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‘No’ to Political Violence, Because…

Islamist Rally

From my recent article on EgyptSource:

Cynics throughout Egypt could only smirk. Thousands of Islamists protested against the recent wave of political violence, answering the call of one of its most notorious perpetrators, the Jama’a Islamiya. Throughout the 1990s they led an armed campaign against the Mubarak regime, as well as targeting tourists in a bid to discredit the state.

In the early 2000s, beaten and discredited themselves, the Jama’a Islamiya issued its famous ‘Revisions’. Jailed leaders reconsidered their violent philosophy, publishing tomes on the errors of their way. They also reconciled with the government, securing release from prison for many. Since then the group has largely laid low, at least until the revolution.

Like others in the formerly forbidden Islamist trend, the Jama’a Islamiya took advantage of new political freedom to form a party, Building and Development. They allied with the Salafi Nour Party but played second fiddle, offering their popular support especially in Upper Egypt in exchange for a handful of parliamentary seats. But as Egypt descended into a morass of political chaos and violence, it was the Jama’a Islamiya which took the lead in condemnation. The question is, why?

Cynical reasons abound.

The article then seeks to expose some of these cynical reasons through the testimony of protestors:

“When the Jama’a Islamiya says ‘no’ to violence, we have more credibility than anyone else,” said Sharaf al-Din al-Gibali, a party leader in Fayoum. “Why? We engaged in an armed struggle with the regime for over ten years. We finally realized violence is not a suitable path to power, under any circumstances.”

In fact, it is concern for the opposition that is a large part of their motivation. “We have tried this path already,” he continued, “so for those who are trying it now we are worried for them.”

But then other testimony reinforces the cynical:

“What is happening now is the empowerment of Islamists and if God wills he will help us soon to rise against Israel,” said Mohamed Ahmed, an unaffiliated clothes merchant who leans in support of the Jama’a Islamiya. “We are against violence among ourselves; God has forbidden a Muslim to shed the blood of another.”

By ‘among ourselves’ Ahmed meant all Egyptians, even though he labeled the opposition as troublemakers. He believed Mahmoud Shaaban’s recent fatwa authorizing their death was near-appropriate.

“ElBaradei and the others spread corruption in the land and call for rebellion against the authorized leader,” using a traditional phrase from Sunni Muslim jurisprudence. “Sheikh Shaaban simply mentioned the hadith that says such as these deserve death, but those with him on the program convinced him this issue must go to the Azhar.”

Ahmed has a distaste for politics in general, but the times are changing. “There is a jurisprudence of reality; if the people now want ballot boxes, we will use them,” he said.

“We entered into political parties to be able to reach the ability to govern, and not just preach. If you only preach they can shut you down.”

Please click here to read the whole article at EgyptSource.

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Who are the Salafi-Jihadis?

Mohamed al-Zawahiri, brother of the al-Qaeda leader
Mohamed al-Zawahiri, brother of the al-Qaeda leader

From my recent article in EgyptSource, following up on the last post of pictures:

Zawahiri is the leader of what has been dubbed the Salafi-Jihadis. Long associated with Islamic Jihad and the Islamic Group, following his release from prison in March 2012 he has positioned himself to the right of the now politically engaged Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood and traditional Salafis. But who does he represent?

“We are just Muslims, protesting the killing of civilians,” said Walid, one of about 400 demonstrating against French military activity in Mali. “We have no leadership and we don’t belong to al-Qaeda.”

‘Not belonging to al-Qaeda’ was a frequent refrain of protestors.

But there was plenty of sympathy, as well as conspiracy:

Ashraf, who declined to give his last name but consorted comfortably with al-Zawahiri, praised the Benghazi attack which killed the American ambassador, and said more of this nature was needed. But as to the nature of Salafi-Jihadis, he was circumspect.

“There is no such thing as Salafi-Jihadism,” he said. “This name is simply a creation of state security, used to divide Muslims.”

The Egyptian regime, he believes, has always conspired with the Americans to distort Islam. “Is there any Salafism without jihad?” he continued. “Who are the Salafis but the first generations of Muslims, and were these not engaged in jihad?”

