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Ed Webb

Recent insights on the role of religion in economic history | VOX, CEPR Policy Portal - 0 views

  • The study of religion in economic history covers two broad areas of investigation. The first area is which (economic) factors cause religious adoption, religiosity, and religious change. The second area is which consequences religion exerts on economic development, seeking the ‘deep roots’ of larger economic differences between regions and religious communities.
  • the monotheistic character of the main Abrahamic religions facilitated a close historical interconnection of religion with political power and conflict
  • human capital often played a leading role in the interconnection between religion and economic history
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  • the recent literature has produced ample evidence that socioeconomic factors matter in the historical development of religions
  • In addition to human capital, the Reformation has been shown to have affected secularisation, political change, technology diffusion, and social outcomes
  • recent works on missionaries show that early access to Christian missions still has educational, political, and economic consequences in present-day sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America
  • Various works have shown how the presence of Islam in law and politics has affected economic outcomes such as corporate development, usury restrictions, conflict, finance, and human capital development
  • Maybe the most challenging direction for future research is to dig deeper into the link between economics and religiosity rather than religious affiliation – what people think and feel and which specific beliefs they do and do not adhere to. Measuring religiosity and beliefs is demanding in contemporary work, and it is even harder in the historical context where the option of fielding a survey is no longer viable
  • While recent work has clearly shown that religion has played an important role in economic history, there remains ample room, not least for multidisciplinary approaches, to advance our understanding of how religious thoughts and activities changed people’s economic lives over the course of history.
Ed Webb

Turkish academic offers an intriguing but controversial view of the Muslim world | Ahval - 0 views

  • Kuru postulates that domestic political relations between rulers and the intellectual, economic, and religious classes, and the rearrangement thereof, explains the ascendance of Muslim-ruled areas in the eighth to twelfth centuries, their subsequent decline and the simultaneous dominance of Western Europe beginning in the early modern period. According to Kuru, “In early Islamic history, Islamic scholars’ independence from the state and the economic influence of merchants” created a space for philosophical and intellectual freedom outside of state control. Later political authorities, most notably the Seljuks, would bring the Islamic religious establishment, the ulema, under state control. The Seljuks would also introduce land and tax reforms that curtailed the economic and political influence of the merchant class. Western Europe, in contrast, underwent the opposite political and economic process in the early modern period: political and religious authorities fought and gradually disentangled from one another, universities fostered intellectual growth, and a merchant class emerged and wielded increasing political and economic power.
  • the religion-state entanglement that Kuru sees as the primary force hampering intellectual progress and innovation
  • his major claims – that Islam can be interpreted to support many different political, social, and economic projects, that neither colonial rule nor Islam fully explains the political and social conditions of Muslim-majority countries, and, most crucially, that the ulema’s conservatism and political co-option has made it difficult to counter extreme interpretations of Islamic theology and social organisation.
Ed Webb

How Lebanon is setting the standard for a new social contract in the Middle East - 0 views

  • What sets the protest apart is its cross-sectarian nature. Lebanon is turning away from the past and toward a new social contract. There is much risk and uncertainty — but there is also excitement — revealed by brave protesters who have put country above sect, and who have made the region, and the world, take notice.
  • Lebanon has a population of nearly 6.8 million, with an estimated 42% under 24 years of age. The official unemployment rate of about 6% is not high, by regional standards, but with almost no economic growth (a projected 0.2% rate in 2019, following just 0.3% last year), the good jobs are fewer and fewer for young graduates. Lebanon’s deficit and debt are approaching 155% of the gross domestic product, among the worst ratios in the world.
  • orruption and side deals inhibit the government from delivering even reliable trash collection — in contrast to the protesters, who have made a point of keeping the streets clean after the demonstrations
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  • Lebanon did its time with its own bloody 15-year sectarian regional war, and still was able to recover and re-establish its cosmopolitan flair. There is a lot to build on. The failures and dashed expectations of the uprisings in Egypt and Syria, which quickly fell prey to regional and ideological agendas and violence, and Lebanon’s own tragic past, could make it an incubator for a new approach to governance that would allow Lebanon to realize its potential, rather than fall victim to the rhetoric and false promise of what was once known as the Arab Spring
  • The catch for Lebanon, as it has been for Egypt, is that most International Monetary Fund-based recommendations to address bloated and corrupt public ministries require downsizing and reductions in subsidies — such as electricity and gasoline — and an expanded tax base — the very things that trigger the protests of those already on the economic margins.
  • the short-term urgency of meeting the demands of the street need to be combined with a long-term plan for structural reform. This could be accomplished via a new government, quickly formed, or by getting the buy-in of those demanding change by adding new faces and technocrats to those vital ministries that manage economy and infrastructure and are widely associated with corruption and inefficiency
Ed Webb

