illustrates Western civilizational debt to various world civilzations. And among the six civilizations, there were -- and this is where I part with Leo Strauss when he says the West is a Judeo-Christian civilization. On the dome of the Library of Congress, Islam was one civilization amongst six others.
Now, for (Sheikh Hamza ?) to highlight this to six Saudis, that then gets beamed back into the Middle East and the Friday prayer (sermonizer ?) in Jeddah picks up on it is an illustration that our values and their values aren't necessarily at odds. The moment you acknowledge that debt to Muslim civilization, and especially to Ibn Drushd (ph) and Ibn Sina and others who have preserved Greek classical thinking that then led to the Reformation, the Enlightenment and much else, you will find that the vast majority of Muslim hearts and minds are now open to discussing civilizational equality rather than the liability of the destruction that you spoke about.
AMOS: Let me ask a broader question. You know, this panel is called Islam and Politics. But in act one of the Arab Spring, it was young people who were on the squares and in Libya and young women. We don't -- we haven't seen them re-emerge. They have in some ways been eclipsed by Islam and politics. When do we find out what they want? Is there a moment that they emerge? How does the dynamic happen between the Islamists who are organized and the people who brought us the revolution?
Let's start on this side.
COLEMAN: Well, I think where the rubber really hits the road is on the economy. When you look at what young people want, they certainly want freedom. They certainly want dignity and social justice. They also want jobs. And what heartens me in Tunisia is the -- Ennahda seems to really get that and understands that it's the economy, stupid. You know, they are -- their moment in the sun will rise or fall on how well they can deliver, in effect, on the economic situation, primarily for young people These are young populations. And youth unemployment is enormously high.
And so you see statements from Ennahda leaders saying very consciously we don't want to get into these cultural battles; you know, we don't want to just spend our time on should women be wearing the veil or not or these types of issues. You know, they want to get cracking on the economy and on education and on getting things back moving. And they need to. And I think in Egypt you're feeling a sense of growing, you know, economic urgency. And you've got fuel shortages now and the looming subsidy issue. You know, a huge portion of the government budget is going to subsidies and the government's running out of foreign exchange reserves.
And so there's a sense of economic urgency that ultimately young people are going to take to the streets again, I think, if their demands are not -- and they won't be met, because they have very high expectations but -- you know, if they don't see the country moving in some positive direction. And I think it's there. It's very much there. And I think there's an enormous sense of frustration that it will bubble out again and you could see a lot of turmoil for a really long time.
WILLIS: Yes. I mean, I think -- occasionally you hear, even within the region itself, stated, well, it was the left and liberals who made the revolution, but it was the Islamists who ultimately took control of it. And I think even though there is something to that, I don't see a disconnect, necessarily. The Islamists were involved to a limited degree in there. And I think their electoral success was often related to the demands of the revolution. They represented in many places the party that was regarded as being the biggest break with the old regime. That was one part of it.
The other issue -- and I think this has often been overlooked, why people voted for the Islamist parties, was on the issue of corruption, which has been an enormous part. I think sometimes that's underestimated in how big the role of corruption was. And I remember somebody saying to me in Morocco, I'm not an Islamist, I don't necessarily agree with all their social things, but I'm voting for the PJD because at least they won't steal my money; every other person we've had in has stolen my money, and I think these people will not do that, certainly not initially. And I'm cynical enough to believe that if the Islamists stay in there long enough, they'll turn into like every other politician.
But I think in the short run -- but I agree completely with Isobel is the fact that now if you begin to set up these sort of representative institutions and sort of accountability comes in, then they'll have to pay attention to that. I know again in Tunisia that despite the success of the elections, turnout was much lower than expected, and a lot of people, particularly young people, didn't vote. And I know -- (inaudible) -- aware of that, and they say a lot of younger people didn't vote because they felt disillusioned. We need to bring those people on-side both for our own parties and good -- and also for the good of the country. And I think that would therefore, for demands and revolution, if they're seen as being -- returning to the old ways -- I mean, this is what the Brotherhood have to be very careful of is if they're perceived as just -- of being a -- the face of a rejigging of the old regime with just Mubarak gone and a few cosmetic changes made.
