The Middle East Institute

 Volume 48, Number 6
Middle East lnstitute Annual Conference
The Middle East into the 21st Century
On October 3-4 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, MEI held its 51st Annual Conference. The keynote speaker was H.R.H. Prince Moulay Hisham Benabdallah of Morocco, the grandson of the late king Mohammed V, and nephew of His Majesty Hassan 11, the King of Morocco. Prince Moulay Hisham discussed the many challenges facing the Middle East on the verge of the 21st century. In his view, these regional problems require global solutions. He mentioned the Israeli Palestinian peace process as the "threshold problem" of the Middle East, as it blocks progress on other issues.
The conference's first panel focused on "Islam and Society." William B. Quandt, who holds the Byrd Chair in Government and Foreign Affairs at the University of Virginia, discussed the present situation in Algeria. He described the situation there as especially opaque, because there are no longer two sides that can negotiate peace. The Armed Islamic Group, for example, is no longer responsive to a central Islamist authority. Quandt rejected theories about the Algerian government's complicity in the violence, but he noted that the regime can be faulted for failing to protect its citizens. Ending on a positive note, Quandt cited both the Islamic Salvation Front cease-fire offer and the recent elections as possible signs of progress.




The second speaker was Fadwa EI Guindi, Adjunct Professor of Anthropology at the University of Southern California and president of the newly formed Middle East section of the American Anthropological Association. She focused on Islam as a frame of reference in the daily lives of the majority of Egyptians and warned against the tendency to see Islam only as a political movement. She discussed how political events in the Middle East have strengthened a revival of Islamic values since the late 1970s. For ordinary Muslim Egyptian men and women, Islam has inspired not militancy, but silent resistance. 




Fadwa El Guindi

Islamic Identity and Resistance
National Press Club
Friday, October 3, 1997

  Projecting Points

     On October 3, 1997, Fadwa El Guindi, Adjunct Professor of Anthropology at the U of Southern California and Research Anthropologist at El Nil Research, Los Angeles, spoke at the National Press Club on the social and cultural aspects of Islam and,the Islamic movement in Egypt. The audience comprised Mi ' ddle East experts, diplomats, students and scholars of the Middle East, as well as the media and press. The presentation was sponsored by the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC, which held its 5 1 st Annual Conference on October 3-4. The theme of the conference was "The Middle East into the 2 1 st Century.
      The only anthropologist on the panel, El Guindi focused on the anthropological dimension of Islam and the 'Islamic movement. Using ethnographic observations in Egypt, she argued that Islam is indeed the most vital frame of reference in the daily lives of the majority of Egyptians. She stressed the inadequacy of the perspective held by nonanthropologist experts of the region, which has overemphasized the political and militant dimensions at the expense of the cultural and social role of Islam and the meaning of Islamic values in the.lives of ordinary folk.

      El Guindi warned against the tendency (by US foreign policy experts, in particular) to see the contemporary Islamic movement out of cultural con-. text and only as a political and militant movement. Alternatively, El Guindi's anthropological analysis situates the movement in a dynamic revitalization process.

      Processual phases of the movement began in the early 1970s and continu into the late 1990s as it has spread throughout.most of the Islamic region. It evolved from a phase of reestablishing cultural identity to the

contemporary phase of resistance to undemocratic local . regimes, international political and economic pressures, and regional colonial occupation. She discussed how political events in the Middle East have strengthened a revival of Islamic values since the late 1970s. For ordinary Muslim Egyptian men and *wornen, Islam has inspired not militancy but silent resistance. as, for example, to imposed normalization with Israel.
Fadwa El Guindi has been speaking in national and international forums of public and diplomatic audiences about various aspects of Arab culture *since the 1970s and is a regular speaker -at the Foreign Service Institute on Arab culture, She is incoming President of' the newly formed Middle East Section of the AAA and may be reached at <>