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Worshippers on their way to perform Friday afternoon prayers in the courtyard of Ezzitouna Mosque, Tunis, Tunisia, Oct. 23, 2015 (AP photo by Mosa'ab Elshamy).

Can the U.S. Be a Model of State-Religion Relations for the Arab World?

Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016

As the U.S. presidential campaign finally wraps up, the Middle East is taking away some very negative messages about American culture that will diminish America’s ability to be a model for good governance and to influence outcomes in the region. Iran’s media has even used a broadcast of the U.S. presidential debates to validate the regime narrative of America’s corruption and weak moral values, and Iran’s own preference for strict religious codes of conduct. But Arab states working to avoid extremism and authoritarianism still seek virtue in the American experience, even if they are not yet ready to embrace democracy as the solution to the Arab world’s dysfunction.

At a panel in Washington last week co-hosted by the Stimson Center and the Abu Dhabi-based Trends, a diverse group of scholars examined the Arab world’s struggle to offer more-positive models for state-society relations than the failing caliphate of the so-called Islamic State and the failed dictatorships that, though formally secular, manipulated religious identities as part of their hold on power. ...

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