Egypt and Democratic Reform

Category: Middle East Topics: George W. Bush, Government And Politics, Reformation Values: Education Views: 15700

The Bush Administration has made education reform in Muslim societies a key demand, and has earmarked considerable sums of money to fund democratic education. The substantial funds allocated to democratic education in Muslim countries have attracted many organizations involved in democratic training in South American and Eastern Europe. The decision to spend money on democratic education signals a positive change in attitude, and the Bush Administration should be applauded for taking this forward-looking initiative, and for increasing the pressure on the autocratic Middle Eastern regimes to undertake democratic reform.

Democratic reform will not, however, come about by merely pouring cash and making demand from outside. The reform will ultimately emerge as a result of popular demands and reformist steps by internal political players. Outside pressure by democratic nations should compliment, rather than displace, the ongoing internal social and political struggle in place long before the menace of global terrorism hit the United States.

The temptation to champion democracy in the Middle East by micro-managing the reform process is counterproductive, and is likely to play into the hands of anti-democratic forces intent on stemming out the fledgling democratic forces under the rubric of safeguarding national independence and countering foreign interference. Rather than pressuring autocratic government to change school curricula and superimpose a set of abstract criteria through state apparatus, US government should use its influence to increase the margin of freedom for political expression and action by civil society organizations. The forces of reform and modernization are already at work in Muslim society, and have, despite severe limitations imposed by the state on their actions, made considerable strides to effect educational, cultural, and political reforms.

The struggle for democracy in Egypt provides us with a good insight into the dynamism of reform in this key Middle Eastern country, and underscores the need for a new approach by the Untied States and Europe to facilitate the emergence of stable and sustainable democracy. The country is ruled by a political party that wears a liberal democratic garment, but protects the interests of a corrupt oligarchy, and rules with an iron feast. The party tightly controls the press, has continuously supported emergency laws, and enjoys full monopoly over the licensing of new political parties. The party has, for years, marginalized opposition, and refused to legitimize any political group that advocates Islam as the foundation of social and political reform.

For years, the ruling elites of Egypt have refused to recognize the Muslim Brotherhood group as a legitimate political actor by invoking secularism. Excluding an Islamic party that has not clearly defined how it plans to protect the constitutional rights of religious minorities is justifiable, though the state has never set clear standards and qualifications to explain its position. However, using religious adherence of party members and leaders as a ground to exclude parties that promote a non-religious national platform is a clear violation of democratic principles.

In 1996, the committee in charge of licensing political parties, an arm of the Egyptian's national congress, turned down the application of a new political party, the Wasat Party, co-founded by a Muslim and a Copt. Egyptian security forces arrested the founders, accused them of being a front for the banned Muslim Brotherhood. Notwithstanding that the party leaders were acquitted by a military court, the Egyptian government insist on denying the Wasat Party's application, and continues to curtail political freedom and prevent the emergence of popular political opposition. The Wasat Party has very moderated views, and is open to people regardless of their religion and gender. It has a good number of Christian Copts and women, both in the Party's leadership and the rank-and-file.

The Wasat Party, and other popular groups, is castigated for insisting on grounding their reformist message in Islamic values and traditions. Yet it is this kind of work, in which the basic cultural and religious assumptions and traditions are challenged from within, and through reference to Islamic values and normative sources, that is essential for advancing the process of democratization, and for fostering a spirit of openness and tolerance. Islamic sources emphasize the values of equality, religious freedom, respect of diversity, and fair dealings, essential for any democratic reform. And reform movements must appeal to Islamic values that form the moral sub-terrain of contemporary Muslim cultures.

For over half a century, Western democracies have relied on the power of Middle Eastern states to effect modernization by imposing modern forms on their populations. The result has been scandalous. Political systems that silence opposition, and use an iron feast to transform religiously rooted traditions and introduce modern lifestyle, have created police states that foster corruption and breed extremism and violence. Nothing can stem the tide of extremism, except a political environment that promotes dialogue, freedom of press and association. In a society in which ideas are allowed to compete, extremism will be forced to move from the center stage to the fringe of society, and moderate voices and practices will prevail.

Dr. Louay M. Safi serves as the executive director of ISNA Leadership Development Center, an Inidana based organization dedicated to enhancing leadership awareness and skills among American Muslim leaders, and founding board member of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy. He writes and lectures on issues relating to Islam, American Muslims, democracy, human rights, and world peace. His is the author of eight books and numerous papers, including Tensions and Transitions in the Muslim word, published by University Press of America, 2003. You can visit his web site at

  Category: Middle East
  Topics: George W. Bush, Government And Politics, Reformation  Values: Education
Views: 15700

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Older Comments:
First Bush, the WAR Criminal, along with his War mongers in the White House, can not be applauded for anything. The Democracy that the War Criminal Bush and his followers want to impose on Muslim countries is a democracy of surrender. If Muslims or people living in the Middle East adopt a political life that mirrors Islamic principles, Bush will ALWAYS be the FIRST ATTACKER. IT is Decomracy that Bush and his Allies want to impose on Muslim Countries, it is slavery and restraint of free will.
Islam and Muslim has been through the histroy open to other cultures, religions and peoples. Muslims have not prosecuted people because of their race, color or origin. Islam has all the values of the Western democracies.
The West will NEVER let Muslims live free in their own lands...
Muslims are able to get rid of their dictators, absolute kings and rulers.

