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Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, the Contemporary Islamic Thought Foundation and Palestine and the World Studies Center held an academic conference entitled “The Islamists: The Regimes and Palestine after Arab Uprisings.” The conference was held on 13 and 14 September 2012 in Saha Heritage Village in Beirut with the participation of a select of politicians, academics and experts from a number of Arab and Islamic countries. 

The conference comprised six sessions that respectively addressed the political dimension, the social and economic sides, the Palestinian issue, the uprisings and foreign relations, political pluralism and freedoms and Islamic unity. 

The Opening

At the beginning, Dr. Najib Noureddine, director of the Contemporary Islamic Thought Foundation, welcomed the participants on behalf of the organizers. Then, he reviewed the major points that would be discussed in the conference in light of the Arab uprisings and the consequent impact on the Islamic unity and the Palestinian issue. Dr. Noureddine said that the awakening of the Arab peoples, a long awaited dream for the free men of the nation, was a nightmare haunting its tyrants.

He stressed that these uprisings have restored people’s rights from those who deprived them from their freedom and dignity, and added that the uprisings were an unprecedented leverage of the Islamic forces that reflect popular will after long years of marginalization. Dr. Noureddine added that these forces have the chance today to display their national and Islamic agenda while they are faced with challenges on the external and internal levels. In addition, their vision, strategies and plans are met with high expectations and thus they need to be up to the challenge and to people’s hopes. He wondered whether Palestine was still present in the speech and strategy of the Arab uprisings and whether it was still a priority. Dr. Noureddine hoped that the conference would answer the questions posed whether regarding the challenges and risks or concerning the Palestinian issue.

Munir Shafiq, the general coordinator of the Nationalist Islamic Conference, delivered a speech on behalf of the conferees where he said that the decade that preceded the uprisings has witnessed the failure of the American occupation and the victory of the Lebanese and Palestinian resistance in 2006 and late 2008.

He pointed out to the failure of the “American-Zionist” project in formulating the “new Middle East” led to a major discrepancy in the balance of powers that was against the interests of the US or Israel, let alone the financial crisis that struck the US.

Shafiq stated that such an equation has affected the countries of Arab moderation, especially Egypt and Tunisia that witnessed the launch of the uprisings, which had an impact on the balance of power on the international, regional and Arab levels. He stressed that the challenges facing the people and the different acting forces, especially the new governments led by the Muslim Brothers, are endless and have become more visible. These include social and economic challenges in addition to facing the Israeli enemy. He said that if the Islamic parties could overcome sectarian strife there would be no pessimism regarding the future. Shafiq also called for the adoption of an economic system based on the principles of production, cooperation, and collectivity besides social justice.

According to Shafiq, the relations between the uprisings and the Palestinian issue, Israel, the resistance or the major powers should be addressed on two levels: reading the relative positions during the last stage and analyzing them to assess the future. He predicted that the developments would lead to the outbreak of the conflict with Israel and the adoption of the Palestinian issue besides supporting the resistance and the Palestinian people. Shafiq called on the Palestinians to launch a third Intifadah against the occupation.

First Session

The first session, which was moderated by Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh, the general-manager of al-Zaytouna Centre, addressed the political aspects. Speakers during this session were Dr. Ali Fayyad, the deputy in the Lebanese Parliament, and Wa’el Najm, the official in the al-Jama‘ah al-Islamiyyah on behalf of ‘Azzam al-Ayyoubi, the head of its political bureau.  

The beginning was with Dr. Saleh who said that the Arab people have imposed the change process on corrupt, dictatorial regimes. Thus, they imposed a new strategic space that would impact the conflict with Israel and the balance of power on the medium and long runs.

