Tag Archives: islamists

Chatting Lightly About Dark Matters

cover IMA

Reflecting on the Future of the Arab World.

When my friend and I meet, we go straight to the point because we barely ever meet. So we asked ourselves the other day: Can any good come out of this darkness?

Those who did not yet succumb to cynicism in the West cling on to the idea that some day, out of the current Arab nightmare will rise new types of leaders, more popular, more liberal, some kind of Islamic Martin Luther that would help Muslims leap into modernity. They are In fact not so sure about the job description, and despite their flexibility, they haven’t found anyone yet.

As for us, we apprehended the matter in a different manner and looked into the potential blind spots of the reformist quest, asking ourselves what the least expected game-changers could be on the longer run. In other words, we examined potential signs and indications that something is changing deep within the social fabrics of the region.

The elements we are about to mention now have no academic value; we are mainly sharing impressions and intuitions that would require thorough research to be confirmed or invalidated.

New signs of an Arab Stream of Consciousness

Over the past couple of years, Arab media from all affiliations have been publishing a stream of editorials and essays critically reflecting on the meaning of Modernity for the Arab-Islamic world: What are the status and the role of the region in the post-Cold War world? Does modernization equal westernization? Does democratization impose secularization? What are the possible alternatives? And what is most remarkable is that, along the way, they are tearing down intellectual boundaries inherited mainly from Arabism.

Asad Azi's Napoleon, from the exhibition

Asad Azi’s Napoleon, from the exhibition “The wandering rider”, someone who looks for a Kingdom

One common feature of this intellectual anxiety is the critical questioning of modern history: many authors turn to the past to try to better fathom their present with one main question in mind: How did we get there?

Far from the hagiographic historiographies each nation crafted for itself after the Independences, these new readings really look for answers: Why did the first Nahda[1] fail? Why couldn’t the Arab revolutions prevent Colonialism? Why didn’t the independence bring freedom and prosperity? Israel, the usual suspect for more than four decades, is barely mentioned in this context.

These debates are also spreading on social media. We have witnessed Facebook discussions whereby Arab citizens discover with dismay that a national hero can be a neighbor’s villain[2]. The first reaction is of course for each one to reassert his idols. However, these clashing narratives cannot but sow doubt and suspicion about the official history Arabs were taught.

The second remarkable element of this intellectual effervescence is that, instead of resorting to isolationism, a normal reflex in times of crisis, Arab thinkers actually look around for answers beyond the West. Japan’s Meiji era (end of the 19th century) has always inspired the Arab intelligentsia as a successful synthesis between tradition and modernity.  What’s new is a wider outlook including contemporary Latin America and Asian Muslim countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia as potential models.

Arabs also display a new ownership of western references and controversies that are rephrased in accordance with local realities.For instance, mass media editorials discuss and criticize Fukuyama’s End of History and Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations after the fall of the Soviet Union. There are also some signs of a new critical understanding of Capitalism and the impacts of Globalization after the 2008 crisis – something which is different than the old Arab communist criticism of the market economy.

In one of the most striking display of this new intellectual autonomy, the great Syrian thinker, Yassin el Hajj Saleh, reflects in a crucial article on Adorno and the meaning of Poetry after Auschwitz applied to the Syrian case[3], undeterred by the traditional taboo surrounding the Jews and the Shoah in the Arab world.

Naturally, this new stream of Arab consciousness cannot but tackle the central issue of Islam. To read more in PDF format, click here.

[1] The Nahda (“Awakening”) refers to a moment of cultural effervescence that began in the late 19th century in Egypt and in the Levant. It is often regarded as a period of intellectual modernization and reform that was sparked by the shock caused by Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, and in general by the new awareness of the Arab elites regarding the gap between Europe and the Ottoman Empire in terms of technical and scientific development. [2] You’d be surprised how popular Saddam Hussein still is across the region. [3] Looking into the eyes of Horror, a contribution to the Syrian debate over pictures, May 30th, 2015 (Arabic only)

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Al-Azhar and the Egyptian Revolution

al-azhar red

This article is available in Portuguese here. A PDF version of the English article can be downloaded here.

“Religious discourse is the greatest battle and challenge facing the Egyptian people. There is a need for a new vision and a modern, comprehensive understanding of the religion of Islam—rather than relying on a discourse that has not changed for 800 years.”

General El-Sisi’s speech, Armed Forces’ Department of Moral Affairs – January 2014

 

How has al-Azhar, often referred to as the highest reference in Sunni Islam, navigated the recent Egyptian upheavals?

The institution, both a Mosque and a University, could have cloistered itself away from the course of History, waiting for the dust to settle. Instead, it found itself at the very center of events, both as an actor taking sides and position, and as the object of opposing national and constitutional projects for Egypt[1].

Such a central and active role in a highly volatile environment, where today’s victors are tomorrow’s fools, has not been without contradictions and conflicts within and around the institution. This may ultimately come at a high price for the already weakened authority and legitimacy of al-Azhar in Egypt and beyond.

The following article intends to shed some light on al-Azhar’s role in contemporary Egypt (I), rectifying certain misconceptions about its status in Islam, before analyzing its positioning during the Nile Revolution (II) and since the restoration of the military rule (III). Continue reading

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The Syrian Armed Opposition – Balance of Power, Tactical Goals and Long Term Agenda

ISIS with child

ISIS Fighters

NGC is very pleased to announce that Romain Caillet, a French researcher specialized in Islamist movements, has joined our team. Romain brings along his precious expertise on Salafist and Jihadist movements, the Syrian civil war and more generally on the Sunni/Shia relation in the Arab world. Find out more about him on our website.