By all appearances their numbers are few, but this may not matter much, and surely not all are visible:

Salafi-Jihadis appear to be less an organization than an idea. So while the idea of Islam violently reordering world relations – today focused on Mali – is unable to attract many, it does attract a dedicated few. For Zawahiri, this is enough.

“Over the centuries Muslims have been the victorious ones,” he said, “even when they have had small numbers.”

Please click here to read the full article on EgyptSource.

 

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The Growing Pains of Salafi Politics

Asala Party Elections (photo: Clara Pak)
Asala Party Elections (photo: Clara Pak)

From my latest article in EgyptSource:

The Salafi political movement experienced massive transition in the past two weeks, enduring splits, recriminations, and leadership changes. Having long foresworn the political process, it is right and natural for growing pains to characterize their apparent embrace of democracy. Taking stock, three observations describe their current standing.

These are:

  • The process is transparent, but is the result foreordained?
  • The rhetoric is clear, but are they learning spin?
  • The inspiration is worrisome, but does it determine?

From the first:

The main question directed to Islamist politicians is if they truly believe in democracy or simply use it as a ladder to power. Egypt’s constitution declared its governing system to be both democratic and of an undefined shura (consultation). The shura provision was added at the request of Salafis, whose ideas of democracy issue from the selection process of the early Islamic caliphs, which was consensual. If internal elections are any indication, Salafis are willing to be transparent about their leadership choices, but greatly prefer the predetermined aspects of shura.

From the second:

There are reasonable reasons to reject quotas as well as to trust sharia provisions toward non-Muslims. Yet probing beyond the headlines exposes differences of nuance, if not outright contradiction.

Opponents of Salafis do credit them for being straightforward and sincere, unlike their opinion of the Muslim Brotherhood. As they develop political skill, however, it appears Salafis also are learning the unfortunate art of spin.

From the third:

Then effortlessly, unprompted, and without rancor, he slid into a passionless diatribe. “When we reach the stage of our empowerment, we will collect jizia from the Copts.

“Permissible for us are the blood and spoils of those who disbelieve in God and refuse his prophet,” he said. “This is not for the people of the book, as long as they do not fight us. But inside and outside Egypt they are fighting us, taking millions from America to accumulate weapons.”

So when Sheikh Abdel Khaleq Mohamed states at an official party function, “Democratic work is unbelief, but as long as it leads to the victory of God’s religion it is permissible to us,” does he represent its official line? Or does party president Ehab Shiha, who clarified the misquote, adding after ‘unbelief’ the words ‘… as a doctrine’ which were clipped in the article? On the contrary, Shiha accepts the definition of democracy as ‘government by the people, of the people, and for the people’ as long as it does not transgress the laws of God.

Please click here to read the full article on EgyptSource.

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Do Salafi Splits Signal Weakness or a Different Kind of Strength?

Ahmed al-Qadri
Ahmed al-Qadri

From my latest article in EgyptSource:

The Nour Party, the political flagship of Egypt’s burgeoning Salafi movement, is in full damage control over scores of member defections to the new Watan Party. This is appropriate, as the damage is substantial.

The Nour Party lists why it is dismissive of its new rival, but Watan boasts impressive transfer:

According to Ahmed al-Qadri, the English language spokesman for the Watan Party and former vice-president of Nour’s energy committee, the resignations affect the great majority of leadership positions. Besides former party president Emad Abdel Ghaffour and spokesmen Mohamed Nour and Yousry Hammad, nineteen regional offices resigned collectively.

Furthermore, Qadri explained, every single member of Nour’s technical committees has resigned. Including the economic, political, agriculture, energy and other committees, these groups of experts facilitated the work of Nour’s members of parliament. Of Nour’s 107 MPs, 52 have joined Watan, along with sixteen current members of the Shura Council.

The problem is not over doctrine, but over the influence of religion over politics:

“Some people wanted to assign positions based on proximity to leading religious figures,” said Qadri. “One of Nour’s mistakes was that the Salafi Call had the right to interfere in the party and change job descriptions. We want to work to unite all Salafi schools but have a legitimate and independent political party.”

