Middle East Research and Information Project: Critical Coverage of the Middle East Since 1971

Islamism

A Paradox of Democracy?

On April 27, 1997, Muhammad Zabara stood outside a polling station in the old city of Sanaa. In a neatly pressed suit and tie, his short hair and mustache freshly trimmed, he greeted voters who had turned out for Yemen’s second post-unification parliamentary elections. A team of Western election monitors approached him and asked whether he was a candidate. In English, he answered that he was the district’s candidate from the Yemeni Reform Group, a conservative party with an Islamist agenda. “But Ahmad Raqihi is the Islamist candidate for this district,” said one of the monitors, referring to Zabara’s main rival, who dons a turban and beard. “You don’t even look like an Islamist.” [1]

Arcs of Crises

Between the confrontations with Iraq in February and November, and the Cruise missile salvos directed at Afghanistan and Sudan in August, 1998 has been rather busy for the gunboat section of the US diplomatic corps. Twice, the UN secretary-general averted US military action by securing promises that Baghdad would comply with UNSCOM weapons inspectors, but the August bombings of US embassies in East Africa showed how broadly the sparks of war had spread. Washington’s hegemony in the region was challenged both by the survivalist instincts of Iraq’s dictator and by an underground Islamist network dedicated to driving foreign troops out of the Arabian Peninsula.

What is Political Islam

Over the last few decades, Islam has become a central point of reference for a wide range of political activities, arguments and opposition movements. The term “political Islam” has been adopted by many scholars in order to identify this seemingly unprecedented irruption of Islamic religion into the secular domain of politics and thus to distinguish these practices from the forms of personal piety, belief and ritual conventionally subsumed in Western scholarship under the unmarked category “Islam.” In the brief comments that follow, I suggest why we might need to rethink this basic framework.

A Clash of Fundamentalisms

During the past two decades, a proselytizing, reformist, “Islamist” movement — mainly characterized as “Wahhabi” — has gained increasing popularity throughout Yemen. Wahhabism actively opposes both the main Yemeni schools — Zaydi Shi‘ism in the north and Shafi‘i Sunnism in the south and in the Tihama. It is closely connected with the political party Islah, a coalition of tribal, mercantile and religious interests that pursues a mixed social and political agenda. [1]

Diminishing Possibilities in Algeria

Selima Ghezali was born in Bouira, Algeria in 1958. After obtaining a degree in literature, she began working as a teacher of French at the Khemis el-Khechna high school, where she was active in the General Union of Algerian Workers. In the 1980s, Ghezali joined the Algerian feminist movement then fighting the implementation of Algeria’s repressive family code. She later became president of the Women’s Association of Europe and North Africa and chairwoman of the Association pour l’Emancipation des Femmes (Association for the Emancipation of Women).

What Does the Gama’a Islamiyya Want?

Tal‘at Qasim got his start in al-Gama‘a al-Islamiyya [1] (the Islamic Group) in the 1970s when it took control of many student organizations in the Egyptian universities. He led the student union in Minya, a hotbed of the Islamist movement, and later was a founding member of the majlis al-shura (governing council) of the organization at large. Sheikh ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Rahman later became head of the majlis.

Women’s Organizations in Kuwait

Women’s groups, like all voluntary associations in Kuwait, are controlled and funded by the state. They have elected boards, written constitutions and paid memberships. Law 24 of 1962 governing the activity of associations — partially amended in 1965 and still in force — gives the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor full control and power over voluntary associations. The Ministry has the power to refuse to license an association, to dissolve its elected board or to terminate an association if it determines the group not to be beneficial to society as a whole or not to be abiding by its constitution.

On Gender and Citizenship in Turkey

In the summer of 1993, True Path Party delegates — 99.8 percent of them males — selected Tansu Çiller as chairperson of their party and thus their candidate for prime minister. For the first time since 1934, when women gained the right to vote and to be elected to Parliament, a woman became prime minister of Turkey. If citizenship involves the rights and responsibilities of membership to a state, here was a woman who had fully exercised her right to head the government of her country.

