DC Events on Arab Spring Shed Light on Role of Islamic Parties Moving Forward

December 1, 2011


During a pair of packed events on Tuesday, Nov. 29, in Washington, DC, MPAC hosted leading scholars and the head of Tunisia’s Ennahda Party at a forum and dinner to shed light on emerging political trends in the Middle East and North Africa.

MPAC hosted a historic conversation and dinner with Ennahda Party leader Rachid Ghannouchi last night. In DC for a full schedule of meetings with government officials, think tanks and public officials, Ghannouchi spent his evening with MPAC in a packed room of 100 prominent attendees.

The former political exile spoke about the future of freedom in Tunisia, his party’s vision of pluralism and democracy and the Arab Spring countries. Ghannouchi also discussed the beauty of democratic principles being able to uplift and promote religious freedom and practice for all.

The night ended with a robust conversation between Ghannouchi and the audience, which raised a wide range of issues from religion and the adaptation of American democracy as a model for Tunisia to the involvementof Saudi Arabia with deposed leaders from the Arab Spring.

Earlier in the day, MPAC hosted a packed Capitol Hill briefing, “Islamic Political Movements in the Arab Spring: Committed to Democracy and Pluralism?” The forum examined Tunisia and Egypt post-revolution and the faith-based individuals and parties involved in the transition processes. Khaled Elgindy, a visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution Saban Center for Middle East Policy; Dr. Marina Ottaway, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Senior Associate; and Haris Tarin, Director of MPAC’s DC Office, were all featured as speakers at the briefing.

Tarin shared a two-sided critique of faith-based political leaders and parties (commonly referred to by the media as “Islamists”) and the need to shift U.S. diplomatic and foreign policy to deal with the new realities that are emerging in the region. He stressed the importance of engaging with Islamic political groups “so long as they respect the democratic game.”

Elgindy focused his presentation on Egypt’s historical role as a political trend-setter and described the Muslim Brotherhood as comprised of pragmatists and politicians rather than theological ideologues.

Ottaway discussed the Ennahda Party’s victory in Tunisia as a sign of where the region is going. With Islamic parties also claiming victory in Morocco this week, Ottoway stressed the need to engage them as legitimate actors rather than shying away from them which would lead to compromised interests.

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