Categories
Current Events

To Defend Mideast Christians, Can Advocates Critique Islam?

Advocates Critique Islam
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

This article was first published in the January print edition of Christianity Today.

What’s the best way for Middle Eastern Christians in America to help fellow believers back home? A single misspelled email address inadvertently revealed the breadth of this dilemma for activists in the diaspora.

The mishap sparked a spat this summer between two prominent US Arab groups: the Arab American Institute (AAI), a polling and policy organization led by James Zogby, and Coptic Solidarity (CS), which champions the religious freedom of Egyptian Christians and other minorities.

Zogby, who has a Lebanese Maronite background, was a scheduled participant in CS’s annual Washington conference, which leaders often use to advise DC’s foreign policy establishment on Middle East issues.

But two days before the June 15 conference, Zogby unexpectedly withdrew.

Zogby explained in an article weeks later that he withdrew after receiving word that some controversial anti-Muslim “hate groups” would be at the conference and that the title of a panel in which he was participating had been revised to suggest that violence and impunity are endemic in Muslim and Egyptian culture.

“The best way to reinforce the message of the haters of Christians in Egypt is by giving them the ammunition that Copts in the US are working with Islamophobes in Washington,” Zogby told CT. “I felt it important to call out CS for what I strongly believe is a wrong-headed and potentially dangerous path.”

Stunned by Zogby’s withdrawal and his public criticism, CS wrote an angry response, accusing Zogby of a “dhimmi mentality,” a reference to the secondary status of non-Muslims in the historic caliphate.

“He intentionally tried to hijack our event and tarnish our reputation,” Lindsay Griffin, CS’s director of advocacy and development, told CT.

According to organizers, participants had received the revised speaker list and panel names a full month before the conference. But Zogby didn’t. His email address was misspelled, so he never received a May 9 message outlining the changes that later led him to withdraw.

But while the spark that ignited the conflict between the groups was an honest mistake, the issues at the center of the dilemma are real…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

Categories
Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Placating Salafis for Constitutional Passage?

Placating Salafis

From my recent article in Arab West Report, about warnings that Salafis, despite only having one member in the Committee of Fifty to amend the 2012 Constitution, were nonetheless exerting undue influence against a liberalizing majority. Some argued they were being placated on several issues so as to keep them involved in support of the overall roadmap:

Arab West Report does not here differ with Coptic Solidarity about the potential implications of furthering the role of sharī‘ah law in the Egyptian Constitution. Their concerns are valid and worthy for discussion. Their statement, however, allows an opportunity to provide context for this struggle.

The mobilization of Tamarrud against President Mursī culminated on June 30 in vast protests calling for early presidential elections. A significant percentage of protestors were motivated by sectarian tendencies reflected in his policies and the predominance of the Muslim Brotherhood in the administration of government. But many protestors also called for his removal due to the ineffectiveness of his government in terms of the economy, security, and general standard of living of the ordinary citizen. Finally, the decision to oust Mursī, taken on July 3, was supported also by the Nour Party, Egypt’s largest political representation of Salafīs.

It is not possible to gauge the level of ordinary Salafī support for the removal of Mursī. It is clear that many sided with the president through their participation in the sit-in protests dispersed violently on August 14. But many Salafīs also voiced consistent opposition to Mursī, though for reasons at times very different from those of their liberal and leftist allies of convenience.

Therefore, Arab West Report wishes to nuance the sentiment of Coptic Solidarity when it speaks of the “dreams of most Egyptians”. The Egyptians who bravely fought against Mursī were diverse.

Yes, diverse, though the Salafi presence was one of the less numerous participants. But their strength in the committee came from another source:

By including the Nour Party among the Azhar and Coptic Orthodox Church, the military was able to portray its action as one of national unity, to remove Mursī who had transgressed the popular will. Early overtures to the Muslim Brotherhood also contributed to this rhetoric, though whether offered sincerely or otherwise, failed to bring Mursī’s parent organization on board. But without the key role played by Nour, the military risked allowing an opposite rhetorical stratagem, that of portraying Mursī’s removal not only as a coup against democracy, but as a war against Islam. With the largest Salafī political party in cooperation, this latter accusation was severely muffled.

By acting either from brave conviction or political acumen, the Nour Party risked alienation from its key constituency that still hoped Mursī might provide the rule of sharī‘ah. As the crackdown ensued on the Muslim Brotherhood in general, non-Islamists might say that Nour’s survival as a political entity is reward enough for their participation. But as article after article is debated, Nour holds the threat of switching sides and mobilizing against a constitution free of sharī‘ah. In an already polarized environment, supporters of the new government are ill at ease risking further agitation against them, let alone igniting a voter base that may rise against the constitution in the upcoming referendum.

This, therefore, is the “intense pressure” to which Coptic Solidarity is worried the committee will succumb. It is an understandable fear. This close to a “window of opportunity” in which they can win every article demanded, will the chance be thrown away simply to placate the Salafīs?

Unfortunately, this idea that Salafi viewpoints should simply be outvoted recycles the logic of the earlier constitutional committee which exhibited Islamist numerical dominance. The failure of consensus was greatly criticized by liberals at the time. Now, it appears, some desire it.

Or, such language was simply a pressure technique of their own. If so, here is the final article excerpt, from the conclusion:

But AWR also recognizes that long term social peace depends on the ability of all Egyptian citizens to come together and decide their national charter. None must yield on principles, and Coptic Solidarity is right to advocate strongly.

As Salafīs advocate in return, it is good to take a step back to see the big picture. They also are part of the June 30 revolution. However much the Committee of Fifty represents the diverse institutions of Egypt and the participants in the overthrow of Mursī, it does not represent fully the diversity of political-religious thought. Fair enough, perhaps, as many Islamists rejected their place at the table. But unless a wide consensus of society is able to approve the final constitutional text, it will take its place in the line of charters drawn by an elite and swallowed by an unengaged people, even if they vote for it.

Salafīs should not be placated, but neither should they be alienated. Their pressure is valid.

Please click here to read the full article at Arab West Report.