Shari’a of Civil Code? Egypt’s Parallel Legal Systems

Egyptian courts have increasingly become a site of political struggle between Islamists and secularists. In a state that restricts political parties and open political debate, courts are now one of the main venues for political expression for groups such as the Muslim Brothers. In the last few years, their lawyers have filed dozens of cases against what they perceive as “un-Islamic” writings by secular intellectuals or “un-Islamic” government decisions. They use the ambiguity inherent in the Egyptian legal system, which seems torn between mainly secular codified positive laws and the rules and regulations of the shari‘a, as interpreted by Islamic law scholars.

The Most Obscure Dictatorship

The camera avoids faces, except those of the plainclothes police. The black-and-white images are hazy, jumpy. They evoke the antiquated style of negatives that have escaped the censor and customs searches. “This could be any country,” says the commentator — Chile under Gen. Pinochet, or Burma under the military. But here the men who gather wear long white robes and checkered headdresses, held in place by an ‘iqal, a black silk tress. The women remain invisible.

Recent Books on Palestinian Society

Marianne Heiberg and Geir Ovensen et al, Palestinian Society in Gaza, West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem: A Survey of Living Conditions (FAFO, 1993).

Ziad Abu-Amr, Islamic Fundamentalism in the West Bank and Gaza: Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Jihad (Indiana, 1994).

Baruch Kimmerling and Joel S. Migdal, Palestinians: The Making of a People (Free Press, 1993).

Ebba Augustin, ed., Palestinian Women: Identity and Experience (Zed, 1993).

God Power

Donald Hannan Akenson, God’s Peoples: Covenant and Land in South Africa, Israel and Ulster (Cornell, 1992).

Gilles Kepel, The Revenge of God: The Resurgence of Islam, Christianity and Judaism in the Modern World (trans. Alan Braley) (Pennsylvania State, 1994).

Islamist Party Poised for National Power in Turkey

In Turkey’s March 1994 local elections, the pro-Islamist Refah (Welfare) Party won 19 percent of all votes nationwide. This was almost equivalent to the roughly 20 percent each of the government party (True Path) and of the major opposition party (Motherland), and significantly higher than the 13 percent of the junior partner of the coalition government, the Social Democratic Populist Party. Refah particularly triumphed in big cities and in the southeast. Both Istanbul and Ankara now have Islamist mayors, as do most of the towns and cities in the Kurdish region. Non-Islamist circles reacted to this Refah victory with shock and disbelief, despite indications that foreshadowed it throughout the second half of the 1980s.

Report from a War Zone

From the outside, they give a friendly impression, the villages around the small Egyptian city of Mallawi, four hours by train south of Cairo. The Nile waters flow serenely to the north. Only the chatter of the colorfully dressed women doing their laundry together on the riverbank breaks the silence of the countryside. On the unpaved village streets enormous water buffaloes and scrawny cows spend the day, only occasionally frightened off by one of the service taxis.

Algeria’s Battle of Two Languages

As the cancellation of Algeria’s electoral process reaches its third anniversary this January, the conditions for a political settlement between the Islamist groups and the army-backed government are becoming exceedingly complicated. Even if the “moderate” voices within both the established order and the Islamist groups prevail, reconciliation may still not be attainable.

Islamism and Fundamentalism

The Fundamentalism Project, directed by Martin Marty and Scott Appleby of the University of Chicago, has produced a three-volume study of politicized religion in the twentieth century. Fundamentalisms Observed, Fundamentalisms and Society and Fundamentalisms and the State collect articles by international scholars from a wide range of disciplines. The contributing authors analyze conservative politico-religious movements in their respective areas of expertise, including the Americas, the Middle East, South and Far East Asia. The project is also accompanied by a three-part PBS/NPR series and its companion volume, The Glory and the Power, which targets a broader audience. Three additional volumes are projected.

Terrorism, Class and Democracy in Egypt

During April 1994, armed actions of the radical Islamist opposition in Egypt achieved a new level of lethal efficiency. One Gama‘a Islamiyya (Islamic Group) hit squad killed Maj. Gen. Ra’uf Khayrat, who was responsible for conducting undercover operations against them; another assassinated the chief of security of Asyout province, the Islamist stronghold in upper Egypt; a third shot at a train transporting tourists to the Pharaonic monuments of upper Egypt; and two or three ordinary policemen were shot each week.

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