Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Identity Politics: Israeli Election Squeezes Arab Christians

Ariel Schalit / AP, via CT
Ariel Schalit / AP, via CT

From my article at Christianity Today, published March 18, 2015:

Israel’s election wasn’t easy on its Arab Christian citizens.

From one direction, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rallied his base by warning, “The Arabs are flocking to the polls in droves.” From the other, Ayman Odeh, a Palestinian-Israeli politician from Haifa, led an unprecedented but disjointed coalition of Arab secularists, communists, and Islamists, and received the endorsement of Hamas.

The tension illustrates the struggle of Arab Israeli Christians to craft a national identity between the increasing clamor of Zionism and Islamism. The result, according to evangelical leaders: a “ghetto mentality” among Christians and fewer opportunities for public witness and ministry.

Netanyahu’s Likud emerged victorious over its left-of-center rivals, the Zionist Union, buoyed by promises to abandon prospects for a Palestinian state. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a Likud ally, told Odeh during campaigning, “You’re not wanted here.”

As voter turnout surged, however, so did Arab participation. Odeh’s “Joint List” placed No. 3 among the 10 parties that captured seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. “I’m very wanted in my homeland,” Odeh replied.

But where is this homeland for Arab Christians? The answer is quite contested.

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


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Gaza Again

Flag Cross Quran


It is not as if this is the first time. Mutual acrimony between Israel and Hamas leads to the exchange of rockets, with deeply disproportional suffering. Now a land invasion is poised to begin.

Egypt has been the historic mediator, but this time – so far – unsuccessfully. Two years ago President Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood has ties with Hamas, brokered a ceasefire and relative lull in hostilities. This time the violence continues despite Egypt’s efforts, and peace is as far away as ever.

Meanwhile Egyptian society is torn. The people of Gaza lack their standard sympathy due to widespread sentiment Hamas has been destabilizing Egypt through the Sinai. But an anti-Zionism is always present, and as the Palestinian casualties mount the Egyptian frustration mounts with it.

God, is there an answer? Must Hamas be destroyed? Must so many people of Gaza die? Must rockets rain down on Israel? Must the Zionists be driven back to where they came from?

God, there must be a better answer. Help Egypt have a share in finding it. Help world sympathy for all not falter. But help Palestinians and Israelis to reconcile. Help justice to be done.

For justice is a sticking point. The terms are not equal. Palestine is under occupation. Stand with all who suffer, give them relief, and help them to honor moral convictions and call out to you.

Feeling triumphant, too many rejoice in the suffering of others. Feeling aggrieved, too many strike out at innocents. Feeling in need of world opinion, too many manufacture propaganda. Feeling in need of domestic support, too many dehumanize their enemy.

But if they call out, God, answer them and give repentance and forgiveness. Answer them and give initiative and creativity. Answer them and give a just political solution. Answer them and give social peace and mutuality.

Help them find the way, God, first through their own hearts, and then through the hearts of their enemy.

This is not the first time these prayers have been necessary; in man’s estimation it is unlikely to be the last. Remove acrimony and exchange love, God, however impossible it may seem. The sins of all are infinitely disproportionate to your grace, so have mercy.

Bring peace, God. Please.



Gaza and the Right to Self-Defense

There is much wrong on both sides. The situation is complex and begs for thorough analysis. All this is granted but within this debate, here is a well-researched article from Jadaliyya exposing a false rhetoric that seems eminently logical:

On the fourth day of Israel’s most recent onslaught against Gaza’s Palestinian population, President Barack Obama declared, “No country on Earth would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.” In an echo of Israeli officials, he sought to frame Israel’s aerial missile strikes against the 360-square kilometer Strip as the just use of armed force against a foreign country. Israel’s ability to frame its assault against territory it occupies as a right of self-defense turns international law on its head.

A state cannot simultaneously exercise control over territory it occupies and militarily attack that territory on the claim that it is “foreign” and poses an exogenous national security threat. In doing precisely that, Israel is asserting rights that may be consistent with colonial domination but simply do not exist under international law.

The article was first published two years ago, under near exact circumstances. It continues by detailing the legal arguments that invoke the right to national self-defense, and finds they come up short – even as judged by the Israeli High Court:

Since the beginning of its occupation in 1967, Israel has rebuffed the applicability of international humanitarian law to the  Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). Despite imposing military rule over the West Bank and Gaza, Israel denied the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (the cornerstone of Occupation Law). Israel argued because the territories neither constituted a sovereign state nor were sovereign territories of the displaced states at the time of conquest, that it simply administered the territories and did not occupy them within the meaning of international law. The UN Security Council, the International Court of Justice, the UN General Assembly, as well as the Israeli High Court of Justice have roundly rejected the Israeli government’s position.

Again, there is much wrong on both sides. But do recall the essential foundational fact: Gaza and the West Bank are occupied territories. A just solution has escaped the international community since 1967. Proportion of fault can be debated, but Israel bears responsibility for the land it holds.

There is no winner, there is only more destruction. Unfortunately both sides seem more than willing to engage.

Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

A Security Source Speaks on the Sinai


From my recent article at Arab West Report, describing an interview with a former security officer in the Sinai, who wished to remain anonymous. In light of the current accusations leveled against the Muslim Brotherhood, his comments, issued in May 2013, are very pertinent:

These known political figures, including leading Salafi-Jihadis such as ‘Adil Shahātah and Ahmad ‘Ashūsh, are currently playing a political role and not in charge of the operations on the ground, he said. But they still indirectly administer their policies and act as a go-between for the jihadists and non-violent political Islamist groups, and even the Mursī administration.