Honestly, I am utterly dissappointed to see this article here. What a disgrace. How can you put this article up here??? Are you guys feeling okay? Mr. Safi is trying to tell us to legitimaze Ikhwan al-Muslimeen terrorist links organization of Egypt! I do not think so. The "Concerned Black Woman" said it the best. I think it is time for someone to take your position because it seems as if you are attempting to "halaqize" everyone from deviating from the sayings of Ahl as Sunnah wal'Jamaat.

I am very very dissappointed in reading this article.


I have posted about my concern of ISNA before in your previous article in which you were trying to justify the existence of extremist literature being put into our masjids.

Please note that ISNA's reputation is already bad enough as it is considering it's most recent history and past in dealing with Eid Prayer disputes and all that other stuff you guys politicize everything. It is very sad to see that you can call yourselves a major Muslim organization in North America - when the reality is you haven't been leading the way for most of us ever.

It's time to stop partaking in your halaqa's (your little groups), and accept the ijma of ahl' as-sunnah wa'l jamaah before it is too late for any of us.

Egypt will engage in reform on its own term and at a time of its own choosing and certainly NOT on the terms of the American "Smart-BOY".

People in the U.S. who support the BOY are extremly stupid exactly like the cowboy, who has proven himself to be the "_______" of this century on the world stage. No intelligent person respects the man. It's sad, but true.

The only way to shut people up when they talk about reforming other countries is to possess WMD, exactly like Russia. Why Bush does not mess w/ Russia? It's is the fear of the nukes taking out U.S. cities, especially the "red" ones in the blink of an eye.

People in the U.S. need to cut the "FREEDOM CRAP" and really wake up to the facts. Change your foreign policies, especially in the Middle East. If not, your way of life will be changed by people from the Middle East exactly as it was done on 9/11.

Need example of a change?...well, your "brave" politicians seem to run for their lives every time an airplane hovers over the capital building. And of course your so called constituion/Bill of rights is in disarray simply to protect your heads...

Stop being victims of stupid propaganda. Grow up for your childrens sake...Stop committing evil all around the world...That's only way avoid future BIG BANGS in the BOX you live in called the
United States.

Very sad...


There seemed to be two articles here. I quite enjoyed the article which began in the third paragraph and ended in the seventh paragraph. To me it seemed very interesting and informative.

Again, a simplistic article burdened by unintentional irony.
Reform in the Middle East has been attempted over and
again for generations. It hasn't worked, as the author
pointed out. But then he says that the West has to allow the
internal reform measures to take their course. The problem
is: their course is quick sand. Nothing has happened, and
oppression is only one part of the reason. The main reason
is that these reform movements do not have the intellectual
capital to make a compelling case that would create a
critical mass required to inspire change, no matter the
obstinacy of the powers that be.

For the most part, Muslims are tired of superficial analyses.
That's all that we're getting here and other places like

J. Dell

Your article has engaged me in the cry for new Muslim leaderhip for your position. There is no logic for you Dr. Louay M. Safi to serve as the executive director of ISNA Leadership Development Center. Islam is in jeopardy from intellectual de-plorable views such as "Egypt and Democratic Re-form" recently posted on You add fuel & flame to the lie that American has Democracy par excellence. This is not true Dr. Safi. As a Muslin leader you position yourself with the corrupt wielders of power assertingly as if a reader should ideologically join you in applaud-ing the Bush administration for earmarking "considerable sums (taxpayer dollars) to fund democratic education, and "for increasing the pressure on the autocratic Middle Eastern regimes to undertake democratic reform". Carter G. Wood-son wrote: When you control a man's thinking, you do not have to worry about his actions.You do not have to tell him not to stand here or yonder. He will find his "proper place" and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door.' Truth is eclipsed/hidden in your article about America's Racially motivated educational system. It is designed to rape the mind, the wealth and the land of everyone in the World. They did that to the Indians right here in America. The federal and local bedrock colonial system of white American injustice, and racism of the robber- baron/corporate financiers will never educate Middle Easterners, poor black, Hispanics, Asians or whites on a competitive scale. No previous administration has effectively done so in the past because for they do not want massive numbers of poor children from blacks or white parents in their ghetto and trailer-park homes or schools educated in perspectives and theories that would actualize the hope and visions for a humane world wide society. The point is a difference of interest:capital interest vs community develop-ment interest.MaSalaam