So I don't know how they feel in Egypt, whether they feel that they've got to pay too much attention to that or whether their support base is more sustainable. I'm not sure.
AMOS: The Tunisian election wasn't reported that way. The first original reports were 90 percent, 80 percent.
WILLIS: Well --
AMOS: And it turns out it wasn't that good.
WILLIS: Well, no, there was a mistake. What the initial reports were -- the percentage of people who registered. And there was a problem with -- I won't bore you with all the technical details -- there was a problem with registration, and they didn't manage to register everybody in time. And the mechanisms they put in place -- I mean, I went out and observed, and I went out to a -- deliberately went out to the smallest little flyblown town where I could -- there were going to be no observers and no media, and I found quite a lot of people there who were frustrated because the mechanisms for registration hadn't worked out, and they hadn't been able to vote. That takes into consideration that.
So the turnout was technically, I think, 52 (percent), 53 percent. Even if you take into consideration the problems, there were people who weren't voting, and it did seem to be quite a few of these were the -- were the youth. And there is a discussion that says we, the poor youth, made the revolution, and the politicians in Tunis or (Cairo ?), whatever, have now sat down and carved up the pie themselves and where we've been deprived of that. Now, that could put pressures on in a good way, but also it could put pressures on in a rather destructive way. And we have to see how the politicians who are coming in through the ballot box deal with those pressures. And I think they are aware of that, and I think they will respond to it.
HUSAIN: Remind me of the question, please, Deb. I'm sorry.
AMOS: The question is the people who brought the revolution -- we haven't heard from them much. And so is there some moment when the Islamists, in their political discussions, have to address what these people wanted? Do we know what they want?
HUSAIN: If I focus on Egypt again, if I may for a minute, I think it's difficult to say that those who brought us the revolution have somehow either disappeared or have no influence on the political discourse in Egypt. I think the reason, or one reason among several, why the Muslim Brotherhood and even the Salafis and others increasingly feel the need to move to the political center is because of the public pressure that they face from the secularists and the liberals that are often dismissed, I think, here, wrongly. So there is that ideational battle that's going on between the various secularists and liberals. And by the way, these terms have very little meaning in the -- in the humdrum of the Arab world, but let's use them for the -- for the purposes of our discussion here.
So there is that fact. The second fact, I think, is the very ideas that many of the liberals and the secularists stand up for themselves -- in other words, separation of powers, greater rights for minorities, egalitarian prospects for women -- have now been embraced by the Muslim Brotherhood and others themselves. So if it's about a victory of ideas, then the fact that the younger members of the Muslim Brotherhood and their women and even their businessmen are now increasingly arguing for not just free-market capitalism, but gender parity, has a lot to do with the interaction that many of them had not just on Tahrir Square, but on Twitter, increasingly on Facebook. So the spheres aren't as divided as they're often portrayed to be.
And my last point would be this: that the liberals and the secularists in the Arab world have not gone away. They've always been there, and they will continue to be there as part of the organic fabric of Arab politics. I think there's a tendency here in the West to think that the authentic Arab is the Muslim Arab; the authentic Muslim Arab is the more extreme they are, the more real they are. You know, that's just not the equation on the streets of the Arab world, in a sense that, you know, in any given family, there's a whole plethora of people of different backgrounds, you know, hijab-wearing, non-hijab-wearing, niqab-wearing, non-niqab-wearing -- (inaudible) -- it's not as, you know, tightly demarcated as we'd like to see.
So in summary, then, I mean, the people who brought us the revolution are still there, and Tahrir Square is still alive, and the revolutionaries still command attention, and if the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Muslim Brotherhood think that they're going to govern Egypt without the consent of the very people that brought the revolution, then they've got another thing coming, because the fear factor's been broken, and the youths who brought the revolution last year can bring it again this and next year. So they remain forever, I think, the vigilant force that oversees government.
AMOS: All right. At this time I want to open the questions to guests and members. So if you would wait for the microphone, say your name and ask a question.
