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.
George Chebat, a third-year political science major and co-president of MESSI, appreciated the talk.
“He came and spoke on [an] Egyptian issue rather than go on a tangent about more controversial issues,” Chebat said.
Professor Mark Levine of the history department commented on the presentation. “It is important to bring speakers who are close to the age and have the same life experiences as students and can be an example of where they can be in a few years,” Levine said.
Beyond simply sharing a common age, Houdaiby was able to truly connect with his student audience.As an online columnist Houdaiby is familiar with the benefits of interaction with the online community. With blogs and social networking Web sites aplenty, youth activists can navigate and connect to each other more easily than ever before.
Houdaiby described a grass roots youth movement that organized strikes via the popular Facebook Causes application. The strikes were in response to the policies of Egyptian President Muhammad Mubarak. While it appeared to garner a number of supporters, Houdaiby was skeptical about the possibility of using Facebook as a means for organizing serious youth activists.
Houdaiby laughed, “I never liked Facebook … I only used it to stay in touch with my friends in Egypt.”
Whether or not Facebook is a serious means of activism, the Web site proved to be an efficient means of networking. Before the actual day of the strike, the government caught wind of the plans and issued a threat to those who participated. Despite this, many youths did indeed strike.
Houdaiby continues to give lectures at universities in the United States. His articles can be read in The Guardian, CommonGroundNews.org, and Daily News Egypt.