Hi everyone. I’m Shadi Hamid, and I started researching Islamist movements in 2004-5 when I was living in Amman. For the last 10 years, I've tried to immerse myself in their world, to ask the question of what animates them. What do they really want? Some of my conclusions are in my new book on political Islam, Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East: http://www.amazon.com/Temptations-Power-Islamists-Illiberal-Democracy/dp/0199314055

I’m based in DC with the Project on US Relations with Islamic World at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center and I'm a regular contributor to The Atlantic. Previously I was director of research at the Brookings Doha Center and a fellow at Stanford University. I also logged some time on Capitol Hill and at the State Department.

I talk a lot about Islamists, Egypt, democratization in the Arab world, and the role of religion in politics. AMA. I will start answering at 1p ET.

Proof: https://twitter.com/shadihamid/status/466959529448853504

EDIT 1, 12:45p: More proof: https://twitter.com/shadihamid/status/466981130466385920

EDIT 2, 2:40p: Hey, need to step away for a bit. I'll be back later this afternoon. Keep the questions coming! Really enjoyed this first round. In the meantime, if you want to get a better sense of my book's arguments on Islamist "illiberalism," check out this excerpt in The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/05/democracys-future-in-the-middle-east-islamist-and-illiberal/361791/

EDIT 3, 4:45p: Back to answer some more questions. Will be on for next hour. Ok, here we go...

EDIT 4, 5:50p: Gotta head out. Will be back in a couple hours to answer a final round of questions.

EDIT 5, 7:30p: Back for a final round. Give me your toughest questions!

EDIT 6, 9:00p: Thanks for all your great questions. I really, really enjoyed the conversation. For those of you who are interested, I delve into a lot of these issues in my new book Temptations of Power http://www.amazon.com/Temptations-Power-Islamists-Illiberal-Democracy/dp/0199314055. If you do get a chance to read it, I'd love to hear your thoughts and continue the discussion. Feel free to tweet me at @shadihamid. Related: You may want to stay tuned about the U.S.-Islamic World Forum, happening in June. The theme is "Islam and Inclusion," which came up quite a bit today: http://www.brookings.edu/about/projects/islamic-world/usiwf-2014-preview

Comments: 115 • Responses: 42  • Date: 

boblobloglaw13 karma


shadihamid11 karma

Yes, in my book, I discuss how democratization can actually push Islamist parties further to the right - what I refer to as the "Tea Party effect." The Tea Party is a good example of how illiberalism can flourish even within established democracies. More generally, the US is a country where we have secularism in the sense of separation of church and state but not in the sense of separation religion from politics. Every American has the right - and should have the right - to fully express their religious preferences within the democratic process, even if we don't like it.

Wrestlingisgood4 karma

. Every American has the right - and should have the right - to fully express their religious preferences within the democratic process, even if we don't like it.

Well put, separation of church and state doesn't mean we have to vote based on what is or isn't religious

shadihamid5 karma


unamenottaken-1 karma

Every American has the right - and should have the right - to fully express their religious preferences within the democratic process, even if we don't like it.

How do you feel about every American's right to express their disagreement with any/all religious preferences in general, within the democratic process?

shadihamid2 karma

Yes, for me, the right to "recourse" is critical to democracy (I discuss this a bit here: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/03/was-mohammed-morsi-really-an-autocrat/359797/. In other words, religious parties have the right to express their preferences through the democratic process. But, so too, does the other side (i.e. if an Islamist party passes legislation restricting alcohol consumption, a liberal party should be able to pass legislation undoing those restrictions, if they have the votes). And the hope is that societies can come to reach tentative arrangements on contentious questions through a kind of messy, democratic bargaining: I make my case to the electorate, you make your case. We see who wins more votes. We fight the good fight from within parliament even if we're a minority. You make concessions. Sometimes, we'll make concessions. Repeat as necessary.

Keep-reefer-illegal1 karma

Not op but I'm pretty sure that falls under the preferences category.

Since no religion in govt. would be a preference

unamenottaken1 karma

He mentioned 'religious preferences' , but you refer to simply 'preferences'. Not sure what you're saying.

