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?

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 U.S. 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.


Panel 1: How Repression Breeds Religious Extremism - and How Religious Freedom Does the Opposite | Johanna Kristin Birnir, Brian Grim, Mohammed Hafez, Monica Duffy Toft

Keynote Discussion: Religious Freedom, Religious Extremism, and the Arab Spring: Bush and Obama Administration Perspectives | Elliott Abrams, Stephen Hadley, William Inboden, Dennis Ross

Panel 2: Fostering Religious Freedom and Curbing Religious Extremism in the Arab Spring - Lessons for US Policy | Thomas Farr, Jillian Schwedler, Samer Shehata, Samuel Tadros

back to top