Egypt is once again divided, perhaps more visibly now than in some time. President Morsy issued a decree to shield both his past and present decisions from judicial review, until a new constitution and parliament appear.
He promises not to abuse this authority, claimed as necessary to stabilize Egypt and complete the revolution. He also sacked the public prosecutor and declared retrials for Mubarak and those acquitted of killing protestors. He additionally sealed the current constitutional writing committee from any possible legal dissolution.
Opponents call him a new pharaoh; supporters defend his revolutionary legitimacy. God, protect Egypt.
Protect her from deepening divisions between the people. Egypt has been on edge since the revolution. Frustrated in the political process, some may take to violence. Buoyed by their political success, some may sanction violence. Forces manipulating on either side may provoke violence. And violence has a way of spiraling out of control.
Protect her from men with designs on power. God, you know the hearts of men. You know why Egypt has suffered up until now, and what is necessary to move her forward. Help Egyptians to know how to interpret Morsy’s decision within this context.
Protect her from international intrigue, but also from paranoia. On the heels of the Gaza crisis Egypt’s role in world affairs has only increased. Are the powers that be turning Morsy into a new dictator to be relied upon, or are they working to undermine him and undo the revolution? Both sides find larger forces as work; grant Egypt alone to forge her sovereignty.
God, in looking to you, help Egyptians to find strength and conviction amidst their divisions. Where there is good, may it be honored. Where there is wrong, may it be purged. Where both are found in the same people; God, have mercy.
Have mercy and do not allow simplification. Have mercy and prevent manipulation. Have mercy and give Egypt a singleness of purpose that respects her complexity.
No man is inviolable, God, but test the president and prune him accordingly. May all that is good in his purposes remain. Give him wisdom; bless Egypt through him.
In the end, God, be just, but let your mercy triumph over judgment.
In a solemn, emotional ceremony, Pope Tawadros II was enthroned as the 118th Coptic Orthodox patriarch on Sunday, November 18. Only one day earlier, a different atmosphere prevailed. Acting Patriarch Bishop Pachomious announced the withdrawal of church representation from the constituent assembly writing Egypt’s new constitution.
As Pope Tawadros took his seat on the papal chair of St. Mark, he was the picture of spiritual reflection. His demeanor was subdued, almost resigned to his new responsibilities. On a few occasions he shed a tear.
Two days prior, the church – behind closed doors – was the picture of enflamed political discussion.
Tawadros is the disciple of Pachomious, who spoke of his protégé:
Following the reading of the gospel, Pachomious introduced the new pope. Tawadros’ gravity was matched by Pachomious’ triumphal proclamation. “I tell him I will be his son and his servant,” stated Pachomious, “for we know the meaning of spiritual fatherhood.” He then exclaimed, driving home an intended contrast, “There is no struggle for authority in the Coptic Orthodox Church!”
The contrast, of course, is with the Egyptian political system, which the church strove hard to rise above.
But why would Pachomious make such a critical decision a day before the new pope, presumably, should start guiding these matters?
According to Bishop Yohanna Golta, Deputy Patriarch of the Coptic Catholic Church and its representative in the constituent assembly, the pope’s distance was deliberate. “The goal of Bishop Pachomious’s announcement … was to avoid entangling the new pope in this matter,” he said.
Politics entered the papal ceremony through another route – the decision of President Morsy not to attend. Many saw this as a failure to assuage the Copts amid an Islamist presidency, but others were relieved.
Perhaps Morsi, like Pachomious, also spared Tawadros the difficulty of political complications. The pope may prefer a non-politicized papacy, but this luxury may not be afforded until Egypt’s government stabilizes, if then.
And finally, here was the lead-up to the conclusion which needed to be edited out to fit with EgyptSources political focus:
Regardless of the explanation, during the ceremony Bishop Pachomious publically thanked President Morsy for sending a deputy, but focused on the spiritual definition of leadership.
‘We are the children of St. Mark,’ he said, ‘who taught us to wash each other’s feet.’ In this he referred to the example of Jesus, who took the place of a servant to wash the feet of his disciples.
Perhaps Pachomious and the church did so for Pope Tawadros, leaving him enough room to change the decision positively should circumstances warrant.
Though only speculation, perhaps it was these wranglings which produced Tawadros’ tears.
Please click here to read the whole article on EgyptSource.
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.
Four and a half months into Mohamed Morsy’s presidency, much of Egypt’s democratic transition is still on hold. Parliament remains dissolved. A new constitution is still pending, beset by legal challenges. In this political limbo, Morsy has appropriated even more power than former dictator Hosni Mubarak enjoyed before the January 2011 revolution.
However, alongside Morsy in this limbo is Samir Marcos, a Coptic intellectual serving as assistant president for democratic transition.
This is the opening of my new article on Christianity Today, discussing if it was wise for him to join an Islamist administration, and, if he will have a real voice. Please click here for the full article, featuring diverse Coptic answers to these questions.
“We told him, ‘Accept the position and be involved in the administration, and we will be behind you and support you. But if you feel you are being marginalized and not listened to, resign and make this clear to everyone,'” said Gaziri.
Of course, others disagree.
“The Muslim Brotherhood’s reputation in the international community will improve with him there, but Copts will not gain anything,” said Mamdouh Nakhla, head of the Word Center for Human Rights. “It is very difficult to change the regime from the inside.”
But I appreciate this perspective:
“The most unwise thing to do would be to refuse working with the administration due to its ties to the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said. “Despite our different perspectives concerning the civil state, we must maintain at least the minimum of dialogue so that we can work together for the good of Egypt.”
It is well and good to play politics, and Christians, like all people, can disagree about how to play it properly. But at the end of the day, the defining criteria must be to do what is right, even if others will take advantage.
There are degrees of right and wrong, so one must be very careful before rejecting the political stance of another. For someone like Nakhla, who is convinced the Muslim Brotherhood is a hypocritical, power hungry organization, it can certainly be ‘right’ not to aid or abet them.
Still, for good or for ill, they are currently entrusted with running the state for the good of the country. Succeed or fail, all citizens must work for the same aim. I believe Marcos is doing well.
It is first useful to recall what are understood to be facts. On January 28, the decisive day of the revolution, the prisons were opened. Though many were later apprehended, others are still at large.
During the volatile transition to democracy security was lax and policemen absent. It is understood many weapons entered Egypt through Libya.
Amid the controversial decisions of leadership, both the military council and President Morsy freed many convicted Islamists. Some were released long after their terms expired, others were given outright pardons.
Throughout the post-revolution months the Sinai Peninsula witnessed repeated attacks on the Israeli gas pipeline and police and military checkpoints. The president launched a high profile army crackdown on its criminals and jihadists.
So God, it is fully believable there may be terrorist cells in Egypt. If so, thank you for the discovery and apprehension of the group in Nasr City.
But some allege it is all a sham. Mostly the formerly jailed Islamists, they assert it is an attempt by security to reassert not only its authority, but also its relevance and possibly its need for emergency powers.
God, what can the average Egyptian know of these things? Should any manipulation exist, silence and thwart it. For all of Egypt’s difficulties, such has been the state of terrorism – quiet.