The Fight Against Terror Needs Better Data - Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • Using a leaked database from 2016 on Islamic State recruits, we were able to geographically locate where almost 600 recruits originated from in Tunisia—one of the highest exporters of foreign fighters to Syria. We then used socio-economic data from Tunisian delegations (the equivalent of a district or a county—the smallest geographic unit that could be measured) to try to find what was driving foreign fighters to go to Syria. Surprisingly, our research suggests that absolute indicators of well-being, which are intuitively linked to terrorism by many policymakers, are not related to a higher probability of joining a violent extremist group.
  • higher rates of radicalization seem to be linked to relative deprivation—the perception of being disadvantaged or not achieving the expectations one feels entitled to. This builds on previous research including Ted Robert Gurr’s seminal book, Why Men Rebel, and supports the conclusions of recent work such as Kartika Bhatia and Hafez Ghanem’s study on the linkage between economic development and violent extremism across the Middle East
  • districts with high levels of unemployment among university-educated men produced higher numbers of men joining violent extremist groups
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  • districts with high inflows of domestic migrants in search of better living conditions exported more foreign fighters
  • the problem is not one of poverty or unemployment per se but rather the unmet expectations of highly educated youth who feel the country’s social contract has failed them
  • even policies that advance the right agenda items—such as increasing employment for well-educated youths—may not make any impact in addressing radicalization if they are too broadly based or target districts with low numbers of foreign fighters
Ed Webb

Bringing the Economy Back Into Tunisian Politics - Carnegie Endowment for International... - 0 views

  • Observers have often summarized the situation in Tunisia, and the Arab world in general, as a conflict between Islamists and secularists. While the framework of an Islamist–secularist divide is not completely inaccurate, it frequently ignores more nuanced analysis and perpetuates the orientalist premise that Middle East politics should be explained by historical religious norms. In Tunisia, political Islam was marginal until the fall of dictatorship in January 2011.
  • The main demands of the sporadic protest movements before 2011 were not ideological, but called for more political liberties or an improved socioeconomic situation, as in the 2008 Gafsa uprising
  • a growing sense among disenchanted voters, youth in particular, that their standards of living would not improve no matter which party they voted for.
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  • As a structured political party with large parliamentary representation but little influence inside state institutions, Ennahda in particular has aimed to change the status quo, as its new elite within the Tunisian interior remains largely excluded from the established economic circles in the coastal cities.
  • seek the political backing of the IMF and G7 countries, who are demanding that Tunisia speed up ongoing structural reforms to the economy. However, these measures are very unpopular, reawakening old grievances and notably sparking widespread anti-austerity protests in January 2018
  • The discourse of the union’s leadership—which calls for nationalization of major sectors and includes elements of pan-Arabism and anti-imperialist nationalism—is finding appeal among a population disenchanted with the leading parties’ ability to improve their economic situation. The union has also found natural partners in the Popular Front, a political coalition of leftists and pan-Arabists, and in remnants of the old regime, whose hybrid ideology incorporates nationalism, socialism, and pan-Arabism
  • as UGTT leaders accuse Chahed and Ennahda of being manipulated by the IMF and foreign countries, the camp in power is going on the defensive. They have alternately called for negotiations, stalemate, and compromise with the UGTT, ultimately capitulating to the UGTT’s primary demand on February 7 to increase wages in order to avert the planned February 20 strike
  • The more Tunisia’s foreign partners demand substantial structural reforms, the more the current coalition will confront popular anger that puts these reforms on hold, lest the coalition provoke a larger upheaval that could topple it. This will in turn make it harder for the government to abide by Tunisia’s commitments to its international donors, at a time when it needs their support to keep a grip on power
Ed Webb

