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Josef Korbel School visiting scholar lectures on Islamist movements and the Arab Spring

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University of Denver

Abdullah Al-Arian on Pressing Issues in the Middle East

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The Center for Middle East Studies (CMES) at the Josef Korbel School held “Islamist Movements and the Arab Spring,” on October 29th. Abdullah Al-Arian, a visiting scholar at Josef Korbel School spoke on a variety of the most pressing issues in the Middle East. Al-Arian's visit is made possible as part of a $294,200 Carnegie Corporation of New York Centennial Grant. The grant provides fellowships to U.S. universities in support of social scientists from the Arab region.

Al-Arian is an Assistant Professor of History at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar and author of the book  Answering the Call: Popular Islamic Activism in Sadat’s Egypt . He partly based his lecture on a chapter from the book titled “Beyond the Arab Spring: The Evolving Ruling Bargain in the Middle East.” Nader Hashemi, CMES Director, who also contributed to the book, served as discussant to the lecture.

Al-Arian’s lecture focused on three main topics: the conduct of Islamist movement throughout the Arab Spring, the nature of how these movements behaved in the post-revolutionary transition of the Arab Spring, and Al-Arian’s thoughts and were we might see these movements heading in the future in light of recent trends.

“I think one of the most important things to keep in mind in terms of the conduct of these uprisings, is the way in which these movements all, for the most part, were calling for the same kinds of things early on,” Al-Arian said. “They wanted something like a new democratic system. They derive most of their support from within society, so it was actually a kind of logical extension that they would seek to obtain political power through the social rules that they spent decades establishing.”

Al-Arian also examined what it meant for a society to be in a post-revolutionary transition.

“When we look at the ways in which these transitions were conducted, in many ways, there was a lot of politics-as-usual. There were remnants of these old regimes that were still very much well placed. And so the transition, especially for instance in Egypt, were being largely dictated by the military councils that were of course trying to preserve the old order.”

In looking to the future of Islamist movements, Al-Arian sees an evolution in the way post-revolutionary governments are formed.

“I think that one of the things we’ve seen is the emergence of a new kind Islamism that at least is staking its roots in the idea that we don’t actually have to replace a pre-existing state program with something that is completely infused with a sense of Islamic law, but rather Islamic values conceived more broadly in a way that is far more universalistic, far more appealing to the broader population, that is far more focused on the spirit of the law as opposed to the letter of the law.”

The last CMES event of the fall quarter, “The ISIS Crisis, Iran’s Policy Toward Iraq and Syria, and the Iranian-Saudi Rivalry,” will be held Tuesday, November 11 at 12 noon in Sié 150 of Ben M. Cherrington Hall.