The Islamists, the advisor says, have divided up roles between themselves – this one to be violent, this one to be political – and having multiple entities helps fill the political space. The Muslim Brotherhood in particular is the head, and their deputy supreme guide Khairat al-Shātir is one of the chief beneficiaries of the tunnel economy. They have three main uses for Salafi and jihadist entities.

The first is to win elections. In keeping a unity among real groups that do compete with each other, they ensure better results at the ballot box. The second use is as a threat for their competition, liberal and secular minded Egyptians who might find it necessary to cooperate with a ‘moderate’ Muslim Brotherhood to ensure they do not side publicly with the more extremist Salafis. The third use is similar, but aimed at the West. By being in league with jihadist elements, the Muslim Brotherhood can demonstrate they are the only ones capable of deterring their violence.

And while the military is currently destroying the aforementioned tunnels, here is how the state used to deal with them:

But if Bedouins were frozen out of official state business, they thrived in the unofficial business of the tunnel system to Gaza. The advisor numbered tunnel totals around 1200, and at their height during the 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead a single tunnel could earn up to one million US dollars per day. The tunnel could be rented for one hour at a cost of $20,000 US, with administrative taxes taken on the other side by Hamas.

Before the revolution, Egypt used the tunnels as a foreign policy tool. Whether for pressure on Israel or Gaza, or indirectly on Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar via their Sinai proxies, the flow of goods into Gaza could be variously eased or restricted. The nature of goods, also, could serve the state’s unofficial international policies. Technically, the Bedouins ran the tunnels, for all crossed through their land. But the government watched, which also provided an additional incentive for the tribes to cooperate.

The article also describes the demographic features of the Sinai and estimates the violent, jihadist elements. But given the severity of current political accusations, two lines from the conclusion are vital:

In reference to the information therein he assured its veracity. ‘This is not analysis,’ he said, ‘it is intelligence.’

Arab-West Report has not verified his assertions.

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


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Preaching, Sinai

Flag Cross Quran


Rarely do men try to speak in your name, but there are many burdened to represent what they believe you have spoken. Now, in Egypt, some of these will be denied.

Give them wisdom in responding to this development.

The government has taken new steps to ensure only licensed imams may preach on Friday. They are also preparing to close the small neighborhood mosques which populate most city streets. They feel this combination is ripe for extremist messaging. Others complain it is only extremist in rejection of a current military order.

Likely, both arguments have merit. The Azhar, the centuries old mosque and institute of learning, is a state-backed organization with a history of moderation. Often, the vitriol issued against Copts, Israel, the West, or the Egyptian establishment come from self-studied scholars specializing in Wahhabi thought. That is, if they specialize at all.

But, at times Azhar scholars have either veered off course or played sycophant to the state. And many a self-studied scholar deserves full respect for dedication and erudition.

The new proclamation ensures that all stay within bounds and on message. Part of that message, admitted openly, is to keep politics out of the mosque.

Oh how dangerous, God, are both sides of this coin. Government restricting religion displays empty hypocrisy. Religion seeking government invites empty hypocrisy.

But the argument is fair that the government should protect against incitement to hate and violence. And the role of religion in holding government accountable is worthy of every argument.

Of course, will the government enforce its ruling at all? Is it able to?

God, give discernment to Egypt’s preachers in all religions. Help them to lead the people toward peace, mercy, and righteousness.

Help them to see the injustices in the land, and to speak powerfully against them.

Help them to pray for those who lead the nation, that they might encourage all the above.

Many, God, are sincere but misguided in their ministries. Lead them to the right path. And some, God, manipulate freely and willfully. Rebuke them; silence them if necessary.

But it is not just the now-non-Islamist government that seeks to corral preachers. Pro-Brotherhood Hamas is doing the same, asking imams to tone down their criticism of Egypt. Poor relations with Cairo choke the economic life of Gaza.

As Egypt battles terrorism in the Sinai, it has also moved to close the expansive network of tunnels into Gaza. The transfer point for drugs, weapons, and jihadists, the tunnels also are Palestinians’ black market for everything from basic supplies to luxury goods. Many get rich off the trade.

Here, God, there is much to pray for. Eliminate the threat of those who will use wanton violence to achieve their ends. Hold back those tempted to inflate or exploit this threat. Bring real equity and prosperity to Sinai to curb the attraction of smuggling. And establish peace between Israel and Palestine so that borders may be opened and tunnels obviated.

God, in the desert or elsewhere, may preachers handle your will correctly. Lead them, for the sake of all.




Men on Motorcycles

Men on Motorcycles

From the New Yorker, providing an account of the dawn killings between the military and pro-Morsi protestors:

Fifty-one dead at dawn. A doctor who said he preferred not to give his name lives in an apartment building that overlooks the Republican Guard barracks in Cairo. He told me he woke for the dawn prayer before 4 A.M. Shortly afterward, he heard gunfire and went onto his neighbor’s balcony for a better view.