Some Salafis fear – and liberals hope – these divisions will damage the electoral campaign of Islamists. But Qadri sees it differently:

“If the main figures of a party make a mistake, it may cost them votes, but if we have variety in the Salafi trend then those votes can simply shift to another party,” he said.

“If you are only one party you will be too sluggish to promote yourself because there is no competition.”

And from the conclusion, he hinted that this multiplicity might actually distance religion from politics:

“You cannot simply say ‘sharia’ or ‘Islamic state’ because we all believe in this,” he said. “The Egyptian people have learned that no one will any longer give their vote to a flag, but only to those who offer them solutions.”

The coming elections will tell, but unity is always important. Just ask liberals worried over possible splits in the National Salvation Front.

Please click here to read the full article on EgyptSource.

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Why did the Brotherhood Protest at the Palace?

Translation: Sharia, God protect it; Legitimacy, People Sacrifice for it
Translation: Sharia, God protect it; Legitimacy, People Sacrifice for it

From my new article in EgyptSource:

Politics in Egypt has degenerated into the question: Who do you trust? A more critical question right now is: What was their plan?

President Morsi addressed the nation late Thursday evening and tied Wednesday’s violence at the presidential palace to undefined ‘political parties’. If the vagary was intended to present the clashes between supporters and opposition neutrally, his overall point was clear in labeling the ultimate culprit as the old, corrupt regime. Surely he was not implicating the Muslim Brotherhood.

Yet it is undeniable the recent violence would not have taken place if not for a decision made by the Muslim Brotherhood to protest at an opposition site.

So, why did they do it?

Of course, the size of the protest, eyewitness reports putting the number at “hundreds of thousands,” was important enough for the Brotherhood to argue it was no more than 2,000 people. The threat, though, was the increase, and the permanent presence of a sit-in Morsi’s doorstep.  As the clock ticked toward the date of the referendum, it would be a constant reminder of the standing refusal of Morsi’s constitutional declaration.

This is the best reading of the official Brotherhood announcement of their stated intentions after clashes began. IkhwanOnline announced it rejected violence and went to the presidential palace to ‘protect legitimacy.’ Egypt Independent reported a Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau decision to hold a sit-in at the presidential palace, while Essam al-Erian called on the people to “flood to squares in all governorates, especially at the presidential palace, to protect legitimacy.”

Already convinced there was a conspiracy to unseat them, it appears they could not allow a picture of popular support for the opposition

But was their motive more sinister?

This is the key question, and though the article weighs possibilities, it cannot be determined from located public or reported statements. Certainly if others have found them I would like to know.

Now, of course, their public discourse denies anything, claiming they were the victims. Their rhetoric, though, is telling – indicating a great conspiracy against them, their paranoia it exists, or their invention thereof:

The day of the clashes IkwanOnline collected round-ups on the events from newspapers around the world. They chose to headline this article, however, quoting a detail from the New York Times. “Wealthy and Christians Demonstrate at Ittihadiya [the name of the presidential palace],” it read.

Meanwhile, al-Fajr reports former Brotherhood parliamentarian Sayyid al-Atweil told the Islamic channel Hafez that Copts led the armed thugs in their confrontations. He claims to have seen Copts entering churches carrying weapons. Earlier, the Freedom and Justice newspaper reported Naguib Sawiris, a wealthy Coptic businessman and financier of the liberal Free Egyptian Party, was also being investigated for inciting insurrection.

And as mentioned above, President Morsi stated the violence was tied to ‘political parties’.

May Egypt traverse these waters safely. Please click here to read the whole article at EgyptSource.

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The Common Islamist: Principle, Pragmatism, or Triumphalism?

Islamist Giza Protest

From my new article on EgyptSource:

For many in Egypt, conspiracies and manipulations are evident, none clearer than the current battle over the Supreme Constitutional Court. Many liberals are convinced Islamists are seeking to destroy the judiciary in order to establish control over all three branches of government.

But do Islamists see themselves this way? Setting aside any possible top level schemes and propaganda among Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi leaders, do their supporters believe they are involved in a pre-planned hijacking of the revolution? Or might their own assumed conspiracies of the liberals have a measure of legitimacy?

‘They are doing everything they can to keep the decisive voice from going to the people,’ Ezzat al-Salamony, a member of the Guidance Bureau of the Islamic Group in Cairo, said of the secular politicians.