Then, Dr. Ali Fayyad said that the stability of societies makes it necessary, during the time of Arab transitions, to prioritize unity over separation. He also stressed the need to prepare national, unifying projects expressing his support for the idea of social welfare state where the relations between the ruler and the ruled are based on agreement and consent. Dr. Fayyad warned against two dangers; coalition of the minorities and seeking the help of external forces. He also stressed the importance of the rotation of power and the adoption of resistance against occupation in addition to a socio-political policy that fights corruption and poverty. Dr. Fayyad summed up his speech stating that the transitional phase might impose a specific vision yet on the medium and long runs, the Palestinian issue would restore its position as a primary concern.

The paper prepared by Azzam al-Ayyoubi stressed that the heralds of the desired change were looming while the Islamists’ capture of power has triggered questions regarding the destiny of the uprisings and the sought change. The paper reiterated that there are four major principles for coexistence laid by the Islamic movement: respecting and recognition of the other, ethics, cooperation and social justice. Ayyoubi hoped that the future of the Islamic nation would maintain justice and freedom, which would bring it back to its prestigious position among the nations.

Second Session

The second session that was moderated by Dr Hasan Jabir, the researcher of Islamic thought, addressed the economic and social dimensions. Speakers in this session were Dr. Abdul Halim Fadlullah, the director of the Consultative Center for Studies and Documentation and Dr. Ahmad Abu al-Hasan, the media counselor to the Egyptian Embassy in Beirut.

Dr. Fadlullah wondered about the socio-economic model that Islamists should follow. He said that development in the Arab world should be a political choice, where the individuals are given their rights while maintaining national sovereignty. Fadlullah drew attention to Islamists’ problems with the economic model where they are still torn between religious texts and jurisprudence. He addressed the Islamists with many questions: Which economic freedoms do they want? Where is social justice in their political choice? What about their relation with other values? He called on Islamists to devise new economic concepts just as they did in the political field.

Fadlullah wondered whether the development choice should necessarily be juxtaposed with that of the resistance. He asserted that such a perception implied a wrong understanding since development is a political choice firstly and this choice has always been based on economic opposition pointing out to the Chinese and Iranian models. He also said that the Arab countries should have regional solidarity and partnership in addition to cultural exchange.

For his part, Ahmad Abu al-Hasan tackled the economic situation in Egypt saying that there were economic problems in Egypt such as poverty and unemployment. Yet, he stressed that Egypt is rich with its diversified resources, especially human capital. Abu al-Hasan added that around $18 billion were transferred to Egypt until 11/9/2012 from those Egyptians working abroad, which proved their patriotism. He pointed out to the agricultural and animal wealth and land reclamation projects in addition to the development of tourism and the revenue from Suez Canal. He also mentioned future economic investments by the state or other foreign sides.

Finally, Abu al-Hasan said that the Egyptian loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were not a target in themselves stressing that partnership was the milestone in Egypt’s foreign relations. He asserted that there was a political will supporting major development projects.

Third Session

The third session which tackled the Palestinian issue was moderated by Usama Hamdan, head of the Hamas International Relations Department. Speakers in this session included Mahmud Ghozlan, member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau in Egypt, Abu ‘Imad al-Rifa‘i, Islamic Jihad representative in Lebanon, and Ahmad Kahlawi, the leader of Tunisia’s National Committee to Support Arab Resistance to Normalization.

Hamdan said that the nation has made a strategic change represented in the Islamists’ seizure of power, and added that the Palestinian issue remains the main concern of the Arab uprisings stressing that the war on Lebanon in 2006 and on Gaza in 2008-2009 was a model for the nation’s solidarity with the resistance. He added that the conflict with the Israeli enemy was an existential conflict rather than a conflict on borders. He mentioned some challenges threatening Israel’s interests mainly triggered by the regional change which was a leverage to the resistance, the weakness of the American ally and the dilemma of the Zionist project values.

Mahmud Ghozlan talked about the advent of Islamists to power and the attempts by opposing forces and intelligence apparatuses to foil their experience. He said that the MB in Egypt did not grasp power by force but rather won the legislative and presidential elections in a free, democratic way. Ghozlan added that President Mursi was working on restoring international and regional relations and Egypt’s political position among other countries while trying to assess the agreements concluded by Sadat or refer them to the people so they would decide in this sense. He stressed that any country cannot face its enemies unless it is internally strong.

