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Current Events

Arab Spring Again? Christians in Sudan and Algeria Cheer Regime Change

Bashir Bouteflika

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on April 18.

…early signs are promising. On April 10, one day before Bashir’s arrest, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) leading protests put out a call for Christian participation, acknowledging “you have suffered sectarian and psychological restrictions for years … [which have left you] without the right to worship freely.”

Shortly thereafter the SPA declared “Christ is the heart of the revolution,” and cited “blessed are the peacemakers.”

On April 14, Sudanese Christians responded.

Leaders from the Evangelical Presbyterian, Baptist, and Church of Christ denominations in Sudan appeared at a sit-in at military headquarters, offering hymns sung by both Christians and Muslims.

“This is a time to move away from the trenches of religious and ethnic discrimination and head towards an inclusive and unifying Sudanese national identity for all of us,” said Rafaat Masaad, head of the Evangelical Synods in Sudan.

“We must make a covenant that we will not withdraw or accept anything less than a new Sudan ruled by humanity and citizenship.”

Sudan, however, is not the only version of Arab Spring, Part Two. The military in Algeria removed their aged president on April 2 following widespread protests that began in February. The wheel-chair bound 82-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was attempting to secure his fifth term in office.

Unlike Bashir, Bouteflika was a beloved figure. A popular politician in his youth, he fell out of favor but returned in 1999 to put an end to the decade-long civil war that began when the military nixed an Islamist election victory that eventually killed up to 200,000 people.

A secularist of sorts, Bouteflika was an autocrat who allowed limited Islamist space of action. An Algerian Muslim Brotherhood figure was among the tentative opposition candidates against Bouteflika’s fifth-term ambitions. But al-Qaeda called from the outside for protests to impose an Islamic state, declaring Bouteflika was a friend of Christians and Jews.

The World Christian Database counts Christians as only 0.3 percent of the population, while Open Doors ranks Algeria No. 22 in its watch list, though one year earlier it ranked No. 42.

The Algerian Protestant Church, consisting mainly of former Muslims, and known by its French acronym EPA, was registered officially in 2011. But in practice it faces many restrictions, with houses of worship liable to be shut down.

“Since the beginning of the year, all the churches have begun to pray and fast for the elections,” said an unidentified Algerian Open Doors source, knowing the results are “unpredictable” but aiming for better legal standing.

“We hope that the Lord intervenes in our country.”

But on March 22, with the protests fully engaged, the EPA put out an official statement.

“We Algerian Christians, as equal Algerian citizens, fully share the aspirations and the legitimate demands of the Algerian people in their peaceful fight for a modern and democratic Republic,” it declared, “where the fundamental rights of the citizen will be respected and protected, no matter what their political and religious convictions may be.”

Will they receive their wish? Will Sudan? …

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today, with links to the supporting publications.

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Uncategorized

Sisi, ISIS, Tunisia, and Arab Spring Values

Sisi - ISIS

In a recent article at Foreign Policy, Iyad el-Baghdadi described the near-eternal and present dichotomy hoisted upon the Middle East: Support a dictator, or his overthrow via violent Islamism. He finds an ironic symbolism in that the names of Sisi and ISIS are spelled backwards, and describes their evils as parallel.

Near the end of the article he reasserts the hope that motivated many in early 2011:

The Arab Spring is about believing that we don’t have to eternally choose between these two evils, and that we can present a real alternative. Arab Spring activists come from across the political spectrum, but they share a belief in fundamental individual rights, coexistence within one political system, and an open marketplace for ideas. These are the people who represent me — and whom I hope to have successfully, if briefly, represented in a public forum.

These are worthy values, and the author was briefly critical of others beside Sisi and ISIS in his critique:

Both extremes are born out of the same twentieth-century political culture that gave us authoritarian interpretations of just about every ideology: authoritarian Islamism, authoritarian nationalism, authoritarian socialism, and even, yes, authoritarian liberalism. Both view human rights not as inviolable or inherent, but as granted by the state, which can then reduce or suspend them at will. And both envision a state in which some people have less rights than others.

