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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Ratifying the Transition

Flag Cross Quran

God,

In a few days Egypt will be asked to vote again. The cause is the referendum on a new constitution, but the importance is far deeper. Deeper even than a constitution, the basis of a nation’s governance? Yes, for it is not is not just a document being voted on, but the process which led to it. Six months ago the democratically elected Mohamed Morsi was deposed. At the time there were massive protests against him; will they now ratify with their vote?

Which means, in part, will they ratify with their feet in potentially long lines? Egyptians have voted five times already, and now they are starting over. Will they care?

Which means, in part, will they ratify with their heart in potentially dangerous circumstances? Anti-‘coup’ demonstrations have been on the increase, as has terrorist violence. Will there be sabotage?

Which means, in part, will they ratify with their head in a potentially still unclear roadmap? The constitution has merits to evaluate on its own, and it is yet undecided if presidential or parliamentary elections will follow next. Will it be worthy?

God, each Egyptian must answer individually, but guide the nation in the collective. Above all, protect the process from violence and manipulation, that this referendum might express the will of the people.

Give clarity, also, for how to interpret this will. Most opponents are boycotting, not rallying for ‘no’. So in the near-inevitable approval, what percentage is necessary to demonstrate mandate? What percentage of turnout?

But as long as there is boycott, God, there is no full consensus. Use this referendum to communicate to all players. If there is legal ratification but less than popular mandate, do what is necessary to have the winners draw back non-participants – all whose hands have not been stained in blood. May the constitution open the playing field, fairly and justly.

And if the people respond with enthusiasm, God, do what is necessary to have non-participants recognize their failures – all which came from their own actions as opposed to alleged manipulation. May the constitution force its reality upon all, fairly and justly.

Bless Egypt, God, with reconciliation – no matter the result. But in these days to come, help her to get to the result. Help her to maintain faith, to care. Help her to maintain vigilance, to prevent sabotage. And help her to maintain discernment, to evaluate the worth of what is before her.

God, if this referendum and constitution are part of your plan, make it clear to all in the process of ratification. Set Egypt right, and do so deeply, far deeper than any document can establish.

Amen.

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Current Events

Interview with Ezzat al-Salamony of al-Gama’a al-Islamiya

Ezzat al-Salamony
Ezzat al-Salamony

This older interview, from August 2012, reflects a very different reality than the one Islamists experience in Egypt today. At the time they were in the ascendency; now, many of them scurry for cover. In preparation for a larger project on Islamist movements in general, however, Arab West Report only now is publishing this interview. Selected excerpts are below.

On his activity with the group in giving public lectures:

J: What is your history with the Jamā’ah al-Islāmīyah?

S: I joined the Jamā’ah al-Islāmīyah in 1979. I was at college during that time and thank God I worked with the Group and I used to preach on Fridays and give lessons. I was arrested in 1981. I am a member of the Guidance Council in Cairo, but regardless of my position, I serve as a Friday preacher and as a lecturer in conferences.

J: In a certain mosque?

S: Nowadays, I preach in many mosques. Of course before the revolution, we were totally prevented from preaching. There are two mosques here in al-Ma’ādi and another one in ‘Atabah, and on the fourth Friday of each month, I go to any mosque, for example in Helwan or sometimes outside Cairo, like in Suez or Alexandria, according to the desires of the people who want me to preach.

J: Are these mosques related to the Jamā’ah al-Islāmīyah? When you were prevented from preaching before the revolution, how could you have such relations with those mosques?

S: We have had relations for a very long time. I was prevented from preaching but not prevented from moving freely in society or from interacting with people. They would come to us to help them with their problems whether family issues or feuds between families and things like that. Instructions can be given to mosques not to let me preach in them, but I have great relations with society.

J: Are these mosques registered at the Endowments Ministry?

S: No, they are not. They are civil associations which house mosques. These associations resemble the Association of Religious Legitimacy [a longstanding Salafī non-governmental organization registered officially in Egypt and active since the early 20th Century].

J: Are they small, neighborhoodmosques?

S: No, they are large, but it depends on the civil association. There are many that have up to four mosques. They have permission from the Ministry of Social Affairs and they run their activities through associated mosques.

J: So they are legal?

S: Yes, but they are not supervised by the Endowments Ministry, which has no authority over them. The association and its administrative board supervises them and their expenses are submitted to the Ministry of Social Affairs.

Now, the government has reestablished (or, is reestablishing) its supervision and tight control of all mosques, allowing only approved speakers to appear. It is unlikely al-Gama’a al-Islamiya is finding official favor, though there is no campaign against them publicly as like with the Muslim Brotherhood.

But should their members wind up in jail, Salamony has been there before:

J: You said that you had been arrested for a while. When was that?

S: I have been arrested more than once. The first time was during Sādāt’s September decisions in 1981. It lasted a year and a half. Then there were other arrest periods that lasted between two months to a year up until 1990. In October 1990, I was arrested and stayed in prison for 15 years until January 2006, during Mubārak’s time.

J: What was the reason for that last long arrest?

S: There were many arrests during that time. I was arrested because I was a suspect in the case of the assassination of Rif’āt al-Mahjūb, the head of the parliament. But the judge gave amnesty to all the suspects and he said about me, “I have found one suspect in this case with no charges at all; that is ‘Izzat al-Salamunī,” and then I was set free.

We left the court to go back to prison with an arrest warrant. During that period my administrative arrest was open, which means that I could go to the court and present a grievance, and then receive amnesty. After that I would have to go to the state security, stay there for a night or two, only to be arrested again with a new arrest warrant.

At the prison in Damanhour there was a fountain in the center of the village, so the prison vehicle used to take the prisoners – who supposedly had be given amnesty – and go around the fountain once or twice, then send them back to prison.

But the main reason for that arrest concerned my preaching. I was preaching freely in mosques and conferences and criticizing the former regime, the tyranny and the injustice that have been unmasked since the January 25 Revolution.

Salamony says the campaigns against al-Gama’a al-Islamiya were all politically motivated, and that he personally was not involved in any illegal activity or assassination attempts. Instead, as above, he equates his group’s efforts to those of the January 25 Revolution, and the efforts of the state to prevent such an outbreak:

J: When it comes to preaching, did you call for the revolution or for any illegal movements?

S: No, I only preached about stopping injustice and corruption, and also about giving Egyptians all their rights so that no one would be enslaved or prevented from having a respectable life.

J: Did you use any means that you regret using, or perhaps you say they was suitable at that time but not nowadays?

S: No, the means I used did not go beyond words and preaching. We also called for demonstrating against any act of injustice, but all of our practices were peaceful. But starting a demonstration during that time worried the former regime, because people were submissive to oppression. If people who had influence went to the streets it was a very dangerous thing for them.

Once when I was arrested and blindfolded, in 1989, I asked one of the policemen, “Why are you doing all of this: torturing, arrests, breaking into mosques, and people get killed, why?”

He answered, “Honestly, if we let you carrying on all your social activities, and your Islamic preaching for one year, you will reach out to people and win them over to your side. Then you will overpower us and will strike us fatally, with no weapons at all. I will not give you the chance. When I arrest some of you, beat you up, and when you go on demonstrations against us, you only scratch us, which we can handle. But we cannot let you strike us.”

This has been their philosophy: to prevent anyone other than them from having influence over people, or to break the barriers of fear and terror that people had within themselves. That is why they thought that the Jamā’ah al-Islāmīyah was dangerous.

But it was not just political activism that al-Gama’a al-Islamiya was engaged in. It was social and moral activism as well:

J: What is Hisbah?

S: Hisbah, according to Islamic Law, is the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice. The image of this concept has been distorted to many people. Islamic law states that promoting virtue can only happen through virtue, and preventing vice can never be through vice. Although it is a very beautiful image, people try to deform it. If it is applied correctly, its great fruits would be seen clearly in society.

We have to warn people that some of the things they do are wrong and harmful such as smoking and drinking alcohol. I tell them that these things are bad for their health. But some acts require intervention, like if I am walking around and see some guys trying to kidnap a girl. Here, religion tells me to protect her, and that is exactly the prevention of vice.

The Jamā’ah al-Islāmīyah practiced that guidance part within the limits of the Islamic law, and of course there were some mistakes as we are all human beings. Sometimes one may lose one’s temper, but we cannot blame our personal mistakes on the religious concepts.

He is keen to explain the ‘mistakes’. Elsewhere in the interview he describes how many occurred when the political leadership was in prison and could neither guide nor contain their youth. Escalation of attacks between the group and the police also contributed, he said.

J: What were your mistakes? You said you are just human beings who make mistakes.

S: Some of the youth misunderstood the concept of Hisbah and exceeded the limits. For example, if I saw someone committing a vice, I would go to that person and ask him politely to stop. But if I yelled at that person, I have committed vice. Religion only allows me to do what it takes to remove that vice.