“I saw that the Army retreated about ten metres and began to fire tear-gas cannisters, about ten or fifteen of them,” he said. “I couldn’t see if the other side [the protesters] was shooting, but I heard people through megaphones encouraging jihad. Then I saw four to six motorcycles coming from the direction of the Rabaa intersection to the Republican Guard barracks. Some people were still praying, some were not, because the dawn prayer had finished by then. The men on the motorcycles were all masked, and it was hard to see them through the dark and the tear-gas smoke, but they seemed to be shooting, they were coming from behind the protesters, so they were shooting toward the protesters and the Army. Then the Army started firing. And the protestors were firing. I saw firing from both sides.” As for details, though—what they were firing, whether it was one or two protesters or something more organized—he said that it was dark and that he couldn’t exactly tell.

Men on motorcycles. It is a maddening detail, constantly repeated over the past two and a half years. It has parallels even in the January 25 incidents of snipers firing into Tahrir Square. Back then it was widely suspected to be the police, but to this day no one knows – as no one has been convicted.

If it was the police trying to disperse the crowds, it was a woefully unsuccessful strategy. If anything, the crowds increased and the nation turned against the government. The result, coupled with continual suspicion against the Muslim Brotherhood, made people argue the opposite: Snipers were with Hamas, who acted on behalf of the Brotherhood to help the revolution succeed. Here and there since then, the theory goes, Hamas reappeared to do the dirty work.

Liberal revolutionary activists I know hate this theory, as they believe it is old regime propaganda to let themselves off the hook. Even so, the commission which studied post-revolutionary transgressions on the part of the military – also often assumed to be old regime partial – gave its report to President Morsi, who let it sit on his desk. Did he hold it as leverage to use against the army? Leaked pages suggested their wrongdoing. Or did he hold it because Hamas was implicated therein? To this day – though the day is still early – we do not know.

What is in the report? And who rode the motorcycles? Was it Muslim Brotherhood sponsored, seeking to provoke the army and paint them as killing innocent civilian protestors? Was it the army itself, raising a false flag against the Brotherhood to paint them as extremists and justify jailing their leaders? Was it jihadists seeking to create chaos? Was it foreign powers wishing to do the same? Every conspiracy floats well in a sea of obscurity; they sink where transparent systems are in place.

So is Egypt trying to build one, or protect the old sea of mud? To close, here is the explanation offered  by a friend:

First: MB ignored completely the Egyptian people who asked Morsi to leave as if they are just ghosts. They want to put in equation: MB and the military. It had been always the MB strategy: We (the civil state) vs. the army (military regime) and always neglected the Egyptian people as if there is a vacuum outside these two entities.

Second: Ignoring the Egyptian people we reach this conclusion: the army toppled Morsy and his regime.

Third: Reaching this result we get a new equation: Fighting the army is a national and religious duty.

Fourth: MB international mass media (CNN, Jazira and I would say Euro news) must confirm this equation putting the Egyptian army at the same ignoble level as the Syrian army.

Fifth: This will bring us to the big game in Sinai. The big battle against this “dirty” army will be deployed in Sinai.

Beltagui threatened that violence in Sinai will continue in case Morsy will not return.

It means that if you will not give us Egypt again we will get Sinai and establish our Emirate with the help of Hamas and all jihadists. Something is better than nothing.

Natanayahu asked all Israel citizens to leave Sinai immediately.

The Egyptian army sent military reinforcements to Gaza borders.

Another link

Many attacks against el Arish security forces (the last point that must be reached by Hamas militias to get their alternative homeland)

A priest assassinated in el Arish.

It seems that Russia supports the Egyptian army with a “military satellite” to track the militias in Sinai.

Most probably the scenario they want to implement is to establish an Egyptian sub-state on the area Gaza/Arish under Morsi’s legitimacy (the legitimate president of Egypt). This State will be blessed by Israel and US.

Most probably, this is the reason why US don’t want to announce officially if what happened in Egypt is or is not a coup. They are keeping this card to the last moment.

It was not in US “best interests” to decide yet whether the armed overthrow of the country’s elected president amounted to a coup or not.

If Hamas will get this area (Gaza/Arist) and will establish their new State, US will announce that 30th of January had been a coup. If Hamas and all other Jihadists will fail, US will announce that it was not a coup.

Suez Canal

On the other side, the army deployed military forces in Suez, Ismailia, Port Said and Suez Canal is under strict control.

Closing Suez Canal would be an excellent argument to allow international forces to occupy this vital passage. In this case, the Egyptian army will have problems to go to Sinai and will help the Jihadists to do whatever they want.

This is my reading of the events. I hope that I am wrong. No doubt that the best thing to do to stop this “crescendo” is to announce clearly, loudly and officially that 30th of June had not been a coup but the revolution of a people who are looking for their freedom.

Judge for yourself, but to reach a place of stability, Egypt needs to know who rode the motorcycles.


Diplomacy is Dead

From the New York Times:

DIPLOMACY is dead.

Effective diplomacy — the kind that produced Nixon’s breakthrough with China, an end to the Cold War on American terms, or the Dayton peace accord in Bosnia — requires patience, persistence, empathy, discretion, boldness and a willingness to talk to the enemy.

This last point is crucial. One must always talk, and listen. Yes, even the fact of talking grants a measure of legitimacy, and it can be said this should not be freely offered. One reason why Hamas refuses to acknowledge the Jewish State of Israel is that they feel this is must be an end result of negotiation, not its starting point. But even so, Israel and Hamas have been communicating for years, through back channels.

Speaking of Hamas:

Breakthrough diplomacy is not conducted with friends. It is conducted with the likes of the Taliban, the ayatollahs and Hamas. It involves accepting that in order to get what you want you have to give something. The central question is: What do I want to get out of my rival and what do I have to give to get it? Or, put the way Nixon put it in seeking common ground with Communist China: What do we want, what do they want, and what do we both want?