[deleted]1 karma


unamenottaken1 karma

I was going to use the term 'atheism' but I pictured the almost inevitable digression into an argument over whether or not the refutation of supernatural beliefs can have status as a belief itself (so why don't atheists just keep quiet), so I constructed that less than ideal substitute description.

So, back to your question, one example of expressing that right is to tell your politicians that religion should have no influence over law making.

[deleted]1 karma


unamenottaken1 karma

The U.S. is actually a constitutional republic, not a democracy. The Constitution's 1st Amendment protects against the establishment of religious law regardless of 85% (or 100%) of the populace wanting it. It prevents some other bad things too which otherwise could happen as a result of what's often referred to as a Tyranny of the Majority.

shadihamid2 karma

The U.S. isn't immune from tyranny of the majority. 2/3 of Congress and 75% of the states could theoretically pass a constitutional amendment banning a minority from high office. Question of how high the majoritarian bar is in any given society. In the U.S., the bar is high, to be sure. But there's also the fact that not enough voters are illiberal or feel intensely enough about their illiberalism. In other words, the electoral distribution of the popular matters (in most Arab societies, the distribution is skewed rightwards). Relatedly, norms are also important. There are norms against trying to use the constitution to undermine basic rights. So even if an particular American individual comes up with some random, bizarre idea for a rights-limiting constitutional amendment, (s)he's gonna think twice because of social expectations and pressures.

Wrestlingisgood10 karma

What would you say to the people who blame Islam and religion in general for the problems in the Middle East?

shadihamid18 karma

The current state of "Islam" is not due to some kind of eternal essence; it's is a product of culture, history, politics and economics. That's why we have considerable variation in how the religion is practice. Compare Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia for example. But if you believe, for instance, that secularism is a prerequisite for democracy (which I don't), then we might have a problem there. I'd argue that Islam has proven rather resistant to secularization or privatization.

Kimano0 karma

Why do you think Islam is more resistant to secularism than say Christianity or Judaism?

jimjooma648 karma

When was the last time you were in Egypt? Has there been a noticeable change in peoples' attitudes towards one another and towards democracy?

shadihamid11 karma

When I was in Egypt in August, just a few days before the Rabaa massacre actually, it was a pretty shocking, and dispiriting, experience. You know, you read about rise of fascism in Europe after WWI in grad school, but it's really something to see a kind of bloodlust - the desire to kill your countrymen - up close, from people you know and even care about, your friends. I saw that in Egypt and it was clear then the scars would take not just years, but possibly decades to heal. It's brother against brother. Mother against son. It's sectarianism without the sects, which in a way is more frightening because you can't clearly define who your enemy is. It's a difficult question but a vital one - how did so many Egyptians lose their humanity, lose their ability to empathize with their fellow citizens? Where exactly did this desire for blood come from. That's why I think looking at religion and ideology is crucial because it's those sorts of raw, existential divides - about the nature and identity of the State - that lead people to suspend their humanity. Egyptians would tell me: hey, you Americans with all your democracy talk and "respecting democratic outcomes." Screw your democracy. We're the ones who have to live with the consequences of elections... And that's why I spent a lot of time in the book talking not just about the political and structural factors that influence ideas, but taking the ideas, aspirations, and ambitions of Islamist movements as something real and deeply felt.

jerk402 karma

how did so many Egyptians lose their humanity, lose their ability to empathize with their fellow citizens?

simple answer is the opportunity and quest for power changes people - especially something they feel passionate about such as their preferred religion running things the way they want it to.

shadihamid7 karma

But, in this case, it wasn't those who felt passionately about religion running things who lost their humanity; it was the so-called liberals. But they, too, felt passionate about religion, seeing the Brotherhood as a threat to their own way of life and to the identity of the State. The hope was that these conflicts over the role of religion and the state could be resolved within the political process. But all too many liberals decided to ally with the military and back a military coup, despite the near certainly of such a coup leading to untold bloodshed.

