Religious Freedom and Religious Extremism: Lessons from the Arab Spring
The success of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi parties in the recent Egyptian elections highlights the complex relationship between religious freedom, religious extremism, and democracy in the region. Democratization has meant freedom for Islamic groups to participate in the political life of the new Egypt. At the same time, the success of Salafi parties and ongoing tensions with the military threaten the viability of the fledgling democratic institutions that might guarantee religious freedom, religious pluralism, and civil peace in the new Egypt.
In Egypt and elsewhere, what is the relationship between religious freedom and religious extremism, defined as religious political engagement hostile to constitutional democracy and open to the use of violence? Can religious freedom limit religious extremism? How should US foreign policy seek to promote democratic institutions and regimes of religious freedom that best counter religious extremism in practice?
An RFP publication on the symposium, including a full transcript of the panel discussions, can be found here.
A first panel addressed the relationship between religious freedom and religious extremism. Experts discussed a growing body of work on two issues: whether and how the denial of religious freedom encourages violent and extremist forms of religious political engagement; and the conditions under which greater religious freedom undermines religious extremism in practice.
A second panel explored the implications of the religious freedom-religious extremism relationship for US policy towards Egypt and other nations affected by the Arab Spring. Experts discussed the outlines of a smart religious freedom agenda designed to more effectively contain religious extremists and safeguard democracy into the future.
Event Schedule 10:15-10:30am: Welcome
10:30am-12:00pm: Panel 1, How Repression Breeds Religious Extremism - and How Religious Freedom Does the Opposite
Panelists: Johanna Kristin Birnir, Brian Grim, Mohammed Hafez, and Monica Duffy Toft (moderator)
12:30 - 2:00pm: Keynote Discussion, Religious Freedom, Religious Extremism, and the Arab Spring: Bush and Obama Administration Perspectives
Participants: Dennis Ross, Stephen Hadley, Elliott Abrams, and William Inboden (moderator)
2:15-3:30pm: Panel 2, Fostering Religious Freedom & Curbing Religious Extremism in the Arab Spring - Lessons for US Policy
Panelists: Jillian Schwedler, Samer Shehata, Samuel Tadros, and Thomas Farr (moderator)
Stephen Hadley is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a Senior Adviser for international affairs at the United States Institute of Peace. He served as the National Security Adviser to the president for four years until 2009 and as the assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser from 2001 to 2005. During his office, Hadley specializes in security issues including U.S. relations with Russia, the Israeli disengagement from Gaza, developing a strategic relationship with India and ballistic missile defense. Prior to this position, Hadley was both a partner in the Washington D.C. law firm of Shea and Gardner and a principal in The Scowcroft Group. Hadley graduated from Cornell University and received his J.D. degree from Yale Law School.
Dennis Ross, currently a counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has played a leading role
in shaping U.S. involvement in the Middle East peace process for more than twelve years. A highly skilled
diplomat, Ambassador Ross served two years as special assistant to President Obama as well as National
Security Council senior director for the Central Region, and a year as special advisor to Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton, focusing on Iran. He was directly and extensively involved in the peace process of the region
in both the George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations. Ross has published extensively on the former
Soviet Union, arms control, and the greater Middle East. His articles appeared in Foreign Policy, National
Interest, Washington Quarterly, and Foreign Affairs. His books include The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of
the Fight for Middle East Peace (2004) and Statecraft, And How to Restore America's Standing in the World
(2007). He holds a PhD from UCLA.
Elliott Abrams is Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He previously served in the George W. Bush administration from June 2001 - January 2009, ultimately holding the office of deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser. From 1999 - 2001 he was a member of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom and served as chairman in 2001. Abrams has also been president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and assistant secretary of state during the Reagan administration. His single-authored works include Undue Process (1993), Security and Sacrifice (1995), and Faith or Fear: How Jews Can Survive in a Christian America (1997); he has also edited books on contemporary just war theory and religion and American foreign policy. Abrams has degrees from Harvard College, the London School of Economics, and Harvard Law School.
Jóhanna Birnir is a Associate Professor in the Department of Government and Politics and the Research Director of the Center of International Development and Conflict Management at the University of Maryland. Her research is in the field of...
Thomas F. Farr is director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and a visiting associate professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown’s Edmund A....
Brian J. Grim is president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation. From 2006 to January 2014 he was a senior researcher in religion and world affairs and director of cross-national data at the Pew Research Center, as well as a principal...
Mohammed Hafez is Associate Professor and Chair of the Doctoral Committee at the naval Postgraduate School. His research interests include the politics of the Middle East and North Africa, Islamic social movements, Jihadism, terrorism and suicide...
William Inboden is associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and executive director of the Clements Center for History, Strategy, and Statecraft at the University of Texas-Austin. He is also a distinguished scholar at the Strauss...
Jillian Schwedler has been Associate Professor of Political Science at University of Massachusetts Amherst since 2007, after seven years of teaching at the University of Maryland. Dedicated in teaching, her current academic interests include...
Samer Shehata is an Assistant Professor in the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University. He teaches courses on Islamist politics, comparative and Middle East politics and political economy, US policy toward the Middle East,...
Mariz Tadros, a Research Fellow at the University of Sussex’s Institute of Development Studies, is a political scientist specializing in the politics and human development of the Middle East, with a focus on democratization, Islamist politics,...
Monica Duffy Toft is professor of government and public policy at Oxford University's Blavatnik School of Government. She previously was associate professor of public policy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government from 2004 to 2012 and...