Rethinking secularism:

Saad Eddin Ibrahim to speak at NYU

posted by Ruth Braunstein

Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the Egyptian-American sociologist and human rights activist, cannot return to his home in Egypt, for fear of arrest and imprisonment.

In the meantime, Ibrahim has been traveling extensively to promote his vision of democracy and human rights. One of his next stops is New York University, where he will discuss Secularism, Religion, and Human Rights with SSRC President Craig Calhoun. This dialogue is open to the public and will be held on Tuesday, October 30, from 5:00 to 7:00 PM at the King Juan Carlos I Center (53 Washington Square South). It is the second installment in a series of public dialogues on Rethinking Secularism, co-sponsored by NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge and the SSRC.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reports that “members of Mr. Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party filed nine formal requests with the state prosecutor’s office this summer for indictments against Mr. Ibrahim, for ‘damaging the state’s economic interests’ and even ‘treason.’” And Ibrahim knows they are not bluffing. In 2000 he was imprisoned and held for three years before he was acquitted by Egypt’s Court of Cassation, on March 18, 2003. According to the Committee on Human Rights, the charges against him included “accepting foreign funds without authorization, disseminating false information harmful to Egypt’s interest, and embezzlement,” although many viewed his arrest as politically motivated and directly connected to Ibrahim’s intention to monitor Egypt’s upcoming election and to encourage mass participation in the election. But it is not 2000 all over again, and despite the fact that Ibrahim continues to draw ire from his government, he is optimistic in his belief that the Middle East is showing signs of progress in its struggle toward democracy.

The discussion next Tuesday will focus on, among other issues, democratic alternatives in Egypt following the end of President Mubarak’s 26-year rule. Faced with increasing pressure internally and from abroad, President Mubarak has embarked on a widespread crackdown on dissent, including the arrest of several political competitors and journalists. In a recent interview with Democracy Now!, Ibrahim explains:

“I have been critical of President Mubarak and his regime … and on some of his actions to install his — or to groom his son to succeed him after twenty-six years of being a ruler of Egypt, the third-longest ruler in our history, in 6,000-year history. And yet, he wants to groom his son to succeed him. And I blew the whistle simply on that.

“I also blew the whistle on his attempt to eliminate any potential contenders or competitors with his son, including, you know, some journalists who are disappeared, including the nephews of the late President Anwar al-Sadat, who are about the same age as his son and who also are politically active, and they are potential contenders. And he stripped them of their parliamentary immunity. They were members of Parliament, elected for the second time. So he is trying to eliminate everybody.”

With the majority of Mubarak’s more liberal competitors “eliminated,” arguably the strongest remaining contender for political power in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist party that has emerged as well-organized and popular among the Egyptian people and that, with 20% of seats, currently represents the nation’s largest Parliamentary bloc. Although Ibrahim has been clear that he will be first in line to oppose the Islamists—just as he opposes the secular autocrats—if they renege on their agreement to abide by prevailing democratic rules and principles, he has been an outspoken supporter of their right to participate in Egypt’s democratic political system as long as they are willing to play by these rules.

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