cybertarek2 karma

What Shadi is referring to goes beyond the Liberals and the "educated elites" who were all for crushing the sit-in. It extends to the average every day common man. The one who will not get any power at the end. There isn't even sectarian, tribal or racial reasons for the hatred. Just purely wishing the destruction of political foes.

shadihamid3 karma

"In Thailand, the wealthy, urban middle class are perhaps the least supportive of democracy." http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_world_/2013/12/02/can_thailand_ever_escape_its_class_warfare_trap.html. The same could be said of Egypt. Part of what I wanted to do in my book was problematize this notion - which draws on a particular strain of American (or Enlightenment?) optimism - that good things go together. We'd like to think that the rise of an educated "middle class" will contribute to democratization, but that's not necessarily the case. The same goes for liberalism and democracy. The two might go together in our own experience but, in the Arab world, we might actually find that more democracy means less "liberalism," at least in certain areas.

shadihamid6 karma

Hey everyone, it's Shadi. Looking forward to your questions!

virondell4 karma

In short what was the first thing you studied

shadihamid5 karma

In Amman, I focused on the the evolution of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood and it's relationship to the monarchy. Jordan stood out to be because you had a positive working relationship between Islamists and the regime for decades, before tensions mounted in the early 1990s. Jordan was also one of the first cases of Islamist participation in government. The Brotherhood there controlled 5 ministries - but only for a very brief period in 1991. Just 6 months. A blip in history but fascinating all the same.

jc-miles4 karma

Do you think that religious sentiments comes in waves? In the 50s, the arab world was much more secular, and since, it witnessed an increase in religious fervor (as the whole world is doing), to reach the today's peak. Do you think religiosity will be decreasing in the future?

shadihamid7 karma

This is where I think the Arab world, or even "Islam," may be a bit distinctive. I see the era of secular nationalism in the 1950s and 60s as an aberration, a kind of exception to the rule. If you look at the broader sweep of Islamic history (and, granted, that's risky-going in a short comment like this), you find that Islam and Islamic law have always been part of the public discourse. Yes, you often a separation between the Caliph, or the executive, on one hand and the religious clerics on the other, but never a separation of religion from politics. Unlike in Christianity, where you have a (debatable) tradition of "leave unto Caesar what is," Prophet Mohamed was a politician, a theologian, and a warrior all wrapped into one. Muslims aren't necessarily bound by history, but we can't pretend it doesn't matter.

D-Hex5 karma

Hang on dude, you can't split the Muslim world like that historically. Doesn't work. The Ottoman conception of what role religion played was very different from the early Mughal, or the Safavid.

Also, you can't call the secular nationalism an aberration. Secularism and neo-islamism both occurred as a response to the western incursion and internal strife. Afghani and Abdu were writing well before the 1950s. Modernisation projects and the secular middle classes were appearing in the 1900s to the 1920s. You've got the Kemalists, you've got the Egyptian middle classes, you've got the Indian reform movement led by people like Sir Syed... people like Atta Turk and Pahlavi were already in situ well before the 1950s.

shadihamid2 karma

I was referring to the height of secular nationalism under Nasser, but yes various strains of secular thought were present in public discourse in the the 19th and early 20th centuries. The point remains that "secularism" was ideologically dominant for only a brief period of time over the course of 1400 years. And even many "secular" regimes weren't trying to privatize religion as much as appropriate it for their own state-building purposes, as Jocelyn Cesari would argue (see her recent book here: http://amzn.to/1lvTGbe). Of course the Ottoman and Mughal approaches to religion were different but, in both cases, Islam and Islamic law were very much part of public and political life and the sharia informed legislation, to one degree or another.

shadihamid2 karma

Also, there have been any number of attempts to force secularization, most notably in Turkey and Tunisia. But that didn't work either. Over time, religion-friendly parties and then Islamists and then neo-Islamists rose to power through democratic elections in Turkey. There was a popular desire to erode the constraints of an aggressively secular, or laic, state, and religiously-oriented movements drew on that. In Tunisia, decades of secularization didn't stop an Islamist party, Ennahda, from rising to power within a year of the 2011 revolution. And that was after Ennahda being pretty much eradicated from Tunisian society. Which makes it all the more striking.