Demonstrations on Sunday at the Supreme Constitutional Court led to its chief justice suspending all work in protest. The headline of Ahram Online read: ‘Besieged by Islamist protestors, court delays ruling on Constituent Assembly’. Attending this protest, I witnessed hundreds chanting against the court.

But I also witnessed scores of riot police securing the entrance, enabling anyone to go in or out.

SCC Islamist Protest

I write next of what may represent a liberal effort to discredit Islamists via the protest at the court. But there may well be other games as well by the other side:

In his [Morsi’s] earlier declaration the president issued two more months for this assembly to complete its work. But in this closed door meeting the message was different.

‘Either we accept the declaration, or the constitution would be voted on tomorrow [Thursday, November 29],’ said Messiha, referring to the message delivered by the president’s legal advisor Mohamed Gadallah. The president was forcing their hand, and they refused. Just like that, the two months disappeared.

But most of the article is given to direct quotes from protesting Islamists, such as this one:

‘We can go outside the law if necessary for the public interest,’ said Adel Mohamed, ‘and the wali al-amr [Islamic terminology for the leading governmental authority] has the right to define the public interest.

‘Morsi walks righteously because he knows God, whereas Mubarak [also a wali al-amr] put those who mentioned the name of God in prison.’

Some of the quotes will resonate, others will infuriate. I can only hope, though, that all were sincere. For the most part I did not feel Islamists were trying to sell me a bill of goods.

Now, the country must make that determination. The referendum on the constitution is scheduled for December 15. The next two weeks will be very interesting.

Please click here to read the rest of the article at EgyptSource.

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Solemn Ceremony and Contentious Politics Surround the Papal Throne

Pope Tawadros

From my new article on EgyptSource:

In a solemn, emotional ceremony, Pope Tawadros II was enthroned as the 118th Coptic Orthodox patriarch on Sunday, November 18.  Only one day earlier, a different atmosphere prevailed. Acting Patriarch Bishop Pachomious announced the withdrawal of church representation from the constituent assembly writing Egypt’s new constitution.

As Pope Tawadros took his seat on the papal chair of St. Mark, he was the picture of spiritual reflection. His demeanor was subdued, almost resigned to his new responsibilities. On a few occasions he shed a tear.

Two days prior, the church – behind closed doors – was the picture of enflamed political discussion.

Tawadros is the disciple of Pachomious, who spoke of his protégé:

Following the reading of the gospel, Pachomious introduced the new pope. Tawadros’ gravity was matched by Pachomious’ triumphal proclamation. “I tell him I will be his son and his servant,” stated Pachomious, “for we know the meaning of spiritual fatherhood.” He then exclaimed, driving home an intended contrast, “There is no struggle for authority in the Coptic Orthodox Church!”

The contrast, of course, is with the Egyptian political system, which the church strove hard to rise above.

But why would Pachomious make such a critical decision a day before the new pope, presumably, should start guiding these matters?

According to Bishop Yohanna Golta, Deputy Patriarch of the Coptic Catholic Church and its representative in the constituent assembly, the pope’s distance was deliberate. “The goal of Bishop Pachomious’s announcement … was to avoid entangling the new pope in this matter,” he said.

Politics entered the papal ceremony through another route – the decision of President Morsy not to attend. Many saw this as a failure to assuage the Copts amid an Islamist presidency, but others were relieved.

Perhaps Morsi, like Pachomious, also spared Tawadros the difficulty of political complications. The pope may prefer a non-politicized papacy, but this luxury may not be afforded until Egypt’s government stabilizes, if then.

And finally, here was the lead-up to the conclusion which needed to be edited out to fit with EgyptSources political focus:

Regardless of the explanation, during the ceremony Bishop Pachomious publically thanked President Morsy for sending a deputy, but focused on the spiritual definition of leadership.

‘We are the children of St. Mark,’ he said, ‘who taught us to wash each other’s feet.’ In this he referred to the example of Jesus, who took the place of a servant to wash the feet of his disciples.

Perhaps Pachomious and the church did so for Pope Tawadros, leaving him enough room to change the decision positively should circumstances warrant.