QUESTIONER: Bert Rusowski (sp), JTS. This is a question about Egypt, particularly about the old Islamic regime. People like Ali Gomaa, who is the grand mufti, or Ahmed al-Tayeb, the sheik of Al-Azhar, were remarkably quiet during the revolution. Have they ceded all power to the Brotherhood, or will they re-emerge?
AMOS: (Do any of you ?) --
HUSAIN: Yes and no. They've ceded power for writing the constitution most recently to the Brotherhood and the Salafis, the Al-Azhar and Ali Gomaa have withdrawn from the constituent assembly, as have the liberals and others. So that was part of a mechanism that leaves the constitution-writing process, sadly, now broadly in the hands of Islamists and the Salafists. And there's a discussion about the (Al-Azhar ?), alongside with the liberals and secularists, writing their own constitution. So that's a separate debate that's unfolding at the moment in Egypt.
With that said, I mean, you go across Egypt, and you talk about Al-Azhar, a 900-year-old university, whether it's secularists, liberals, Islamists, Salafis or others -- well, maybe not Salafis, but everyone else -- would refer to -- refer to "Al-Azhar al-Sharif," the sacred Al-Azhar, the noble Al-Azhar. That reference and the ubiquitous presence of Al-Azhar (imams ?) or Al-Azhar clerics with their, you know, white turbans and their red caps is an Egyptian national symbol of pride that they've been in this business, you know, almost as long as Oxford's been in business; are producing clerics, which was your initial brief, of -- you know, at the seminary, to enlighten the Muslim religious masses.
So the old Egyptian Islamic establishment, I think, is still very much in business, but a mistake they made, which was a legacy of their being co-opted by the state, was, A, to be silent in the face of Mubarak's tyranny and, B, to make the blunder of speaking out against the revolutionaries and saying they were causing -- (inaudible) -- dissension and discord, and they should go home. That was a huge strategic miscalculation on their part.
Interesting, though -- and I don't want to inflame conspiracy theories, but interestingly, they were being advised by Bell Pottinger, the same advisers to the Mubarak regime. So certain messaging by certain organization in this part of the world got it wrong -- in other words, that the revolution would -- they won't be sustained; Arab uprisings will somehow -- the youth will go home, all over the world, and the old Islamic regime -- in other words, the Al-Azhar and Ali Gomaa were utilized for that purpose by Bell Pottinger, mistakenly.
AMOS: Anybody else want to address it, or I'll go to another question.
COLEMAN: I would just -- I was at Al-Azhar two weeks ago, and all I can say is that they're -- they are very engaged in this ideological battle that's going on right now in Egypt, and there are lots of criticisms directed on a religious basis at Al-Azhar, and they're fighting right back. And you see it playing out in the newspapers, you see it playing out in some interesting ways, but they're -- I think, took a bit of a hit for exactly what Ed said, you know, sticking with Mubarak in those early days of the revolution.
But in spite of -- (inaudible) -- they've both survived, and they're very much engaging in the back-and-forth that's going on right now, both politically and theologically.
QUESTIONER: Ed, this is for you. The -- France has been rocked by the sort of indigenous -- sorry. My name is Kati Marton. France has been rocked by this terrorist explosion in Toulouse and in the middle of an election campaign. And it's a sort of thing -- it's the sort of terrorism by an indigenous Moslem that we in the United States have, thank God, not been the target of.
I'm wondering, A, what the reaction in the Arab world has been to that explosion, and B, whether there is a different reaction among Islam toward European, as opposed to American, Islam. You made very positive comments about how the Islamic world looks to America for leadership and for participation, even. So two-part question. Thank you.
HUSAIN: Sure. Shall I?
The shootings in Toulouse by Mohammed Mera two weeks ago -- it speaks to us at several levels: one, that the shooter went out and killed Muslims before he killed -- and Muslims who were incidentally part of France's armed forces. Whether he knew they were -- (inaudible) -- Muslims or not is a different debate, but at least the facts are that he killed Muslims, and then he turned two days after to killing three -- two Jewish children, I think, and one rabbi.