Saudi Arabia makes friends with an old enemy - Iraq - Middle East - Stripes - 0 views

  • With the extremist militants driven out of Iraq, Saudi Arabia is preparing to reopen the land crossing to trade this year because of the latest conflict that's dominating the region: its proxy war with Iran. In a stark reversal of policy, the kingdom has identified Iraq as a timely ally in curbing the influence of its Shiite enemy
  • Saudi Arabia has also employed other soft power tactics such as offering to build a sports stadium and government-backed broadcaster MBC recently announced a dedicated channel for Iraq. Clerics in the kingdom have been toning down their anti-Shiite rhetoric
  • Saudi Arabia's aim is to prop up a government in Baghdad whose authority has been challenged by Iran-sponsored militias and bring the nation back firmly into the Arab fold
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  • Iraq has been dominated by non-Arab Iran after the majority Shiites took over power following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Saudi Arabia now considers Iraq as a potential bulwark against Iran rather than a puppet state controlled by Tehran
  • On a state visit to Riyadh last month, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi oversaw the signing of 13 agreements whereby Saudi Arabia pledged to pump a billion dollars into its neighbor's economy
  • The Saudis "have been relatively successful" in Iraq, said James M. Dorsey, senior fellow at Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and its Middle East Institute. "They need, however, to follow up on promises and capitalize on the fact that, unlike the Iranians, they have the cash to do so."
  • The Islamic Republic exported more than $1.66 billion worth of tomatoes alone to Iraq in 2017 and is the country's top source of everything from pig lard to human hair. Iran jumped from the Arab nation's fifth biggest non-oil exporter in 2016 to its biggest in 2017, bypassing China. Iraqi supermarket shelves are often stocked with cheap Turkish and Iranian products
  • "I don't think there's any illusion in Riyadh that Iraq will sever relations with Iran,"
  • After Iran cut off power to Iraq because of payment disputes last year, Saudi Arabia offered to sell it to Baghdad at a fraction of Iranian prices
  • As part of its outreach to Iraq, Saudi Arabia has also softened its position on Shiite Islam, long seen as antithetical to the official Wahhabi creed of the kingdom. In a nod to its often restive Shiite minority mainly in the east, Riyadh plans to open a consulate in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf, to which many Saudi Shiites travel for pilgrimage
  • Still, Saudi Arabia continues to detain and even execute Shiites in large numbers on suspicion of spying for Iran, among other charges
Ed Webb