…..

Both sides have a deeply exclusionary, “with us or against us” worldview that manifests itself in a profound refusal to coexist with others. In the run-up to the 2012 elections, we saw the Mubarak-associated figure Shafik hint at banning Islamist parties should he get elected; during Morsi’s term we then watched Islamist discourse squeeze the space for civil society.

It would be worthy to dialogue with Baghdadi (the author, not the caliph!) about his opinion of the Muslim Brotherhood, for his criticism of them is far less severe, at least in this article. Indeed, he has tweeted and written prolifically, so his analysis is available.

But within the opening quote and listing of values comes a very poignant highlight: the open marketplace of ideas. Egypt did experience this open marketplace during its revolutionary period. With full respect to the diverse forces influencing public opinion, Egyptians overwhelmingly chose the Brotherhood and Salafis over the vision Baghdadi presents. Then, perhaps over and against his vision again, they overwhelming rejected Morsi.

The system that could tolerate this pendulum was never established, and perhaps this is Baghdadi’s lament. If left alone, would the Brotherhood have helped its establishment? Or are they just a milder version of ISIS, focused on a long term Islamization inconsistent with Baghdadi’s vision?

One problem is that the system the Brotherhood helped establish through their 2012 constitution enshrined an illiberalism antithetical to this vision. Shadi Hamid has explored this theme in his writing. Islamist organizations tend to moderate while in opposition, but then revert to their extremes when in power. But if such an illiberalism is what people vote for, if it wins the marketplace of ideas, how does it square with Baghdadi’s desire for fundamental individual rights?

He does not want to be forced back into a dichotomy, and this is noble. But would his vision have been able to triumph over time, allowing the people to reject Morsi four years later? Or eight? Or…

Perhaps, though the argument of urgency on the part of anti-Islamists is well known. To summarize, the Brotherhood would do all it could to sink its teeth into the existing system, to gain control of its levers and use it to their own advantage.

Fair or unfair, there is a distinction between the two current camps in the Egyptian struggle. The ideology of the Brotherhood — at its end goal, not necessarily through its stages or current rhetoric — does not support Baghdadi’s vision.

  • Fundamental individual rights: These are curbed by sharia, however variously defined.
  • Open marketplace of ideas: There are religious norms not allowed to be touched.
  • Coexistence within one political system: …

Here is the rub, and am I trying to find a comparison. A socialist versus capitalist vision of the economy can be very divergent. But European nations have navigated a path that has allowed various governments to traverse the path in different directions.

But how much allowance can there be for a democratic versus communistic approach to the state? Should the open marketplace of ideas, ostensibly welcomed in a democracy, allow momentum to build that would overthrow the system that enshrines it?

This later comparison seems closer to the struggle in Egypt. Liberal forces in Egypt have enshrined liberal values (to a degree) in the constitution, however much they recognize the violations used in putting down pro-Morsi protests, understanding also the violations on the part of certain protestors.

The question for this camp is if it will tolerate, or be able to resist, the continual violation. That is, will they accept reversion to Baghdadi’s dichotomy? The Mubarak regime held forward liberal values for thirty years — and all the while implemented a state of emergency that made it easy to circumvent them.

In all this, perhaps Baghdadi, like many, will find hope in Tunisia. The United States, two centuries ago, began a political experiment that removed religion from the sphere of the state, setting up a system meant to guard liberty and freedom. It has endured numerous contradictions along the years, but has been largely successful.

Now, Tunisia is beginning a political experiment that is seeking to integrate a religious, Islamist element. Will it be successful? Many Tunisians are worried, for in creating a system that allowed coexistence they had to beat back Islamist efforts to encode religion into the constitution. Efforts to do so in 2012 with the Brotherhood were not successful – the Brotherhood chose even more conservative Salafis as their partner. But the Brotherhood and the Tunisian Nahda come from the same family tree.

Is Nahda simply postponing a greater Islamizing goal? But more to the point, perhaps, of Baghdadi’s hope: Will the system created allow for the emergence and entrenchment of his Arab Spring values?