J: To give an advice, for example.

S: Yes. I may only grab that person’s hand if it will remove the vice, but I am not allowed to slap that person on the face. So there are rules. Some youth would simply hit the person without giving him advice at all, which is religiously wrong. We have always warned our youth in mosques not to do such things. We have to confess these violations as we cannot prevent others from doing vice while we ourselves do it.

J: So now you know those mistakes, but during the 1970s and before your non-violent initiative, was Hisbah applied with few restrictions?

S: As leaders in the Jamā’ah al-Islāmīyah, we tried to put limits, but we could not following each and every member working here or there. But whenever we knew that a member of the Jamā’ah al-Islāmīyah did something wrong, we told him that was wrong, from the beginning.

But as I said before they were young, and youth were the majority of our members. With all of their excitement and with their little knowledge about religion, some incidents happened frequently. But as soon as we knew about them, we always acted and stated what was wrong. If a member hit someone, which is religiously wrong, we would go to that person and apologize to him and even give him the right to avenge himself by hitting that person if he wanted to do so.

J: I have read that in public gatherings, some youth used chains to disband meetings of mixed genders. These things really happened, but you see them as violations?

S: Those violations happened indeed, but some of them were done by people who do not belong to the Jamā’ah al-Islāmīyah, but their mistakes were blamed on us. Others were done by us and we stated that, before the initiative, but we were trying to settle things down. Now, thanks to age, experience, and increased religious knowledge, there are almost no violations among our members.

J: I have also read about attacks on liquor stores owned by Copts.

S: It happened once or twice.

But this was not a policy, nor was it permitted, Salamony said. But note how in his explanation he includes terminology that is very offensive to Copts, yet still has a sense of toleration about it:

J: The author quoted from Shaykh ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Rahmān stating that it is permitted to loot the Copt’s money. He issued a fatwa about that. Do you know anything about that?

S: This is totally untrue, and I heard Dr. ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Rahmān with my own ears once – as I accompanied him in many of his tours and lectures, and been with him around the whole country – saying that Christians’ and Dhimmis’ blood is prohibited to be shed, and that our religious laws state that their money is forbidden to be looted.

Even if I think that someone is infidel, not a Muslim, this does not give me the right to loot his money or shed his blood. Doctrines should be totally separated from practical life. For example, some Christians think of others as non-believers and infidels, like the Orthodox who believe that if someone does not take communion in their church, then he is a non-believer. To them I am a non-believer.

Belief issues have to do with people’s hearts. When it comes to the practical side, in the Qur’ān, God says: “God does not forbid you from those who fight you not for religion nor drove your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them.”

From that we get that belief is one thing and how to treat people is something else. The money or blood of any human being living in the same country with me, or anywhere else in the world, is prohibited to looted or shed, as long as that person did not attack me or my religion.

in the late 1990s and early 2000s, al-Gama’a al-Islamiya began a non-violent initiative and published their change in policy along theological lines in The Revisions. This allowed many, but not all leaders to leave prison. Since then they have not called for violence, though some return to their social activism has been evidenced. But having assassinated President Sadat in 1981, and with several attempts on President Mubarak, the absolute nature of the rejection of violence is not clear:

J: I understand what you say and I sympathize with that explanation, but a couple of days ago I read that Tāriq al-Zumur commented on Sādāt’s assassin and said that he is a martyr. But how can he be a martyr, especially after your peaceful initiative and declaring that assassination is unacceptable?

S: Here, we have more than one side of the story. As I told you, to judge an issue, I have to consider its surrounding circumstances. Sādāt arrested people and criticized religious leaders like Hāfiz Salāmah that he was Suez’s lunatic. Sādāt said politics and religion should not be combined. The treaty of Camp David was also signed at that time. The general evaluation of the situation was that Sādāt was an enemy of religion and of Egypt.

That atmosphere pushed people like Khālid al-Islāmbulī and his followers to take an action. When I regard that issue now, it is not like when I regarded it at the time it happened. They were motivated by patriotism and religion with good intuition.

So when Tāriq al-Zumur said he was a martyr, he judged them according to their circumstances, which are different from ours. All the circumstances at that time showed that Sādāt was an enemy of religion. In order not to falsely accuse al-Islāmbulī, I must evaluate his situation according to the circumstances which led him to do so.

J: Why do you not just praise him and explain what he did without calling him a martyr as if it is a kind of justification?

S: In Islam, no one has the right to call someone a martyr or not, because only God knows who is a martyr and who is not. What we say is that we consider him to be a martyr, or pray for him to be one of the martyrs, according to his good intention. We pray for our brothers who have been murdered so that God would accept them as martyrs. But we cannot insure that a certain person is a martyr, because God is the only one who decides that.

Interesting to recall is that al-Gama’a al-Islamiya did not initially favor Mohamed Morsi for the presidency. After describing similarities and differences among the Islamist groups, he explained why:

J: I understand that there is a unity among you and that there is no competition among you as you have the same purpose. But the Jamā’ah al-Islāmīyah supported Abu al-Futuh during the presidential elections instead of supporting al-Shater and Muhammad Mursī, especially Mursī. Why was this?

S: It was the result of a certain view of reality. The leadership of the Jamā’ah al-Islāmīyah at that time formed a general assembly to gather our 300 members, and over the course of the day we listened to the programs of Dr. Mursī, Dr. Al Awa, and Dr. ‘Abd al-Mun’im Abū al-Futūh. The discussion lasted for nearly 15 hours and the majority supported Dr. Abū al-Futūh’s program in the first round in a democratic way, though some supported others.

J: What were the most important points that made the majority choose Abū al-Futūh rather than Mursī?

S: The majority chose Abū al-Futūh because he was independent and was a part of the Jamā’ah al-Islāmīyah in the past. He was thought to be friends with the liberals, unlike the Brotherhood as some people dislike them. We though he could gather the people around him better than any other candidate. The main point was to have unity within society. But in the second round, the Jamā’ah al-Islāmīyah chose Muhammad Mursī because at that time, the people categorized the candidates as representing the previous regime or the revolution. So the whole group chose Dr. Muhammad Mursī and their choice was based on a realistic study of the current situation at that time.

Even at the time of Islamist success, Salamony expressed doubts about the democratic outcome. But he was certain the people would not rise against them. Looking backwards his comments are poignant:

J: As a Muslim, you will do your best to deepen the roots of Islamic law in Egypt, but my question is what if the society is against you, you will continue your struggle against the people’s will?

S: That controversial assumption has no place in Egypt because the society has a religious nature, whether Muslim or Christian. If someone wants to change the identity or the nature of that society, we will face that change in a democratic way. Unfortunately, the Islamists are being judged in an unfair way.

They are accused of not accepting the other, which is not true. We accept the other but there is a difference between accepting the other and the other forcing himself upon us and that we must follow him or totally agree with him. I accept you when you stick to your opinion and I stick to mine. We can argue together and express our opinions to society. But what happens with Islamists is that they are being prevented from expressing themselves and even from speaking.

Now, when they have recently gained control, restrictions that are not forced upon anyone else are being forced upon them. So in that case, the democracy is not complete. They are talking about democracy but when it comes to us, it is being prohibited.

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

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Doctors, Deaths, and Dreams

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Every day Egypt steps closer to the referendum on a constitution, which if passed will validate the roadmap to restore democracy established by the military. And every week supporters of Morsi march against the new order, often met with tear gas, minor clashes, and subsequent arrests.

It has become a normal pattern, but this week three diverse events highlight something different.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s dominance of the Doctors’ Syndicate came to an end. Although protesting the overall difficulties their wing has faced, they admit being outvoted and cede control of the board for the first time in decades. A female Copt was elected as secretary-general.

Two clashes, meanwhile, resulted in an ugly loss of life. The ongoing violent conflict in Sinai resulted in the killing of a soldier whose body was paraded through the streets by local jihadists. And in the Delta a taxi driver drove into a pro-Morsi protest, injuring a woman, and was pulled from his vehicle and killed by the mob.

A news leak, additionally, released an audio recording allegedly of the military head Gen. Sisi describing his dreams from years earlier in which he knew he would one day be president of the republic. Some believe the leak was meant to discredit him as of superstitious ambition; others believe it will help his standing with ordinary people.

God, within the normal pattern, give Egypt stability, and give protestors peace. As each seems to threaten the other, decide between them by what is right. If this is to be through the vote of the people, protect the referendum and make its process and results fully transparent.

For the doctors, God, make smooth the leadership transition. Help the new opposition to be critically supportive, and the new heads to be magnanimously effective. Bless both their efforts in charity and practice, that Egypt might enjoy a better future in health care.

But conflict, God, can reduce the humanity of the opponent. Save Egypt from this path, where deaths are celebrated and easily provoked. May the determination of protestors not slip into rage; may the crimes in the Sinai be met with justice and peace. Protect the state, and protect the people. May each reinforce the other.

