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Ibrahim El Houdaiby, a young member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, visited UC Irvine to give a public lecture entitled, “Religion and Democracy in the Middle East: A New Generation of the Muslim Brotherhood Takes the Stage” on Wednesday, October 8.
The event was hosted by the Department of History, Middle East Studies Students Initiative (MESSI), the Center for Research on International and Global Studies (RIGS) and the Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies (CGPACS).
Houdaiby, 25, graduated from the American University in Cairo and is a leading young activist in the Islamic religious-political group, the Muslim Brotherhood.
“[The Muslim Brotherhood] is the most important and largest nonviolent Islamic political group in the Middle East,” Houdaiby said.
The group was founded in 1928 and central to its platform is a moral objection to the use of violence. According to Houdaiby, the Muslim Brotherhood’s objectives in Egypt are a gradual nonviolent approach to democracy.
Although the group began as a grass roots movement 50 years before it was established, the Muslim Brotherhood today is the largest opposition group in the Egyptian Parliament and has engaged in elections since the 1960s.
According to Houdaiby some of the biggest challenges to democracy in Egypt are governmental corruption and election manipulation. Constitutional amendments have been made to marginalize the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence in parliament. While in the past, Egypt’s elections were overseen by judicial supervisors, the Mubarak regime has made constitutional amendments to restrict their presence. This has led to an increase in voter fraud and unfair elections.
Houdaiby’s presence on campus has stirred some discontent amongst extreme right-wing critics who called his visit an act of “welcoming terror on campus.” Houdaiby claimed that these misguided associations with violent Islamic groups are a case of misunderstanding and false information.
“For purposes of simplification, Islamists are lumped together,” Houdaiby said. “People tend to see Islamic movements as one large movement … yet we disagree on fundamentals.”
The difference between moderate and extremist Islamic groups, he explained, is their commitment to international cooperation and their stance on the use of violence.
Houdaiby also noted that even in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood often gets the blame for the actions of other Islamist groups. This, too, he claimed, is the result of propaganda and false associations. “You can’t just trust people to give you the information,” Houdaiby said.
Approximately 45 students attended his lecture in an effort to learn more about the political state of the Middle East.
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