Consider the recent anti-liberal political moves of Turkey’s Islamist Erdogan, after an extended period of winning democratic elections. Will Tunisian Islamists consistently nudge and needle against values they have temporarily accepted? Will fear of a similar Islamist agenda lead to preemptive crackdown against them? Time will tell.

But the experiment is on, and perhaps Baghdadi and other activists frustrated with the dichotomy have a fledgling example of a third way.

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Current Events

The Face of the Former NDP

Suleiman al-Hout (L), with Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehlab. (via New Republic)
Suleiman al-Hout (L), with Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehlab. (via New Republic)

Much has been speculated about the coming Egyptian parliament being dominated by figures who used to belong to the National Democratic Party of former President Hosni Mubarak. Given the favor conveyed to the January 25 activists, this proposition scares many.

Perhaps it should. The understanding of the old parliamentary system was that it was a non-ideological patronage network, living off corruption while extending government, business, and other services. It certainly was neither clean nor efficient.

But it was human. Unfortunately, few carry the stories of such figures beyond their ugly caricature. Fortunately, this article from New Republic does, profiling Suleiman al-Hout.

In 2007, Suleiman al-Hout had a problem. Local officials in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia refused to license the food-cart from which he sold kebda, or fried liver, a common Egyptian street food. At first he asked a relative who sat on Ismailia’s local council to intercede on his behalf, but to no avail. So Hout took matters into his own hands. He walked into the local headquarters of then-President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP) with one simple question: “How can I vote for you?”

Within two years, Hout was a card-carrying NDP activist with excellent government and business connections, which he put to good use by “solving problems” for others. He frequently acted as an intermediary between local businessmen and the poor, between his neighbors and the electricity ministry, and, of course, between food-cart owners and the registration bureau. If your mother-in-law needed special medical care, he could get you into the top government-run hospital. If you had a problem at a nearby police station, he knew the officers. If there was a street fight, his “men”about 30–40 toughs, depending on the eveningtook care of it. And if street combatants didn’t accept his intervention? Well, that never happened. “They know that if they don’t respect me, I’ll take it personally,” he darkly boasts.

The author, Eric Trager, compares Hout to a different fruit cart vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian who launched the Arab Spring when he set himself on fire to protest inability to obtain a license. But the question is fair: Whose reaction was superior?

Trager continues to chronicle Hout’s political activity during the revolution and throughout the period of Brotherhood rule. It is insightful and comical, a precious insight to how life was actually lived on the streets during this time, far from the rhetoric issued by both sides.

But Hout himself allows Trager to conclude with the common ‘ugly caricature’ that so infuriates many Egyptians, and certainly those who desire a transparent, non-patronage system:

But four months after Sisi’s inauguration, Hout feels let down. “I was among the first to call for Sisi to run for president,” he told me. “And I still haven’t made my money back yet. I have no job, no position, and it makes me angry. … He didn’t give us our rights.”

By “rights,” Hout means a high-level governmental appointment, such as serving as an assistant to a minister or governor. Hout was sure that this would be his reward for mobilizing his patronage network to support Sisi, since this is the way things have historically worked in Ismailia. “I deserve it!” Hout, who has a high school education, insisted. “I served this country. I am an eyewitness against the Brotherhood in two [court] cases. And I returned that vehicle to the police, which costs 450,000 Egyptian pounds.”

Instead, Hout is living off of the local businessmen who fund his patronage network, and growing more frustrated by the day. “[Sisi’s] chance is, maximum, one month,” Hout told me. “If he doesn’t give us our rights, it’s thank you, goodbye. … If I don’t take my rights, I will be very angry and you never know what my reaction might be.”

In lieu of a governmental appointment, Hout intends to run in the upcoming parliamentary elections. “I think I deserve to go [to parliament], and I wish to go,” he told me. “But it depends on the arrangements.” Hout explained that he’s still waiting for businessmen to back his campaign. “A businessman will pay, and I’ll be his face in the parliament,” Hout said. “This is normal.”

And apparently, this is normal Egyptian politics. It is also human.

