General Introduction

9 October 2012

Al Jazeera Center for Studies held a conference entitled "Islamists and the Arab Revolutions: Challenges of Democratic Transition and State-Rebuilding” on 11-12 September 2012 in Doha, Qatar.

The conference brought together a selection of the region's Islamist leaders and liberal, leftist, and secular political activists as well as a number of experts and researchers that specialise in the field of Islamist movements. Its aim was to identify the participants’ perceptions of current political developments in light of the domination of Islamist movements in the political scene and Islamist rule in certain Arab countries that had witnessed revolutions or protest movement calling for reform.

Conference sessions focused on:

  • Islamists and the Arab revolutions
  • Citizenship and political rights
  • Challenges of democratic transition
  • Islamists and the modern state
  • Islamists’ economic options
  • Foreign affairs

One session was dedicated to the Syrian revolution, its current status, potential scenarios.

There keynote addresses were delivered by Islamist scholar and head of the Tunisian Ennahda movement, Sheikh Rachid Al-Ghannouchi; Islamist scholar and head of Sudan’s Popular Congress Party, Dr Hassan Al-Turabi; and deputy leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Khairat Al-Shater. A number of experts, politicians and researchers participated in other sessions.

The "Islamists and the Arab Revolutions" conference concluded with the posing of profound questions and the stirring of serious discussions regarding a number of issues, including the meaning of the Arab revolution movement i.e. whether it is "second independence" or the failure of national and post-independence states.

Participants examined the duality of the state and Islam and the relation between them while democracy as a concept and practice was widely discussed in attempt to determine whether the distribution of power in the Arab region after the revolutions is an issue that can be discussed.

The discussions also tackled a core issue in the post-revolution Arab world: minorities and citizenship-based states. They debated how the state might consider the rights of minorities and how a democratic system might affect these rights negatively with bias towards the majority.

Furthermore, topics such as the application of Islamic economics, the role of civil society, and the revival of awqaf and other charity work as means of escaping recent global economic crises were also addressed.

The Palestinian cause, international efforts, and Israel’s relations with western powers were also debated, and a question was posed regarding whether relations with the United States and its allies are antagonistic or appeasing. Another issue that was debated was how events in the Arab world might impact international developments and the West.

Relations between Islamists and secular groups –often affected by the latter’s fears of religion-based states as a result of particular historical experiences – were also given attention. It was concluded that these two components are key players in the Arab political and intellectual space and need to establish dialogue and a clear method that respects opposites view and steers away from misjudgements based on false conceptions.