karmanaut3 karma

I've always wondered about what the popular perception of Sharia law is among ordinary muslims, like in Saudi Arabia. Is that actually the system that they want to live under, or it is more imposed by the ruling class?

shadihamid8 karma

Support for sharia is widespread across the Arab world, but to different degrees. A lot of interesting polling data on this. In a 2012 Pew poll, 61% of Egyptians said they preferred the “model of religion in government” of Saudi Arabia over just 17% for Turkey's. And, somewhat remarkably, in the 2010 Arab Barometer, 62% of Jordanians said they would support “a system governed by Islamic law in which there are no political parties or elections." In countries, like Tunisia, that have experienced [often forced] secularization, the numbers are lower. Of course, this provokes more than a few questions - it's one thing to believe in Islamic law in theory and another thing to actually back in practice. How aspirational is this? Are these sentiments shaped by social pressure, a sense that good Muslims have to say they support Islamic law? That needs to be taken into account as well. But, it is fair to say that many of these societies deeply conservative and illiberal in how they view the role of religion in public life.

ozftw3 karma

Hello, welcome to Reddit and thank you for your AMA - interesting topic! A handful of questions:

  • Do you believe lasting peace in the Middle East is a realistic prospect in the foreseeable future, and what are the biggest barriers to achieving peace currently? Are there any avenues toward progress which are not being explored fully?

  • It seems most Western nations, to varying degrees, endeavour to separate State from Religion. Do you believe religion serves any useful purpose in determining policy for a country in the 21st century? Does it depend on the prevailing religion/culture of each country?

shadihamid2 karma

It doesn't really matter what I think. In the American context - as an American - I'm personally a small-l "liberal" and generally uncomfortable with efforts to inject Christianity, or religion in general, into our laws or decision-making. But I'm also a small-d "democrat," so it should be up to Egyptians or Tunisians to decide what role they want religion to play. If they want more religion, not less, then we don't have to like it but we can, and should, accept it as an outcome of the democratic process. As for Arab-Israeli peace, the two sides are simply too far apart and I'm not sure we have the right foundation for negotiations in place, to start with. So I would have rather the US not spend so much of its time, effort, and bandwidth running after a dream.

ill_take_the_case3 karma

Can you recommend a good halal restaurant in DC? I'm always on the look out for new places to try.

shadihamid8 karma

Good question! My favorite Turkish spot is Ezme. There's always Moby Dick's. Quick Pita is a bit old-school but just had it the other day and was reminded of how good their wraps are. There was this great Pakistani restaurant in Crystal City back in the day. Hope it's still there, b/c it was amazing. All that said, I think this city is really missing a solid shawarma joint. And I'm not talking "shawarma." I'm talking the real thing...

rexetsacerdos2 karma

Our mission: to set up a solid Shawarma joint in DC. [ We'd have to do that alongside other commitments so might be tricky though not impossible. ]

shadihamid1 karma

well, keep me posted on that. a noble cause, but not for the fainthearted...

Tomato_Tomato12 karma

What is your honest opinion about Fortune Family? (brother's hip-hop duo).

shadihamid3 karma

So for the uninitiated, my little brother was in a hip-hop group that was actually pretty big in the "underground" scene for a while. They opened for Wale, Hoodie Allen, and DMC (of Run-DMC). I'm really proud of him. He's a lot cooler than me. Here are two of my favorite Fortune Family songs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9V_F8vqKb5o ("Take Me Away"), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOXzFauwefE ("Dreams"), and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H91BbN9u64k&list=UUDts52tBEHRGzyQP3_thmmQ ("Spring"). You can follow my brother at @FortuneFamily, although sadly they did break up last year

homerule2 karma

What's your day-to-day life like as a scholar?