Reform is necessary, and entrenched inertia is no excuse to refuse it. But have patience, and be sympathetic. This is life on the streets.

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Current Events

Egypt: Into the Unknown

From the Arabist, a long and worthy read on the past three years in the Arab world. From excitement to fear to depression, there are still deeper changes afoot. Here are a few excerpts especially poignant to Egypt:

The traditional elites are fearful of change, perhaps now more so than pre-2011, and do not appear to have this in mind. Medium-term survival is trumping long-term vision; their obsession with preserving their ascendency open-endedly is plunging their countries into the abyss. Their best argument is that the emerging elites, who could only be Islamist, are part of the old paradigm and have proven to be as power-hungry and inefficient as their predecessors. The old fallacy of stability is holding back the need for trial and error, however cautious. This bodes badly for the future. Cycles of discontent will likely repeat themselves, with the costs and barriers to change increasing each time.

And here is the practical result:

The framework is therefore a mixture of gridlock and vacuum. There are no broadly appealing ideologies, in the east or west. Economically, Western capitalism—a frequent substitute for failing political paradigms—is in crisis. In many quarters, once again apathy towards political engagement is growing, manifested in part by a retrenchment into one’s immediate community, isolationism, or virulent nationalism. People are trying to navigate the economy and society for individual survival rather than big ideas. Democracy is being tested; populism is order of the day. Modernity is bringing an identity crisis to the region as it has elsewhere. The role of Islam, which for a century has been perceived by many thinkers and citizens around the Arab world as a solution to all its ills, remains ill-defined and on trial. As a reaction, in many quarters Islamic ideology is becoming more assertive, less open to change and ever less likely to provide a fruitful structure.

Trying to find a silver lining:

Third, in this context, the challenging, slowly and painfully, of all the old narratives—pan-Arabist, nationalist, various shades of Islamism, anti-imperialism, “the resistance”—is ultimately positive because none of them work. They are used reflexively to fill a vacuum, to cover up for a lack of program, vision or ethic, and they are constantly belied and undermined by reality. Events, in a sense, are calling every narrative’s bluff.

Perhaps it is too early to judge the nationalist narrative, as Egypt is currently in the midst of (re)employing it. In any case, the author wisely ends with current reality:

That, of course, is the optimistic view. Until then, for those living through the tumult, it is all about surviving to see another, more hopeful day.

In speaking with a new, friendly family we have met recently, the young husband asked me of my opinion on the constitution, having told them I have been interviewing some of the authors. I told of my experience more than my opinion, but that I was impressed by the manner in which committee members engaged with each other and the issues.

He reacted somewhat angrily, however, about his own possible participation in the referendum. The anger, if that is the right word, seeped out as if it had been bottled up, and was certainly not directed at me.

He is just waiting things out, he said, unsure about everything. The way I write that suggests resignation, but it was issued with a tension that made our friendly visit somewhat awkward. Recognizing the fact, everyone quickly changed the conversation.

But upon reflection, and after reading the article, this husband is exactly the person from whom to test the young generational waters, living within but without clarity of all the author expresses. It is from him the coming order will emerge – however long that takes.

And that, if the author is correct, is into a future yet unknown. There is no model. Enjoy the ride.

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Current Events

Poetry on the Third Anniversary of the Alexandria Church Bombing

Blood on the church wall in Alexandria (L); Poet Ahmed Fouad Negm (R)
Blood on the church wall in Alexandria (L); Poet Ahmed Fouad Negm (R)

At midnight of New Year’s Eve celebrations at the Two Saints Coptic Orthodox Church in Alexandria, Egypt, a bomb exploded as the crowd began to exit, killing 23. The horrific event birthed a tremendous display of Muslim-Christian unity, as a week later on Coptic Christmas churches were packed with Muslims showing solidarity, willing to die with their Christian friends should a similar attack happen again. The local priest in Maadi said that Christmas was the ‘happiest of his life‘.

The unity following the bombing spilled over into the January 25 revolution, giving a power to the demonstrations that has long since dissipated. But at the time it was contagious, capturing domestic and world attention alike, launching the Arab Spring after its birth in Tunisia.