For it appears the current symbolic strength of the state is having dreams. Are they of you, God, or of his ambition? Along with the leak, do they mean to hurt him, or help? Are they innocent, or a manipulation? God, bless Gen. Sisi, the interim president, and all who are currently running the state. Give them wisdom to govern well. But give a collective wisdom to all concerning his possible candidacy. Speak to his conscience and speak to the nation. Bring good governance to Egypt, God, through both man and system.

For Egypt is in great need of healing. Many have died, and others are falling. May the nation’s dreams not perish alongside.

Amen.

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Safwat Hegazi, Body Double?

Safwat Hegazi (R, L?)
Safwat Hegazi (R, L?)

In late August and early September I published an article and two other posts about Safwat Hegazi, one of the more controversial Islamist supporters of Mohamed Morsi.

The article collected links and information about his often inflammatory speeches and public statements, calling him a Bellwether of Egyptian Islamism.

The second linked to a full article describing an interview conducted by Arab West Report at the Rabaa al-Adawiya protest site. In it he comes across as very reasonable, denying any membership in the Muslim Brotherhood.

And the third was a link to a very surprising video confession by Hegazi about his regretful association with these protests, sad to see them provoking bloodshed. That post expressed a bit of shock leading to the title, Safwat Hegazi, Stool Pigeon?

Several weeks later in a conversation with a Salafi friend, we discussed Hegazi. ‘That video,’ he said confidently, ‘was faked. Hegazi might be dead or he might be in custody, but that video looked nothing like him.’

It made me recall my initial surprise, both in his confession and appearance.

Hegazi’s trial has now begun, in which he declared the released photos were fake:

Egyptian hardline Islamist preacher Safwat Hegazy said Saturday during his ongoing trial that photos of him following his arrest released by Egypt’s Interior Ministry were fabricated, according to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party website.

Hegazy, who appeared in court on Saturday along with FJP leader Mohamed El-Beltagy – both charged with inciting violence – reportedly said photos released online by the ministry upon his arrest in August were fake.

The photos showed him with a shaved beard and only a dyed-black goatee. Hegazy stated that he never shaved his beard prior to his arrest.

The allegedly fabricated photos of Hegazy stirred public confusion following their release over the significant changes in his appearance since his detainment. It was widely believed that he had changed his appearance to avoid detection.

Hegazy appeared in photos of Saturday’s court session with his trademark white beard.

The confusion continues. Were the released videos and pictures real, an attempt at character assassination, or irrelevant either because of his overall innocence or outstanding guilt?

But there is another twist besides:

Judges of Cairo Criminal Court recused themselves Saturday from the trial of Muslim Brotherhood leading figure Mohamed El-Beltagy and Islamist preacher Safwat Hegazy, saying it has felt unease over the case.

No further explanation was given. Was the unease due to an obvious miscarriage of justice, or fear of Islamist supporters if they carried out justice?Or, was it simply from an inability to conduct the trial, as in this related case:

A second panel of judges has withdrawn from the trial of Muslim Brotherhood leaders accused of inciting the killing of protesters.

The defendants refused to recognise the court, dubbed it “void” and “illegitimate,” and chanted “down with the military rule.”

The judges said they were unable to conduct the trial properly.

Like many questions of the revolution, we will have to wait and see, but waiting often takes a long time…

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Constitution Open

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Egypt has taken its first concrete step forward since President Morsi was removed. By completing the draft constitution, set for a referendum in January, the roadmap for rebuilding democracy is underway.

But it is ill-defined. The constitution leaves open the order of elections, if parliamentary or presidential will occur first. It also does not determine the nature of the parliamentary system, if by individual candidates, party lists, or some combination thereof. These will be decided by interim presidential fiat.

God, constitutional delegates were unable to come to consensus, why? Are there power politics behind the scenes? Is there an explanation that is more comforting? Given the chance to shape one of the most crucial aspects of democracy – the parliament – the committee passed.

It may be, God, that Egypt needs a strong head of state, and power to determine these matters is being passed to the eventual holder of this post. Your principles, God, are higher than the details of political systems; establish one that is just, equitable, and transparent.

But do so transparently. Hold accountable those in the committee and those they represent. Hold accountable the government and the police and the military. They have been given a trust; may they prove faithful.

Within the document, for those that support the removal of Morsi in the first place, perhaps they have tried. Provisions for rights and freedoms have been strengthened, with the limiting language of religion largely removed.

Unless, God, this represents their weakening. For many against the removal of Morsi the language of religion is not to limit, but to protect. How much license should the state give to violate your law?

If it is. For others these are distracting issues of identity which mask a different problem: Many articles establish a principle, leaving definition determined by a law to come. Will parliament decide these issues wisely?

But now, God, the constitution is in the hands of the people. Help society to study well and debate thoroughly. Voting yes will continue the roadmap and potentially validate Morsi’s removal. Voting no is unclear in result, but requires a return to the drawing board.

Whether now or later, God, give Egypt consensus in her constitution. All is open.

Amen.

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Current Events

Cairo’s Christian Garbagemen Back to Work

From the Guardian, describing a reversal in state policy to work with those who do the job best:

In 2012 former president Mohamed Morsi had made the state of the streets an electoral issue, claiming that he would clean them up in 100 days. He failed. “There’s only one solution,” said Greiss, “and that is to bring the Zabaleen back to the core of the waste collection and disposal process.”

The Zabaleen are a Christian community who migrated from Upper Egypt to the outskirts of Cairo in the 1940s. Extremely poor, they earned a living as the city’s ragpickers before turning to recycling in the early 1980s. With the help of NGOs, including APE, they have facilities for recycling plastic, paper and metal; they feed organic waste to the pigs they keep in their backyards. Animal excrement is sent to a compost plant in a Cairo suburb where it is processed and sold to farmers.

The Zabaleen currently collect some 9,000 tonnes of garbage per day, nearly two-thirds of the 15,000 tonnes of rubbish thrown away by Cairo’s 17 million or so inhabitants, and yet they have never been officially recognised by the Egyptian government.

Now 44 local companies have been registered, moving the model away from foreign based companies:

Iskandar has reversed the policy of previous governments, which tried to marginalise the work of this Christian, mainly Coptic, minority. In 2003, Hosni Mubarak‘s economically liberalising regime asked multinational corporations to handle waste disposal. “That model is not suited to Cairo, where residents are used to dustbins being emptied on each individual floor of a building. People couldn’t get used to taking down their garbage and putting it into special skips, which were later raided by thieves,” said Greiss. “As a result most people continued to pay the Zabaleen to come up and get their garbage unofficially, and then complained because they also had to pay for the foreign service company.”

If their talents are now being unleashed, without restriction, I hope we see a quick turnaround in the garbage problems allowed to fester since the revolution.

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Current Events

Our Little Ones Watch a Protest

Rabaa Child
From a protest elsewhere in Maadi

The other day Emma’s best friend, Karoleen, and her younger brother, Boula, came over to play at our home following church. As the kids were gathered around the table working on crafts, I heard the familiar sounds of a protest approaching. A fair number have passed near the house in recent months, although they usually go down the main street perpendicular to ours. Since we live on the ground floor, we usually don’t get a good look despite the noise, but this time they turned and came in full view.

We had been looking for an opportunity to film a protest for a recent video we made about the changes in our neighborhood since we returned from a summer in America. So I dropped the construction paper I was cutting up for one of my daughters, grabbed the camera and ran to our play room, which is a glass-enclosed porch. This gave me the best view I could get of the marchers.

I opened the window and screen, just enough to stick the camera out, but I still felt conspicuous. I didn’t really want to attract any attention from the protesters, but I was willing to risk a bit for a decent line of sight. As they marched, I noticed that some of them looked at our house, but not, as best I could tell, in my direction.

But it was then I heard the shouts and screams from my own kids and their friends in the other room, as they watched the protest go by from our living room windows. That’s why they were looking our way.

Two weeks earlier a protest had gone past Karoleen’s house, about ten streets away from our home, while Emma and Hannah were playing there. Her mom told me afterward that it made Emma concerned, even for us in case the protest came towards our home. But Karoleen’s family lives on the 7th floor of her apartment building, far above the action.

So as I was filming, I was simultaneously hoping the kids weren’t too afraid now that they were outside our window. As it turns out I had nothing to worry about. The kids loved it.

They noticed the bright yellow hand signs, though they didn’t know what they meant. They especially took interest in the kids who were marching along in the protest. There were balloons and chanting, which sounded more like cheering to them. In this particular march, there was nothing to be afraid of. It was a friendly, jovial atmosphere.

When I returned to the table the kids talked excitedly about what they had seen. The planned craft was abandoned as they used the construction paper to make protest banners. Theirs, however, bore the name ‘Sisi’ as opposed to ‘Morsi’, in favor of the current military leader who many see as a hero. They teased each other about being ‘for Morsi’ as they bantered around the table. I didn’t realize what fun it would be for them to have political discussions, though this was not the first time our children had taken sides.