What It's Like to Live in a Surveillance State - The New York Times - 0 views

  • when it comes to indigenous Uighurs in the vast western region of Xinjiang, the Chinese Communist Party (C.C.P.) has updated its old totalitarian methods with cutting-edge technology
  • The Qing Empire conquered Xinjiang in the 18th century. The territory then slipped from Beijing’s control, until the Communists reoccupied it with Soviet help in 1949. Today, several Central Asian peoples, including Uighurs, Kazakhs and Kyrghyz, make up about half of the region’s population; the remainder are Han and Hui, who arrived from eastern China starting in the mid-20th century
  • the C.C.P. has since subjected the entire Uighur population of some 11 million to arbitrary arrest, draconian surveillance or systemic discrimination. Uighurs are culturally Muslim, and the government often cites the threat of foreign Islamist ideology to justify its security policies
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  • A law now bans face coverings — but also “abnormal” beards. A Uighur village party chief was demoted for not smoking, on grounds that this failing displayed an insufficient “commitment to secularization.” Officials in the city of Kashgar, in southwest Xinjiang, recently jailed several prominent Uighur businessmen for not praying enough at a funeral — a sign of “extremism,” they claimed.
  • Uighurs’ DNA is collected during state-run medical checkups. Local authorities now install a GPS tracking system in all vehicles. Government spy apps must be loaded on mobile phones. All communication software is banned except WeChat, which grants the police access to users’ calls, texts and other shared content. When Uighurs buy a kitchen knife, their ID data is etched on the blade as a QR code
  • The C.C.P., once quite liberal in its approach to diversity, seems to be redefining Chinese identity in the image of the majority Han — its version, perhaps, of the nativism that appears to be sweeping other parts of the world. With ethnic difference itself now defined as a threat to the Chinese state, local leaders like Mr. Chen feel empowered to target Uighurs and their culture wholesale
  • There’s an old Chinese joke about Uighurs being the Silk Road’s consummate entrepreneurs: When the first Chinese astronaut steps off his spaceship onto the moon, he will find a Uighur already there selling lamb kebabs. And so even as Mr. Chen cracks down in Xinjiang, the Chinese government touts the region as the gateway for its much-vaunted “one belt, one road” initiative, Mr. Xi’s signature foreign policy project. The grand idea combines a plan to spend billions of dollars in development loans and transport investment across Eurasia with a strategic bid to establish China’s diplomatic primacy in Asia.
  • How does the party think that directives banning fasting during Ramadan in Xinjiang, requiring Uighur shops to sell alcohol and prohibiting Muslim parents from giving their children Islamic names will go over with governments and peoples from Pakistan to Turkey? The Chinese government may be calculating that money can buy these states’ quiet acceptance. But the thousands of Uighur refugees in Turkey and Syriaalready complicate China’s diplomacy.
Ed Webb

A Tale of Two Moralities, Part One: Regional Inequality and Moral Polarization - Niskan... - 0 views