Earlier in the article the author mentioned Egypt as a mini-success of Obama’s diplomacy, and he may have a point. Many here in Egypt’s opposition see the current situation as a negotiated settlement between the US, the military, and the Muslim Brotherhood. Each one has gotten something that they want. The opposition, meanwhile, feels left out in the cold.

But here is where diplomacy’s rubber meets the road. For the idealist, it is painful. But did the opposition get what it wants? There is the beginnings of a democratic system which can be continually contested. They just didn’t win.

Maybe. But to voice their complaint, what did the Brotherhood get? Access to the reigns of power has limits – the army is off limits, as is any real tension with Israel – but comes with great privilege. Some see this privilege extending to be able to manipulate the situation (democratic as it may remain) for their own benefit. What does this give America? As goes the theory, stability in the region.

So, diplomacy, if this picture is true, is it good enough?

For America, perhaps. The task of international diplomacy is to secure the interests, and not the ideals, of the home nation. If Egyptians only get a manipulated democracy that allows the US to check off the accomplishments of its own internal ideals, of what major concern is this to America?

But that is no reason for the Egyptian opposition to accept the situation. They have their own diplomacy to worry about. And part of diplomacy is overstating your case in negotiation. It is conceivable they have quite exaggerated the manipulations of the Brotherhood.

But do the events of yesterday, the second anniversary of the revolution, suggest that the opposition is abandoning diplomacy?

Diplomacy achieves an imperfect solution, but tends to avert war and violence, which usually are far less perfect for all parties involved. But goodness, is it maddening.

Atlantic Council Middle East Published Articles

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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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Gaza


Above all, bring peace to Israel and Palestine. Stop rockets, stop killing, stop assassinations, and stop injustice. Allow all sides to argue over who most deserves these accusations, but draw them to a halt.

As for Egypt, where these arguments are few, give wisdom to the president and political leadership on how to intervene for peace. May he stand with victims and against oppression. Help him to mediate between his allies in Hamas and his oft-political targets in Tel Aviv. Help him to encourage the Americans to play a positive role. But guide him to the transcendence of politics to the resolution of conflict. May he do what is right, whatever that is.

Egypt needs unity and solidarity, God, but caution the people about rallying against an enemy. Bless all those who express concern for innocent Palestinians, and who seek to condemn the asymmetry of the strife. But for those who are angling for political gain, cause their efforts to come to naught. Grant Egyptians legitimate outrage over what has befallen their neighbors, and discernment to weigh injustice against propaganda.

And as Israel and Palestine confront their internal issues, limit the repercussions from spilling over into Egypt. Guard the border, God, and keep militancy from spreading to Sinai and beyond. For would-be militants already here, honor their sense of resistance and sacrifice. But direct their devotion to the cause of peace and justice, not to arms and invectives. May they harm no lives, be they Egyptian, Israeli, or their own.

Beat swords into plowshares, God. May those who love you lead the way.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Rafah



Once again Egypt is bloody. When manipulations are political it can be understood as the nature of politics in times of transition. Yet this manipulation is evil. Sixteen soldiers were killed on the border with Gaza, by as yet unknown assailants.

Early reports blamed terrorist Islamist groups based in the Sinai. Then links with Hamas or other Palestinians were proposed. Some turned the other direction, including the Muslim Brotherhood, and alleged Israeli involvement.

The political fallout has similarly been all over the map. Some try to link the inefficient Morsy government to lax security and Islamist emboldening. Others nudge at the military council as proof they should leave transitional oversight and get back to protecting the borders. In the background is a budding new and anti-MB revolution planned for August 24, as well as moves to replace editors-in-chief of state newspapers and reorganize spy and security leadership.

The nation is abuzz, all while mourning.

In it all, God, who represents evil? Who would kill to advance their political goals?

How much longer must Egypt suffer, God? Encourage those who believe what has happened in the revolution is good, even if there is much wrong to overcome; even if there is much wrong in store.

May good men prevail. May those who have committed this atrocity be brought to justice. May those behind them be exposed.

May good men shoulder responsibility, God. May they find the truth and tell it. Cause all secrets to come to light; cause all rumors to dissipate. May Egypt be built again, but on a firmer foundation that what was.

Give strength, God. Give Egyptians faith to seize their nation and participate in shaping it. May that which was beautiful not be lost, as they discover now the road is hard and long.

Make it shorter, God, but more importantly, make Egyptians into the kind of people who can endure it. On the other side, may they be whole.

Spare the people any more violence.


Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Taming the Islamists

A friend of mine asked me the other day what I think of this quote from the Economist:

‘The best way to tame the Islamists, as Turkey’s experience shows, is to deny them the moral high ground to which repression elevates them, and condemn them instead to the responsibilities and compromises of day-to-day government.’

For a while now, even reflecting on the situation in Palestine where the West helped overturn election results bringing Hamas to power, I have had sympathy with this viewpoint. But there are a few other nuances to highlight.

As concerns ‘condemned to rule’, we should not start by saying that governance is a curse. On the contrary, it is a privilege, a trust. That Islamists have this now is their opportunity, even if the thrust of the quote is true.

As concerns ‘tame’, it must be distinguished from another sentiment often lying underneath such analysis. Many would substitute subconsciously the word ‘defeat’.