In the end, I got the video we had been looking for, and the kids received some unexpected entertainment. We appreciated the peacefulness of the protest, and wound up happy they turned down our street.

It wasn’t until later we were less pleased, noticing the graffiti they had sprayed on our walls. ‘Sisi is a killer,’ they wrote, and, ‘Against Oppression.’ The latter is a message we won’t mind our children seeing every day, but the first one is not so nice. Of course, neither was the explanation we had to give about the yellow signs, commemorating the hundreds of pro-Morsi protestors who were killed when their campsite was cleared.

Our kids, of course, pay little attention to the graffiti. It will be the image of the protest that will stay in their mind, which we invite you to share in also.

'Sisi is a Killer'
‘Sisi is a Killer’
'Against Oppression'
‘Against Oppression’
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Amr Darrag on the Brotherhood’s Mistakes, Sort of

Amr Darrag
Amr Darrag

From my recent article at Egypt Source:

During the lead-up to the June 30 protests demanding early elections through the violent dispersal of the pro-Morsi sit-ins, several Brotherhood members spoke in vague terms of their ‘mistakes.’ It was a conciliatory gesture of sorts, admitting Morsi’s less than stellar performance but arguing this was not enough to undo his democratic legitimacy.

It is a fair enough logic, but it was never accompanied by any details concerning these mistakes. The closest to an admission came from Salah Sultan, who apologized for the Brotherhood’s negotiating with Omar Suleiman, opening channels with the military, not being honest enough about the efforts of corrupt regime figures to sabotage the revolution, and failing to absorb youth and women in their project. His statement was posted on the webpage of the Freedom and Justice Party, but later removed and described as only a ‘personal’ viewpoint.

This has been one of my frustrations in listening to the Brotherhood post-Morsi. They speak of mistakes, but are rarely specific. I understand the political logic, but wish for greater transparency. So I was thankful for an opportunity to press the issue directly:

But Darrag, instead, is put off by the question. “I don’t actually agree on the prescription that there are mistakes that the Brotherhood has to acknowledge and apologize for,” he said. “Of course there are mistakes, I am not saying that we don’t make mistakes. But this has to come through a process that all political forces, if they want to learn from past experiences, acknowledge their mistakes.”

Rather, he anticipates this process eventually coming from those who sided with the removal of Morsi:

“It doesn’t make sense to ask one side to keep apologizing and apologizing and apologizing. I mean, this is not helping.”

Perhaps it is not helping the Brotherhood, but if they tried apologizing even once, it might help the original revolutionary cause. But consistent with his position, Darrag anticipates the reflection coming from the other side. “People think and reconsider,” he said. “I am sure that one day the majority will join us in the same way that happened on January 25th.

“But when, I don’t know.”

Please click here to read the full article on Egypt Source.

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Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Morsi Speaks, Protests Diversify?

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Following the opening session of his trial, President Morsi was transferred to a public prison where he was able to release his first statement since he was deposed. He called his removal a coup, praised the people for their steadfast protests, and said Egypt would have no stability until his legitimacy was restored.

Meanwhile, the week upcoming marks the two year anniversary of some of the bloodiest protests from the interim period, when the military ruled and the Brotherhood left the revolutionary stage. Supporters of the current general are calling for a commemoration, but of the new unity between the people and the police. But it was the police who killed them, revolutionaries maintain, and the institution remains unreformed under any regime. They may protest afresh in counter-commemoration.

Will the protest movement widen? Will anti-Islamist revolutionaries recall their original ire against military rule? Or is it now nothing of the sort, and a true democratic transition is underway?

God, answer these questions in the hearts of Egyptians. May they hold their leaders accountable as they pray for them. May they join a consensual process as they protest all wrongdoings. Unite these dichotomies in both the diversity of the people and the uniqueness of the individual.

Give Morsi patience, discernment, and courage, God. He is frustrated, surely; give him hope. Judge both him and the nation, God, and bring both to a better place. Do likewise with all who support him.

Give patience, discernment, and courage to the revolutionaries as well, God. They have been frustrated for two years, having watched colleagues fall and justice fade. Will fresh protests renew their hope? Or has their hope come in newly minted unity? Reform the police institution, God, and show revolutionaries the best way to honor both their friends and their nation.

Protect Egypt, God. As she emerges after three months of a state of emergency and life under curfew, give self-discipline in place of security solutions. Amidst all her diversity in a cacophony of speaking, give her silence and reflection.

But whether within the din or its dearth, make the right voices heard. May yours be quietly audible, above all else. Then have Egypt’s roar follow.

Amen.

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Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Delaying Constitutional Confict

Flag Cross Quran

God,

It has been three months since Morsi’s ouster, and the first step in the announced transitional roadmap is still underway. It is, in many ways, the linchpin. The constitution is to be amended and presented to the people in referendum.

When it comes, the Brotherhood will have to make a choice: Vote no or boycott. But the primary Salafi party has made their choice to participate, while deferring the choice of consequence: Yes or no.

Salafis possess nearly inconsequential power in the mechanics of the constitution: They are one vote out of fifty. But they possess great legitimizing power. Without them on board the removal of Morsi is much more easily portrayed as an attack on Islam, or at the least, Islamism.

In exchange they want the religious identity and sharia provisions of the old constitution preserved. As the committee of fifty does its work to revise, they tackle the easier questions first. These are left for later.

God, the Salafi party has been praised for having great political acumen; give them also great wisdom, for they are not necessarily the same.

As the Islam and sharia principles are debated one-by-one, help them to know where to yield and where to stand firm. Where, God, is the proper point of consensus?

And as they go back to their supporters, give them the skill to communicate their choices. Having earlier been maximalist in their demands under Morsi, can they now justify an accepted minimalism? Will it be a valuable political lesson for newly politicized religious conservatives? Or will their earlier rhetoric eat them alive?

Or, might you use these men to lead their supporters deeper into the multi-particular national good?

But God, what if the national good is non-Salafi, as many of the fifty will argue? Give them wisdom if they don’t get enough of their way, or anything at all.

Should they accept? Should they vote no? Should they demonstrate? Should they mount a new revolution?

So give wisdom also to the committee at large. What of Salafi demands is in the national good? To be certain this good involves diligent discussion of a significantly popular viewpoint.

Perhaps there is wisdom, God, in handling easier articles first. There is still time to complete their task. But help the committee to avoid deadline deals from political expediency.

Rather, let this discussion find space now in the national debate: How should the political claims of Islam, as interpreted by some, be incorporated into the political system of a nation, as experienced by all? In their entirety, in continual negotiation, or not at all?

Your answer, God, determines how Egyptians should both pray and politic. Pull as many to your side as possible, in sincere conviction and purity of heart.

And for those who remain in other opinions, honor them also. May they never willfully fight against you, and may they never be fought against as if on your behalf. Knit these together into one nation, where you are present in the messy workings of men, in all their insincerity and impurity.

And in this, God, give them a wise and worthy constitution. Do not delay the conflict, but resolve it in the end, with embraces all around.

Amen.

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Current Events

The Shape of ‘Terrorism’ Outside Cairo

Following on the heels of Morsi’s trial, it is difficult to see how the Muslim Brotherhood is called a terrorist organization from within the urban settings of Cairo. But this article from the Daily Beast describes the embattled position of police elsewhere:

“We never imagined that the violence could reach this point,” said Qadry Said Refay as he lay in the police hospital. The 37-year-old cop based in Fayoum, about 60 miles south of Cairo, had multiple head wounds, a broken right arm, and a deep, guttural cough.

On the morning of August 14, the same day the Brotherhood demonstrators were cleared away by Al-Sisi’s forces in Cairo, Refay reported for duty as usual in the ancient farming town near Egypt’s biggest oasis. The police station got a call: Brotherhood sympathizers were massing for an attack. Refay thinks there were thousands of them. Probably the numbers were smaller than that. But the four officers and 20 cops soon found themselves under attack by men with guns and Molotov cocktails closing in on all four sides of their little compound. After several hours the mob started coming over the walls and breached one of the gates.

I was sure I would lose my life,” said Refay.  In the middle of the fray he took off his uniform shirt, untucked his t-shirt, and put his gun in the back of his belt. He tried for a few seconds to reason with the attackers, but they swarmed over him. They took his pistol. They slashed his face with knives. “The last thing I can remember,” he said, “is one of them reaching to the ground, picking up a stone, and smashing it on my head.”

To what degree is the Brotherhood responsible for such violence? There is a culture of revenge in Upper Egypt that is far more intrinsically grassroots than any social support for political Islam.

At the same time, when security forces recaptured some of the villages seized by local Islamists, Brotherhood statements portrayed them as peaceful villagers under police attack. Surely it was bloody on all sides, and revenge from both cannot be discounted. But the Brotherhood publicly stood with those who raided police stations and committed the atrocities described above.