Keep it so, God. Keep Egypt’s political powers engaged in the peaceful transition process. Cantankerous as it is, threats and frustrations are expressed in the media or on the street. Find some way to unify all, God. May none be forced into the corner of violence, and may those who wind up on the edges of consensus recommit to a social and political struggle, neither armed nor intimidating.
Help the state to both empower and regulate the police. May they perform their duty unencumbered, serving both law and society. May the people partner, hostage to neither fear nor spite.
And of those whose consciences are seared and contemplate violence for political ends, protect the people from them. Speak to them, God, and convict them of their evil schemes. Redeem them, that they may serve not only you but others as well. Widen their vision and enlarge their hearts.
God, so much is uncertain in Egypt, but you have kept her safe. Thank you, and please continue.
For the first time since the revolution, protestors from opposite camps attacked each other at Tahrir Square. The events have been well documented – and disputed. Here is my version.
Please read this EgyptSource article for a good summary of events and context. Please read here for my brief introduction in the form of a prayer. In brief, a protest against the constitution drafting committee was joined by a protest against the ‘not guilty’ verdict in the revolutionary ‘Battle of the Camel’.
The former protest was called for largely by liberal and leftist forces; the latter by Islamists and revolutionaries. Perhaps there was some overlap between them.
‘Perhaps’ is the key word in all that follows. Previous violent skirmishes all involved the people against the police force. When protestor turned on protestor it was very difficult to tell one from the other.
I arrived at around 3:30pm. As I ascended from the Metro I looked around to see sporadic rock throwing in several locations throughout the square. It took me a little while to gain my bearings. I anticipated a full crowd of dueling chants. Instead, I discovered Tahrir to be quite empty.
As I watched I was surprised to find my only reaction was to laugh. The scene was so surreal. I was standing calmly beside the Metro steps with a few dozen others, while about fifty yards away on the other side of the Omar Makram statue rocks were being hurled through the air.
Onlookers told me there was a single stage set up by the anti-constitution protest, but it was destroyed by supporters of President Morsy. Others told me it was the Muslim Brotherhood members who were attacked first by rocks, and then responded. See the EgyptSource link above for video about the stage destruction. Clearly they are Morsy supporters, but how can one tell if it was the Brotherhood or not?
While we were watching the nearby rock throwing, other bystanders told me the Brotherhood had now withdrawn from the square. Their organization has since issued contradictory statements, but the official spokesman stated their members were not present at that time at all. I could see some of those tossing rocks wore beards in Islamist fashion. But then again, anyone can wear a beard.
Eventually the scene settled down nearby, and fighting concentrated on Mohamed Mahmoud Street towards the Ministry of the Interior. Months ago the clashes there with security had been fierce. Now, the battle lines were on the edge of the square leading in, with little to suggest either side cared particularly to advance.
But who was ‘either side’? Onlookers were completely confused and had no idea who was fighting. Eventually one person who seemed like he knew said it was the two wings of the April 6 Movement fighting each other. Indeed, the black flags with clenched fist of April 6 were on both sides. Then again, anyone can hold a flag.
Please click here for my video of this scene (three minutes). The proximity is from the zoom lens, but there were a few moments I thought to judge how close the stones were coming to my vantage point. At this point I wasn’t laughing. If anything, my eyes were a touch moist watching Tahrir disintegrate.
Again, it was hard to tell who was who, but I did not see many bearded protestors; one was assaulted by fists and ran away from the scene to the relatively open Tahrir Square behind us. As for April 6, they have long been divided into two fronts with separate leadership and institutional decision making. One front has closely aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood as a revolutionary movement. Perhaps the other increasingly sees this as a betrayal. It was hard to know.
And then, the reconciliation happened, sort of. All the while the stones were being thrown other revolutionaries were gathered to the left in front of Hardees, chanting furiously, but peacefully. They made their way towards Mohamed Mahmoud Street, and upon arrival, united the two groups. Once together, they chanted the now-popular anti-Brotherhood slogan, ‘Sell the revolution, Badie,’ referring to Mohamed Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood General Guide. Perhaps they were not fighting over a supposed allegiance to the Islamists.
Please click here for my video of these scene (four minutes). It is after the reconciliation itself but shows that perhaps a quarter of Tahrir was now relatively packed, presumably by liberals and leftists.
Somehow they were still divided. A short while later the fighting broke out again.
But by now the main fighting had moved to the Talaat Harb Street entrance to Tahrir Square. This was too far away for me to determine who was who, but onlookers said the Revolutionary Socialists march had just arrived. Again, if flags are any indication, their banner was on one side, while April 6 was on the other.
At this point I decided to leave, figuring there was not much left to see. The only possible development would be if the riot police entered to stop the fighting. Indeed, that was my first thought near the Metro: Why did President Morsy not put an end to in-fighting?
One observer commented, likely correctly, this would then turn into a brawl against the police which would fall on Morsy’s account. At the same time, should it not be the role of the police to calm a civil disturbance? Was Morsy letting the protestors paint each other black? Does he not feel confident he has full control over security forces? Did he just hesitate? Or were there Muslim Brotherhood members present who were stoking tensions, even deliberately?
These are too many questions, which unfortunately fits with the lack of answers that characterizes Egyptian politics these days. Perhaps in days to come everything, everywhere, will be made known.
There is little to pray for this week except for wisdom for men. Many new faces are receiving new responsibilities, as the president has appointed new people to fill the offices of governorates, the National Council for Human Rights, and the Supreme Press Council.
Not all governors are new; only ten of twenty-seven have so far been replaced. In doing so President Morsy has both preserved and broken with tradition. In the sensitive border governorates he appointed only military men. Yet in calmer areas he appointed civilians, and among them, Muslim Brotherhood members.
Again, God, the speculation is open, and only you know his heart. Guide it, God, and may these be men of integrity and conscience. As presidents have done before, is Morsy cementing his power – now regionally? Or is he gradually dismantling a military state? If you would have these positions chosen by the people, God, give wisdom to writers of the constitution.
But for these men now, may they serve their constituencies. May they learn their job quickly, and represent their area to the central government with skill. May they establish security, dignity, and freedom. May they respect the law.
As for the Council for Human Rights, the membership is curious. Breaking with past precedent to select party loyalists, the composition is mixed. There are many Islamist members, but liberal and leftist as well. A few members seem almost extremist, but the head is a well respected judge. Will the body exist as cover for the president, or will they dare to scour Egypt for all vestiges of injustice?
May it be the latter, God. May these members rub shoulders, argue, and develop respect for each other. May they respect above all their task. Many are good men, God, may they demonstrate this for the good of the nation.
And lastly, the journalist appointments have continued for a while now, upsetting many that the Muslim Brotherhood appears to seek control of the media. True or false, the appointments proceed as they always have, through an obscure, but popularly elected branch of the legislature – now dominated by Islamists.
The same question as before, God. Is this a purge of institutions accustomed to kowtowing to the state? Or are they simply new sycophants of a different stripe? Do those who accuse simply find themselves on the out, or are they raising warning flags?
Preserve the media, God. May voices vary, but all speak only from their understanding of the situation. Promote those who promote the truth. Sideline those who write with agendas under the guise of objectivity. May the profession be marked by strong personal integrity, and may it be free from temptation of government to interfere. May it be free as well from the temptation to bootlick.