The capriciousness of government will keep Islamists from extremism – this is how they are tamed. But it has also lessened their popularity, as they do lose the moral high ground. Many find the military has yielded power to Islamists first in parliament to give them opportunity to discredit themselves. That they now have the presidency is only further rope with which to hang themselves.

So if the author of the quote is quietly hoping for such an outcome, there is another sense in which being in power is not ‘condemnation’ – it is their opportunity to cement themselves in the system.

While on the one hand it is fine and good for Islamists to gain credibility as a political player, it is also widely suspected the Brotherhood will use its opportunity to infiltrate the system and get their people in every nook and cranny.

Then, even if ‘defeated’ at some stage in the political process, having been yielded governance even for a spell, it will have advanced their overall cause. I have no evidence other than anti-Brotherhood testimony this is their plan, but the testimony is ample and often specific.

Finally, taking Turkey as an example – the Islamists might just do well in terms of governance, and then they win.

This is a good outcome for Egypt, of course, as Turkey is an example of improved economy and civil society. But Turkey is also not the best example. From what I understand, Turkey is among the worst nations in terms of freedom of the press.

While Islamists might keep winning free elections there, and by extension in Egypt, questions exist as to how they may be softly manipulating society. This is very different from the hard corruption of a dictator, but is less than free and open democracy in a transparent system.

Finally, it should be stated that Islamism is different from the Muslim Brotherhood. Islamism in general simply represents the idea that religion should play a definitive role in shaping the political system. The Brotherhood is an organization dedicated to this goal, which may or may not be acting honestly for the good of society independent of itself. It is quite possible to be an Islamist outside the structure of the Brotherhood.

In any case, these are more questions to explore than convictions I possess. As to the overall aptness of the quote above, if these points are taken into consideration, I think it is on the whole correct.

Related Posts:

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Dr. Osama Farid on the Brotherhood, Hamas, and Salafis

Translation: The Muslim Brotherhood; Prepare

Who are the Muslim Brotherhood, and what do they represent? Having thousands of members means that many people are able to speak as representatives, whether they are qualified or designated to do so or not. Yet if one relies only on an official spokesman, it is difficult to know if the comments are sanitized for public consumption, especially if directed towards a Western audience. A useful remedy can come through personal interviews, though one must still be wary of a politician’s skill in PR.

Cornelis Hulsman, editor-in-chief of Arab West Report, secured such an interview in June 2011 with Osama Farid, the son of Dr. Farid (94), secretary-general of the Muslim Brotherhood, several decades ago and until today highly revered in the Muslim Brotherhood.
Based on his notes I prepared this report.

Osama Farid echoed the caution needed in applying any and every statement a Muslim Brother makes as the heartbeat of the group, saying care should distinguish between the organization and the community. As an example he spoke of Subhi Saleh, who in the past several months has made outspoken comments on how the Muslim Brotherhood will apply Sharia law if elected, and that Muslim sisters should take care to only marry within the group. Salah had been a high profile Muslim Brother in the aftermath of the revolution, having served on the legal committee to propose constitutional amendments submitted for the March 19 referendum. Osama Farid, however, states categorically that he does not represent Muslim Brotherhood thinking, though he gets frequent attention in the press.

The press has been equally misleading, states Osama Farid, by characterizing the Muslim Brotherhood as beset by internal splits. Yes, he says, there is a difference of opinion on several issues, and there are different attitudes in how to deal with change. This is normal in an organization of its size, but reflects only the biased press the Brotherhood has dealt with for years.

Is, then, Osama Farid a capable source of information for the group? As a the son of a Guidance Bureau member he speaks from authority, and in this interview provides insightful comments on his personal history with the Brotherhood, the current relationship between the Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, the relationship with Hamas and attitudes toward Israel, as well as other comments on Salafis and other Islamists in the contemporary arena. Osama Farid is an accomplished businessman; his investments once included a fleet of private airplanes for charter.


Osama Farid described several periods of the Muslim Brotherhood. In the 1970s many members of the al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya joined the group. Osama Farid states that al-Gama’a was internally divided, however, over the question of violence. The members opposing violence broke away and enrolled into the more established Muslim Brotherhood, which had committed itself to a nonviolent methodology. The large influx represented a sort of second founding for the historic organization, which began in 1928 founded by Hasan al-Banna.

Osama Farid expresses admiration for the thought of Sayyid Qutb, a Muslim Brotherhood ideologue executed in 1966. Osama Farid described his execution as a tragedy, and celebrated him as a great thinker whose philosophy was on par with Georg Friedrich Hegel. Though many believe Qutb was a primary factor in the radicalization of the Muslim Brotherhood, Osama Farid countered that Qutb’s view of hakimiyya (God’s sovereignty) has been mistranslated and misunderstood by the majority of media and critics.

The Brotherhood, Osama Farid says, looks to select members who enjoy a good reputation in society, and who demonstrate leadership in morals, athletics, and intellect. If agreeable, candidates are given a syllabus to progress through. Yet regardless of entry, many Muslim Brothers have wound up imprisoned for their association and/or activities – over 30,000 in the group’s history, according to Osama Farid. His own uncle, Saleh, spent twenty-five years in prison.

Relationship with the Freedom and Justice Party and current politics

As an organization, the Muslim Brotherhood seeks to engage Egyptians to build a good culture of citizenship. Historically, though always having a political component, this has meant the provision of social services, engagement in society, helping the jobless (with priority to members but including all). They have also supported the families of imprisoned members, and provided legal services to those run afoul of the government. Only following the revolution, however, has the Muslim Brotherhood been able to channel their social gains into a legal political party.

