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May 14, 2014: News, Research and Events from Rice University's Baker Institute
Baker Institute Update: Rice students gear up for summer internships
In this edition
Interns gain valuable experience, hone future goals

With the spring term behind them, dozens of Rice students are looking ahead to valuable summer internships through the Baker Institute. 
 
Undergraduates will conduct research for fellows at Baker Hall as well as assist local and national policymakers from Washington, D.C., to Paris and Moscow. The internships give students hands-on policy experience while offering the opportunity to network and solidify career goals.
 
Nick Fleder, a rising sophomore majoring in political science, will be one of 12 Rice students traveling to the nation’s capital this summer to participate in the institute’s Jesse Jones Leadership Center Summer in D.C. Internship Program. As an intern at the Cook Political Report, Fleder will sit in on interviews with political candidates, conduct research for articles, and assist with subscription services. “Interacting on a personal level with folks who have large stakes in [upcoming] elections — candidates, donors, interest groups and subscribers — should help me as I think critically about my role in this complicated system,” Fleder said. He is not yet sure of the path he will take, but predicts “the internship will help [him] find a role in American politics and the elections that govern it.”
 
Many of the students who take part in the Jesse Jones internship program go on to earn other prestigious fellowships, awards and internships. In April, Hira Baig, one of last summer’s program participants, won a prestigious Truman Scholarship — one of about 55 in a national competition. Baig interned for Texas congressman Joaquin Castro and participated in the Washington Leadership Program, a summer fellowship dedicated to developing the next generation of leaders from the South Asia American community. Baig, a graduating senior majoring in political science and policy studies, said her experience in the program “motivated [her] to work toward a career in government.”
 
This fall, Baig — the Jesse Jones internship program’s fourth Truman Scholar in the last three years — will head to Harvard University to earn a master’s degree in religion, ethics and politics. She is grateful for the Baker Institute and the student opportunities it offers, which she said “played an instrumental role in molding both my academic interests and career goals.”
 
Similar opportunities are available to interns who work at Baker Hall. Laura Zhang, a graduating senior at Bellaire High School, has been interning with the institute’s Women and Human Rights in the Middle East Program since January. Zhang, who has been accepted to Stanford University for the fall semester, said she was drawn to the institute after spending six weeks learning Arabic with the National Security Language Initiative for Youth last summer in Oman.
 
“Gender equality seemed to be one of the most pressing issues in Oman when I visited, and the Baker Institute has truly allowed me to explore every facet of the political sphere for women as well as undeniable social and economic issues,” Zhang said.
 
Working at the institute while still in high school has been beneficial for her academic goals, Zhang said. She has acquired invaluable research experience, published a blog about the overlooked sexual violence of war, and developed a desire to continue her studies on the Middle East in college.
 
“I’m always willing to direct my attention to the Baker Institute after school because my mentors have a vast amount of knowledge about the Middle East that I would never be able to receive through my classes or just reading the news,” Zhang said.
 
To learn more about these and other student opportunities, visit the Baker Institute website.

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Five questions: Islamists and illiberal democracy in the Middle East

The Baker Institute Center for the Middle East recently hosted Brookings Institution fellow Shadi Hamid to discuss his new book, “Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East.” Hamid examines how and why Islamist movements change over time and what are their ultimate objectives for society. Below, Hamid expands on his Baker Institute presentation as part of our ongoing series of “Five Questions” with Baker Institute guest speakers, fellows and other experts:
 
Q: Will the persecution of Muslim Brotherhood (MB) members in Egypt outweigh the forces of moderation that were previously influencing MB youth?
 
A: In my book, I argue that low-to-moderate levels of repression can have a moderating effect on Islamist groups, but “eradication” is a whole different thing and should be treated separately. For more on the effects of repression on the Muslim Brotherhood during the 1990s and 2000s, see this recent Brookings Q&A. In Egypt today, the best lens with which to understand the Brotherhood, and internal tensions within the organization, is not necessarily moderate vs. radical or reformist vs. traditionalist, but rather revolutionary vs. conservative. We see young MB activists inside of Egypt adopting a more revolutionary posture, in contrast to the Brotherhood’s traditional gradualism. Where the leadership-in-exile continues to speak the language of political processes (i.e., reinstating the constitution, electoral legitimacy), the younger rank-and-file see the Egyptian state, and not just the military, as something to be destroyed. The distinction here isn’t one of violence vs. nonviolence as much as one over the method of change and the understanding of what kind of change is most desirable in light of the ongoing crackdown.

Q: A few, including yourself, are not comfortable with the idea that repression forced the Muslim Brotherhood’s moderation. Any second thoughts?
 
A: Yes, in the book, I argue that repression can “force” Islamist moderation — but under specific conditions. It makes me a bit uncomfortable, but it’s what I found in my research, and I have to reflect that regardless. This doesn’t mean that repression is “good” in any kind of normative sense; it means that repression, for any number of reasons, has the power to distort Islamist behavior. In any case, Arab regimes in the 1990s and 2000s didn’t want Islamists to become more “moderate” (moderates, because of their cross-ideological appeal and ability to attract international sympathy, were actually a greater political threat). So, in this narrow sense, regime repression actually backfired.  

Q: What are your thoughts on U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy's call to cut U.S. aid to Egypt? 

A: I’m afraid it’s too little, too late, and too few people are where Leahy is, in any case (the administration has made quite clear that it wishes to certify as much assistance as possible to the Egyptian regime, despite brutal, unyielding repression). The kind of pressure Leahy is trying to muster was needed the day after the military coup, more than 10 months ago. The longer we waited to act, the more leverage we lost, the more our options became constrained. The Egyptian military was busy establishing facts on the ground, while we were busy debating whether or not to call what was self-evidently a coup a coup.
 
Q: How have Syrian refugees in Jordan influenced Islamist politics and King Abdullah’s aspirations for a constitutional monarchy?
 
A: You’d think Jordan’s refugee problem would be a boon for the Islamist opposition (or weaken the regime), but this hasn't quite happened. The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood has generally struggled to adapt to the post-Arab Spring context and take advantage of popular discontent. In light of events in Egypt and Syria, the group has been hurt by the narrative that democratic openings (and Islamism) are destabilizing.
 
Q: Given its informal, ephemeral nature, how can social media give Islamists a political voice in Egypt?
 
A: With formal media in Egypt almost entirely closed to the Muslim Brotherhood, social media has grown in importance, allowing the group and its allies to at least put forward an alternative narrative and document its evolving positions. That said, in “eradicationist” contexts, I'm skeptical that social media can play a significant role in the overall scheme of things. The military-backed regime in Egypt has guns and tanks and the willingness to use them, even if that means considerable loss of life.

Watch the webcast from the April 30 event on the Baker Institute website.

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Rice University's Baker Institute is a nonpartisan public policy think tank located in Houston, Texas. The institute's distinguished fellows and scholars conduct research and collaborate with experts from academia, government, the media, business and private organizations on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy.

 

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