The burned-out police station, its walls pocked with bullet holes, was covered with graffiti—“This is the price for injustice. God will have victory,” and “Sisi, you are next.”

But one Brotherhood leader paints the picture as one of simple revenge, and his organization as a restraining force:

“Families in Upper Egypt are not accepting condolences,” said El Magd. “So they will take vengeance. So I think killing will start in Upper Egypt. And I don’t think the [Brotherhood] movement can control this. In Upper Egypt, if families don’t accept condolences for their dead, then they set their minds to vengeance.”

El Magd had the practice of tha’r in mind. “This cannot be controlled. Nobody can control Upper Egypt vengeance. And now everybody has guns. They have guns in Kirdasah.  I am not saying that it will be civil war. But at least Upper Egypt will go back to the ‘70s or ‘80s, where people were shooting at police officers just because they were police officers.”

Upper Egypt is hard to understand. What is the difference between a blood feud and terrorism? Does the distinction even matter?

Truth, justice, and reconciliation are urgently needed in Egypt. Will Morsi’s trial be the beginning of this process, or just one more obfuscation to keep it from happening?

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Current Events

Kerry’s Visit, as Reported in Cairo and Washington

First from Ahram Online, in very negative tones:

US Secretary of State John Kerry met with top Egypt officials to convey Washington’s “deep concern” about the transitional period and to offer the US’s goodwill should developments move “on the right track,” according to Western diplomats.

But on CNN, the focus brushes over any difficulties at all:

U.S. ties with Egypt go deeper than aid, America’s top diplomat said Sunday.

“Let me make it clear here today: President Obama and the American people support the people of Egypt,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said. “We believe this is a vital relationship.”

Both articles report the general thrust of the speech, but their opening leads are indicative. The US wants to avoid a crisis while Egypt wants to project one.

I cannot speak very well about the messaging coming from Washington, but Egypt is currently filled with belief that the US backed the Muslim Brotherhood and is even now working behind the scenes against the popularly backed military move to depose President Morsi.

After all, for many here, the timing of Kerry’s visit is auspicious. He arrives one day before Morsi’s trial is to begin.

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Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Trial, Satire

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Egypt’s tests continue. Popular talk show satirist Bassem Youssef returned to the air after a long absence and subsequently lost a lot of his popularity. Praised and hated for poking fun at President Morsi and fellow Islamists, he turned his attention to the adoration mania surrounding military leader General Sisi.

Not only did many complain, lawsuits are threatened.

Meanwhile, this week a more critical lawsuit begins. Deposed President Morsi stands trial on charges of espionage and inciting violence. Widespread protests are expected, as unlike the trial of Mubarak, Morsi maintains a significant social base. How the trial is handled may have much to say about the reality of the democratic transition.

God, help Egypt to pass these tests.

Youssef is pioneering, bringing the celebrated Egyptian humor to public expression, challenging the ingrained taboos on insulting authority. His popularity and international profile, perhaps, has kept him safe so far. Give him wisdom, God. Does he drag Egypt forward, or backwards?

He exposes hypocrisy and doublespeak, God, and this is deeply needed in Egypt, as everywhere. But he also undermines respect for authority, and this is deeply dangerous in Egypt, as everywhere.

But what if the authority does not deserve respect, having engaged in hypocrisy and doublespeak? This question, perhaps, is on trial with the president.

Validate or convict him, God, according to the truth. Just as important, may this truth be transparent. Give courage to the judge to fear you alone. May he stand strong, should pressure come from above or below. May he rule rightly.

But for those below, hold fast the discipline of their protest. Keep Morsi’s supporters peaceful; protect them from any external breach of the peace.

God, guide Egypt. Refine her culture, refine her politics, refine her dispensing of justice. In all her trials may she prove righteous.

Protect her from being an object of satire.

Amen.

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Current Events

Surveying Foreign Christian Residents in Egypt on the Interpretation of Political Events

St. John's Church Maadi

In Egypt’s current political struggle both sides are using the media to highlight their interpretation of events. State media is accused of turning the nation against the democratically elected president and his backers in the Muslim Brotherhood. Meanwhile, anti-Islamists target Western media in particular of having a bias toward the Brotherhood, against the military, and neglect the popular role in Morsi’s overthrow.

This survey was designed to test one overlapping segment within this struggle to establish a media narrative: foreign Christian residents.

Two assumptions were made of this community. First, they would be sympathetic to local Coptic opinion, which is strongly anti-Islamist. Second, they would be consumers of Western media and generally trust their journalistic professionalism.

Thirty-three individuals were surveyed, including both leaders and laity of the Catholic and Protestant foreign communities of Egypt. They were asked fifteen questions concerning recent political events beginning with the election of Mohamed Morsi as president. Each question was provided various options, reflecting the opinions and conspiracies of both camps.

Participants were allowed to choose more than one answer, if multiple interpretations were possible. They were asked only to choose according to their leanings and perceptions, not according to an elusive certainty or proof. Not all participants answered each question. In the results which follow, this explains why some percentages are provided with the qualifier ‘among those responding’.

Here are the questions as they were posed to participants:

1.      Did Mohamed Morsi legitimately win the presidential election?
2.      Were Egypt’s political problems caused by:
The desire of the Muslim Brotherhood to dominate
The deliberate non-cooperation of opposition parties
Normal competition after a revolution
3.      Were Egypt’s economic problems caused by:
Morsi’s mismanagement
State sabotage of gas and supplies
Continuing deterioration since the revolution
4.      Did Western powers support Morsi because:
He was the legitimately elected president
They desired the Muslim Brotherhood to replace Mubarak
They desired Islamist rule to weaken Egypt
They desired to discredit Islamism by letting it rule temporarily
5.      Did Morsi and the Brotherhood desire:
To turn Egypt into an Islamic state
To recreate the Mubarak regime
To shepherd in a civil democracy
6.      Was the Rebellion (tamarrud) Campaign:
A grass-roots movement expressing popular rejection
Aided by the military/state/businessmen
A conspiracy to end the Morsi presidency early
7.      Should the military have:
Intervened to depose Morsi as actually happened
Waited longer to see how things would develop
Not intervened at all
8.      Was the military action a coup d’etat?
9.      Was the removal of Morsi:
Mostly positive for Egypt
Mostly negative for Egypt
Both positive and negative in different ways
Necessary for Egypt
10. Should the Rabaa al-Adawiya protest site:
Have been dispersed
Have been relocated to another area
Have been left to protest indefinitely
11. Why did so many people die:
Because of deliberate excess force used by the security services
Because of poor training in crowd control
Because of pro-Morsi armed resistance
12. Were the widespread attacks on Christians and their churches:
Orchestrated by the Muslim Brotherhood
A spontaneous reaction by pro-Morsi supporters
The action of criminals exploiting the situation
A conspiracy by the state to tarnish the Islamists
13. Should the Muslim Brotherhood:
Be labeled as a terrorist organization, banned, and prosecuted
Be invited into national reconciliation
Be allowed to participate in the new democratic roadmap
Be forbidden from politics but allowed a social role
14. Does the military desire:
To rule directly (perhaps through a retired general)
To have influence and guardianship from behind the scenes
To maintain its economic privileges
To secure a true and open democratic transition
To destroy the Muslim Brotherhood
To prevent Islamist rule in general
15. Will the coming months/years in Egypt witness:
The development of an emerging democracy
The return of an autocratic state
New economic prosperity
Continued economic deterioration
A reversal back to Islamist rule (democratic or otherwise)
Low-level, but violent Islamic insurgency
War (either civil or regional)

 

Each possibility was given a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ choice to indicate the perception of the participant.

Here are the key findings:

Did Mohamed Morsi legitimately win the presidential election?

