Save the worsening snarls of traffic, March 19 was a near perfect day in Egypt’s capital city of Cairo. The sun shone gently down upon orderly, sex-segregated queues of Egyptians who stood for hours to vote “yes” or “no” on emergency amendments to the country’s constitution. Although there have been three other constitutional referenda in the past six years, the plebiscite of 2011 was the first to capture the time and attention of the multitudes. It seemed that no one wanted to miss the historic, hope-filled occasion — for many of those who patiently waited, March 19 was the first time they had voted at all. Later, official estimates put the turnout at 41 percent, a rate completely unheard of in a country where citizens, many of them given material incentives, had dribbled in to rubber-stamp a predetermined outcome, usually, yet another presidential term for Husni Mubarak. The winding lines in and of themselves set off sparks of national pride. One young woman smiled when asked about the long wait, joking, “Lines are more organized after the revolution.”
Thanassis Cambanis, A Privilege to Die: Inside Hezbollah’s Legions and Their Endless War Against Israel (Free Press, 2010).
In the early 1990s, the security forces of Egypt were embroiled in a low-grade civil war with the Gama‘a Islamiyya (Islamic Group), an uncompromising outfit committed to the violent overthrow of the government. The Gama‘a, like the even more radical Egyptian Islamic Jihad and al-Takfir wa al-Hijra, grew out of study circles reading the works of Ibn Taymiyya and Sayyid Qutb, the intellectual godfathers of jihadi groups across the Muslim world, including al-Qaeda. Qutb taught that jahili (pagan) governments and social elites had usurped the entire realm of Islam.
Militant Islam is under global scrutiny for clues to conditions that foster its rise, and to strategies for reversing that growth. But the key is not in Islamic doctrine, US foreign policy or formal ties to various nations, as many analysts have asserted. It lies at the community level, with clan and local leaders.
Contrary to popular misconceptions, jihadists remain a minority in Muslim countries. Yet armed militants and suicide bombers continue to wreak havoc worldwide and militant recruitment shows no sign of abating. The reason is found where most recruitment occurs: ungoverned areas of failing or repressive states where public resources are stolen, wasted or otherwise not used for productive social ends.
On July 23, the day after the ruling Justice and Development Party won Turkey’s early parliamentary elections in a landslide, Onur Öymen, deputy chairman of the rival Republican People’s Party (CHP), interpreted the results as follows:
Emad Mubarak is a busy man. Director of the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, and a lawyer with the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, the leftist Mubarak cannot hold a meeting without being interrupted by the ring of his cell phone. The calls these days come from student members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the officially outlawed Islamist group that is Egypt’s largest political movement. The students call to report security service abuses against them on campuses, or to request his legal counsel while they undergo interrogation by university administrators.
The October 15, 2005 referendum on the new Iraqi constitution, like other stages in the US-sponsored political transition after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, drew fresh attention to the many opponents of that transition and the US occupation who are not directly involved in the ongoing insurgency. In keeping with the pattern in place since the old regime fell, the global media identified this opposition as “Sunni,” implying that political attitudes in Iraq are uniquely determined by religious affiliation. In fact, these opposition forces are not uniformly Sunni Arab, and many are secular nationalist — not sectarian or even religious — in orientation and identity.
With the death of Maxime Rodinson at the age of 89 on May 23, 2004, one of the last great figures disappeared in an exceptional lineage of Western scholars of Islam — including Régis Blachère, Claude Cahen and Jacques Berque, to mention only Rodinson’s fellow Frenchmen. Rodinson belonged to this group of writers who pioneered new approaches, reclaiming the field of Islamic studies and bringing it up to the level of other social sciences.
Addressing a joint session of Congress and a national TV audience on September 20, 2001, George W. Bush declared that the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) had “links” to Osama bin Laden, prime suspect in the September 11 attacks in the United States. Henceforth, the US would consider the IMU an international terrorist organization, and a target in the administration’s “war on terrorism.”
In response to the patriarchal tendencies of the Islamist cultural revolution, a small group of Islamist and other Muslim women have reclaimed Qur’anic and other textual interpretation for their own purposes. The result is a new space for women within the Islamic tradition.
Post-Revolutionary Iranian cinema has attracted critical attention abroad while constituting a vibrant focus of cultural, narrative and technical experimentation at home. In the politically restrictive context of the Islamic Republic, film has become one of the key ways that sensitive topics are broached in civil society. One of the most important topics is the social and juridical situation of women, including the enforcement of legislation over women’s hejab, which refers to modest dress but can also mean modest decorum.