  • Conservatives fifty years ago opposed interracial marriage, but now they mostly don’t. Why not? Haidt and his colleagues find that conservatives have a stronger sense of moral purity, contamination, and disgust than liberals. That was as true in 1967 as it is in 2017. But conservatives in 1967 were likely to find interracial marriage a disgusting contamination of racial purity in a way that most conservatives in 2017 just don’t. What changed? There’s little reason to believe that the psychological attributes that incline an individual to conservative or liberal attitudes have much changed. It’s much more likely that the cultural triggers of the conservative purity and disgust response changed. And why did that change? Because our entire culture has become more broadly liberal—more egalitarian, tolerant, and individualistic—in its attitudes, shifting the whole range of opinion in a broadly liberal direction.
  • As countries become wealthier, their people generally become less and less concerned with mere physical survival and the values associated with survival, and more and more concerned with self-expression and autonomy. People animated by survival values prefer security over liberty, are suspicious of outsiders, dislike homosexuality, don’t put much stock in politics, and tend not to be very happy. In contrast, those fueled by self-expressive values prefer liberty over security, are welcoming to outsiders, tolerant of homosexuality (or most any expression of the real, authentic, inner self), are more positive about politics and political participation, and tend to be fairly satisfied with life.
  • Cultures also tend to transition from “traditional” to “secular-rational” attitudes about the grounds of moral, cultural, and political authority as they modernize and gain distance from mass poverty and material insecurity. Traditionalists about authority are generally religious; prize traditional notions of marriage and family; esteem obedience; and wave the flag with zesty, patriotic pride. In contrast, people with secular-rational values are less religious; aren’t so troubled by Heather having two Dads; are more likely to question and defy authority; and take less pride from national membership.
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  • This strong connection between a society’s value system and its per capita GDP suggests that economic development tends to produce roughly predictable changes in a society’s beliefs and values, and time-series evidence supports this hypothesis. When one compares the positions of given countries in successive waves of the values surveys, one finds that almost all the countries that experienced rising per capita GDPs also experienced predictable shifts in their values.
  • countries with moral cultures that emphasize self-expressive, secular-rational values demand and enjoy the most freedom
  • Secular-rational and self-expressive values tend to move in the same direction over time, but they don’t always, and in the United States they haven’t. If you watch the below animation of the cultural map through time, you’ll see that since the World Values Survey began, the United States has become significantly more secular-rational, while losing ground on self-expressive values.
  • World Values Survey results for countries as populous, diverse, and geographically large as the United States can be misleading. Small aggregate shifts can hide large swings in particular regions and sub-populations
  • If the United States has shifted slightly toward survival values and away from self-expressive values in the aggregate, it seems likely that there has been a large shift toward survival values in large swathes of the country that swamped the forward march of college towns and big cities toward self-expressive values. Likewise, a small aggregate shift toward secular-rational values can conceal a much larger shift in the places liberals live, offset by a somewhat smaller shift toward traditional values elsewhere.  
  • United States may be dividing into two increasingly polarized cultures: an increasingly secular-rational and self-expression oriented “post-materialist” culture concentrated in big cities and the academic archipelago, and a largely rural and exurban culture that has been tilting in the opposite direction, toward zero-sum survival values, while trying to hold the line on traditional values
  • If we were to plot urban “blue” America on the WVS map, my guess is that it would fall in the “Protestant Europe” zone, perhaps somewhere between the Netherlands and Norway. If we were to plot low-density “red” America on the WVS map, I’d guess it would, like Northern Ireland, fall on the border of the “Latin America” zone, near Uruguay and Argentina
  • the United States recently went through a big recession, but so did the rest of the world. That, and the wave of foreclosures that precipitated it, might account for some of the shift toward survival values. But then there’s the U.S.’s unusual sharp increase in income inequality, which is symptomatic of a deeper trend in diverging material conditions
  • If you’re searching for ideas about why the United States’ has been sliding away from liberalizing self-expression values, and becoming less and less free, it makes sense to look at the things that differentiate the U.S. from its English speaking cousins. Significantly higher economic inequality is one of those things.