Now, all of that -- the broad reading I have of listening to Al Jazeera, watching Al Jazeera in Arabic and the encounters that people on -- you know, at street level -- that was all condemned, and rightly so. It was a genuine sense of shock. But now in a very French way -- forgive me -- the reaction has gone in the other extreme, that Sarkozy is forbidding Muslim clerics from coming into France. Now that's having a negative implication. And the sympathy that France and -- well, and rightly, the sympathy that France enjoyed from, you know, Arab streets for being on the receiving end of this butcher's murderous killings are now being seen to be, well -- and yes, Yusuf al-Qaradawi justifies suicide bombings, and I would condemn that without any reservations. But it's not just Yusuf al-Qaradawi, but now four other Muslim clerics this morning have been banned from coming into France.
So this attitude of banning, public condemnations, putting up walls isn't necessarily conducive to the important message that 5 million French citizens of Algerian, Tunisian, Moroccan descent can help relay back to North Africa. So there's that concern, I think. And I'd be genuinely worried about Sarkozy's trajectory here, because we've seen this in the U.K.; we've seen it here in the U.S., of banning Muslim scholars, not least one of your colleagues from St. Antony's. And that plays out really badly because it just confirms this whole narrative that Muslims somehow aren't welcome to this part of the world, minaret bans and everything -- you know, the so-called "Ground Zero mosque" controversy two years ago, which was neither on Ground Zero nor was it a mosque. So all of those things don't -- it just helps play to the negative narrative that you were speaking about, Michael, the al-Qaida versus the West narrative.
But in terms of, you know, Muslims here in America and Muslims in Europe, I think there's a huge difference between both communities. I'm just conscious the focus of this session is somehow Islam and democracy, so maybe we can speak to it for a moment or so without going too deeply into it. Muslims -- my interactions with Muslims here and Muslim leaders here in the U.S. has been that they're far more integrated in the United States economically, socially, politically. They're far more patriotic. And they embrace the U.S. Constitution in the sense that your First Amendments and that whole point about no religion, the establishment clause, helps immediately undermine the entire Islamist project, which is to establish religion. So from the very get-go -- forgive me for adopting an Americanism, "get-go" -- (laughter) -- the whole setup is different.
In contrast -- and I -- you know, I was born and raised in Britain, and I've had sustained interaction with British Muslim leaders and European Muslim leaders over the last five to six years. The setup is different. You know, the chip on the shoulder complex, them-and-us mindset, the perception of racism, the class structure, the greater interest in foreign policy from a negative point of view -- in other words -- and maybe not so negative. I mean, Britain created Israel, and therefore Britain is now responsible for all the mistakes in the -- you know, all of that is default politics in -- you know, in European cities.
And I'd end by saying this: that if there is such a thing as Western Islam -- and I think Tariq Ramadan deserves credit for helping advance much of this thinking -- then that leadership, both theological, political and even intellectual, is increasingly coming from American Muslim leaders, American Muslim theologians. And that, I think, is something that can be then exported back to the Middle East, especially young Arabs who are looking how to theologically and intellectually marry pluralism within the religious context in the modern world.
AMOS: Could we just bring that question back to the panel, and that is: If there is a successful enterprise in Tunisia, Egypt, even Libya, does that change the dynamics? Probably more in Europe than in America, but still, does it?
COLEMAN: Change the dynamics --
AMOS: In this kind of, you know, action/reaction, where, you know, you have a killing in France and then it's all Muslims and nobody can come into the country.
COLEMAN: Well, I think you will inevitably have some of that, no matter what is going on in the Middle East. I mean, those are very human, knee-jerk reactions, and nobody's perfect and they do happen.
But what I think -- the impact of what's going on in the Middle East, I think, is having an enormous impact here on how people think about that part of the world and about Islam. When I was meeting with some Muslim Brotherhood folks in Cairo a few weeks ago, I said, you know, you owe the Salafis a huge favor, because they've done more to boost your image in the United States than anything, because now when I give talks around the United States, people say, oh -- it used to be, Muslim Brotherhood, they're terrorists; now it's, oh, the Muslim Brotherhood, they're not the really bad ones. (Laughter.) The Salafis are the really bad ones, right?