NGC sat with Romain to discuss the status of the armed opposition to the Syrian regime, and try to identify:

(1)     The current balance of power between the different groups,

(2)     Their tactical and long-term goals as well as potential future scenarios

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New Publication on the Syrian Conflict

Pas de printemps JPEGWe are very proud to anounce the publication by La Decouverte Editions  in French of “Pas de printemps pour la Syrie – Les clés  pour comprendre les acteurs et les défis de la crise, 2011-2013” (“Won’t there be a Syrian Spring? Keys to understand the players and the challenges of the crisis (2011-2013)”) under the supervision of the French Institute of the Near East (IFPO).

This collective work brings together the contributions of more than 20 experts among the best connoisseurs of the Middle East and Syria. NGC Director, Janaina Herrera contributed by bringing a unique expertise on the Syro-Lebanese diaspora in Latin America and its positioning vis a vis the Syrian crisis. For a detailed table of contents and list of authors (in French), click here.

Focusing on information collected as close to the source as possible, this important book highlights the historical roots of the crisis, analyzes the issues at stake and scrutinizes its political, economic and ideological implications.

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NGC on BBC Arabic about Hezbollah’s Involvement in Syria

BBC Arabic reached out again to us on the sensitive question of Hezbollah’s military involvement in the battle of Al Quseir, a Syrian town (25 000 inhabitants) a few kilometers away from the Lebanese border. Over the past week, intense fighting has been reported around the town, between the rebels holding the city and the Syrian army supported by Hezbollah. al Quseir map small

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Muslim Brothers in Power: a Cultural Clash

Egypt-Muslim-Brotherhood

Are Muslim Brothers in Egypt failing because they are Islamists? Are Islamists incompatible with democracy?  Is it the very essence of Islam that explains the Brothers’ inability to design a sound economic policy?

History and sociology are of critical importance when it comes to better understanding the difficult political transition in Egypt. Religion is only one part of the story, and maybe not the main one. Continue reading

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Syria – Update from the Front

Hafez falling

Hafez falling in Raqaa

In the North and the East

Roughly speaking, the North is starting to get closer to a liberated zone and signs of a new Syria are emerging, especially in Aleppo. Most of the border with Turkey is controlled by the rebels (mainly al Farouk brigade) who have recently focused on more strategic targets (bigger cities, airports, military bases…). But that does not mean that these are stable and safe areas. Continue reading

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Encounter in Abu Dhabi with a Leading Figure of Chilean Political Life

Sergio Bitar

In the margins of the Arla Forum in Abu Dhabi, NGC Director had the chance to meet and exchange with Sergio Bitar, a prominent figure of Chilean political life.

We wanted to share with our readers the biography of a statesman who has been promoting Democracy and Development in Chile for the past 30 years, and is showing great interest in the political changes of  the Arab world. Continue reading

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The 2010 Nuclear Swap Deal (Brazil, Turkey & Iran) – 5 Lessons, 4 Recommendations

Swap Deal Triumph

NGC is happy to share with you the speech it delivered during the USEK International Symposium on the Relations between the Middle East and South America.

Enjoy the reading and share your thoughts with us!

NGC Team

Your Excellencies,

Distinguished Colleagues,

Dear Friends,

Allow me to start by welcoming all of those who came a long way to join us and by congratulating the organizers for this important event, the University of Saint Esprit of Kaslik (USEK) and the RIMAAL.

This is truly a fantastic opportunity to have an in-depth discussion on the potential of a new relation between the Middle East and South America. We are, I believe, the pioneers of an emerging strategic alliance that will bring about many benefits for the peoples of both regions and beyond.

Let me focus today on the potentialities of a Latin American political mediation in the post-Arab spring Middle East. It is mainly a prospective exercise that will:
– Draw five lessons from the nuclear swap deal between Iran, on the one hand, and Brazil and Turkey on the other hand,
– Formulate four recommendations for future initiatives.

I. Five Lessons Learned from the Nuclear Swap Deal

Let us start by analyzing a real historical precedent: the nuclear swap deal between Brazil, Turkey and Iran. In the spring of 2010, Brazil and Turkey carried out a diplomatic initiative to broker the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) fuel swap with Iran, taking in a former US proposal of October 2009. Under the deal, Iran was to ship 1,200kg of low-enriched uranium to Turkey, in return for fuel for its research reactor.

This initiative was hailed by some observers as a powerful indicator of the empowerment and “autonomization” of emerging diplomacies from traditional decision centers and western powers.

Continue reading

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Middle East & South America – The Way Ahead

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In many different ways, the symposium co-organized by the Center University Saint Esprit of Kaslik (USEK)  and the RIMAAL (29-30 November) on the relations between the Middle East and South America was an eye-opener. It confirmed the massive potential of the trans-regional relation, the dynamism and ambitions of key stakeholders but also the long way still ahead of us.

During the event, the elements of this new South-South relationship literally crystallized under our eyes: new research avenues were identified (O. Dabene); future events and academic initiatives were announced and people from both continents met and clicked. We truly felt like pioneers. Continue reading

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