shadihamid3 karma

My book just came out a few weeks ago so really focused on that right now. That's meant a lot of travel, talking about the book, and debating the main arguments. But, generally, I do a lot of research and writing. If I'm starting a new project, I'll spend a lot of time diving into the academic literature, doing field research (when appropriate), and just, well, thinking a lot :) Oddly enough, I find Twitter really helpful for this, as a way to put ideas out there to a diverse audience and having a back-and-forth. That helps me refine my ideas and re-think them, if I stumble upon counter-arguments that are compelling. That's an exciting thing - when you're forced to confront and question your own assumptions.

saintscanucks2 karma

What's your favorite food?

shadihamid5 karma

whatever my mom makes

saintscanucks3 karma

Good ol mom food

shadihamid1 karma

yea, there's this stuffed-chicken-with-mozarella dish she makes, in a sort of weird Arab-American fusion style. It's an utterly singular dish. I think I have some of it in the freezer now, for long nights when I'm sad about the Middle East...

DryGordon2 karma

You often hear people say that Islam is fundamentally a peaceful religion that has been hijacked by extremists. I think this is a naive illusion that we in the West no longer have the luxury to believe. What is your response to this?

shadihamid5 karma

I'm not a big fan of the whole Islam-is-peace narrative. Islam is whatever Muslims make it. And I don't feel comfortable adjudicating for Muslims, telling them that this is "true" Islam and this isn't. And we shouldn't pretend that Islam isn't an important motivating factor for many extremists. Even if you put modern-day extremism to the side, in the Islamic tradition, there are, at the very least, justifications for "defensive" jihad. This isn't unique. Catholics, for example, have a tradition of just-war theory. But when does defensive jihad become offensive?

helzayat1 karma

But if Islamist feel more than comfortable telling Muslims what is and isn't "true" Islam, shouldn't other, non-Islamist Muslims have the same right?

shadihamid2 karma

Yes, Islamists and non-Islamists alike have the right to tell each other what is, or isn't, true "Islam" - but within the democratic process. The use of force, including military coups, should be a red line. But in the comment above I'm really just talking about myself. I'm not comfortable speaking about a "true" Islam. I have no way of accessing God's intent, and even if I could, I'm not sure if I believe in an unmediated essence of what Islam is. This cuts both ways. When progressive Muslims say God, because he is bound by Justice (in the Mutazalite sense), could have never asked men to "lightly beat" their wives, I personally agree. I need to agree (because the alternative would be to accept a God that does things that I couldn't countenance). But it's also totally subjective. What if God isn't bound by Justice?

helzayat1 karma

Do you think it acceptable that any human should claim to "have a way of accessing God's intent"? And tell other people what to do based on that? Even if enough people believe him that he is democratically elected to some position of power?

shadihamid1 karma

I'm not sure what you mean by "acceptable" here. I may not like it or be comfortable with it, but I don't think governments can or should "prevent" people from believing in the things that they believe. And the fact is that many Muslims, whether liberal, Salafi, or whatever, do believe in a "true" Islam. Religion is, in a sense, about trying to figure out what God(s) wanted or intended. That's why there are divine texts - presumably to convey some sort of objective truth. In any case, the purpose of religion isn't democracy; it's religion. Obviously, there are limits to what any democratically-elected leader should be allowed to do in the name of religion, but where you draw the line? There isn't one answer to that, and that answer itself should be subject to the give-and-take of the democratic process.

shwinnabego1 karma

How would you rank the following by evil, and why. In no particular order, here's the list: Saddam Hussein, Bashar Al Assad, Adolf Eichmann, Joe the Plumber Stalin, Gengis Khan, Osama Bin Laden, Lloyd Blankfein

shadihamid4 karma

Lloyd Blankfein, really?

ryuhadoken1 karma

How are Boko Harem justifying the kidnapping of the girls?

shadihamid2 karma

I'm not sure the specific justification really matters. If you believe that God has anointed you and that you have some special access to his will, you can pretty much justify anything. It doesn't matter, at that point, what the Quran or the Hadith say about it or whether Islamic scholars would sanction it. The normal rules are, in effect, suspended.

daki4001 karma

Whats your favorite TV show?