So, you know, now -- my finer point here is that there is a greater sense of understanding that Islam is not -- Islamism is not monolithic and that there are debates going on in that part of the world, very real debates, and I think it's helping Americans understand in a more nuanced fashion that they're not all terrorists and that there are some very real issues that are trying to be sorted out.
And I think if it goes terribly wrong, it will confirm for everyone, well, you know, that's a write-off, that part of the world. You know, people -- I already hear it about Libya: Oh, it's terrible; you know, they're all just going to kill each other and it's dissolving into civil war. Well, you know, I think you have to wait and see. We're at the beginning of a very long process, and the more positive ways it plays out clearly will have an enormous impact here -- on how people here in this country think about it.
WILLIS: I think it's going to have a very positive impact, the Arab Spring, I mean, for the reasons that Isobel has said. You know, I found people, friends of mine who had no real connection or interest in the Middle East, saying: I'm quite amazed; they're a bit like us; they want the same things as us. They want to live with dignity, they want a say in politics, they don't like corruption, and they want their kids to get on in life. And they were quite surprised. And I think that has spread through.
And I think it also had a positive effect, and I referred briefly to it in the first section, that the feeling of fatalism can in certain circumstances lead people to extreme and almost nihilistic violence, saying everything is so controlled, there's no path for anything to happen, it's all a conspiracy, therefore only extreme violence can actually try and change that pattern, (even many sorts of ?) demonstrative violence. And I think that will decline.
The thing I would say -- and again, it's something that's been said before and I think is even more the case now -- is we are talking about one individual and a very small number of people, and I think it's very difficult -- it's very difficult in any situation to look at the horrific impact of something and to say that actually it's not indicative of a much bigger problem, it's a small problem but it actually just was able to get some sort of purchase on the larger society.
But I think you will begin to see that whole dichotomy between two parts of the world that unfortunately (reigned ?), as I said, within the first decade of the 21st century is going to decline and you will begin to see those sort of forms of violence decline, and you won't have that narrative, won't have the purchase, either side, for example, of the Mediterranean that it had before.
So I see it as a positive thing.
QUESTIONER: Elizabeth Bramwell. I was wondering if you could contrast the revolution in Iran, what, 30 years ago, with what's going on in Egypt today. There was such idealism when Khomeini came back to Iran, and it didn't turn out the way everybody thought. And so we've also gone from a time when -- because Mubarak said basically the Brotherhood from banned from being an electable group, and so, you know, what has changed? Why can we be more optimistic?
AMOS: Anybody. Go ahead, Michael.
COLEMAN: I mean, one thing I'll say is that the Iranian Revolution was notable for having a very charismatic leader, which doesn't exist in the Egyptian scene. You have, by last count, pushing a thousand people who've registered to run for president. That was almost over 900, I think, candidates who have registered for the presidential election in Egypt, which, you know, clearly, most of them are marginal candidates, but it's just -- it's very free-form in many respects because you don't have this charismatic leader.
And the other huge difference is that there was the Iranian revolution 30 years ago. (Chuckles.) And when I'm in Egypt, you know, people say, well, you know, we don't want to be like Iran. You know, there is that specter of -- the last thing that -- and I think you were making this point this morning -- you know, the -- they recognize that the folks who were behind the Iranian revolution, they had spent a lot of time in the Shah's jails and came out and put their opponents in jail and killed all of their opponents. And I was heartened by the self-awareness that the Nahda leaders in Tunisia say, you know, we're the victims of an authoritarian regime; we don't want to set up a system that just takes us back there again. And revolutions have a tendency to go very wrong, and it's not -- Egypt is not immune from it. On the other hand, I think the example of Iran is something that is out there for a lot of people to avoid. And then of course you have the role of the military in Egypt, which is -- which is very different.
WILLIS: Yes. I think -- I think superficially, as you say, that the similarities are there -- usual coalition of sort of liberals, leftists and Islamists win the revolution, and then the Islamists get rid of the leftists and the liberals and establish their own control over events. And I think that seems -- on a certain level, that seems to be what happened. But I don't think it is, partly for the very self-conscious reason that they're all -- they're aware of the precedent in Iran.