As for the Palestinian issue, Ghozlan said that the movement has supported it since the Zionists set foot in Palestine stressing that Palestine is a part of the Brother’s faith. He asserted that Husni Mubarak’s stance on the Palestinian issue was one of the reasons that triggered January 25 uprising. Then, he mentioned some points necessary for supporting Palestine mainly represented in overcoming subservience, establishing a fair constitution, achieving justice, in addition to national security. Ghozlan concluded that Israel would not allow any stability in the region and that liberating Palestine is an Arab collective responsibility. He finally said that the MB supports the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders without compromising the right of the Palestinian people in the rest of Palestine.

Abu ‘Imad al-Rifa‘i said that the position of the governments regarding Palestine following the Arab uprisings and their concern about the Palestinian issue was the most urgent question. He warned against postponing the Palestinian issue until after the completion of development and the establishment of the state. He added, “We believe that liberating Palestine and achieving development are inseparable and none can be prioritized over the other.” Al-Rifa‘i called on the post-uprisings governments to play an essential role towards ending the Palestinian schism which is in part a reflection of the Arab division.

The third speaker in this session was Ahmad Kahlawi who presented a historical overview of the western colonization of the Arabs and its support for Israel including the Balfour Declaration and Oslo Accord that, he said, has marked the end of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and was an explicit decision to sell Palestine. This was so until the launch of the Palestinian resistance represented in Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in addition to the Islamic resistance in Lebanon and the resistance in Iraq. Kahlawi added that any development and freedom would not be achieved except with and through Palestine.

Fourth Session

The fourth session was moderated by Prof. Dr. Talal ‘Atrissi, sociology professor at the Lebanese University and it addressed the issue of the uprisings and foreign relations. Speakers during this session included Dr. Abdullah al-Ash‘al, the former diplomat in the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, and Dr. Wahid Abdel Meguid, official spokesperson for the Constituent Assembly of Egypt.

Dr. ‘Atrissi said that every country that witnessed a successful uprising had a unique situation, and the repercussions would be different accordingly, including the impact of foreign relations of each country. He added that the question was whether it would be possible to separate internal priorities or the economic situation from foreign relations.

Dr. al-Ash‘al presented a quick overview of Mubarak’s regime and its collaboration with Israel. He said that during Mubarak’s tenure, a specific role was catered for Egypt according to American criteria. He criticized the media and the security apparatuses that misled public opinion especially regarding the regime’s collaboration with Israel. He also pointed out to the role of Mossad networks in damaging the relation between the Egyptians and the Palestinians and he described Mursi’s attempts to exclude corrupt elements that used to collaborate with the enemy as ultimately right. Al-Ash‘al classified foreign relations into three levels: what the Egyptian people wants, what the state sees and what is possible between both. He stressed that Egypt has entered a new phase saying that its relation with Iran would be an important shield and support for the Gulf.

Regarding the Palestinian issue, al-Ash‘al said that it was Egypt’s “hurt hand” and he asserted that Camp David would not prevent Egypt from quiet action to assist the Palestinians.

As for Dr. Wahid Abdel Meguid, he said that the future of the region depended on the change of the Egyptian foreign policy. He drew attention to the deep confidence crisis in Egypt, stressing that foreign intervention was one of the reasons for Egypt’s failure. He gave example on the conflict between will and capacity concerning the continued Gaza blockad. He warned against Egypt’s signing an agreement with the IMF because such a step would entail much subservience. He also encouraged the establishment of a wise capitalist system and called for extensive national partnership.