  • 52% said yes, 48% said no, roughly mirroring his percentage of winning

Egypt’s political problems were caused by:

  • 97% of all surveyed believed it was due to the MB’s desire to dominate
  • 45% also blamed deliberate non-cooperation on the part of the opposition
  • 36% attributed it to normal competition after a revolution

Egypt’s economic problems were caused by:

  • 82% blamed Morsi’s mismanagement
  • 42% also blamed a state policy of sabotage
  • 82% believed the poor economy following the revolution played a role

Western powers supported Morsi because:

  • 73% believed it was because they recognized him as the legitimately elected leader
  • 24% believed they desired the MB to continue Mubarak’s policies, with 9% support for other conspiracy theories

The political desire of the Muslim Brotherhood was:

  • 100% to turn Egypt into an Islamic state
  • 0% to turn Egypt into a civil democracy

The Tamarud Campaign was:

  • 82% believed it to be a grass roots campaign
  • But 67% believed it also to be sponsored by the army, state, or businessmen
  • Even so, respondents divided evenly if it was a conspiracy to remove Morsi from power, though only 30% of everyone surveyed indicated this

On military intervention to depose Morsi:

  • 70% agree with their decision to do so, as opposed to waiting longer or doing nothing
  • But 47% call it a coup anyway, while 53% believe it does not deserve that label
  • 93% of those responding believe this action was mostly positive for Egypt
  • 75% find that it was also somewhat negative
  • 85% believed it was necessary

On dispersing the pro-Morsi sit-in:

  • 79% agreed with the decision to do so
  • 88% believe that many people died due to the MB’s decision to resist with arms
  • 45% also believed the security forces deliberately used excess force
  • 48% believed poor training on the part of the security forces contributed

On the subsequent attacks on churches:

  • 76% believe these were orchestrated by the Muslim Brotherhood
  • 58% believe it was a spontaneous action by Morsi supporters
  • 48% also thought criminal elements were involved
  • 9% believe it was at least also a state conspiracy to make Islamists look bad

The Muslim Brotherhood should be:

  • 42% believed it should be labeled a terrorist organization and banned
  • Only 27% opposed this designation
  • Responders were roughly divided between inviting them to national reconciliation and allowing them political participation in the new elections, with slightly more positive response

The military desires:

  • Of those responding, 59% did not believe the military wants to rule directly
  • But 73% believe they want to maintain significant influence behind the scenes, and 52% to maintain their economic interests (0% opposition to this idea)
  • Of responders, 60% believe the military wants to conduct an open democratic transition, but 40% do not
  • 48% believe they want to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood, and 61% believe they want to prevent Islamist rule in general

The future holds:

  • 48% of all and 73% of responders are confident a real democracy will begin to emerge
  • At the same time, of those responding, half fear the return of another autocratic system
  • 55% believe the economy will continue to deteriorate, with only 27% predicting new prosperity
  • Only 3% predict a return to Islamist rule, but 79% predict a continued low-level Islamist insurgency
  • 9% predict war in Egypt’s near-term future

In quick summary, therefore, this sample of foreign Christian residents of Egypt indicates the community largely accepts the anti-Islamist narrative concerning the Muslim Brotherhood, while at the same time displaying significant, but not universal, distrust about the role and intentions of the military and state.

Determining whether their perceptions are correct or incorrect was not the goal of this survey. Rather, results indicate the following possibilities:

  • Foreign Christian residents are disproportionately influenced by local anti-Islamist sentiment or their own anti-Islamist inclinations
  • Western media has not exhibited sufficient pro-Islamist bias to sway their interpretation of events, but has contributed to a distrust of local actors
  • As residents, these foreign Christians are well placed to interpret local events.

Other interpretations are also possible, including combinations of these three.

Western media is understood to be professional in its coverage, though subject to the ability to find suitable local spokesmen to convey perspectives. Most actors in Egypt are polarized and subject to their own biases.

Egyptian state media, however professional, is understood to be the voice of the government, and independent media has been drawn into the local dispute. Pro-Islamist media has largely been shut down.

In wading between the two, one further assumption is necessary concerning foreign Christian residents: They will represent the truth as they perceive it. The value of this survey consists therein.

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Current Events

An Unfortunate Song with a Catchy Tune

Ali al-Haggar
Ali al-Haggar

This popular Egyptian song by Ali al-Haggar is titled ‘We are a People’. It was created around the time of the military action to remove President Morsi from power, showing scenes from the protests against him.

Fair enough, but the lyrics do not stop at the title. The refrain continues ‘… and you are a people’.

It is a very thinly veiled contrast of the Egyptian people with Islamists, and in particular the Muslim Brotherhood.

This could possibly, maybe, be fair enough. The Muslim Brotherhood is a transnational organization that aims for the unity of the Muslim peoples. Their opponents accuse them of using Egypt as a launching pad for a new caliphate, rather than being loyal to Egypt as a nation-state.

As such, they are a separate people, or so the song suggests.

This is very dangerous and divisive sentiment. Some may say these are dangerous and divisive times. It is good, they say, the Brotherhood has been removed from power before it is too late.

Perhaps. But the song continues, ‘Despite there being only one God, we have a God, and you have a God.’

One Salafi friend, profiled here, complained bitterly about this line before I was even aware of the song.

Islamists are often accused of being ‘takfiris’ – those who call anyone who does not agree with them an infidel. This song does the same in reverse.

‘Take your fatwas and go far away from our land,’ it sings. Early after the revolution some Salafis told Christians and liberals they could leave Egypt and go to Europe or America if they didn’t like the results of elections.

‘We have ibn Sina and ibn Rushd [two famous Arab philosophers], you have bin Laden [you know who he is],’ it also declared. Since dispersing the pro-Morsi sit-in the media had declared the crackdown on the Brotherhood as a ‘War against Terrorism.’

And perhaps it is. Few things are yet clear, but the dangerous and divisive lyrics of this song are one of them. Whatever criminal conspiracy the Brotherhood has possibly engaged in, there are hundreds of thousands of ordinary Egyptians who are partial, at least, to the slogans and promise of Islamism.

These deserve better than this song offers them.

But it is quite catchy. Propaganda often is.

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Current Events

Another Coup, A Salafi Hope

Hani Fawzi casting his ballot in Asala Party internal elections (photo: Clara Pak)
Hani Fawzi casting his ballot in Asala Party internal elections (photo: Clara Pak)

From my recent article in Egypt Source:

In order to reverse a coup d’état, Egypt needs a coup d’état. This, in brief, is the solution to Egypt’s crisis offered by Hani Fawzi, general secretary of the Cairo-based Salafi Asala Party. It must be prompted, however, by massive protests. No longer simply the domain of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis, the anti-coup movement is attracting both professionals and Christians – or so he believes.

Rather, this is what he prays for. A few days prior to the violent dispersal of the pro-Morsi sit-in at Raba’a al-Adaweya, Fawzi suffered a massive heart attack while sleeping in the near-by offices of the Asala Party in Nasr City. Found and hospitalized the next morning, unlike some of his colleagues he avoided the violence and mass arrests, but in his recovery has been reduced mostly to seeking divine intercession.

This, according to Fawzi, can come only through the army, as they are the only ones with the power to bring down Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Minister of Defense, and Mohamed Ibrahim, the Minister of the Interior. There have been indications, he hears, that not all generals have been pleased with Sisi’s leadership. The rumor mill has churned with such stories; a bearded taxi driver told me the other day that Sisi had three opposing generals killed.

Fawzi doesn’t want to put stock in rumors, but does notice that several generals have been very quiet. Should one of them undo the coup, it should set in motion what Morsi should have done upon his election. On this he admittedly draws on the rhetoric of Salafi firebrand Hazem Abu Ismail, who argued for a radical cleansing of the state apparatus. Fawzi finds him too divisive a figure, but Morsi could have made it work.

The rest of the article explains how, explains why he discounts Morsi’s opposition, and exculpates Islamists from the attacks on churches. Please click here to continue reading at Egypt Source.

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Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Defining 6 October

Flag Cross QuranGod,

Egyptian national holidays seek to honor the deeds of the past. Their value is invested by the state, but the people can sometimes force a redefinition.

The most recent example occurred on January 25, 2011, now celebrated as the birth of the revolution. But the date was chosen to coincide with Police Day, in protest of the brutality for which they were known.

The current example is under contention, taking place October 6, 2013. The date traditionally honors the launch of the surprise attack across the Suez Canal which led eventually to the liberation of Sinai, known more often in the West as the Yom Kippur War.

Now, pro-Morsi supporters have chosen the day to launch massive protests against what they deem was a military coup. As January 25 became a popular rejection of the police state, they hope October 6 will become a popular rejection of the military state, and in particular its head, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The protest weekend kicked off today, leading to sporadic clashes, and an at least initial failure to occupy desired squares such as Tahrir and Rabaa, site of the pro-Morsi sit-in violently dispersed in August.

God, what is Egypt’s history? In all nations it is part fact and part construct, defining what it means to be a citizen. Only in Egypt there is plenty to choose from, simply pick your millennium. Which is more honorable in your eyes: distilled data or cherished myth? As Egypt faces her future, give an accounting of her past. Help her self-improvement to be based on self-reflection.

But what of today, God? In one sense it is more of the same. Protests of diminished size seek to keep alive the hope of reinstating a president and returning achieved legitimacy. But they also appear to further antagonize a tired population which – at least in the cities – had largely rejected the president even before he was deposed.

The difference is twofold in possibility. First, they aim this time for the squares, which if occupied bring great symbolic value. Second, they call for numbers and have built up the hype, which if fulfilled can redefine the struggle.

God, success and failure are in your hands. Many Egyptians pray you grant them success, while many others praise you for thwarting their ambition. In a polarized nation, God, make clear the facts. Reveal all offenses and manipulations, so that culprits are exposed for all to see.