But also, if you look at the specifics of what actually happened in Iran, the radicalization of the regime and what enabled the Islamic revolutionary party and Khomeini to assert control was the war with Iraq. That had a radicalizing effect because of the attack by Iraq on it, the mobilization, the nationalism, et cetera. You see very similar patterns if you look historically at revolutions, with what happens to the French Revolution and in the Russian Revolution.
And you haven't got those same conditions pertaining in the Arab world. If there were to be external conflicts, then you could see that happen, but I -- that's a big missing factor. But it was really the Iran-Iraq war. And there's some people say that the Islamists weren't -- wouldn't have been able to assert themselves in the same way and create an Islamic republic in the same way had it not been for the attack of Iraq. So I think that's another big difference from the Iranian example.
QUESTIONER: Mike Levin. You know, I was thinking, if this topic were in the United States and it were Christianity and politics, I think most people wouldn't view that as a real question of whether Christianity is antithetical to, you know, democratic politics. I think it would be looked at as a code expression for anti-progressive movements in a sect of Christianity or evangelical thinking versus more progressive political movements. In a way, is that what you're saying is going to be, in the end, the outcome of Islam in politics, that there'll be a more illiberal section of Islam, and there'll be a broader section where values and things are more miscible? Or in fact, is there something special about Islam that makes it a more complicated process to meld with modernism?
HUSAIN: I don't want to say there's anything special about Islam as a religion that makes it more at odds with modernist and modern thinking. My bone of contention would be with Islamism, the political project that's been born as a result of the clash between capitalism and socialism in the 1930s in the case of the Muslim Brotherhood, '40s in the case of Jamaat-e-Islami in the Indian subcontinent.
So I think it's worth just going back to basics for a moment and making that important distinction between Islam, the faith, an Abrahamic tradition -- you know, a billion people around the world today -- what, about for 1,400 years have found serenity and much else in that pluralistic tradition, i.e., the faith -- and then there's Islamism, the modern political project. And with the rise of Islamism as a political project, yes, there are tensions with democracy.
But without sounding too relativist, I'd say, you know, I think Christianity and democracy would be a subject of discussion in Michele Bachmann's campaign, in Newt Gingrich's campaign and other sort of evangelical Christians here in the U.S. Again, I don't want to go down that route.
But to respond to your question directly, if it was to be about Islam -- I mean, not just -- (inaudible) -- but others before him and after him -- (inaudible) -- in the 1920s -- has gone about of its way, the -- I forget the name of the author now, 1927 that book he wrote about the Islamic state -- (inaudible) -- works, that was the initial response within four years of the so-called caliphate declining, you had an answer about Islam and the state, Islam and democracy.
And in that, you -- and not just him then in the 1920s. With the Moguls in India, you had a similar argument being made, with the (Safavids ?) in Persia, you had a similar being made. And Hannoushi (ph) now is making the same argument; i.e., the Islamic traditional argument is being made by Islamists now to say, for example, the Prophet Mohammed said, you know -- (in Arabic) -- that you know best about the affairs of your world. In other words, a division of the political and the sacred.
So within Islam there is the antidote to the problems of Islamism, and I think it's important not to throw the baby out with the bath water. There's a tendency, I think, among many of us to say, you know, the problem's really Islam. Well, actually, no, if the problem is Islamism, the answer is within Islam, and it's important to bear that in mind.
AMOS: Michael, do you want to expand on that, or --
WILLIS: No, that's fine.
AMOS: OK. Go ahead.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. I'm Allen Hyman, Columbia University. I wanted to follow that up. It's often been said by experts that the problem with Islam is that it never -- (audio break) -- reformation. Does that make any sense to you?
HUSAIN: It does in the opposite sense. I think the problem with Islam today is that it had a reformation, and the reformation is what happened in Saudi Arabia. That was our Protestant movement, the rise of Wahhabism. I'm sorry, I side with the Catholics on this, and orthodox religiosity and spirituality in the sense that there is something divine and there is a tradition and there are barometers, and within those barometers there are pluralist modes of thought that help inform both politics and much more.