The Muslim Brotherhood believes the primary purpose of government is to cultivate the good life for the people, so they can be happy. Yes, the government should be concerned with matters of Sharia, but it also needs to promote a culture of tolerance. The Freedom and Justice Party, Osama Farid believes, is working towards this end.

For example, the Muslim Brotherhood, through their party, will seek neither the majority of seats in parliament nor the presidency. Yet he also believes that the ruling military council should fulfill its vow to the people and turn over soon the matter of governance to the people. The military council made agreement to do so in six months, providing elections first for the parliament, then the Shura Council (upper house), then the presidency, and culminate in the drafting of a new constitution. They should not deviate from this, though some decry liberal parties and others have not yet had time to develop their constituencies. Farid, though, believes this to be their own problem, and of more serious concern is the return to civilian rule.

The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has faced criticism within Egypt on several fronts, and Osama Farid provided perspective on certain issues pertaining. Political parties must be independent, and in the case of the FJP not be based on the organization of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Freedom and Justice Party is believed by many to simply be an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood. Osama Farid said the current leadership of the party was proposed by the broad Shura Council of the Brotherhood, and chosen by the Guidance Bureau. Yet he confirmed that this was only for the creation of the party, and that after their initial term expired all positions would be determined by internal party elections.

Yet Osama Farid also provided some statistics that suggest an ongoing strong linkage between the party and the Brotherhood. 40% of the party membership originated in active, working members of the Muslim Brotherhood, all of whom had 10-15 years of experience in the group. Though not a majority, there is the potential for significant overlap between the agendas of the two entities.

In another controversial accusation, some believe there to be a secret pact between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military council. Osama Farid finds it normal that there is a direct line of communication between the two since the Brotherhood has a large following, but the military council also has established links with other political forces.

Osama Farid also gave historical perspective to suggest that the Muslim Brotherhood has not been averse to making such deals. In 2005 many Muslim Brotherhood members ran as independents for parliament, as the group at that time was banned from official participation. Eight-five of these members won a seat, and Osama Farid believed it could have been much more had the elections not been rigged. Yet he stated that within the context of political corruption, the Muslim Brotherhood cooperated with the authorities to determine which Brotherhood candidate would be victorious in which district. That was politics at the time, and the Muslim Brotherhood played along.

Relationship with Hamas and Israel

Another fear expressed about the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt concerns their relationships with Hamas and their Israel policy in general. Osama Farid stated that Hamas are our brothers, but that while there is coordination between the two groups, the level of coordination is low. Personally, Osama Farid hopes this coordination will increase, but he recognizes the sensitivity of the issue keeping the groups largely separate.

Osama Farid also stated that each group secures its own financing. While there is no money that moves from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to Hamas (though there has been sharing of medical supplies during Israeli operations), the Brotherhood does provide consultative services if needed, though Hamas takes its own decisions. As an example Osama Farid revealed that the Brotherhood intervened to secure the release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, but their advice was not heeded.
Concerning Israel, Osama Farid stated the Muslim Brotherhood believes that all international resolutions directed at Israel (such as UN #242) should be implemented. While he does not want normal relations with Israel, he also stated the Muslim Brotherhood does not want war. He stated they know the line between the ideal and the possible, and that the Brotherhood is realistic. Any war with Israel would be suicide. In this matter and in political matters of all sorts, he believes the Brotherhood to be a wise and moderate organization, aiming for stability both domestically and internationally.

Salafis and Other Islamists

In presenting the Brotherhood as a moderate organization, he contrasted it starkly with another Islamist group emerging in Egyptian politics, the Salafis. Having never been in political life previously, Osama Farid explained, the Salafis were taken advantage of by Mubarak since many opposed participation in politics. For many Salafis, the God-appointed leader should be obeyed without question. These believe democracy to be akin to kufr (unbelief), and though they may enter into upcoming democratic elections, they are not democratic. Osama Farid believed they needed to be monitored due to the danger they posed; it is quite possible they could win a large percentage of parliament.

The Salafi role in society, by contrast, is quite positive, Osama Farid explained. They help families and widows, provide finances for the poor to go on pilgrimage to Mecca, as well as for needed school supplies and fees. Yet they have an aggressive social agenda, focusing on gaining control of the larger and more influential mosques where they are strong in number. Small mosques, Osama Farid elaborated, are not as influential, and will often follow the ideological trend of the largest mosque of the area.

Osama Farid also provided a description of Salafi organization in Alexandria, considered a stronghold of the movement. There are three main Salafi trends, the largest of which is led by Sheikh Hasan Yaqub, drawing support from the slum areas of the city. These three trends have organized a Shura Council for each of Alexandria’s fifteen districts, and each trend supplies five members so that each council has fifteen members. As such they have established themselves in the city, and their influence is strong.

Osama Farid recommended contacting Salafi sheikh Safwat Hejazi for more information. Though he is not their official coordinator he unofficially links between the Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Osama Farid made briefly a few closing comments about al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya. These also are participating in politics since the revolution, and the group has sought to make revisions to its former methodology, especially in forswearing the use of violence. Mitwali al-Sharawi is in the lead of the revision group, but not all members accept the changes. Without placing him in either category, Osama Farid commented on al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya leading figure Abbud al-Zumur, who is unapologetic over his involvement in the assassination of President Anwar Sadat. Osama Farid believed al-Zumur to be deficient in Islamic jurisprudence.