Though only speculation, perhaps it was these wranglings which produced Tawadros’ tears.

Please click here to read the whole article on EgyptSource.

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Israel’s Gaza Escalation Puts the Question to Brotherhood Rhetoric

Egypt Prime Minster Visits Hospital in Gaza

From my recent article on EgyptSource:

Yet from my perspective in Egypt, I wonder if the Israeli motivation is to test Cairo more than Hamas. Of course, domestic factors always outweigh international ones. But at the least Tel Aviv may wish to discover what sort of president it faces in Mohamed Morsy, if not seek to discredit him altogether.

Muslim Brotherhood rhetoric during the Mubarak administration was always to harshly condemn the state’s refusal to take decisive action against Israel vis-à-vis Palestine. Yet Mubarak was not shy to issue strong verbal condemnations against Israel, nor did he refrain from withdrawing his ambassador to Tel Aviv. Morsy’s government, to prove consistent, must do more.

Morsy is not the Muslim Brotherhood, officially, which allows for an undefined relation of influence and agency:

Interestingly, the Muslim Brotherhood called for massive protests on Friday, as did every other political force rallying behind Gaza. Opposition to Israel has always been a hallmark of every Egyptian political movement, but it is ironic to see liberal parties now in condemnation of an Islamist presidency’s failure to stand up to Israel. But the Brotherhood is not falling behind: It has called for cutting all ties.

Do they mean it? How much effort will they pour into protest mobilization? Are they forcing the hand of the president? Or are they simply covering themselves should Morsi’s obliged inaction have to be explained away later?

But maybe Israel is seeking more definition:

Perhaps Israel is nudging at one of these contradictions. Morsi and the Brotherhood built their power base on anti-Israeli rhetoric. Yet seeking the approval of the international community and commercial interests also pledged to respect all treaties. There is little wiggle room. If they imitate Mubarak’s outrage they risk losing the people. If they take decisive steps against Tel Aviv they risk losing credibility. Such are the demands of leadership; can they step up to the plate?

The full text notes also the domestic considerations of Israel’s actions, and notes as well certain conspiratorial factors involved. Please click here to read the article at EgyptSource.

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A Home with No Husbands: A Glimpse at Internal Egyptian Migration

Qufada Skyline

My article about life in an Upper Egyptian village published today on EgyptSource. Click here for the full article; excerpts are in the boxes that follow, interspersed by other material needed to be cut for focus or word count.

During a visit to the city of Maghagha to learn more about surrounding village life, the local priest brought me along to a family’s baptism party in Qufada, celebrating the forty day mark of their new baby boy. Earlier at mass the child received his rites of entrance into the Coptic Orthodox Church; it is conventional thereafter to invite the priest to their home for a meal.

The Coptic home of the now deceased patriarch, Shafik Khilla, in Qufada conveys few signs of luxury but has a dignity fitting proper village family life. The ground floor houses common areas such as the reception, kitchen, and bathroom facilities, as well as a place to store the family animals during the night. The upper level contains a single room for each of the five nuclear families who maintained residence. But is ‘nuclear’ a proper word when all the husbands are away?

Today, Shafik’s sons Masry and Ruweiss are elderly, peasant farmers like their father. They spend all day in the fields watching the animals, for if they were to join in the life of the house thieves might steal them away. The men return to bed with the beasts, privileged above them by life on the upper floor. Neither attended the church service for the baptism of their grandson.

Also absent were the three husbands of the home. Masry had three sons, Samir, Medhat, and Milad. Samir and Medhat married their cousins, the two daughters of Ruweiss. Milad had to step outside the family to marry, yet by appearance all six of their children avoided the genetic defects of intermarriage. All are in school or preschool.

In the article I describe how they found work outside the village. Speaking of one husband, the priest made his wife blush:

Milad, meanwhile, found a job as a clerk in Cairo, for which he earns roughly the same salary and comes home just as infrequently. The priest playfully asked his wife why she had missed early morning mass the week before. She looked at him sheepishly and replied, ‘Oh, you know, Father, my husband was home.’