A new Egypt was born on January 25, God, but such a venerable nation can never be truly new. A part of that nation was recovered on October 6, and some hope to claim – or reclaim – her again this week. Be sovereign in Egypt, God, and give sovereignty to the people. Protect them and Egypt together.

But redefine them according to your will, that peace, justice, transparency, and love might define the nation entire.

Amen.

 

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Current Events

What Path will Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Choose?

Three options are presented in an excellent and thorough analysis from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

I will excerpt the conclusions for each, but the whole article is worth reading. If you would like to skip over the quotations for my brief commentary, please scroll down to the end.

First, on the possibility of Inclusion and Integration:

Assuming there are prudent, democratic interlocutors who are truly interested in mediating a settlement with the regime, such as Beshr and Darrag, can they really command the organization’s support? The answer, most likely, is no, given that most of the key positions in the group’s decisionmaking bodies, including the Guidance Bureau, the Shura Council, and administrative units, are occupied by individuals completely loyal to the Brotherhood’s incumbent leadership and tied to it through a multilayered network of business, familial, occupational, personal, and ideological connections.

Furthermore, the Brotherhood’s leadership has masterfully employed existential fears of regime repression among the group’s members to deter any serious call for self-critique or internal revision. Brotherhood leaders have so far adamantly refused to admit their grave mistakes and betrayal of the causes of revolution and democratization. The best they can concede, based on the dovish Darrag’s statement to the media, is to support the viewpoint that the only mistake the Brotherhood made while in power was underestimating the power of the Egyptian “deep state” and its capacity to spoil the political process. Darrag believes that the Brotherhood should have adopted a “more revolutionary strategy” in order to cleanse the state. But he expresses no regrets about the authoritarian constitution, the exclusionary political process, or the divisive policies put in place by the Brotherhood while in power. Moreover, even if Brotherhood leaders admit to grave mistakes during their rule, as long as the regime continues its repressive policies against the organization, the time will not be right to critique these leaders or hold them accountable for their shortcomings and wrong deeds. Therefore, internal Brotherhood fragmentation and secession will remain highly unlikely.

Nevertheless, even if some interlocutors can hypothetically solicit a degree of support—and hence start creating a real moderate faction within the Brotherhood—this scenario presents an invitation for the breakdown of the Brotherhood’s organizational unity. As long as there are no comprehensive transformations of the group’s ideology and mission, the recalcitrant Brotherhood mass will not accept these moderates’ offers of settlement on the regime’s terms, which will be depicted as an unpalatable act of treachery. The Brotherhood might come to a historical end, and more radical groups might emerge to the right of the Brotherhood, attracting its disgruntled former supporters. So, the first scenario, which is the resolution preferred by the United States and the European Union, is highly problematic and unlikely, at least in the short run.

Second, the Violence Scenario:

Nevertheless, Islamist violence may have reached its logistical and social limitations. First of all, violence on a large scale requires a large number of people willing to execute it and a social base willing to support it. Small pockets of disaffected, radical Islamists are not enough. Furthermore, unlike in Algeria in the 1990s, topographical conditions favorable to armed insurgency do not exist in Egypt. The country also lacks a clearly proviolence social constituency large enough to provide shelter and support for fighters.

Increasing social hostility to Islamism in general and to Islamist-driven violence in particular can isolate the politics of violence and further erode public support. While radical Islamic groups in Egypt waged an armed confrontation with the state in the 1980s and 1990s, it is important to recall that during that period the public remained either sympathetic to the Islamists or opposed to them but not motivated enough to throw its weight behind the government. This time the violent Islamists will face opposition from both the state and society (or at least wide segments of society), as demonstrated by the continuous street battles between Islamists and the Egyptian public in residential areas, popular neighborhoods, public squares, and marketplaces across different cities and towns in the months since November 2012.

The Syrian scenario is also unlikely. It is hard to believe that the Egyptian army can split along sectarian, political, or ideological lines like its counterpart in Syria.

The violence scenario, if it materialized, could arguably involve more low-intensity violence, limited to specific activities and locales. It might take the form of street conflicts between Islamists and anti-Islamist individuals in different urban neighborhoods. Street violence between common people and politicized actors has been a recurrent pattern since the early days of the transitional period. Many residents consider any politicized marches through their neighborhoods to be a transgression into their territory. Friction and clashes have occurred as a result, increasing in recent weeks, and are now focused on Brotherhood marches. Yet such low-intensity violence would likely fall short of anything like the Algerian or Syrian cases.

So both the accommodation scenario and the violence scenario are improbable. This leaves only one other possible outcome—a continuation of the status quo.

Third, the Continued Protest Scenario of De-legitimization:

The Brotherhood’s odds under the continued protest scenario are not terrible. In fact, the group can already claim that it has made headway through the troubled waters of the last month. The organization is arguably (at least in the minds of some Brotherhood activists) in a much better tactical position than when protests against Morsi began or even than when he was ousted, when public sympathy for Morsi’s cause was at its lowest and the faith in the interim regime’s transitional road map was at its zenith. The biggest problem with this scenario is its extremely risky nature. The pursuit of this option would risk losing the political gains the Brotherhood has made since Mubarak’s fall: official recognition, political participation, and power sharing. Such gains could be partially sustained if the accommodation scenario were to be embraced.

The bet the Brotherhood would be making with the continued protest scenario is that it can achieve longer-term gains, such as exhausting the transitional regime until it surrenders to the Brotherhood’s conditions, if it accepts certain near-term tactical forfeits. However, a complete defeat on the part of the military and the state is likely impossible as well. Ironically, the continued protest scenario in the long run may morph into a modified version of the accommodation option as the maximum that the Brotherhood can gain given the current balance of power.

The author does not dare to predict which path the Brotherhood will take. The best, that of internal self-reform and reflection, he believes is institutionally unlikely as well as near impossible under current circumstances.

But the difficulty lies in the nature of the Brotherhood itself, which he describes even before presenting the three options:

The Brotherhood is not a “moderate” Islamist movement that can be further moderated and democratized via inclusion. Instead, it has shown itself to be an assertive, even reckless movement, invested in Islamist ideology and dominated by an entrenched leadership structure. It has demonstrated a tendency to maintain multiple public discourses in an attempt to reconcile irreconcilable sets of political vocabulary. The soft-spoken English-speaking Brotherhood cadres who communicate with Western diplomats and analysts and propagate lofty statements about the compatibility of Brotherhood objectives with liberal democracy are not exactly representative of the real Muslim Brotherhood.

To truly understand the Brotherhood, one should examine the movement at the grassroots level, in the small towns and rural areas across the Delta and Upper Egypt—the organization’s real power base and the constituency that its leaders represent. At this level, the Brotherhood does not support pro-democracy rhetoric. Instead, it is more aligned with Salafist religious interpretations and understandings of the organization’s mission and goals as expressed by Sayyid Qutb, the renowned Muslim Brotherhood intellectual of the 1950s and early 1960s. Qutb was instrumental in advancing the notion of “organization first,” which suggests that the Islamist cause is inherently connected with the creation and sustenance of the Muslim Brotherhood society as an exclusive representation of Islam.

Intellectually and culturally, the Brotherhood encompasses different schools of Islamic thought, some of which are more open-minded and reformist than others. But based on the Brotherhood’s doctrinal literature and actual behavior, it is clear that the core of the organization centers on an ideology of an “Islamist state,” “Islamic transnationalism,” or “Paxa Islamica” and on notions of a government based on God’s sovereignty instead of the people’s sovereignty.

I have only one small quibble. The constitution produced under Brotherhood leadership specifically stated ‘sovereignty belongs to the people’, over the objections of Salafi members.

Of course, the constitution included several clauses which elevated the role of sharia, and thus of God’s practical sovereignty. The author might argue the constitution was necessarily a compromise document and was certainly a step in an Islamist direction, consistent with Brotherhood pragmatism.

As far as my read on their options, the current period is characterized by choice number three – of continued street protests. The Brotherhood can maintain this for a while, but only up until a coming critical event.

Once the amended (or new) constitution is put to popular referendum, assuming its approval, the Brotherhood claim of legitimacy takes a thorough blow. The people will have democratically sanctified the mass rallies which led to the military deposing of President Morsi.

At this moment, protests will not be enough. The Brotherhood will have to choose between active campaigning for a no vote or a boycott, or else sabotage the process. They must not allow a popular vote to go against them.

How will they do this? At that moment these three choices will come to a head. They can bide their time now with protests, but in another month or so, the die will be cast.

Categories
Current Events

Worrisome Indications of Egypt’s Future

Most people I have interacted with since our return to Cairo are very positive about the nation’s future. They are glad to see Morsi go, the Brotherhood discredited, and though they anticipate a few hiccups from disgruntled Islamists, they expect a return to stability and normalcy within a few months.

Here are two voices which suggest otherwise.