The essential question posed concerning the Muslim Brotherhood remains: Do their public statements reflect internal policy, or, especially when speaking to the West do they put on a moderate face? It is never possible to know a man’s heart or to discern fully his true intentions. Yet the information provided by Osama Farid displays a level of openness suggesting his words to be both transparent and authoritative. Certainly he has commented on matters often not addressed in Brotherhood public discourse.

As such, this interview is offered for public consumption, so that interested parties might hear from the Muslim Brotherhood through an Egyptian who knows them well. In the controversial and confusing public square of Egypt, it is necessary to filter the news from the din. Much more is necessary, but it is hoped this contribution may help shape English language readership in their understanding and opinion of the Muslim Brotherhood.

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Misnomers and Idealism in the Palestinian Question

As the Palestinian Authority prepares to request statehood from the United Nations, this essay will highlight a few terms which serve to obscure the public debate, as well as idealize the best way forward. It will not propose an answer to the ‘yes –no’ question faced by the United States at the UN, as either answer falls short of what will be offered as ideal.

The Right to Exist

This expression is often put forward to explain Israeli difficulties in securing peace with the Palestinians. To be sure, the official proclamation of Hamas to seek elimination of the Israeli state is an overwhelming obstacle to relations. Yet by seeking ‘the right to exist’ Israel overreaches.

Part of the difficulty this expression causes Palestinians and Hamas in particular is that the phrase not only establishes the Israeli state, it provides it positive moral approval. Before the prevalence of Zionism as a world Jewish movement there were limited numbers of Jews in the current geographical territories in dispute. There were also limited numbers of Palestinians, but this should not overshadow the fact the vast majority of current Jews in Israel came from elsewhere. Some of their land was purchased, some was taken through violence, terrorism, and displacement, and some was conquered through war.

Palestinians assert, rightly, that the majority of this land used to belong to them. That it does no longer is a political fact, but Israel does not simply demand recognition of their state, but also the right of its existence. Such moralistic language is a slap in the face to the thousands of Palestinian refugees forced from their homes.

Furthermore, the ‘right to exist’ expression is not the language of diplomacy and international relations. Do the Kurds have a right to exist? Do the South Sudanese? Do the French? Awkwardly, in light of American ‘Manifest Destiny’ history, does the United States? Countries come into existence through political norms of various means, and sometimes disappear. Israel is constituted among the number of legitimate states by the only organization with jurisdiction to declare in the nation-state system – the United Nations. Palestinians should admit to this reality and recognize Israel. They should not be forced to admit the morality of its existence.

Negotiated Settlement

It is right and proper that the outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be decided through negotiation. The basis for peace rests upon mutually agreed decisions taken to bring parties closer together. Ultimately, there is no substitute for this inevitability.

Yet the popular discourse in discrediting the Palestinian effort to achieve UN recognition in favor of a ‘negotiated settlement’ overlooks certain realities in the equation. First and foremost is Israel’s own status as a sovereign nation. This was not accomplished through a negotiated settlement, but by Jewish immigration, their armed militias, and ratification by the United Nations. Arab nations stood opposed to the decision, which was forced upon them by the international community. Improperly, they responded in war, which only hurt their cause further. Israel achieved its recognized status through the international means available. It is now seeking to deny Palestinians access to the same means.

Yet a further aspect of ‘negotiated settlement’ obscures the issues at hand. Israel has treated its settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem as a topic for negotiation. It similarly treats the issue of the right of return for Palestinian refugees. In doing so, however, it seeks to negotiate two items which stand patently against international law. Yet during recent ‘negotiations’ not only has Israel sought to balance its expropriated settlement territories with traded land elsewhere, it has continued expanding its settlement claims. It is fair enough for Palestinians to consider land swaps if they so choose, but they should not be forced to. The settlements are illegal, however much they may be facts-on-the-ground. Yes, human Jewish lives reside there, and after all this time their displacement would be problematic. Yet Israeli culpability in establishing the settlements should not be a subject of negotiation, but of condemnation. How can Palestinians negotiate over that which is illegal to begin with?

If Palestinians gain access to UN membership, they will have access to file suit against Israel in the International Court of Justice. Israel has successfully resisted UN resolutions to withdraw from the occupied territories. It has successfully resisted negotiations with the Palestinians to cede full control over the territories. Israel does face the thorny issue of Hamas-led resistance to mutual recognition, but it should also be noted that only sovereign nations can recognize each other. Recognition of Israel is a proper negotiating carrot for the Palestinians, one they cannot even offer until they receive a state of their own. Member status at the United Nations, even on observer basis, may achieve this through the international court.

De-legitimize Israel

This phrase has also been utilized in the rhetoric to discredit the Palestinian effort at the United Nations. Closer examination, however, reveals the exact opposite to be true. This explains the reticence of Hamas to support the UN process initiated by the Palestinian Authority.

If anything, the creation of a Palestinian state immediately legitimizes Israel. No longer will Palestinians be able to refuse recognizing Israel without threatening their credibility in the international community. Hamas and others still maintain international justice should discredit the very establishment of the Israeli state. With a UN recognized Palestine, this claim goes by the wayside. In all likelihood, with it will go the right of return for Palestinian refugees as well. They will now have their own state to return to, even if their original home was on the other side of the 1967 border.