The two younger wives also received education up to the high school level, which inspired Samir’s wife to also improve her situation. She took literacy classes from the church and recited in our presence a poem she crafted about Jesus and his love. Mother to three daughters, the priest wished for her a son. She demurred, denying cultural expectations, and expressed thanks to God for what she had. Still, the priest held up both his own example and described mine as well, where three girls were finally followed by a boy. He said he would pray.

Here is the root of the problem:

‘There is no opportunity to work in Qufada,’ states Fr. Yu’annis. ‘People finish their education, but because they have no land, money, or chance to open a project, they must search elsewhere. The only other option is to work the land as a peasant farmer. ‘Work can be found in the nearby city of Maghagha, says Fr. Yu’annis, but it pays poorly and transportation costs eat a quarter of the earnings.

And from the conclusion:

Amid the cries that Islamist government may whittle away the Christians of Egypt, a far more subtle phenomenon is underway. Christians, and their Muslim neighbors, are depopulating the villages of their ancestors, simply to find a better life elsewhere. Will Samir, Medhat, or Milad ever return to live in Qufada? How long can their families live there without them?

Demographic changes as these are not unique to Egypt. As the nation undergoes vast political upheaval, no less significant are these social realities. In fact, the question is fair: For the great majority of Egyptians, which is more significant – a president, or a husband?

Please click here for the full article. I’m glad for the chance to place more slice-of-life material in the blog, but the official version is crisp and better analysis – thanks to the professional editing which suggested to cut the above material in the first place.

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Misunderstanding Plagues the US Embassy Protest over anti-Muhammad Film: A First-Hand Account

As clashes continue in the areas surrounding the US Embassy, I have had opportunity to publish my account and analysis from the original incident on EgyptSource. Please click here for the article in full, and excerpts follow below:

The sad spectacle on display at the US Embassy in Cairo on September 11 shows nearly everyone in a poor light. Sadder still is that most parties involved acted from a sense of virtue, but misunderstanding and prejudice corroded the good intentions.

I next proceed to describe some of the background events as well as the misunderstandings on the part of the US Embassy and US media. Next follows perhaps the most crucial observation I gained:

The stranger inference is that the embassy was not surrounded from the beginning. The protest was announced in advance, and yet Egyptian riot police were present throughout the demonstration. Yet it was the army, absent the entire time, which secured the premises.

The US Embassy complex is surrounded by a high wall lining almost entirely the adjacent street. The entrance is located in the center of the wall. Black clad police with helmets and shields lined the wall to the right of the entrance, but yielded the left side to protesters. Essam, an older Salafi protester, told me the police deferred to the ‘Islamists’ to keep the youth under control.

Next follows viewpoints expressed by some of the participants, including these:

Consistently the crowd shouted, ‘With our lives and blood we will redeem you, oh Islam.’ Muhammad, another son of the Blind Sheikh, explained, “For any offense against Islam, the Muslim has the right to defend himself against the one who says it, and this slogan displays his love of his religion.

“Everything has its time and place. It makes no sense to issue simple good preaching during jihad. If someone is attacking you, you resist and fight back, you do not just say a good word.”

Another participant in the protests, Mustafa, who had returned to Egypt after living fifteen years in Brooklyn, commented further. “Those Copts making this film should be killed.”

The sad fact is that so few involved in this episode, whether gathered at surrounding the embassy or abroad, exhibit a will to understand and appreciate the other. For his part, Muhammad Abdel Rahman acknowledged the legitimacy of debate. “A Copt in Egypt may stand publically and state he does not believe in Muhammad. But there is a difference between discussion and insult.”

Yet where is the line to be drawn? What Muhammad might allow Mustafa might murder. Both act from the virtue of principle, yet each is open to the condemnation of fellow Muslims. Such difference in interpretation is witnessed in all actors.

The transition to conclusion involves weighing each actor on the basis of their motivation from virtue, only to be spoiled by misunderstanding. Of course, the virtue of each may be completely false, which is also considered. I end looking ahead to tomorrow, a day seeming increasingly ominous:

The test will come on Friday, when Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, have called for more demonstrations against the film. Meanwhile, their political arm the Freedom and Justice Party, described the film as “a failed attempt to stir strife between Muslims and Copts.”

