`SINCE 95 percent of Egyptians are Muslims, it is natural that
they should want an Islamic state," the speaker on the platform
declared, to a roar of approval from the crowd.
The scene was the Cairo International Book Fair last January.
The speaker at a debate on the fringes of the exhibition was
Ma'amoun el-Hodeiba, spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, the main
Islamic fundamentalist group in Egypt. A few days earlier, Muslim
fundamentalists in Algeria had delivered a crushing defeat at the
polls to the ruling National Liberation Front. Feelings were
When the meeting ended, hundreds of fundamentalist supporters,
chanting "Allahu Akbar" ("God is great"), surged through the
fairground. An Egyptian living in London who was visiting Cairo for
the book fair came into an exhibition hall looking shaken. "They're
crazy," he said. "If democracy means fundamentalism, then forget
Opponents of the Islamic movement in the Middle East are alarmed
by the way in which Arabs of all classes are increasingly returning
to their "fundamental" Islamic roots. But many Muslims argue that -
contrary to the popular view outside the region of fundamentalism
as a sinister force threatening the West - the current Islamic
revival is a positive development.
Prof. Aziz Shukri, head of the law faculty at Damascus
University, says the Islamic movement is simply seeking a system of
life that is compatible with the region's religious and social
roots. Fundamentalism, he says, "is going back to the roots of
Islam, to the Holy Koran, to the traditions of the Prophet ... to
see if they can provide a good response to the problems we face.
Islam might not be complete, it might need updating. But it is
definitely more likely to suit my life than any imported ideology."
Throughout the Middle East, Muslims cite the Islamic revolution
in Iran in 1979 as an important source of inspiration in
rediscovering their roots. This does not mean, however, that there
is overwhelming support for the policies of the Islamic Republic of
Most Iranians belong to the Shiite sect of Islam, while more
than 80 percent of Muslims are part of the Sunni movement. Even
within Iran there are major differences over the interpretation of
Islamic doctrine. This is seen in the tension between the
relatively pragmatic view of President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
- who apparently seeks better relations with the West - and the
uncompromising policies of hard-liners like Ali Akbar Mohtashemi. …