  • “Skill-biased technical change” is the economist’s term for the fact that advances in technology increase the productivity, and thus the pay, of highly-educated workers more than less-educated workers. Because the U.S. system of primary education is incredibly variable in quality, and garbage on average, we’ve been unable to meet market demand for skilled workers, further driving up the wage premium for education, while leaving people in areas with ineffective schools struggling to get by without the sort of skills the labor market wants. Meanwhile, the minority of highly-educated Americans are becoming more and more heavily concentrated in cities, and have been enjoying steadily increasing incomes.
  • The geographic concentration of economic production has increased over the past fifteen years, due to the feedback between human capital concentration and the choices of high-productivity firms to locate in those places. As the Economist noted last March: In 2001 the richest 50 cities and their surroundings produced 27% more per head than America as a whole. Today’s richest cities make 34% more. Measured by total GDP, the decoupling is greater still, because prosperous cities are sucking in disproportionate numbers of urbanising Americans. Between 2010 and 2014 America’s population grew by 3.1%; its cities, by 3.7%. But the 50 richest cities swelled by 9.2%.
  • the Trump vs. Clinton population density divide really amounts to a high-output/low-output economic divide. With few exceptions, the counties responsible for a more than a trivial portion of American GDP preferred Clinton over Trump.
  • According to Muro and Lui, in the 2000 election, which also featured a split in the popular and electoral votes, Bush won 2397 counties, accounting for 46% of GDP, while Gore won 659 counties accounting for 54% of GDP. In the 2016 election, the general pattern repeats: the Republican candidate wins many many more counties responsible for a smaller share of American economic output, but the asymmetry has become even crazier. Clinton took just 472 counties, which account for 64% of GDP, while Trump took 2584, which account for just 36% of GDP.  That’s amazing.
  • I suspect cultural and moral polarization is being driven by the Great Divergence—by inequality between densely and sparsely populated regions—rather than by inequality within cities, where the gap between rich and poor is the widest
  • While the urban poor and working classes have benefited in a number ways from the concentration of human capital and wealth in their cities, very little has trickled down to the rest of America. Much of the problem is that, as Moretti emphasizes, the “good jobs” are increasingly concentrated in big cities. This means that wage growth generally has been very low for the (mainly white) middle and lower income classes outside big urban centers. But there’s more to material security than income. There’s also wealth. Americans tend to store their wealth in their houses. Much of the country still has not recovered from the housing crises. As Michela Zonta, Sarah Edelman, and Colin McArthur of the Center for American Progress observe, counties that shifted from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016 had unusually high rates of negative equity.  
  • the labor force participation rate for prime-age men decreased from 98% in 1954 to 88% last year. This is the second largest decrease among any of the OECD countries
  • the huge increase in women’s labor force participation and economic independence over this period, which has shifted power relations between men and women in a way that working-class men have found especially hard to adjust to. It’s not just about decline in manufacturing employment and the lack of “good jobs” men happen to find suitably dignified, through it is partly about that.
  •  The higher the death rate from overdose and suicide in Rust Belt areas, the more Trump tended to outperform Romney. When it came to predicting Trump’s gains over Romney, The Economist found that the only factor that could did better than an area’s percentage of whites without college education was an index of public health metrics
  • the specific subset of Mr Trump’s voters that won him the election—those in counties where he outperformed Mr Romney by large margins—live in communities that are literally dying.
  • The idea that an increasing sense of material precariousness can lead to cultural retreat from liberalizing “self-expression” values can help us understand why low-density white America turned out to support a populist leader with disturbingly illiberal tendencies. But this idea can also help us understand why our larger national culture seems to be growing apart in a way that has made it seem harder and harder to communicate constructively across the gap.
  • Given the specific counter-majoritarian mechanisms in the U.S. constitution, this is a recipe for political dominance of the less economically productive conservative white minority, who control most of the country’s territory, over the liberal multicultural majority who live in increasingly concentrated urban centers of wealth. To the extent that increasing economic security is liberalizing and stagnation and decline tend toward an illiberal, zero-sum survival mindset, this amounts to a recipe for the political imposition of relatively illiberal policy on increasingly liberal and increasingly economically powerful cities. This is not a stable situation, and bodes ill for the future of American freedom.
  • I think the cultural antagonisms generated by the polarizing material consequences of the Great Divergence have their own internal logic, which has led to a sense of winner-take-all culture war hostility that exacerbates the instability of America’s basic economic and political situation
Ed Webb