I think, you know, just like Oliver Cromwell went around in England, you know, bashing churches and getting rid of any sense of joy and removing statues and any form of religious expression that he deemed to be polytheistic, we had exactly the same attitude among the Saudi puritanical Wahhabis, who went around destroying tombs in Mecca, Medina, Jeddah and elsewhere. That was our reformation. You know, that was their desire to go back to original sources and to do away with traditional authority in Muslim-majority societies, whether it was the Ottomans or whether it was others in other parts of the world. And I know it's odd to think of it in those terms, but I think the so-called Muslim Reformation led by the Saudi Wahhabis is part of the problem in the birth of contemporary extremism.
But that said, is there a need for Muslim renewal and revival of going back to the early 11th century, 12th century mode of thinking that's referred to as the Golden Age? Without doubt, yes. And I think many of the Muslim scholars that are writing now, both in the West and in the East, are increasingly drawing back to that period in which they can illustrate genuine political pluralism as well as a religious pluralism.
So again I'd go back to what I said earlier, that the need for renewal is urgent, but that exists within the Islamic tradition rather than the need to -- be seen to be emulating or borrowing from an external tradition.
AMOS: All right. Go ahead.
QUESTIONER: I'm Gerald Pollack. In Turkey, is there a serious retreat from secularism?
WILLIS: Not officially. I mean, I think as Ed referred to earlier, one of the interesting things was when the Turkish prime minister goes to Egypt and says, you must do lots of things, and one of the things you must do is be secular. I mean, the Brotherhood were appalled by that. I think they tried to sort of cut that out from the official version of that. So the Turkish view is that you can be secular. I mean, again, the Turks -- there are some interesting things going on there.
But there is a discussion among the Islamist movement about the meaning of secularism. It's not absolutely clear-cut, and they themselves are still working on it, but they do think there are different models. But a model that all the Islamists don't want is the French model, which is seen as anti-religion; that religion must be removed from everything, must have no role in the public sphere whatsoever, whereas, for example, some say, well, the model where the state is neutral, as opposed to anti, is a more useful model. Now, how you actually refer to that, I'm not sure.
But in terms of Turkey, I think you have got -- they are committed to the secular state while still being an Islamic referential party. And I think that's quite interesting.
COLEMAN: I would just add that the way secularism is being debated in Turkey is not a unique phenomenon. It's being debated in this country too. I mean, what is secularism? And you know, there have been battles in this country over whether a state courthouse can have the Ten Commandments on -- written in stone. And you know, there have been big issues around what that means and what role religion does play, and what does neutral mean, and all of these things, and you know, whether Christmas trees can be on public property at Christmastime and these types of things.
And I think -- I would -- what you have not -- in Turkey, you've had an imposed secularism that geared more towards the French model, where women were banned from wearing the headscarf. You know, it would be very odd for Americans to say that someone must be banned from wearing a religious form of identity. And so those types of things are -- you're going to see those be battled over, and many secular Turks will say, well, there is -- there has been a retreat on secularism if that's how you define it, you know? And -- but it's, I think, a more nuanced conversation that Americans would come out in a different place, maybe, than French would on those very issues going on in Turkey today.
AMOS: All right, we have time for one more question before lunch.
QUESTIONER: Hi. Hello. Hi, Andrew Rosen. I had a quick question -- I wanted to come back to the point you made, Isobel, about the cross-border discussions between women's groups that are being led by NGOs, because it reminded me of the Arab Spring, when you heard stories of different movements sharing rebellion tips on Facebook and through other means. And so it sounds like there's a metadialogue going on around different issues. And so what I'd like to understand is -- and you sort of, in a -- in a very simplified, kind of looking horizontally across all these different states -- and it's a question for all of you -- but what are the other types of issues, you know, relating to democracies that are being discussed by -- you know, across borders, that are kind of the big issues, and who they're being led by?