What the Palestinian bid at the UN does do, however, is de-legitimize Israeli policies in the occupied territories. This, though explained above, includes also disproportionate Israeli access to West Bank resources and criss-crossing the territory with settler-only lines of transportation. By moving these issues to an international forum, Palestinians do bring into question issues of legitimacy. Their overall message, however, legitimizes the Israeli state, as is proper and good.

The Arguments for No

If the above reasoning is correct, it is difficult to imagine why Israel is opposing the measure, unless it wishes to annex the territories of Judea and Samaria entirely. By granting Palestinians their state, it wins the international community as a partner to resisting any terrorism which issues from it, which would now be state-sponsored unless rigorously opposed. Perhaps more importantly to many, it also safeguards the status of Israel as a Jewish state, as the overwhelming Jewish majority would not be threatened demographically by the inclusion of additional Palestinians, either refugees seeking return or original residents in the occupied territories.

Should then the United States, with enthusiastic Israeli support, vote yes? There are a few problems lingering to suggest no. The ideal solution offered as well aims beyond it, however much it might threaten the advantages of yes.

In addition to the intransigence of Hamas, the Palestinian people suffer from a lack of true representation on the part of all their leaders. While a recent poll does suggest that 83% of Palestinians favor the move for statehood, neither Fatah nor Hamas has received a mandate through elections in quite some time. The only protests in Palestine during the Arab Spring have been against their nominal leadership, refusing their stridency in maintaining a political division. If Palestine receives statehood would the people be able to transcend this division? Would Fatah and Hamas allow them to? It remains to be seen.

Secondly and more seriously, immediate statehood would likely cement the animosity between Israel and Palestine, establishing a cold war even if there is official peace. Such a war could quickly get hot as the new Palestinian government would face the question of what to do with the Jewish settlements within its borders. Would it consider them Palestinian citizens? Would it violently uproot them? Would the settlers institute violence to seek maintenance of their now bygone privileged societal position? It is a thorny issue.

Thirdly and problematically, how do the West Bank and Gaza represent a functioning state given the lack of geographical congruity with Israel in between? As a tiny, landlocked entity save for the Gaza strip, Palestine would be barely a political district in the makeup of many countries. How could it function as an independent nation?

To vote no in the UN would throw these questions back to the negotiating table, and it is not certain a solution would be found there, either. Yet which outcome is more dangerous, yes or no?

An Ideal Solution?

It is admitted that the move away from negotiations is a move away from the ideal. A unilateral action towards statehood threatens to put the Palestinian question into the hands of the international court. While this step may greatly improve the Palestinian negotiating position, it hardens hearts and relationships, as true peace can only come from mutual embrace.

Calling for an ideal mutual embrace, however, moves the discussion from the realm of geopolitics into the realm of morality. Does the current situation in Israel/Palestine represent morality? Certainly not, on all sides. Would an imposed two-state solution represent morality? Sadly, no. Could a negotiated settlement represent a moral position? Perhaps, but these efforts have been underway for decades, and the political will seems to be lacking on both sides.

A mutual embrace, for now, purposely sidelines the fact that two peoples are largely in hostility. A solution of mutual embrace will assume the very difficult work of reconciliation. Yet the core of this idea is the undoing of two mutually contradicting narratives: A state for the Jews, and a state for the Palestinians. Roughly speaking, it calls for a one state solution.

Label this state what you want, though in fact its name will be one of the contentious issues to solve. ‘Israel’ – ‘Israelistine’ – ‘Paliel’ – ‘Israel-Palestine’ – ‘Palestine-Israel’. The very exercise of naming demonstrates the deep ethno-centrality of both sides. It is good for a people to have their own state. Is it better – more ideal – for an intermixed people to live together in one state, peacefully?

Admitting to this notion would require Zionist-inclined Jews to give up the idea of a Jewish state. Though deeply challenging, not all Jews are Zionists, and for most of history many Jews believed it a sin to seek reestablishment of a state before the appearance of the Messiah. That there is a current Jewish state is a political fact, may be the will of God, and is not immoral. But is there something better?

Admitting to this notion would require anti-Semitic Palestinians (and other Arabs) to give up the idea of a Jew-free Middle East. Though deeply challenging, not all Palestinians are anti-Semites, and for most of history many Arabs have lived peacefully side-by-side with Jews. That there are Palestinians who question Zionism-as-racism is a political fact, may be the will of God, and is not immoral. But is there something better?

What is better is the ideal of a civil democratic state with equal rights for all its citizens. Jew, Christian, and Muslim would each contribute to the success of the nation. Significant biases and economic disparities would need to be overcome. This was challenging with the reunification of Germany; it would be doubly so in this case. Yet as an ideal – that men might live together and form a representative government accountable by law – this is a more sublime goal for which to strive. In contrast to the current clamor at the United Nations, it is nearly heavenly.

Alas, ideals fall easy prey to politics and reality. Yet men of ideals can change both their politics and their reality. What is necessary is vision and commitment. Few so far have adopted the vision of one-state reconciliation; perhaps in the outcome of the UN process, if the United States does indeed vote no, more will find it.

I myself lack the full vision and courage to advocate the ideal. Even the attempt to define an ideal is subjective and often naïve. Problems in application are myriad and obvious.

Yet resistance to an ideal is often a refuge in the baser instincts of human nature. No ideal can come to be in willful ignorance of human depravity, yet the human struggle calls for virtue and sacrifice in pursuit of worthy ideals. Peace between Jews and Palestinians should certainly qualify. This is but one solution, perhaps more hopeful, in the path to its reality.


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