A Chance for Moderation - Sada - 0 views

  • Non-jihadi Salafis, particularly those who have shown a real inclination toward moderation, can play a key role in minimizing the jihadi threat
  • Apart from Salafi jihadis, two other major currents of Salafism exist in Tunisia: Salafiyya ‘Almiyya, often translated as "scientific Salafism," and political Salafism.  Members of the Salafiyya ‘Almiyya current are apolitical, preferring to immerse themselves in religious devotion. Their movement dates back to the eighth century AD. Until the last century, they remained an elitist and almost forgotten sect. Although their profile has risen since the revolution, scientific Salafism’s imprint on religious life remains limited—only around 24 of Tunisia’s mosques are under their control. Nonetheless, some scientific Salafi sheikhs, such as Bashir bin Hassan, are well-known religious figures, with impressive followings and media platforms.
  • political Salafis aspire to use political avenues to influence Tunisian society. Some have formed parties such as Jabhat al-Islah and Hizb ut-Tahrir. Although they were unsuccessful, Jabhat al-Islah members contested six seats in the Constituent Assembly as independents (the party did not receive an official license until March 2012) in the October 2011 elections. Enacting sharia law is their foremost policy priority,  and they have also called for cutting ties with the IMF and World Bank and for Tunisia to stop repaying foreign debts. Hizb ut-Tahrir also advocates an agro-industrial economy that is less reliant on tourism
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  • Although Salafism might seem extreme by definition, the term is still helpfully vague. Some high-profile Islamists have shown a capacity to use the ambiguity of the term to their advantage. For example, last year Ennahda’s co-founder, Rachid Ghannouchi, claimed—in an attempt to pacify and woo young Salafis—that he himself is a Salafi in the sense that Salafism means a “return to the noble values of Islam founded on the Koran and the Sunna.”
  • Mohamed Khoja, who leads Jabhat al-Islah, was one of the founders of the Tunisian Islamic Front, which had suspected ties to terrorism. Now he rejects violence in Tunisia and insists that, if elected, members of his party would not outlaw alcohol or ban bikinis.
  • Ansar al-Sharia is eager to cultivate a peaceful image not just because it fears government reprisals, but also to avoid alienating members who are against violence in Tunisia. It is, after all, a disconnected movement that relies on dozens of charismatic leaders to exploit everyday discontent at the grassroots level of Tunisian society. 
  • Salafi political parties have a much harder task than groups like Ansar al-Sharia. They must prove their ability to shape political decisions, rather than simply blasting more energy into street politics
  • political parties’ youth activities are much less visible. Jabhat al-Islah’s Facebook page is dominated by pictures of middle-aged men. Similarly, older “wise men” are the face of scientific Salafism. As a result, these movements hold limited appeal for youth.
Ed Webb