God, a state is made up ultimately only of men, human beings of your creation. May the institutions be strong, but may the men be moral. Provide multiple layers of accountability. Nurture an aware populace. Give Egypt the tools she needs to recover, and from there to thrive.
Bless the president and his men, God. Through them, bless Egypt.
What do you make of the anti-Muslim Brotherhood protests? There was so much confusion in the preceding weeks; so much tied to broader events in the nation. Yet the fact of the matter is a few thousand people demonstrated at the presidential palace. Calls for a sit-in are pending.
If the turnout was somewhat weak in terms of Tahrir, it was somewhat sizeable in its own right. But the event could not live up to its billing – false or otherwise. Rumors abounded the demonstration – billed originally as a 2nd revolution – would be violent, though revolutionaries and Brothers traded accusations at who would be the instigator. Yet the day was chosen to commemorate the burning of Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in 1954, and the nation was on alert for repetition.
Even so, the clamor for the awaited day of protest had waned following Morsy’s sacking of army leadership and the silencing of two anti-Brotherhood media outlets. Some analysts say a coup d’etat was in the works; when it was snuffed out behind the scenes the air went out of the protest balloon. Indeed, it is difficult to know if there is legitimacy behind it at all.
The nation has chosen a president, God, but one with a very thin mandate. His moves seem to outpace his support, but is there any room to call for his dismissal?
On other protest cries there may be more. The Muslim Brotherhood is still an unregistered organization, existing outside the law. Should it be dissolved, or at least regulated?
But in the many manipulations of rumors surrounding the event, coupled with assurances of peacefulness and freedom to protest, what is really at stake? It may be no less than mutual attempts at de-legitimization.
If so, God, please do not allow it. There are many reasons to either support or oppose the Brotherhood, and equally their opposition. But if democracy is the goal, they must do so on the basis of ideas, while accepting the other’s right of difference. But Egypt has been in the long bad habit of exaggeration and defacement, and despite the onset of democracy the situation is still very revolutionary, very unsettled. For many, too much is at stake for honest transparency.
God, will you withhold your blessing from those who lack integrity? Or will you allow this sin to prevail that greater grace might abound elsewhere?
The fears of many concerning the Brotherhood have a reality behind them, God. As you know the situation, give clarity and courage to confront, or else peace of mind and heart to accept. And as the Brotherhood holds power, guide and enlighten them toward good governance and promotion of liberty.
Yet even if acceptance is warranted, God, develop a viable opposition in Egypt. Not that they are correct – this is for your judgment – but that they are necessary. Create a civil and institutionalized check on the authority of power. Establish alternatives away from the street.
Yet within any opposition, God, hold Egyptians together in unity. Should this protest either wither or continue in strength, may the state of the nation be uplifted.
It has taken me a long time to write anything about the Sunday surprise: President Morsy forcing the resignation of senior military men Mohamed Tantawi and Sami Anan. At the same time, he unilaterally canceled the army announcement appropriating legislative authority and constitutional oversight to itself. Morsy then gave himself these privileges.
Much of my delay was due to shock, the rest due to efforts to figure out what it all meant.
My first response came almost a week later by necessity, as I am glad for the habit of writing Friday Prayers. It was very helpful to try to frame the event in a manner all people here could pray.
Morsy’s moves were good, but not as good as some make them out to be. They were also bad, but not as bad as others make them out to be.
Certainly the army leadership was guilty of mismanagement during the democratic transition, if not worse. Moreover, it was never fitting for the military to formally take the powers it did, even if there were justifying factors.
In one sense Morsy put things right, but by taking power to himself he put them wrong again.
One of the main reasons the revolution railed against Mubarak was over his dictatorial command of the regime. Now, as the beneficiary of the revolution, Morsy has even more power.
Yet while this image is there, it should be drawn in. Morsy could not have sacked army leadership without the help of junior army leadership. These may be less adversarial in public, but in private may still act as a check on his power.
The question is, if this is true, are they a check on his revolutionary and democratic ambitions, or on his Islamist ambitions? Which does Morsy hold closer to his heart?
In contemplating this question I recalled a conversation I had with a leading Coptic media figure several months ago. Then I found a new writing opportunity, resulting in my first full reflection on Morsy’s gambit, published yesterday at Egypt Source. I wrote:
The worried Coptic voice interprets this as a grand scheme to implement an Islamic state. The frustrated liberal voice interprets it as evidence of their Machiavellian lust for power. Both may be right.
But what if the Brotherhood really means it? ‘Trust us’ may not result in everything the Copt or the liberal desire, but it may reflect a real Brotherhood wish to honor the goals of the revolution in respect to the conservative social reality of Egypt.
Or perhaps I have the wool pulled over my eyes.
In November of last year following the Islamist victory in the first round of parliamentary elections, I interviewed Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Coptic newspaper Watani. Imagining I would hear alarm bells from an intellectual leader in the community, I was surprised by the exact opposite.
“I believe the Muslim Brotherhood wants to prove they can create a form of democracy,” Sidhom said, “that respects the rights of all Egyptians.” He went on to describe several positive pre-election meetings with Brotherhood leaders, from which he was convinced they were ‘decent people’.
Yet when asked why they would not submit to a consensus over binding constitutional principles, his answer has echoed in my mind in all events since.
“Perhaps … they don’t want it said, ‘They did so only because they were forced to.’”
Upon finishing the article I had the disquieting feeling I had functioned as an apologist for the Muslim Brotherhood.
But here is the rub. The West enjoys liberal governance and has for decades. The revolution in Egypt is only now seeking its creation. Does the Brotherhood seek this? If so, they may need an autocratic moment to give it birth. All their concentration of power may be to show themselves the ultimate servant, when they bequeath it back to the people.
They should not be given the benefit of the doubt – there is no room for this in politics. The possibility, however, needs to be raised.
I am very cautious. Most testimony I have heard across the Egyptian political spectrum is that Morsy is a good man. I believe that power corrupts; while a man can be a benevolent dictator or philosopher king, a system cannot.
Is Morsy ushering in a new era, or is the Muslim Brotherhood ushering in a new system?
Honor those in authority, and make them men worthy of honor. To the degree they are, may they receive honor from the people.
Yet this asks a lot of the people, God, when so much happens behind closed doors. Once opened and an action is taken, there is little in the way of explanation, leaving everyone in the dark. This past week has been an exercise in groping about.
When President Morsy sacked the top leaders of the military council, did he do so for revolutionary gain or Islamist? The rhetoric issued afterwards means little, for he also took unto himself the military-seized powers of the legislature and oversight of the committee to write the constitution. If it was right for him to remove this from the military, is the reality now an equally undemocratic arrangement? Or is it only so if he will misuse this power?
Perhaps consolidate of power is in itself misuse.
Furthermore, there is consolidation in the ranks of the press. New editors-in-chief appear to have Islamist bent, and worrisome actions have been taken against the president’s critics. But again the darkness obscures. The critics were not simply voicing opinion, they were calling for revolution. Yet the charges hearken back to the days of Mubarak-era oppression, seemingly trumped up and exaggerated. Meanwhile, is the editorial squeeze Islamist in reality, or just the reality of editorial policy, now in the hands of different heads? It is justified to fear, it is so hard to know.