One of the celebrants was Ahmed Fouad Negm, known in Egypt as ‘the poet of the people’ and a firm revolutionary supporter. He died this month on December 3, but is mentioned here for his poem lamenting the Alexandria attack. Thanks to Paul Attallah for bringing this beautiful work to my attention:

These people say God is love

And we all know how dangerous love is.

So, victorious hero, you had to murder helpless women,

Unarmed pensioners and innocent children to save us all

From the terrible possibility of love.

Botros and Mina should be killed.

Their brothers are already dead in Sinai

And their sons danced at your wedding

And offered their condolences at the funerals.

Marie and Aunt Thérèse deserve to die.

They are people of little virtue.

They always smile in a certain way

And say: Welcome. We value your visit.

And what about your Uncle Hanna?

Whatever the dispute, he intervenes to defend you.

He is so keen on reconciliation

That he cannot be admitted into paradise

You had better murder Sami Nagui Nagib too.

To be honest, I have my doubts about him.

He might be one of them.

He might even have a cross tattooed on his arm.

No, even better, bomb Shubra;

The Kit Kat and Opera House Squares;

Make a grave of the crater in each of these places.

The locals can take it as a warning.

Our God is called The Generous One.

One day you may appear before Him.

You will stand in His presence

And He will ask: What did these people do to you?

For what crime did you kill them who and how and why?

So tell me, hero, how will you respond, what will you say?

May God comfort the families of the victims, bring to justice the culprits, and protect Egypt from similar violence this Christmas season.

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Personal

Revolution and Happiness

To those young men and women and idealists of all sorts who looked longingly at the first wave of the Arab Spring:

Here, courtesy of the United Nations via Ahram Online, is a sobering statistic:

A report published by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network has listed Egypt as the 130th most happy nation out of 156 surveyed.

Egypt’s happiness rate dropped by 21.2 percent in comparison with 2005-2007, according to the 2013 World Happiness Report which was published in September.

According to the report, countries in the Middle East and North Africa have witnessed a decrease of nearly 60 percent in their “happiness rate.”

In today’s day and age, much of what can be considered happiness is tied to the feeling of belonging to and working for good in something greater than oneself. I certainly understand how the heroic example of the Arab Spring qualifies.

For those living this reality, however, it is not working out so well.

This is a good reminder of two things: Commitment must outlast the temporary vagaries of ‘happiness’, and, it is very important to chose that commitment wisely.

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Personal

Will Islamism Yield to Christianity?

I was invited to comment on an article posted on the Mission of God blog, concerning the inevitability of the Arab Spring turning Islamist, and then the rejection of Islamism for Christianity. Please click here for the video post; my response (slightly edited) follows below.

I think Dr. Cashin’s core point is correct: A system that does not allow questioning of itself cannot stand. But there were a few points which lacked sufficient nuance. A great number of the Arabs in their revolution (at least in Egypt) did not choose Islamists out of love for Islam, but because they were the only viable alternative. While many others did so because they believed (or were told) it was God’s will, what is happening is not a massive choice for Islam.

Now, the MB in Egypt may well become a dictatorial force. Some signs are there as is the lack of organized opposition. Yet this is more likely to be along the lines of a Mubarak-NDP system than an Iranian imitation.

But, there are other indications which suggest the Islamism of the MB is akin to Protestantism, causing a shaking of the traditional religious establishments, such as the Azhar. I don’t predict an open, liberal system for Egypt, nor a full freedom for religious contemplation, but it could happen.

The recent Pew Survey of the world’s Muslims suggests that the level of religiosity among younger Muslims is much less than of the older generation. And while I maintain suspicion over MB promises to lead Egypt into democracy, I do imagine the economic and educational systems will improve. These factors are more likely to free the societies from the constraints of religious dogma, much like happened in European Christendom.