These rallies will only cement the ill image many Arabs and Westerners have of one another. The former see the latter as irreligious libertines, while Muslims get labeled as oversensitive fanatics. It is a sad exchange, overcome only through awareness, acceptance, understanding, and respect. Will wiser heads prevail? Humankind is capable of great virtue, but it is easily marred.

Perhaps nothing of significance will take place, but the fear is that there is significant political capital to play with. Demonizing America has long been a feature of Egyptian domestic policy, even while official relations are maintained, even strengthened. President Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood again face the choice to imitate Mubarak, or change the political culture of Egypt.

But if they change, in what direction? Better, or worse?

Please click here for the full text.

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Morsy Moves against the Army: How to Write about it?

It has taken me a long time to write anything about the Sunday surprise: President Morsy forcing the resignation of senior military men Mohamed Tantawi and Sami Anan. At the same time, he unilaterally canceled the army announcement appropriating legislative authority and constitutional oversight to itself. Morsy then gave himself these privileges.

Much of my delay was due to shock, the rest due to efforts to figure out what it all meant.

My first response came almost a week later by necessity, as I am glad for the habit of writing Friday Prayers. It was very helpful to try to frame the event in a manner all people here could pray.

Morsy’s moves were good, but not as good as some make them out to be. They were also bad, but not as bad as others make them out to be.

Certainly the army leadership was guilty of mismanagement during the democratic transition, if not worse. Moreover, it was never fitting for the military to formally take the powers it did, even if there were justifying factors.

In one sense Morsy put things right, but by taking power to himself he put them wrong again.

One of the main reasons the revolution railed against Mubarak was over his dictatorial command of the regime. Now, as the beneficiary of the revolution, Morsy has even more power.

Yet while this image is there, it should be drawn in. Morsy could not have sacked army leadership without the help of junior army leadership. These may be less adversarial in public, but in private may still act as a check on his power.

The question is, if this is true, are they a check on his revolutionary and democratic ambitions, or on his Islamist ambitions? Which does Morsy hold closer to his heart?

In contemplating this question I recalled a conversation I had with a leading Coptic media figure several months ago. Then I found a new writing opportunity, resulting in my first full reflection on Morsy’s gambit, published yesterday at Egypt Source. I wrote:

The worried Coptic voice interprets this as a grand scheme to implement an Islamic state. The frustrated liberal voice interprets it as evidence of their Machiavellian lust for power. Both may be right.

But what if the Brotherhood really means it? ‘Trust us’ may not result in everything the Copt or the liberal desire, but it may reflect a real Brotherhood wish to honor the goals of the revolution in respect to the conservative social reality of Egypt.

Or perhaps I have the wool pulled over my eyes.

In November of last year following the Islamist victory in the first round of parliamentary elections, I interviewed Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Coptic newspaper Watani. Imagining I would hear alarm bells from an intellectual leader in the community, I was surprised by the exact opposite.

“I believe the Muslim Brotherhood wants to prove they can create a form of democracy,” Sidhom said, “that respects the rights of all Egyptians.” He went on to describe several positive pre-election meetings with Brotherhood leaders, from which he was convinced they were ‘decent people’.

Yet when asked why they would not submit to a consensus over binding constitutional principles, his answer has echoed in my mind in all events since.

“Perhaps … they don’t want it said, ‘They did so only because they were forced to.’”

Click here to continue reading the article.

Upon finishing the article I had the disquieting feeling I had functioned as an apologist for the Muslim Brotherhood.

But here is the rub. The West enjoys liberal governance and has for decades. The revolution in Egypt is only now seeking its creation. Does the Brotherhood seek this? If so, they may need an autocratic moment to give it birth. All their concentration of power may be to show themselves the ultimate servant, when they bequeath it back to the people.

They should not be given the benefit of the doubt – there is no room for this in politics. The possibility, however, needs to be raised.

I am very cautious. Most testimony I have heard across the Egyptian political spectrum is that Morsy is a good man. I believe that power corrupts; while a man can be a benevolent dictator or philosopher king, a system cannot.

Is Morsy ushering in a new era, or is the Muslim Brotherhood ushering in a new system?

Only time will tell.

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