Perhaps consolidation of opinion is in itself oppression.
But God, is consolidation necessary to move Egypt through these times of transition into a free and stable system, as Morsy promises? Is he an honorable man, or does he hold a hidden agenda?
Is it foolish to believe the right must be achieved in the right way? Not everything being done, even if justifiable, seems right.
God, hold accountable those who have committed crimes. Honor those who have presided over difficult days in Egypt. If these are the same men, God, sort out justice as you know best.
God, hold accountable those who have manipulated the news. Honor those who strive to sort through the many vagaries and contradictions of Egypt. If these are the same men, God, preserve the freedom of the press as you deal with them as individuals.
If consolidation is necessary, God, may it be temporary and keep its beneficiaries pure from the temptations of power.
If it is not necessary, then foil all plans, yet deal gently with those of good intention.
Where honor exists, God, no matter how small, honor and multiply it. Cleanse Egypt and make her whole. Shine light into the darkness, and purify all good.
May Egyptians be people of integrity, and their nation a beacon.
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.
It is good there is now a cabinet in place, because they have work to do.
After a long delay, presumably over negotiations, President Morsy has now sworn in his new government. Public reaction is mostly blah. Most members are technocrats, there are few Muslim Brothers, and no Salafis. Some complain over the number of old regime figures included; others that the cabinet is not at all revolutionary.
If anything, the cabinet is like much in Egypt these days – even the marks of stability seem temporary and transitional.
Yet they are men (and two women out of 35) with responsibility to their country. They bear burdens and must work the wheels of government bureaucracy. Much is on their shoulders, while little has been working the past year and a half.
Give them grace, God, to work as unto you. May their diligence, creativity, and determination be first of all present, and then afterwards rewarded. They have much to do.
Let alone reviving the mechanics of government, there are urgent bubbles bursting. In downtown Cairo there were deaths in classist clashes. In Upper Egypt there were deaths over sexual harassment. Yet the biggest challenge is in Giza – Dahshur – where Muslims and Christians exchanged Molotov cocktails.
A stray bottle killed an innocent Muslim passerby following a simple consumer complaint that spiraled out of control. Security forces intervened when Muslim residents sought revenge for the death of their neighbor. Many were injured protecting the church and Christian homes, but several were burned along with their shops. Police then evacuated 120 Christian families from the village.
It is hard to understand Egypt sometimes, God. Yes, a tribal mentality and culture of revenge is prevalent among many. But how could the masses rally so quickly against an offense? Is it a problem of culture, education, religion?
Forgive the culprits, God, on all sides. Yet hold them accountable. Be merciful in the next world, but may perpetrators and observers see the hand of law in this one. Change the hearts of these men; change the culture in which they live. May grace be valued more than retribution.
The parliament’s upper house has dispatched a committee to seek reconciliation. May they find favor in the eyes of men. May they listen, confront, rebuke, and restore. May they be humble; may they act from purity. Give them the words to say and the hearts to incline. Bring good from this tragedy and knit the hearts of those torn asunder.
Give wisdom to the president, God. His words so far have been wise; may his actions confirm them. He has promised the harsh application of law. He has esteemed Muslims and Christians as brothers. He has pronounced that no citizen must live in fear.
Ah, but may his cabinet apply these sentiments. May the president not rest until his words are enacted. A just settlement will prove so much for his presidency. Fairness may well win over the Copts. It is a new era in Egypt; may sectarian tension not be dealt with in the old ways.
God, may Egypt have peace in all its spheres. May the revolution reach to the hearts and consciences of men. Have mercy, God. Forgive. Above all, redeem and set straight. Continue and complete all the goodness Egypt has won. May the old wineskins be replaced.
At an open fast-breaking meal outside the sit-in protest for Omar Abdel Rahman at the US Embassy, Hassan Khalifa shed tears of joy as he concluded his ten minute speech.
‘I apologize for going long, but forgive me, it has been nineteen years that I have been in prison,’ he said.
On June 21 President Mohamed Morsy issued a pardon for 572 prisoners convicted in military trials. Of these, 25 were members of al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya or Islamic Jihad, groups still designated as ‘terrorist’ by the United States. Hassan Khalifa, now in a wheelchair, had been sentenced to death.
‘I praise God; I have never stopped speaking on behalf of al-Jama’a my entire life,’ he said, before switching to intercede for the Blind Sheikh.
‘Omar Abdel Rahman’s only crime was that he was the greatest one in worshipping God. He never ascribed to Islam anything that did not belong to it.’
Essam Derbala, who fifteen years ago led al-Jama’a in its Non-Violent Initiative to unilaterally give up terrorist techniques, presented Khalifa and others with a commemorative Qur’an.
Others honored included:
Ahmed Abdel Qadir
Abdel Hamid al-Aqrab
Sheikh Abu al-Ai’ila
Attia Abdel Sami’
Each of these warrants further investigation as to their crimes. I hope after further investigation to describe if these individuals were directly involved in terrorist activity and efforts to overthrow the government. Large numbers of al-Jama’a members and sympathizers were imprisoned upon association with the group, or even to pressure family members more deeply involved.
‘The United States has to stand with the people of the revolution and its demands, which include the release of Omar Abdel Rahman,’ said Essam Derbala. ‘Al-Jama’a will continue to exert all effort to obtain his freedom.’
Abdullah Omar Abdel Rahman, the Blind Sheikh’s son, added, ‘We congratulate the members of al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya who were released from prison. May God reward you for what you have endured.’
Abdel Rahman also relayed the testimony he received from Ahmed Raghib, the deputy minister for Egyptian affairs abroad in the Foreign Minister. Raghib told him Omar Abdel Rahman’s file was complete, awaiting only the signature of the military council or President Morsy. Once authorized, he said the Blind Sheikh would be back in Egypt ‘within hours’.
Mohamed al-Saghir, an Azhar sheikh and member of al-Jama’a’s Building and Development Party, added, ‘We tell the US administration, if you want to turn a new page with the Egyptian people, let us see your good intentions and release Omar Abdel Rahman.’
‘He was in solitary confinement for 19 years, but did nothing except call people to God.’
Abdel Akhir Hammad is an Islamic legal scholar for al-Jama’a, and interceded for the Blind Sheikh as well.
‘They lie when they say he is responsible for the explosion of the World Trade Center in 1993; they are the first to know he is innocent.
‘We are not weaker than the government of Yemen which was able to secure the return of Mohamed al-Muayyid back to their country, from an American prison.
‘I call on Morsy to fulfill what he promised and pressure that oppressive nation which claims it defends human rights.’
Nageh Ibrahim is another long-term leader of al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya. Along with Derbala and others he shaped the group’s Non-Violent Initiative.
‘We never expected a president who was part of the Islamist movement, but that day has come,’ he said.
‘From the first days of our initiative we have been waiting patiently for some of these people to be released.
‘But their release will not make us forget Omar Abdel Rahman.’
Nasr Abdel Salam is president of al-Jama’a’s Building and Development Party. He focused his words for prayer on the Blind Sheikh’s behalf, especially in the month of Ramadan.
‘God works with us as we work with him,’ he said. ‘So we must aid the right and God will aid us.