shadihamid3 karma

My favorite TV show of all-time is the very short-lived "Boss" starring Kelsey Grammer as the mayor of Chicago. It just makes me sad to think that all we have there is two seasons. I'm also a big fan of Nip/Tuck: which might very well be the darkest, most disturbing series of all time.There were times in Season 3 where I was just like, wow, they're really plumbing the deaths of human nature here. It's not for the faint of heart though.

islamenthusiast1 karma

What are the prospects for nonviolent Islamist movements in the MENA countries in transition? Are you hopeful?

shadihamid2 karma

I'm not optimistic. Nonviolent Islamist movements may be nonviolent but the possibility (or likelihood) that they'll win elections provokes anti-democratic actions on the part of an array of domestic and international actors. We saw that most strikingly in Egypt. Yes, the Muslim Brotherhood was a failure. It failed. But the deeper failure is the inability of "secular" state systems to accommodate Islamist participation in the democratic process. I think this is going to be the defining challenge of the next few years and perhaps quite a bit longer. Perhaps Islamists will have to give up their Islamism to be incorporated (as in Turkey), but not sure how sustainable that is.

DryGordon1 karma

What is your take on Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations thesis?

shadihamid3 karma

I think it's overly simplistic and reductionist. But I do think Huntington was right to highlight the importance of ideas & ideology (which can't be separated from evolution of civilizations). He also recognized something that many of us in the West aren't comfortable addressing head on - that we're not all the same. Differences matter (actually, Huntington co-edited a very interesting book called Culture Matters http://www.amazon.com/Culture-Matters-Values-Shape-Progress/dp/0465031765)

Reermango1 karma

When Sisi forms a new government post-elections, will he reward the Salafis for standing behind the June 30 coup? Is having the Nour party around a way for Sisi to legitimize himself in the eyes of the more "illiberal" component of Egyptian society?

shadihamid3 karma

The support of the Salafi Nour party was useful for Abdelfattah al-Sissi when he staged the July 3, 2013 coup. Sissi also had prominent liberals backing him. All of this lent a degree of legitimacy to the proceedings. All of that was important early on when it wasn't yet a forgone conclusion that the military's seizure of power would succeed. But Sissi hasn't returned the favor. The Nour party only had one member in the constituent assembly and they've generally been shut out of the decision-making process. If you're a Salafi (with a long beard), this is not a good time to live in Egypt, with the media and the government promoting an anti-Islamist narrative and a large segment of the population, particularly in urban areas lumping in all Islamists together.

As for Sissi reaching out to "illiberal" elements of the population, it's worth noting that Sissi is no secularist. He sees an important role for religion in Egyptian society, but just in a different way than the Brotherhood before him. For Sissi, the State is the be-all, end-all: religion, or a kind of "Egyptian Islam," is in the service of the State, legitimizing it and strengthening it.

habiba3111 karma

What first got you interested in Islamist movements? And how would you characterize your own political views?

Looking forward to reading your book!

shadihamid3 karma

As for my own political views, I'm a small-d democrat and a small-l liberal in the American context. But, as a scholar of Islamist movements, I try to keep my personal views cordoned off from my analysis. Just because I'm a liberal in the US doesn't mean that Egyptians or Jordanians should be subject to my ideological preferences. Also, if you go into the study of political Islam and it's all about comparing Islamists to some liberal ideal, then that's distorting. We don't have to like Islamists or agree with them, but we do have to understand them in their own contexts. We do have to understand their ideas and sentiments as honestly and deeply felt, regardless of anything else. That's what I try to do in my research.

habiba3112 karma

I'm no expert, but you seem to pull it off quite well. =)

One more: from your previous work, do you think Islamists are necessarily illiberal? Or is that just the flavor of Islamism we have around these days?