So, yes, if the MB seeks to impose religious hegemony over Egypt, it will eventually fail. But will this result in a massive turning to Christianity? It is fair to imagine, simply speaking sociologically – not in terms of faith claims in either direction – and as Dr. Cashin states, Iran provides an interesting case study. But the more likely result is the general turning away from religion – a process already underway among many youths. The nominal holding of a faith is far easier than the deliberate acceptance of another. The MB will bring an Islamic religious revival to many, but it will only hold if they foster freedom.

Dr. Cashin’s point is that they cannot – Islam as a religion constrains them. It is a fair point and there are examples to back him up. But Europe’s Christian culture also constrained questioning of Christianity, and if OT examples are used there are good Biblical texts that forbid religion from being questioned. Yet society moved on. Will it in the Arab world? It will be messy, but I think the answer is ultimately yes. Perhaps in this Dr. Cashin and I are agreed, but I leave open the possibility for the MB to be a partner in the process.

A very useful discussion though, and there are few certainties at all.

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Personal

Orient and Occident Magazine

Orient and Occident Magazine is a publication of the Anglican Diocese of Egypt, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa. I have been working with the church on the project for a little under a year, and am proud to announce the first issue is now complete and online.

O&O is scheduled to be an online, quarterly, bilingual magazine. Its goal is to serve primarily Arab Christians of the region in providing articles that consider the intersection of the values of faith and the issues of society.

Many Christians have a strong sense of spirituality; many others are active in political life or defense of their community. Orient and Occident seeks to bring these worlds together – what practical difference should Christian values make for the good of all?

Love, peace, forgiveness, mercy, grace, justice. By no means are these Christian values alone. Orient and Occident also welcomes Muslim and non-religious writers to contribute – and seeks their readership – so that these values might increasingly find expression in the public lives of the region’s people.

Of course, there will be disagreement over how these values should be expressed. Orient and Occident will strive to welcome all opinions. It aims to take no editorial stand, except to insist on a perspective shaped by the values of faith.

The articles of the summer edition include:

  • It All Began Here (the Anglican Church and the Middle East)
  • Tunisian Christians and the Arab Spring (how they contributed, that they exist)
  • My Story with the Thug (necessary introspection of a societal crisis)
  • Political Choices and the Confusion of Believers (facing a presidential vote)
  • Religious Pluralism in Egypt in the Near Future (on Protestantism and Islamism)
  • The Truth No One Talks About (sectarian tension and its roots)
  • Two Cities (Augustine’s vision and Egyptian reality)
  • Caravan Reflections (contemplating a recent art exhibition)
  • Poisons We Love (on the dangers of sugar)
  • The Killer of Dreams (short story on parental expectations)
  • Two Faced (on political and religious hypocrisy)

In addition to articles, Orient and Occident features Christian bloggers from the Arab world. As these post new material to their site, O&O will automatically feature it in chronological order. Currently there are 17 bloggers featured, but we hope this number will grow as our magazine becomes better known.

Please click here to visit Orient and Occident, the English version. We hope you will enjoy it; please share widely to help this idea become better known.

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Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Clinton Visits Morsy amid Coptic Protests

Outside the US Embassy in Cairo

Traditionally, it is the Copts who look to America for support of their minority rights. With the Muslim Brotherhood now in the presidency, though not in full power, some Copts wonder if the United States is switching sides.

The statement of ‘looking to America’ should not be taken as normative. The Orthodox Church and most leaders of influence insist on Egyptian solutions to Egyptian problems. They believe an appeal to the West would brand Copts as traitors in their own land. Average Copts, however, often state a sentiment of longing for America – either for pressure on Cairo or as an escape through emigration.

Amid frequent meetings between Islamists and members of the US administration, however, some Copts believe Washington’s interests are beginning to trump its commitment to human rights.

Bishoy Tamry

‘We believe there is an alliance between the Obama administration and the Muslim Brotherhood,’ stated Bishoy Tamry, a member of the political bureau of the Maspero Youth Union, a mostly Coptic revolutionary group formed after attacks on Egyptian churches. ‘This alliance is to support fascism in the Middle East.

‘The US thinks the Muslim Brotherhood will protect their interests in the region, but this will be over our bodies as minorities.’