‘Let us return to God and ask him to support Muslims everywhere and free Omar Abdel Rahman from prison.’
As God is sovereign in all affairs, may he honor justice, have mercy, and bless those dedicated honestly to their cause.
This article was originally published at Lapido Media on August 1, 2012.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared religious freedom in Egypt to be ‘quite tenuous’ following the releaseof the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report. Despite chronicling several instances of sectarian violence against Coptic Christians, their community finds itself increasingly divided over its longstanding support for America.
At issue is Clinton’s alleged support for the nation’s first Islamist president, Mohamed Morsy.
The Orthodox Church and Coptic politicians boycotted a recent meeting with Clinton as she visited the fledgling democracy. Some Copts, meanwhile, demonstrated at the US Embassy against her visit.
‘We believe there is an alliance between the Obama administration and the Muslim Brotherhood, which supports fascism in the Middle East,’ said Bishoy Tamry, a leader in the primarily Coptic Maspero Youth Union, formed following post-revolution attacks on Cairo churches.
‘The US thinks the Brotherhood will protect their interests in the region but it will be over our bodies as minorities.’
President Morsy won a highly contested election rife with rumors of fraud and behind the scenes negotiation between the Brotherhood, Egypt’s military council, and the United States.
‘We knew the next president must have US support,’ said Tamry, ‘because the military council rules Egypt and the US pays the military council.’
Egypt receives $1.3 billion annually in US military aid, compared with $250 million in economic assistance.
Yet, according to Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Coptic newspaper Watani, Copts have been disproportionately affected by these rumours.
‘Copts fell victim to the conspiracy theory that said Morsy did not win and Shafik [his opponent] was in the lead. I found no compelling evidence of this conspiracy.’
Nevertheless, Copts find reason to believe the US is taking sides in an Egyptian political question. Muslim Brotherhood deputy leader Khairat al-Shater stated his group’s priority is a ‘strategic partnership’ with the United States.
Clinton, meanwhile, urged President Morsy to assert the ‘full authority’ of his office. Egypt is currently undergoing a struggle between the Brotherhood and the military council over the political transition to democracy.
Bishop Thomas of the Coptic Orthodox Church told Lapido Media, ‘We did not meet with Clinton because of the unclear relationship with the Brotherhood and the support they have given it.
‘Things are not settled in Egypt,’ he said. ‘Why was she in such a hurry to come?
‘The current administration does not understand the agenda of the Brotherhood which has been clear for decades – to revive the caliphate and apply shariah law.’
Emad Gad is one of two Copts elected to the now dissolved parliament. He received an invitation to meet with Clinton, but refused.
‘In exchange for Morsy’s being named president,’ he said, ‘the Brotherhood is expected to protect Israel’s security by pressuring Hamas – the Brotherhood’s branch in Palestine – not to launch military attacks against Israel, and even accept a peace agreement with Tel Aviv.’
Sameh Makram Ebeid, the second Coptic parliamentarian, gives a different emphasis. Though not invited to the meeting with Clinton, he agreed with the refusal of Gad and other Coptic politicians.
He told Lapido: ‘There are two objections to her visit. The liberal forces say – true or false I don’t know – the Americans were in cahoots with the Brotherhood and handed them the country.
‘The second is that you should not meet with the Copts as Copts, but as part of the liberal movement, as the third way between military and Islamist.
‘She wanted to meet with individual liberal politicians, but they were all Christians,’ he said. ‘If you start segregating the country you’re making a big mistake.’
Segregating and dividing the country was also a concern of Revd. Safwat el-Baiady, president of the Protestant Council of Churches. In an interview with Lapido, he said the Orthodox clergy withdrew from the meeting only one hour before it started, but that Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox laity attended.
Baiady told Clinton of Coptic fears of a repetition of Iraq, where Christians fled the country following American interference. He also spoke of Egyptian concerns the US would divide Egypt, especially the Sinai, using it as a solution for the problem of Hamas.
‘She is a good listener and took many notes,’ said Mr Baiady.
‘Clinton said we have to back the winners and those who lead the country. They have the best organization and power on the ground, based on the parliamentary elections.
‘We have to support the people, she said, and not oppose them.’
Raed Sharqawi, a reporter present at the Coptic demonstration, agrees with Clinton.
‘America has relations with every nation in the world,’ he said. ‘The US is also the shield for the Copts, and always will be. This protest is foolish.’
As Egypt’s transition muddles forward, there is ample room for confusion. The military and the Brotherhood emerged as the two strongest forces, making Copts wonder about their future. Within this mix, Clinton’s visit in support of Morsy has led to this near unprecedented rupture in Coptic-American relations.
‘The US will make us into another Pakistan,’ said Tamry as the protest continued. ‘We have come to say don’t interfere in our business.’
On Thursday, July 26, the family of Omar Abdel Rahman ratcheted up their rhetoric in their awareness campaign to free their father. The family issued five demands to President Morsy and invited speakers to comment, some of whom threatened America harshly.
Otherwise known as the ‘Blind Sheikh’, Abdel Rahman is imprisoned in America for involvement in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. His family claims Abdel Rahman’s arrest was political, as the US yielded to Egyptian demands to silence him from criticizing Mubarak. The family has conducted an open-ended sit-in protest outside the American Embassy in Cairo since August of last year.
Abdullah Omar Abdel Rahman, one of the Blind Sheikh’s sons, called for a press conference and invited political leaders to speak on his father’s behalf. He desired to put pressure on President Morsy to intercede in the case, to fulfill his promise made during his inaugural address from Tahrir Square. Morsy identified Abdel Rahman as a ‘political prisoner’ and vowed to work for his release, along with hundreds of other prisoners in Egyptian jails, who were jailed for their revolutionary activity.
Morsy pardoned or otherwise freed over 500 Egyptian prisoners on the eve of Ramadan. He has backtracked, however, on promises to secure Abdel Rahman’s release.
Abdullah issued five primary demands:
For President Morsy to form an urgent committee to visit Abdel Rahman in his American prison and check on his health and the state of his confinement
For President Morsy to immediately authorize legal advisors to challenge the Justice Department’s use of an antiquated law to keep Abdel Rahman in solitary confinement for 19 years
For President Morsy to give the green light to the Foreign Ministry to begin diplomatic efforts to return Abdel Rahman to his country
To apply the principle of reciprocity on every American prisoner in Egypt and subject them to solitary confinement as is done to Egyptian prisoners in the US
For the presidency to allow some of Abdel Rahman’s family members continual visitation rights in America until he returns to his country
Political leaders in attendance were mostly from al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Abdel Rahman’s original group which is designated a terrorist organization in the United States. In the 1990s al-Gama’a formally forswore violent methods. Following the Egyptian revolution it has created a political party, called Building and Development, which cooperated with Salafi parties during the recent parliamentary elections.
Abbud al-Zumor was the keynote speaker. A leader in al-Gama’a, he is unapologetic for his role in assassinating President Sadat in 1979.
‘Abdel Rahman was among the strongest to call against Mubarak and it resulted in his being exiled from Egypt,’ he said. ‘Eventually he went to America where he found no human rights, let alone the rights of a domesticated animal.
‘The matter is now in Morsy’s hands and he must move quickly to return Abdel Rahman safely to his family, as he is very sick.’
