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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Is it Better to Elect Islamists than Support Dictators?

I haven't recommended a lot of Intelligence Squared US debates recently, but here's a good one ("Better Elected Islamists than Dictators"). I was only familiar with Daniel Pipes prior to the debate, but all of the debaters are excellent (see their brief bios below).  The motion being debated is that it is better to elect Islamists rather than stick with dictators. Here is a description of the debate:
The popular uprisings of the Arab Spring have left a leadership void that Islamist parties have been quick to fill. A longtime supporter of former strongmen like Egypt’s Mubarak and Tunisia’s Ben Ali, the U.S. now faces the uncomfortable result of Arab democracy—the rise of Islamist parties that are less amenable to the West than their autocratic predecessors. Will the Islamists, who once embraced violence, slowly liberalize as they face the difficulties of state leadership? Or will it mean the growth of anti-Americanism and radicalization in the region?
Debating on behalf of the motion are Reuel Marc Gerecht and Brian Katulis. Arguing against it are Daniel Pipes and M. Zuhdi Jasser. Here are the biographies (from the Intelligence Squared US):
Reuel Marc Gerecht is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a non-partisan institution focusing on national security and foreign policy. He was a former Middle East Specialist at the CIA's Directorate of Operations. His book The Wave: Man, God, and the Ballot Box in the Middle East, was published by the Hoover Institution in 2011. Gerecht was a former Director of the Project for the New American Century’s Middle East Initiative and a former Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute
Brian Katulis is a Senior Fellow at American Progress, where his work focuses on U.S. national security policy in the Middle East and South Asia. Katulis has served as a consultant to numerous U.S. government agencies, private corporations, and nongovernmental organizations on projects in more than two dozen countries, including Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Egypt, and Colombia. From 1995 to 1998, he lived and worked in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Egypt for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. He is co-author of The Prosperity Agenda, a book on U.S. national security. Katulis speaks Arabic. 
Daniel Pipes is one of the world’s foremost analysts on the Middle East and Islam. Pipes is President of the Middle East Forum, a nonprofit organization he founded in 1994 whose slogan is “Promoting American Interests.” He was previously the Director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) and editor of its journal, Orbis. Pipes’ most recent book is Miniatures: Views of Islamic and Middle Eastern Politics (2003). Pipes served as an Adviser to Rudolph Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign. 
M. Zuhdi Jasser, M.D., is the Founder and President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD). A devout Muslim, Dr. Jasser founded AIFD in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the United States as an effort to provide an American Muslim voice advocating for the preservation of the founding principles of the United States Constitution, liberty and freedom, through the separation of mosque and state. Dr. Jasser earned his medical degree on a U.S. Navy scholarship at the Medical College of Wisconsin in 1992. He served 11 years as a medical officer in the U. S. Navy.
As with all Intelligence Squared debates, those attending vote before and after the debate, and the winning team is decided by how many minds were changed and in what direction. Not only can you listen to or watch the debate at the Intelligence Squared website ("Better Elected Islamists than Dictators"), but you can access transcripts of the debate as well. The debate can also be downloaded from iTunes.


  1. Sean, I listened to most of this debate via public radio. It is a good question. I do know that the Christian community (and all minority religious communities) have done better under the dictators than under the Islamists.

  2. Yes, very interesting. My sense is that in the long term, democracy is the better option. However, the short term can lead to some deleterious effects.