The first is from the Daily News, from Mahmoud Salem, aka Sandmonkey, a liberal blogger who does not have rosy glasses, though he once did. Quite the opposite, in fact:

The “returning” police state is an illusion; the police can’t even protect their own stations. Anyone can see that there is no state, only people who believe they have power, enforceable by guns, against a population that is hungry, armed, and has grown desensitised from violence amidst an economic situation that borders on catastrophic. Throw Islamists in the mix, a military curfew that just got extended for two more months, vanishing tourism for the third year running, and the financial and economic repercussions of the “war on terror,” and anyone can tell you that this won’t end well economically. On a separate but related note, locally manufactured cigarettes are already disappearing and reappearing in the black market.
…………
Every activist I know fears the return of the police state. Every non-activist I know is wondering where the police are.
…………

The other illusion is the return of Mubarak’s “feloul” to power, which won’t happen. You see, the businessmen feloul, the face of the NDP for years, will not be able to take over this time, because at the end of the day they are not “true feloul,” but rather, the elites who utilised the NDP for power and  were used by the NDP political leadership as a front. They were in power because the NDP leadership forced them upon local leaders, had them run for office in areas where they could never win on their own; if you followed the parliamentary elections of 2005 and 2010, it already wasn’t working, with the NDP sometimes fielding four candidates against each other in every district. This used to happen when the NDP was in full operation, with a politburo and a state behind it. Now, there is no politburo, no party, no leadership or symbols, with every man for himself, and the “true feloul,” the drug dealers, arms traders and big family criminals who have armed gangs, are about to become the true rulers of the country,  since they will be the only force capable of ruling the streets that are void of state control. Only the most brutal of them will end up winning a parliamentary seat in a full individual seat election.

………………

The disintegration of the state will lead to the rise of “local leadership” as a street stabilising force, which means that our streets will be gang-controlled. The state’s ability to provide security in such conditions will become rather limited or, to be more accurate, impossible. The bad security will lead to a worse economy, which means that the corrupt government officials will become more vicious with their bribe demands, which would serve as their source of income, as their actual one begins drying up. Infighting will ensue amongst different branches of the government over patronage, because a contracting economy will equal less stealing, and consequently, more ruthless infighting.

His article is lengthy and worth reading, and actually gets to some, gulp, good news. The above state of affairs will continue for three years or so, and then the exhausted powers that be will eventually run out of partners with whom to divide up the pie that is Egypt.

On the brink of becoming another Somalia, they will finally yield to the principles and goals of the January 25 revolution. It’s advocates may be the only ones to desire reforming the mess that Egypt will be by then.

Speaking of Somalia, here is a more journalistic account of this process set in motion, by Foreign Policy:

In the Sinai Peninsula, where government buildings and checkpoints have been bombarded by rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and car bombs on a near-daily basis in recent weeks, the Egyptian state is losing ground to ultraconservative Islamists with an alternative vision for rule of law. The growing influence of self-taught sharia judges who uphold the Quran over Egyptian law reflects an alarming erosion of state sovereignty in the Sinai Peninsula. In late August, state courts in North Sinai were forced to transfer all of their cases to the comparatively stable jurisdiction of Ismailiya, in the face of escalating attacks by armed extremists targeting government buildings and security personnel. This week, two prominent sharia judges were among 15 hard-line Salafis arrested on charges of inciting terrorist attacks, as the Egyptian government struggles to contain rising extremism. But despite the current crackdown, it is clear that the deeply entrenched sharia courts of North Sinai are here to stay.

Since the removal of former President Mohamed Morsi on July 3, the already fragile government in Sinai has been further crippled by a wave of armed attacks, ambushes, and car bombings by militants equipped with increasingly sophisticated weaponry stolen from police stations or smuggled across Egypt’s borders with Libya and Sudan. The escalation of violence has forced the closure of a critical police station in Arish and the evacuation of other government buildings, creating an institutional vacuum that sharia courts are opportunistically exploiting.

The outsourcing of traditional law enforcement functions to non-state actors is reminiscent of a pattern seen in failed states like Somalia, where powerful Islamic courts with their own private militias and ties to al Qaeda seized control over vast swaths of the country in 2006. While the sharia courts of Sinai are nowhere near as institutionalized as those in Somalia, they similarly aspire to absorb the functions of state institutions that are failing to govern.

These courts are not run by radical extremists, as the author makes clear, but some might not find much shade of difference in their end game:

Sharia judges, eager to disassociate themselves from more radical Islamists, are quick to enumerate their moderate credentials and tolerance of religious minorities. Beik insisted that the courts operate on a purely voluntary basis and would never forcibly impose Islamic law on non-Muslims without their consent. To illustrate this point, he proudly informed me that the House of Sharia Judgment has heard three cases involving claims by Christian litigants against Muslim adversaries since the revolution, and in all three cases, the Christian party prevailed — a fact he cited as evidence of the courts’ neutrality.

But although the sharia judges of North Sinai pay lip service to liberal democratic principles of inclusion and equality, they ultimately aspire to establish a parallel state governed not by Egypt’s constitution, but by a retrograde interpretation of sharia that relegates women and religious minorities to second-class citizenship. For now, their rulings are purely advisory and non-binding. But Abu Faisal predicts that his court’s decisions will one day carry the force of law in the Islamic emirate he hopes to see established in the Sinai. “Sharia is already the law of the land here,” he said. “God willing, someday it will be the law of the state.”

I maintain optimism for Egypt’s future. Prognosis, however, is currently beyond my confidence to assert.

Categories
Current Events

Obama at the UN: As Seen by an Egyptian

Obama at UN

Many Egyptians believe the United States is deeply involved in their nation’s affairs. Some believe because of strong military ties, President Obama was behind the removal of President Morsi. Others believe because of a State Department search for a new reliable partner to do their bidding, President Obama was behind the ascent of the Muslim Brotherhood and is still working to hoist them upon a wary public.

Paul Atallah is among the latter. He frequently distributes a newsletter summing up Egyptian developments in local media and provides his own commentary. If you would like to receive it, his email address is: paul_attallah@hotmail.com

He has given me permission to share his latest take on the ‘weird speech’ President Obama offered at the United Nations.

Point 1: Mohammed Morsi was democratically elected, but proved unwilling or unable to govern in a way that was fully inclusive.

Point 2: The interim government that replaced him responded to the desires of millions of Egyptians who believed the revolution had taken a wrong turn,

Point 3: but it too has made decisions inconsistent with inclusive democracy – through an emergency law, and restrictions on the press, civil society, and opposition parties.

Comment: At this point, Obama did not mention anything about MB and Islamist terrorist actions committed during the last three months which had been the cause of this emergency law, etc. and this makes the whole difference.

Point 4: Of course, America has been attacked by all sides of this internal conflict, simultaneously accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, and engineering their removal from power. In fact, the United States has purposely avoided choosing sides.

Comment: Liar!

Point 5: The United States will maintain a constructive relationship with the interim government.

Point 6: We will continue support in areas like education that benefit the Egyptian people.

Comment: This argument is normally used to say: We are against the regime but we cannot harm the people!

Point 7: Our approach to Egypt reflects a larger point: the United States will at times work with governments that do not meet the highest international expectations, but who work with us on our core interests.

Comment: So we have to deal with a dirty military dictatorship against our will!

Point 8: But we will not stop asserting principles that are consistent with our ideals, whether that means opposing the use of violence as a means of suppressing dissent, or supporting the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We will reject the notion that these principles are simply Western exports, incompatible with Islam or the Arab World – they are the birthright of every person.

Comment: Condemning the Egyptian regime and nothing about MB monstrosities. I feel that he is speaking about Syria and not about Egypt.

Point 9: And while we recognize that our influence will at times be limited; although we will be wary of efforts to impose democracy through military force, and will at times be accused of hypocrisy or inconsistency – we will be engaged in the region for the long haul. For the hard work of forging freedom and democracy is the task of a generation.

Comment: I am not quite sure of what Obama meant by this statement? Does he mean that US at a certain moment would interfere to impose democracy by military force or is he talking of the military coup that happened in order to impose democracy?

If he meant the first one so it is a warning: At a certain point we will be obliged to impose democracy through military force. But I am not sure of this translation.

If the meant the second: How was it possible to get rid of a paramilitary/religious regime?

 As an example of his newsletter, here are a few other links he provides about local analysis in the Egyptian press:

Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Obama speech reflects US submission to the Egyptians will and confirms that Egypt is walking firmly on the roadmap to democracy: Obama’s mention of emergency law and civil society reflects that he is not fully aware of what the Egyptian society is facing on the ground.

El Hariry: MB prohibition and the force of the army defeated Obama in front of the people’s will: US sold the Muslim Brotherhood as they abandoned Mubarak.

Revolutionary forces coalition: 30th of June taught US how to respect the people’s will

It is always fun to be an American in Egypt! In our experience, Egyptians, no matter which side of this divide they occupy, have always treated us kindly and with respect.