The revolutionary character of the Maspero Youth Union plays a role in seeing the United States making a deal with the devil.

‘We knew the next president must have US support,’ Tamry continued, ‘because the military council rules Egypt and the US pays the military council.’

Most of the United State’s foreign aid to Egypt is in the form of military support, with smaller percentages given to economic and civil society development.

A few hundred people gathered at the US Embassy in Cairo to protest the visit of Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State. Early chants at the demonstration included, ‘The people and the army are one hand’, but these were silenced by Maspero Youth Union leaders. Tamry explained their group called for an open protest, and some attendees see the military council as the best means to limit or even depose Islamist rule.

One such group is the supporters of Egyptian television presenter Tawfiq Okasha, somewhat comparable to America’s Glenn Beck. These are strong supporters of the military council and clashed briefly with assembled protestors when they arrived, according to Ramy Kamel, an independent Coptic activist helping organize the demonstration. This drove the protest ten minutes south to the Four Seasons Hotel.

According to Nader Shukry, the media spokesman for the Maspero Youth Union, the United States is looking to preserve its interests after the Arab Spring shook their control of local governments. Yet their eye is not on the region’s good, but on its destruction.

‘[The US] knows Islamist rule will bring ruin to these countries, and the best evidence of this is their previous experience.’

As for proof of this alliance, it is found in their frequent meetings.

‘We see evidence in the pre-election visits of US representatives to the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters,’ said Tamry. ‘If the US was looking simply to political representatives it would have visited their Freedom and Justice Party.’

Others see this reasoning as absurd.

‘The United States has relations with every nation in the world,’ said Raed Sharqawi, an investigative journalist present at the demonstration.

‘The United States is also the shield for the Copts, and always will be. This protest is foolish.’

During Clinton’s visit she asked President Morsy to ‘assert the full authority of his position’. The president is currently engaged in a struggle with the military council over the dissolution of parliament. His party, the FJP is also pushing him to confront the military over its supplementary constitutional declaration to preserve some of its powers until a new constitution is written. Clinton did state the details of the transition should be left to the Egyptian people to determine, but urged the military return to its role of protecting the borders.

It is an open and contested question if the military is seeking to preserve its power and resist the revolution, or if it is defending democracy against a premature Islamist takeover of all institutions of government.

Nevertheless, whether the demonstrations against Clinton are foolish or astute, it is a dramatic step for a segment of the Coptic community to turn against the United States so publicly.

Translation: No to the Brotherhood-American Alliance to Interfere in Egyptian Issues. (Pictured: Hillary Clinton and MB General Guide Mohamed Badie)

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Personal

CNN in Cairo: Ben Wedeman

It is not an Arab Spring, says Ben Wedeman, CNN’s Senior Correspondent in Cairo, as it has lasted through several seasons, and is likely to continue several more. He prefers the term Arab Revolt, and believes there is no going back.

Wedeman spoke at the Abraham Forum hosted by St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in Maadi, Egypt on March 22. The forum is directed by church rector Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler, and aims to promote dialogue between religions and cultures for the sake of peace and better understanding. The title of Wedeman’s lecture was ‘Reflections on the Current Middle East’.

Wedeman began with a question he is often asked: Did you see it coming? While he said the conventional wisdom on Egypt was that with Mubarak’s looming death a power struggle would soon emerge, no one anticipated Tunisia. Yet with the level of education and demographics of youth, the gains of the Arab Revolt are here to stay, even as the struggle will likely continue for a while to come.

Wedeman’s lecture walked the audience through the harbingers of the revolt in Egypt, stating why there was some evidence discontent was in the air. In 2000 several thousand Cairo University students protested Israeli policy in Palestine and Egyptian complicity. In 2003 there were clashes between police and protestors in Tahrir Square over the US invasion of Iraq.

Shortly thereafter the nation went temporarily silent as Mubarak collapsed while addressing parliament on State TV. Finally, in 2008 the protests at Mahalla al-Kubra in the Nile Delta witnessed significant anger against Mubarak himself, with demonstrators smashing his picture and stomping upon it.