COLEMAN: Well, the big issue is constitution-writing and how that plays out, because minorities have a huge stake in it; women have a big stake in it; secularists have a stake in it; Islamists have a stake in it. And they come at it from many different attitudes and perspectives. And what you are seeing, you've got a number of countries in the region who have recently written constitutions. And so that -- who won, who lost, what worked, what didn't -- so you definitely see that. Of course, women's rights is another issue. I don't know -- are they --
WILLIS: I think -- I think -- and to sort of -- sort of bend your question slightly to the what we're looking at on the panel is one thing I've been struck is the way that the Islamists talk to each other and are aware of what's going on across borders. And I think that's been very, very interesting. And it (falls up ?) from Ed's point about the diversity within the Islamist movement. And I've been struck by how much they notice each other, et cetera. And we tend to think there's this one homogeneous mass, and they all do everything together. But I've been struck, for example, about how the Nahda in Tunisia were very smugly telling you -- tell you that when we talked about Islam and democracy being compatible in the 1980s, the Brotherhood were actually appalled, and they now agree with us, and we pulled them onto that.
And I remember in the 1990s I used to -- there was a, some would say, infamously -- it was a center for a lot of Islamist exiles from the Arab world. And I was always fascinated by the interaction between them. and it was portrayed as this sort of great conspiracy; they all came together and decided on terrorism and all the rest of it. But they had enormous arguments. And I remember Ghannouchi -- I remember talking to an Algerian Islamist, and I said I had spoken to Ghannouchi. And this is the mid-'90s. And he said, why are you talking to him; he's not an Islamist? (Laughter.) I don't -- (I/he ?) said, I don't even believe he's a Muslim. (Laughter.) He talks about Islam and democracy -- who's -- this guy is just crazy, and he's well on the edge. And Ghannouchi would say, oh, there's some crazy people here, I mean, what do they -- what do they think? And there would be this dialogue going on, and there's interest.
And there's a lot of interest in what's happening in Turkey from amongst the Islamists. There's interest in Tunisia. It used to be (think ?) that Egypt was the center, and I think they are influential, but they're often regarded as sort of being behind things and other things.
So they are talking to each other, and they are conscious of what is happening and what is working and what are the issues across it. So if I can answer your question in that respect, I think that's an interesting dynamic of the diversity within the Islamist movements.
And I think, again, one of the very interesting things that will be emerging is the relationship between what we could broadly call the Brotherhood trends and the Salafists. And even though I think it could bring the Brotherhood trends off to the -- a more radical position, it could also push them more to the center, saying, well, you know, we're the OK ones; these are -- these are --
COLEMAN: We're not them.
WILLIS: -- yeah, exactly, whereas these crazy ones you need to -- need to worry about.
There's that wonderful exchange in the Egyptian Parliament, I think, where one of the Salafists tried to do -- pray in Parliament. And the speaker, who is a Muslim Brother, said, this is a parliament; over the road is a mosque. We do politics here, and you do your prayers in the mosque. Is that clear? And that was from a Brotherhood person. I thought that was very, very interesting. And I think that sort of -- that sort of discussion will carry on.
AMOS: Ed, would you like the last word?
HUSAIN: Two things, very quickly. One, one of the big issues across the Arab world, especially the Islamist movements, is what does an Islamic state look like? There's a real struggle going on about the definition and the mechanizations of an Islamist state in reality, and that's a healthy debate.
And the last thing I think is worth bearing in mind is that -- what's not being spoken about. And what's not being spoken about at the moment is attitudes towards Israel. This was a big issue for several generations. It no longer is a big issue, and that's encouraging.
That said, it can easily become the big issue again if there was another flaring up of a Gaza- or a Lebanon-style conflict. I think it's -- all of us in the room, it's worth thinking about and bearing in mind that the last thing you want to do is move the debate from the kind of issues we've been speaking about -- you know, the constitution, economics, the meaning of civil society -- to again rallying around, you know, on hatred and anti-Semitism and the ugly expressions that the Middle East is capable of.
So I think, on that cautious note, (I'd hand ?) back to you, Deborah.
AMOS: (Chuckles.) Well, on that cautious note, it's time for lunch. (Chuckling.) (My ?) -- (applause).