Mohamed Shawki al-Islamboly is also a leader in al-Gama’a, whose brother was the actual assassin of Sadat. He recently returned to Egypt after spending many years abroad in Iran as a political refugee.
‘Abdel Rahman exposed the Egyptian regime so it pressed the US to arrest him in violation of its proclaimed human rights,’ he said. ‘This is a shame upon America.
‘We say to Morsy it is your responsibility to seek the freedom of every Egyptian who opposed Mubarak, whether inside or outside Egypt.’
The most incendiary comments, however, were issued by Nasr Abdel Salam, president of al-Gama’a’s Building and Development Party.
‘Americans spend millions of dollars every year to improve their image in the Muslim world, but it has only gotten worse,’ he said.
‘If anything happens to Abdel Rahman, America and its people will pay the price. The criminals in the administration and the embassies will pay the price.
‘Abdel Rahman’s dignity is the dignity of every Egyptian.’
The final al-Gama’a speaker was Ezzat al-Salamony. He spoke of the need to ‘lay siege’ to the American Embassy, but Abdullah, the Blind Sheikh’s son, clarified these remarks afterwards.
Next Thursday, Abdullah said, there will be an open Ramadan fast-breaking meeting at the sit-in at the US Embassy. At that time he said they would announce the date for a massive demonstration at the complex, but there were no intentions to permanently close the embassy.
Salamony, meanwhile, clarified Abdel Salam’s remarks about ‘paying the price’. Speaking with him afterwards, he stated there were all sorts of means to pressure the American administration. Specifically he mentioned an economic boycott and sending fighters to Afghanistan to oppose the US military there. The objective would be to do to the US what was done to Russia, resulting in America’s loss of dignity in the world. This is the ‘price’ the American people would pay.
Salamony emphasized nothing would be done to American civilians, as this was against sharia law.
Other speakers outside al-Gama’a included Hanny Hanna, a Copt known as the ‘preacher of the revolution’ for leading Christian prayers from Tahrir Square.
‘The only way for Abdel Rahman to return to his children and grandchildren is to establish Egypt as a national regime,’ he said. ‘We must strive to return all Egyptians from foreign prisons as a humanistic demand.
‘As I love the Messiah I must also love the prisoner.
‘President Morsy has not dealt with his situation in wisdom. When he mentioned it at Tahrir he made the US think it was at the top of his agenda, and he made them aware of the importance of this issue. If he had been quiet and waited two years and asked then it would have been much simpler to secure his release quietly.’
Kamal al-Helbawi is a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood who resigned when the group nominated a candidate for president, believing they had betrayed the revolution.
‘We as Muslims must defend the right in every place, whether it is for a Muslim or a non-Muslim,’ he said. ‘I helped defend Nelson Mandela in South Africa, so how can I not defend our sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman?
‘We must mobilize Muslims and non-Muslims, Islamists and seculars, so as to make Abdel Rahman a national cause.
‘America is not a democratic nation; it is a nation of criminals. What they are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan was not even done by the Mongols or the Tartars. But we do not fear America, we fear God.’
Finally, Yahya Ismail is a religious scholar from the Azhar university.
‘We must support Abdel Rahman from every mosque, every institution, every political party, and even the Azhar itself,’ he said. ‘We must put his picture everywhere and host seminars and raise awareness. What have we done for him so far? He is being persecuted by the Zionists and Crusaders.
‘God has permitted war in the case of aggressing against religious scholars. A nation’s peace rests in the peace of its religion, and the peace of its religion rests in the peace of its religious scholars.’
Chants issued during the press conference included:
Oh al-Gama’a, oh al-Gama’a, we want a million-man demonstration!
Oh America, collect your dogs, we are tired of your terrorism!
But the microphone for the chant leader malfunctioned shortly afterwards and chants were abandoned.
Following the conference I spoke with Safwat Kamal, an unaffiliated Islamist from the neighborhood of Imbaba, Cairo. With Abdullah Omar Abdel Rahman standing beside, he spoke of the need to escalate the cause.
‘It has been a year now, and the people are getting angry,’ he said. ‘I have told Abdullah many times already, we must storm the embassy or kidnap a few Americans. But every time he says no.’
Egypt has taken a step. It is a small one, but a step nonetheless.
It is not a step that pleases many, though. President Morsy finally selected a prime minister to form a government, but turned to an obscure and inexperienced bureaucrat. By appearances, he is also an Islamist, though he claims no membership in any organization. He is young, but can he perform? He has already announced a delay in the naming of cabinet ministers.
Some see the move as backtracking on promises to field a unity government. Others believe he will prove unable to navigate Egypt’s strident politics. A number think he was chosen simply as a yes-man easily controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Notwithstanding, he is a man who has accepted responsibility for his nation. Bless him, God. Give him wisdom to choose able ministers. Give him leadership to tackle entrenched issues. Help him to move Egypt forward and correct its economy – both in needed investment and in long-overdue social justice. May he care for the poor.
These entrenched issues will not be easy, God. Egypt is experiencing protracted labor battles. Water and electricity supply have been limited in many regions. President Morsy succeeded in pardoning thousands of political prisoners, yet a few more were sentenced by military trial just today.
Meanwhile, the anniversary of the 1952 military revolution passed this week. It prompted a passive-aggressive response by Morsy to both honor and limit the importance of the day. In response the extremes were advanced; some praised Nasser as a hero, others condemned him as the initiator of military rule.
With a new prime minister, the president has a bit of a shield. Give Egypt the balance between necessary work for the sake of the nation and necessary action to demand long overdue labor reform. Empty the jails of all wrongly imprisoned, but give police authority to enforce the laws of the state.
And as concerns Egypt’s identity – oh God, may all be welcomed. Save Egypt from the strife of this debate as the constitution continues to be written. Who is an Egyptian? For whom is this nation? Give consensus and humility, God. May love and acceptance be extended to all.
Sameh Makram Ebeid handed me his business card with the words, ‘I hope I get to use this again.’ Underneath his name it spelled out ‘Member of Parliament’. He took it back momentarily and penciled in an additional word in Arabic: ‘Dissolved’.
‘I don’t have the right to disagree with a court ruling. We were never MPs; this is what the court said. But I will run again for parliament and make a fight for my district.’
Ebeid is one of two elected Coptic parliamentarians, and won his seat from the Red Sea district under the banner of the Egyptian Bloc. The choice of the Red Sea was personal – he owns a home there and likes the region – but also political. Ebeid estimates 75% of governorate residents hail from Qena in Upper Egypt, which is his family home.
The choice of the Egyptian Bloc as a liberal coalition was natural, as Egyptian politics post-revolution evolved into a secular-Islamist confrontation.
The Bloc is a coalition consisting of the Free Egyptian Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, and the Tagammu’ Party. Under Egyptian law, however, Ebeid does not have to belong to any of these parties. Though his official parliament membership papers list him as a member of the Bloc he ran with them as an independent candidate.
Perhaps this is fitting. Ebeid hails from the historic Egyptian family associated with the Wafd Party in opposition to British colonialism. Saad Zaghloul, a Muslim, and Makram Ebeid, a Copt and Ebeid’s ancestor, contributed to the founding of modern Egyptian politics along nationalist lines without any religious distinction. The party’s logo depicts both the Christian cross and the Muslim crescent.