shadihamid3 karma

One of my book's arguments is that Islamists, by definition, are at least somewhat illiberal (it's a continuum of course). Put different, Islamists are Islamists for a reason. If they weren't Islamists, they'd be something else. Illiberalism is common across cases and regions, but I do think there's something distinctive here. It's not just that Islamists are illiberal; it's that they're supposed to be illiberal. In Chapter 8 of the book, I discuss a hypothetical “Islamic democracy.” Islamic democracy, to be Islamic in any meaningful sense of the word, rests on a fundamentally different philosophical basis than that of liberal democratic theory. Of course, there is some overlap between Islamism and liberalism, but there are also real tensions, and that's okay. Instead of hoping, or pretending, that we're all the same - or that, one day, we might all become the same - I think we have to confront these differences honestly and forthrightly. Again, we don't have to like it, but democracy is about the right to make the wrong choice. Illiberalism in its various forms might be wrong, but we can't ban people from being illiberal. That's what they believe and they should have the ability to reflect those religious or ideological preferences through the democratic process.

habiba3112 karma

democracy is about the right to make the wrong choice.

I, personally, think that sums it up perfectly.

shadihamid1 karma

Thanks :)

helzayat1 karma

Believe it or not, not everyone who doesn’t wish to live in this illiberal society has the option to immigrate to the West that some have.

shadihamid1 karma

Well, if it's an "illiberal democracy," it would mean that those who disagree with the illiberal part of it have recourse. They can organize and oppose government policies, stage peaceful protests, and try to make their case to the electorate. That's what democracy offers that other systems don't, the potential for self-correction, for undoing the "wrong" decisions of others. Obviously, that's a long, uneven process, but to expect countries to become liberal democracies right away (despite no real history of liberal democracy) is totally unrealistic and detached from historical experience. If liberals want liberalism, whatever that might mean, to gain ground, then they have to fight for it and not just base their politics on a kind of generic, unimaginative anti-Islamism. Also, if liberalism is, in fact, universal and "correct," then, naturally, it would rise to the fore in a democratic setting. Liberals, at least, should have faith in that.

shadihamid3 karma

9/11 and then the Iraq war were formative for me. I felt there was something fundamentally wrong with how we related to the Middle East. From a pretty young age, it bothered me that the US wasn't living up to its own ideals - why did we insist on supporting autocratic regimes? (Autocracies are, or seem, stable until they're not and then it's too late). Part of the answer to that question as I saw it was we, as Americans, did in fact want democracy in theory but we feared its outcomes in practice. Islamist parties were the ones most likely to come to power in free elections. I wanted to understand what these movement were really about, and to think about how to engage with and understand them. More generally, I just find the tensions between absolute religious ideals and the mundane realities of everyday politics fascinating. There are so many thorny dilemmas there. We see it play out here in the US. And, in the world's largest democracy, a profoundly illiberal, hindu nationalist party is about to assume power through the ballot box.

Imperial_Forces1 karma

How does overthrowing Mossadegh, while propping up the islamist Saudi regime fit into the narrative of a democracy-loving America that's afraid democracy will lead to islamists taking over power?

shadihamid1 karma

I think Mossadegh fits quite well into this broader narrative of discomfort with democratic outcomes, and of failing, repeatedly, to live to our own stated ideals when it comes to the Middle East. It's not just Islamists coming to power that we're afraid of but also other anti-American forces who we see as inimical to our interests. There's a bigger issue here of the tension between ideals and interests and between short and long-term considerations (since I'd argue that, while democratization might lead to short-term instability in these countries, it's good for American interests in the long-run). I was hoping that the Arab Spring - as an external shock - would upset the institutional stasis and short-term bias of our Middle East policy but it appears my hopes were misplaced.

sjs901 karma

Given the current turmoil in the Middle East, what do you believe are the prospects for Peace between the Arab countries and Israel? What are the biggest impediments and what concessions do you believe need to be made in order for peace to exist?

shadihamid3 karma

I used to think that resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict was absolutely key, but now I see it as less of a priority in light of other regional developments. The defining conflicts of this new era are within Arab states, whether of an ideological (i.e. Egypt) or sectarian nature (i.e. Syria). A lot of Egyptians apparently hate each other more than they hate Israel. Israel's ongoing mistreatment of Palestinians is unacceptable but the level of repression we see in, say, Syria and Egypt is on a whole different level. There's also the question of whether peace is possible, even if its desirable. Try as I might, given the current set of actors, I just can't envision a peace deal (and, then, there's the elephant in the room: Gaza).