Still, the January 25 protests caught everyone by surprise. Whereas during even the sizeable protests of the past there were at least five policemen per demonstrator, on this occasion the security forces were overwhelmed. Being on the street, Wedeman noticed as well they were largely new, young conscripts, whose fear was palpable in their visage.

Among the noteworthy anecdotes Wedeman shared was his comment to a fellow journalist following an ‘alternate reality’ speech given by then-speaker of Egypt’s upper house, Safwat el-Sharif at the headquarters of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, given on January 28.

Wedeman told his colleague to take a picture of this building, as he wasn’t sure it would last much longer. That evening, on the Day of Rage, it burned.

The evening grew even more interesting as Rev. Chandler opened the floor for questions and answers. The following is a capsule of the different topics:

SCAF?

I think the military council will hand over power as they have promised, as they do not want the responsibility of running the country. What they want is to keep their significant perks, as they control between 30-40% of the economy. SCAF will go back to their barracks while they maintain an influence, but their fate will be decided by their coming interactions with the elected parties.

Syria?

I can’t predict anything, but unlike Egypt there is a significant percentage of the population which is truly afraid of what will happen if the regime falls. The consequences could get very nasty. I recently spoke with activists in Jordan and asked if they were planning to push forward. No, they replied, we have been watching Syria and we think it is best to give reform a chance first.

Iran in Syria?

Certainly Iran has a lot at stake in Syria, as it is their main connection to the Arab World. Yet the news that their Quds forces have been operating is not sure, as it is mainly reported by Washington and Tel Aviv, where news should always be taken with a grain of salt. Iran’s interest is comparable to that of the Sunni Gulf states, which are heavily calling for the fall of Assad. It underscores a Sunni-Shia split in which the Gulf States are now retaliating against the interference of the Iranian regime in their region following the Khomeini revolution.

Egypt becoming Pakistan?

This is not a realistic scenario, because the Egyptian character will push back against the extremism which is seen in Pakistan. Yes, Egyptians are very religious, but they have a long history of welcoming foreigners and do not have a deep hatred of the ‘other’. Having a significant percentage of the population as Christians also works against a Pakistan outcome, as seen in the example of the historic Wafd Party.

Saudi Arabia?

Ah, they are the elephant in the room. Even President George Bush’s democracy promotion agenda left Saudi Arabia off the table. Their influence through oil is simply too large to ignore. There have been demonstrations there, which have been met with violence. Yet here we see how the interests of the West trump their principles – and then some. But yes, they definitely need change, especially in the area of women’s rights.

Muslim Brotherhood?

I see the Brotherhood as pragmatic businessmen who know they must compromise to get and stay in power. I’m not worried about them in the short term, as opposed to the Salafis, who are more hardline and seem to have come out of nowhere. But it is always a concern when a political group puts religion as a central focus. Religion is a least common denominator which serves to divide. Take Hizbollah, for example. It means ‘Party of God’. If you are against the party of God, you are against God, and if against God, you are an infidel. Still, many in the Brotherhood refer to the example of Turkey, which is not that bad a model, actually.

Democracy with Islamists?

It seems clear that the Salafis are not converts to democracy as an end but as a means to power. The Brotherhood is different, as they have struggled for decades to get into politics, even being persecuted. They talk the talk of democracy, but now they will be put to the test. The reality of governance will probably not allow them to descend into extremism.

Salafis?

Salafi success in the elections was surprising, but they out-Brotherhood-ed the Brotherhood. They engaged in social service work both traditionally and with the elections, and pulled on the power of religious allegiance. Yet it should be noted the Salafis have a long relationship with Egyptian intelligence, which sees them as a counter-weight to their ‘archenemy’ the Muslim Brotherhood. For instance the head of the Salafi Asala Party used to be the head of the Mugamma, the central administrative building in Cairo – just without a beard. Many parts of the regime fell with the revolution, but others remained, chief among them the intelligence services.

 

Ben Wedeman has won numerous awards in his journalism career and speaks many languages, even dabbling in classical Mongolian. He is married with three children.

 

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