‘The Wafd is the secular party of Egypt.’
Ebeid had previously served as the Wafd Party’s assistant secretary general and member of the political bureau, but resigned during the chairmanship of Sayyid el-Badawi, who won party elections in 2010.
‘He became very autocratic and wanted to run the party the way he wanted. He was vengeful against everyone who was there before him. He never represented the true Wafd Party which I belonged to.’
Ebeid’s major source of contention was Badawi’s cooperation with the Muslim Brotherhood. He brought on prominent Islamist Suad Salah, and sought to place her on the religion and human rights committee. Compromises such as these turned the Wafd, he said, into a typical ‘wishy-washy’ party.
After the revolution Badawi entered the Wafd into a coalition with the Brotherhood, though they withdrew at the last minute.
Badawi’s election was ‘clean’, states Ebeid, but like the parliamentary and presidential elections, this does not mean they were not manipulated.
‘The elections were not rigged but the road to the ballot was unfair; if you promise people heaven or buy their votes, this is not fair.’
Ebeid is critical of the electoral machinery of the Muslim Brotherhood which distributed food packages in poor areas before elections. Similarly, many Salafi sheikhs stated voting for Islamists was part of obeying God’s will.
Yet Ebeid testifies that in his election monitoring he did not discover fraud; certainly not in comparison to past elections. For this he puts no stock in the conspiracies which say Ahmed Shafiq was the actual winner of presidential elections over Mohamed Morsy.
‘As long as Shafiq did not contest the election, I have to accept it as correct.
‘If he knew the elections were rigged and he did not voice this, it is treason and he should be court-martialed.
‘There were 13,000 polling stations; did he not have this many volunteers to count the vote as the Brotherhood did?’
Even so, Ebeid took issue with the recent visit of Hillary Clinton to Egypt. His critique was not about clandestine US support for the Brotherhood, as many liberals and Copts advanced. On the contrary, in coming to Egypt the secretary of state was just doing her job.
‘I don’t see any reason why Clinton should not visit the president of Egypt; these are the true forces of Egypt. Did they push SCAF to accept Morsy? I don’t know and nobody knows. But it is actually her job and duty to come.
‘I think we should meet with the Americans and tell them what we think right to their face.’
As a politician Ebeid has the right to be frank. His criticism of Clinton, conversely, is in her conduct as a diplomat.
‘There has been a lack of tact on the part of Clinton and her team.’
The failure in tact concerned the nature of her visits to political forces. It was right for her to meet Morsy and the Brotherhood, Ebeid believed. It was right for her to meet with Salafis. It was right for her to meet with the military. But it was not right for her to meet with ‘Copts’.
‘You should not meet with the Copts as Copts, but as part of the liberal movement, as the third way between military and Islamist, and bring in non-Christians.
‘If you start segregating the country you’re making a big mistake.
‘She wanted to meet with individual politicians, but they were all Christians.’
For this reason, Ebeid believes it was correct for liberal and Coptic forces to boycott the meeting with Clinton. He himself did not receive an invitation, but he supported the decision of those who did.
As for the current political situation in Egypt, especially on President Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood, Ebeid is critical as well.
‘There is no such thing as the Freedom and Justice Party. They call themselves the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the real force.
‘So far I have not seen Morsy act as the president of Egypt. We have to see if he will elevate himself above parties to be the president of all Egypt. I hope he will do this.
‘The Brothers have a special agenda and we have a different agenda. If he is representing the Brotherhood then he is not my president, he’s the president of the Muslim Brotherhood. He should be the president of everyone.’
Though Morsy is not directly involved in the crucial issue of the constitution, Ebeid witnesses the Brotherhood special agenda here especially.
‘The constituent assembly [which will write the constitution] was a trick. It was agreed to be a 50-50 Islamist-secular split, but they did not go into the details about parties or people.
‘The Wasat Party and the Reform and Development Party of al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya are Islamist parties, are they not? They must be counted as part of the Islamists. But what the Brotherhood is saying is that we never said it, we said 50% for MB and Salafis. As the Americans say, the devil is in the details.’
Ebeid’s criticism is not just of the Brotherhood, but of the process itself.
‘The whole process was flawed. We should have gone through the list person by person; defining by position means nothing. We could stipulate the selection of a judge of a court, but if he is an Islamist this makes the difference.’
As media reports the progress the constituent assembly makes on the constitution, Ebeid prefers not to comment on details until he sees an official text. Yet he is not reticent to make his views known on certain issues.
‘The first three articles are most important as they define the identity of Egypt. What are we, a secular country or an Islamic country?
‘What does the word shura [‘consultative’, proposed by Islamists as part of the definition of the state] mean? It has been debated for the last fourteen centuries. Putting the word there is not just semantics, it means something.
‘As for the right of Christians and Jews to refer to their own sharia: What about non-believers, what if we have an Egyptian Buddhist?
‘We should have a presidential system for the first two terms, and then move into a semi-presidential like the French. We’re not ready for a semi-presidential system yet.’
Within the debate of these issues, Ebeid was careful never to assert, or even speculate, secret deal-making between political powers. The accusation that someone was an agent of America, for example, has been a political tactic for the last thirty or forty years, he stated. He wanted nothing to do with this pattern.
Yet there was one area where he opened the door just a little. It is the crucial error which resulted in the muddled transition Egypt is experiencing.
‘If there was a deal, the deal that harmed Egypt was made in March of last year in the national referendum. This reversed everything, putting parliament first, then president, then constitution.
‘Deal, negotiation, agreement, whatever; this is what destroyed the whole eighteen month process.
‘The whole thing is a series of errors, whether intentional errors or a lack of knowledge I’m not sure.’
In politics, spin is inevitable. But in times of great political struggle spin is often transformed into misrepresentation. In Egypt these days, as seen in the press, the Muslim Brotherhood is spun virtually into a dervish.
Consider first this article from al-Akhbar, ‘Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Reassures Washington’, published April 7, 2012. Though it details current Brotherhood efforts to portray itself as a moderate political force, the article opens with a similar effort from 2005.
Muslim Brotherhood Deputy General Guide Khairat al-Shater penned an article in the Guardian following the group’s victory of one-fifth of the parliamentary seats. US President George Bush had been pushing the region towards democracy, but now the West was fearful of the results.
The article carries Shater’s words, saying:
He added that they only ran for 150 seats out of 444 (in the people’s assembly), because they “recognize that the provision of a greater number of candidates will be considered a provocation to the system” and lead it to “falsify the results.”
Here, the picture Shater paints is of the Brotherhood as a keen political player, limiting their rightful ambition for the greater democratic transition. Rather than provoke the autocrat Mubarak, they will do just enough to keep nudging democracy along.
Fair enough. Only it isn’t the truth. Or, sort of. The Brotherhood alluded as such last month.
At the time there were rumors the Brotherhood had ‘cut a deal’ with the regime for partial political representation. The win-win gave a measure of political representation to the Brotherhood, while Mubarak could complain to the West about the results of ‘democracy’ and continue to rule autocratically. If true, it worked. The Bush administration fell silent and dropped its democracy rhetoric.