AgeOfWomen1 karma

Hallo and thanks for the AMA.

A friend of mine once told me that during the Al Shabab terrorist attacks in Westgate in Nairobi. One of the terrorist saw a family of three, a mother and two children, and shot the mother on the leg. He moved closer to them and aimed his gun on the mother who was on the floor and that is when one of her sons, a six year old stood infront of him and said, "You are a bad, bad man." All that happened inside the supermarket and that is where the terrorist turned to one of the shelves, handed the boy a mars bar and said, "I am sorry, we are not monsters" and walked away.

A story of bravery on the part of the boy, but also a bit of a paradox on the part of the terrorist because he had no trouble shooting the mother, and was possibly going to kill her, but then stopped when confronted by the little boy.

As someone who has studied these islamic movements and the person beleiving he is acting in the name of Allah (clearly this man is not acting in the name of Islam, but he believes he is) how would you interprate this incident? An act of humanity that clashes with the perceived religious beliefs?

Edit: Spelling

shadihamid3 karma

Hmm, fascinating. I need to think about that a bit more. Thank you. My first reaction is that even extremists experience a push-and-pull, especially when we're talking about rank-and-file recruits who are influenced not just by extremist ideology but also economic, social, and psychological factors and more generally the blinding pressure of being in groups. But I think there's something universal about the anecdote too. That even bad or evil people plunge themselves into a kind of religious and spiritual darkness but that that darkness hasn't taken over entirely, at least not yet. Muslims would probably say that there is a fitra (nature) to man and that the fitra is never totally extinguished.

AgeOfWomen2 karma

But I think there's something universal about the anecdote too. That even bad or evil people plunge themselves into a kind of religious and spiritual darkness but that that darkness hasn't taken over entirely, at least not yet. Muslims would probably say that there is a fitra (nature) to man and that the fitra is never totally extinguished.

This is beautiful. I love it. Thank you for the answer.

Edit: I would like to add that this is one of my favorite Nelson Mandela quotes

"Even in the worst times in prison", Nelson Mandela wrote in retrospect to 27 years of imprisonment, "when my comrades and I were pushed to our limits, I saw a glimmer of humanity in one of the guards, perhaps only for a second. However that glimmer was enough to give me assurance so I could live again. Human goodness is a flame that can be hidden but not extinguished."

shadihamid1 karma

thank you. that's really a beautiful quote

jiggey1 karma

What do you think of that Hulu show "Little Mosque"? From what I've seen it seems to be set up on the premises of "let's make a show for people to laugh at Muslims" but I would love to hear your opinion of it

shadihamid1 karma

Never actually watched "Little Mosque." But just the name of the show suggests that it probably wasn't any good. I think it would be interesting to have more shows with Muslim characters, but they'd be Americans who happen to be Muslim rather than the other way around. Muslims can be defined by other things than their religions after all.

Chethedoctor1 karma

Salam Mr. Hamid, Do you think it's a good idea for the so-called Islamists in the Arab world to adopt the kind of fragmented power system in Iran where there are many competing centers of authority that check each other instead of pursuing domination of power?

shadihamid1 karma

I'm not sure Iran is a good model here since the Supreme Leader does, in fact, dominate the political system. I discuss the Iran model and its relevant to the Arab world here: http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/iran-at-saban/posts/2014/04/28-shadi-hamid-islamism-the-arab-spring-and-iran. But I take your more general point that distributing and sharing power - rather than concentrating or centralizing it - is important for democracies, and particularly young democracies which are susceptible to the rise of demagoguery. This is why if I had one recommendation for Arab countries in transition, it would be avoid top-heavy, presidential systems like the plague and err on parliamentary systems with proportional representation and relatively low electoral thresholds. Meanwhile, some degree of federalism is a good idea for countries that tend to be polarized along geographical lines.