Living on a prayer: in Istanbul's Gezi Park, protesters try to bridge the religious div... - 0 views

  • a group of religious anti-capitalists led by the Islamic theologian, Ihsan Eliacik, prayed at the park in front of several thousand in honor of kandil, a Muslim celebration of the Prophet Mohammad’s ascension to heaven. Though a number of religious Muslims have been part of the demonstrations, the group’s prayer appeared to mark the largest presence of religious conservatives at the protests
  • Eliacik has derided the government for installing what he calls a “looting regime,” referring to the construction boom that created a wealthy class of AKP supporters. “This shopping mall obsession, these concrete blocks — we reject this,”
  • “[This diversity] has become confusing to many,” Eliacik said. “[But] respect is in the air. We respect people who wear miniskirts — that doesn’t mean that we approve of them. But it means that we see them as equals.” Other members of the group echoed his sentiments. “The socialists were the first to give us a hand when we mentioned the kandil celebration at the park,” said Kazım İnanç, a member of the religious group. “That says so much about the spirit here.”
Ed Webb

The myth of the Islamist winter - www.newstatesman.com - Readability - 0 views

  • In Tunisia, as in Egypt, the Islamists who came to power through the ballot box are seeing their popularity erode and are tempted to hold on to power by recourse to authoritarian measures. But they have to deal with the legacy of the Arab spring. They face a new political culture: now, one where people who disagree with the government take to the streets; where there is no reverence for established power and the army and the police no longer inspire fear.
  • consider the precise nature of this authoritarian turn because it bears little resemblance to the “Islamic revolution” often associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and al-Nahda, the Renaissance Party, in Tunisia. It is, on the contrary, a conservative and paradoxically pro-western “counter-revolution”
  • The electoral and social base of the Egyptian regime is not revolutionary. Instead of trying to reach a compromise with the principal actors of the Arab spring, Morsi is attempting to get all the supporters of the new order on his side. The coalition he is building is based on business, the army, the Salafists and those elements of the “people” that are supposedly tired of anarchy
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  • economic model is neoliberal
  • State control of religion would in fact go beyond institutions and extend to religious orthodoxy, leading to limitations being placed on Sufi practices and theological discussions. Even if the Muslim Brothers succeed in the first part of the operation – nationalising faith institutions – the price they will have to pay for it will be high, because the imams won’t appreciate being turned into civil servants. They also run the risk of destroying the religious dynamic of their movement: if the state controls religion, what use is a religious “brotherhood”? And if religion is identified with the state, there is a grave risk that the unpopularity of the government will affect faith institutions in turn, as has happened in Iran
  • Time is against Morsi, because the economic measures that he wants to introduce will make the government increasingly unpopular. And, on the other hand, continued popular protest will require him to call on the army, which will support him, but at a price – the political and economic autonomy that the military is asking for runs counter to the Brotherhood’s programme of economic liberalisation
  • the other battleground for the Muslim Brotherhood is control of the religious sphere. Like al- Nahda in Tunisia, it has discovered that this is considerably more diverse than it had thought. Moreover, figures who had previously been relatively docile where the state was concerned, such as Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, have reasserted the autonomy that they were granted by the Arab spring. This means that the only way for the government to wrest back control of the religious sphere is to place it under the authority of the state (specifically, to submit the mosques to the diktat of the ministry of religious affairs)
  • Morsi has accepted the outlook of the IMF, not because he has been forced to do so, but because it is an approach he shares. This will bring further privatisation and competition. And because the price paid by swaths of the population will be severe, the government will need a functioning apparatus of repression and to break the trade unions. It will also have to gain the acquiescence of the army, in exchange for immunity and the right to regulate its own affairs, particularly in the economic sphere
  • a politics more redolent of Pinochet in Chile than of Khomeini in Iran
  • Religion is becoming just one instrument of control among others – rather than a social, economic and ideological alternative. This is, in short, the failure of political Islam
  • Al- Nahda is neither as strong nor as deeply rooted as the Muslim Brotherhood. The movement is more diverse, with a branch that is, if not more liberal, then at least more realistic. And because of their commitment to violence, the Tunisian Salafists are not credible allies
  • Al-Nahda is coming into conflict with the unions, either for the same reasons as in Egypt (a fascination with the free market) or for reasons more specific to Tunisia (it wants allies on its left but cannot bear to compete with a truly popular movement of grass-roots activists)
  • As in Egypt, al-Nahda proposes to use its own ministry of religious affairs to control the religious sphere, although this statism could rebound against the movement
  • if there were a credible and unified opposition, it could beat al-Nahda in the elections. Consequently, Tunisia’s chances of staying democratic are better than Egypt’s
  • The Islamists are succeeding neither in delivering the goods in economic and social terms nor in giving the impression that they are architects of an authentic social project that goes beyond the stamping of “Islamic markers” on a society over which they have increasingly little control
  • To get through the period of austerity and the economic difficulties that go with it, they should have done more to secure a “historic compromise” with the liberals. The alternative to such an alliance is not “Islamic revolution”, however. What is taking shape instead is a coalition that is con - servative in politics and morals but neoliberal in economics, and thus open to the west
Ed Webb

The Arab Spring Still Blooms - www.nytimes.com - Readability - 0 views

  • The Arab revolutions have not turned anti-Western. Nor are they pro-Western. They are simply not about the West. They remain fundamentally about social justice and democracy — not about religion or establishing Shariah law2.
  • The democratization of Tunisia, Egypt and other countries has allowed a number of extremist free riders into the political system. But it has also definitively refuted the myth that democracy and Islam are incompatible. Islamists are political actors like any others: they are no more pure, more united or more immune from criticism than anyone else.
  • Radical Salafis who advocate violence and Shariah constitute a very small minority in Tunisia — and even in Egypt they are vastly outnumbered by more moderate Islamists. They are a minority within a minority, and extremely unpopular among both religious and secular Tunisians. They do not speak for all Tunisians, Arabs or Muslims.
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  • As a democratic government, we support the Salafis’ freedom of expression, but advocating violence is a red line. Those who cross it will be arrested.
  • strength and importance of extremist groups have been unduly amplified by the news media
  • Images of angry Muslim mobs, like the one featured on a recent cover of Newsweek magazine3, once again revived the old Orientalist trope of a backward and hysterical Muslim world, unable to engage in civilized and rational debate or undertake peaceful negotiations — in other words, incapable of conducting political affairs.
  • Arguing that the groups who have recently staged violent demonstrations represent the entire Arab population is as absurd as claiming that white supremacist groups represent the American people or that the Norwegian right-wing mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik is representative of Europeans.
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