Fifth session

The fifth session was moderated by Dr. Bassam Hammoud, al-Jama‘ah al-Islamiyyah official in south Lebanon, and it addressed the issue of pluralism and freedoms. Participants in this session included Muhammad Mahfouz, the Saudi author and thinker, Nawwaf al-Qudaimi, the Saudi author, and Ahmad ‘Abdul Jawad, executive coordinator of the Strong Egypt Party (Masr al-Qaweya).

Dr. Hammoud talked about human rights in Islam that has guaranteed all rights, ensured the freedom of opinion and expression and did not discriminate between people based on religion or belief. He showed how human rights in Islam did not discriminate between men and women and said that the experience of the past 14 centuries proved the importance of Muslim women’s role.

Muhammad Mahfouz said that the new Islamic phenomenon has become one of the fixed realities making it difficult to overlook it or ignore its requirements. He assured that the openness of political authorities to Islamic currents and allowing them to hold public activities would contribute to political and social stability in addition to establishing political life on principles of freedom and democracy. Mahfouz concluded that deep political stability in the Arab region could not be attained through security and military force alone but through political, social, economic and cultural measures. He stressed that a state that deprives people of their political rights would be highly susceptible on the security and stability levels.

For his part, Nawwaf al-Qudaimi said that the Arab uprisings were confusing to Muslim intellectuals and religious scholars, this state of confusion will likely cause the Islamic thought to move from focusing on the jurisprudence of necessities to that of freedom and empowerment. He criticized the discourse that blames the Arab spring governments for their weak support of Palestine, while failing to blame those who manipulate the Palestinian issue in their favor and claim to be part of the resistance regime that defends Palestine, while at the same time killing thousands of Palestinians and Syrians.

Ahmad ‘Abdul Jawad said that Egypt’s uprising may restore to Egypt its standing and status. He added that Islamists need to apply a jurisprudence harmonious with the situation in the Arab spring countries, such political jurisprudence can overcome extremism mentality and focus on the jurisprudence of purposes and interests. Finally, he said that the newly empowered Islamic movements should deal with those who oppose their thought through dialogue.

Sixth session

The last session on Islamic unity was moderated by Dr. Abbas Khamayar, Iranian cultural advisor in Kuwait. Speakers in this session included Dr. Ja‘far Fadlullah and Muhammad Kamal Imam, advisor to Sheikh al-Azhar.

Khamayar said that the Islamic movements were faced with several entitlements and then mentioned many gains reaped by them. He pointed out to the Western and Zionist role in fueling discord among Muslims stressing the need to unite the nation in order to face Israel. He stressed the importance of embracing the culture of unity, warning against the danger of satellite television programs that incite sedition, and limiting ideological debates to scholars, in addition to making Jerusalem a priority.

Fadlullah asserted that the meetings held to address the issue of unity were important and that unity practically needs the distribution of roles among all Islamic intellectuals and leaders. Fadlullah stressed the need of intellectual and legislative organizations to guide the discourse and standings of political movements and to avoid sectarian strife. As for Palestine, he focused on the need to get rid of using multiple terms and adopting a single one; “the liberation of Palestine.” He considered the work for the sake of Palestinian issue, the criterion of measuring loyalty to Islam, whether through political or military action.

Then, Muhammad Kamal emphasized the new role of al-Azhar after the January 25 uprising. He said that thinking of renewing the national role of al-Azhar has started yet while maintaining the constants of not being dragged into political role. He also pointed out to the fact that the Institute of Scientific Research has become a functional body. He added that thinking was centered on three levels: how to restore the role of al-Azhar in light of a law that does not guarantee such a role, how to achieve financial independence and restore endowments, and how to dedicate al-Azhar’s moderate culture as a part of the cultural fabric of the society and the nation at large. He concluded that al-Azhar has played a new role by bridging different groups and that it supports Islamic unity.

The conference was concluded with a word of thanks delivered by Dr. Najib Noureddine on behalf of the institutions hosting the conference. Noureddine stressed the need to benefit from the important discussions conducted, ideas and suggestions in order to protect the uprisings and their achievements.

Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 4/10/2012