These days as well the Brotherhood is accused of ‘cutting a deal’ with the military council.
Therefore it is very interesting to consider the new spin the Brotherhood gives to the 2005 elections. Egypt Independent carried the news of their ‘confession’, on June 13, 2012.
According to ‘an official statement’, the Brotherhood:
Confessed to meeting with the State Security Investigations Service (SSIS) in 2005, saying in an official statement on Wednesday that it attended the meeting “in order to avoid a string of arrests that would have affected hundreds of Brotherhood members.”
The Brotherhood said the SSIS had summoned a number of the group’s members to its headquarters after it nominated 160 candidates for the 2005 parliamentary elections.
In its statement, the Brotherhood said that during the meeting, SSIS leaders asked them to withdraw a large number of candidates and to only compete for thirty seats in Parliament. However, according to the statement, the Brotherhood heads refused the request.
“We said, ‘Let the people elect 40, or more or less. This is their right. We do not expect all 160 candidates to win and no one will withdraw.’” The statement went on to say that the group was threatened, but that they were not intimidated by the threats.
There is plausibility to this story, but it is a different tale than was given by Shater at the time. No longer is the Brotherhood the self-limiting democratic champion, but rather a political player negotiating with the regime for what it can get. There may well be spin in this presentation as well, as it fits with the post-revolution acceptability of exposing Mubarak’s ills. The Brotherhood, in this presentation, is a victim – though not powerless. They stood up to authority to the level possible.
It is noteworthy, though, to notice numbers. The Brotherhood confessed to seeking 40 representatives in this ‘deal’, however coerced it was. Somehow, they wound up winning 88.
In light of similar Brotherhood post-revolutionary promises to ‘limit’ their political representation, it is curious to watch the pattern repeat itself. To what extent in both 2005 and 2011 was the Brotherhood pressed to limit their ambition, and how in either case did they exceed the deal/expectation?
Perhaps they simply play the political game better than anyone else.
This fact becomes clear when examining the spin that is marshaled against them. The Egypt Independent ended its article:
The statement came after repeated accusations from presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq that the Brotherhood used to meet with and have friendly relations with the Mubarak regime.
Here, the writer does a good job of not endorsing the accusation, putting it in context, but also leaving the impression in the reader’s mind. It is a slight use of spin, but it is there.
Far less subtle is this example from Aswat Masr, published July 19, 2012. The headline reads, ‘The General Guide Commenting on the Death of Omar Suleiman: God, Save us from the Helpers of the Deposed [Regime]’.
Closer examination of the article, however, shows the Brotherhood statement has no direct relation to Suleiman whatsoever.
An indirect relation is possible. July 19 is the day Suleiman died. He was widely reviled for his alleged roles in torturing prisoners, and especially in his efforts to curtail the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists.
During the revolution Mubarak appointed Suleiman as vice-president, but only a few days later he fell with the regime. When Suleiman briefly resuscitated his political career in a failed attempt to run for president, he fit well into the secular-Islamic dichotomy and was hailed by some as a hero. Upon his death he was given a military funeral.
While some Islamists have praised his death, the Brotherhood has been more cautious. President Morsy permitted the military funeral, but kept his distance and did not attend. It is judicious for them to keep their silence and not gloat over the fall of their long time enemy.
In this light the headline of Aswat Masr is better understood. It paints the Brotherhood as celebrating Suleiman’s death, and wishing similarly for salvation from those still alive.
Perhaps the writer has divined the Brotherhood’s intentions, but he has not accurately conveyed their words. The article takes from a written, weekly statement issued by the General Guide, Mohamed Badie. The text opens with Ramadan and praise of the Qur’an.
Only later on does the headline quotation occur, and Suleiman is never mentioned. Instead, Badie asks God:
Save us from tyrants, the corrupt, and the helpers of the dead, deposed regime. Aid our president in leading the ship of the nation to safe shores.
This statement can very much be read into the current political struggle between the Brotherhood and the military/old regime. The headline, however, makes the reader think it is an attack on Suleiman, painting the group as a vindictive entity worthy of Suleiman’s attempts at suppression.
When spin is present, it is best to find truth, however difficult.
According to my best and current understanding, the Muslim Brotherhood and the old regime danced together, awkwardly. There were periods of oppression and jailing, and periods of limited freedom of operation. On the whole, the group was free to function socially, but restricted politically. The regime always had the upper hand, but the Brotherhood knew how to exploit its limitations and slowly develop its legitimacy.
Omar Suleiman was a loyal employee, tasked with protecting the state from violent Islamists, and protecting the regime from political challenges. I suspect the tales of oppression are true.
What is still unclear, due the presence of spin from all sides, is if the Muslim Brotherhood is a legitimate democratic governing party. There is a great political struggle underway, and nearly all focus rests on this question.
The Brotherhood is spun, but also spins itself. Perhaps soon the dust will clear.
Egypt seems to be both moving and waiting at the same time. It is as if everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop.
If the first shoe was Morsy’s election, the second is where he will take Egypt. He gave a preview trying to restore parliament, but there has been only static since then. Three weeks and he still does not have a government in place. In fact, Brotherhood outrage over his now ‘interim’ cabinet is what caused them to field a presidential candidate in the first place.
Much of the reason for the waiting is that key issues are now in the hands of the judiciary – a notoriously slow entity in Egypt that has proved its ability to be ‘timely’ several times during the transition. Will parliament be reinstated? Will the military’s constitutional declaration be overturned? Will the Shura Council fall? Will the constituent assembly to write the new constitution survive?
No one knows, and the judgment on all was postponed again. More waiting. Where is the shoe?
The last judgment on the constitution illustrates this period best. Unsure of its ultimate existence, the committee frantically rushes to complete its work. If it can put forward a document it will create a reality less easily dismissed, even if ruled illegal. The military is then likely to form a new committee that will produce the constitution. Egypt may well face a future in which it has two. Will the people accept either?
In the middle of all the activity, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived to greet President Morsy, other political forces, and the military. It provided enough of a distraction for each side to accuse the other of being behest to American patronage.
God, may this be a breather. Give every player to reflect on where Egypt stands. Turn them from their plans and strategies, if only for a moment, to wonder if their personal conduct blesses the nation; if it blesses the other.
How hard it is to do this, God, and maintain any level of integrity. This week Egypt’s long time spy chief died. He was accused of countless tales of torture, with his eye aimed especially at curbing the Muslim Brotherhood.
President Morsy will give him in a military funeral; his colleagues, meanwhile, can hardly suppress articulating he is now accountable to you.
Is Morsy a hypocrite? Are his colleagues judicious to hold back their loathing? Or is Morsy extending honor even to an enemy? Are his colleagues lacking in similar grace?
God, renew their strength. No one stands righteous before you, but give wisdom to Morsy and his advisors to run Egypt well. Do the same for those who oppose them. And in your greater wisdom and will, produce a future for the best of Egypt.
In fact, God, may all shoes fall before you in humility and awe. May Egypt be holy ground and all go barefoot in your presence.
President Mohamed Morsy’s decision to reinstate the dissolved parliament has set off a firestorm of debate in Egypt. Is Morsy fighting for full democracy against a military regime? Or is he trying to institute a full Islamist takeover of government? Christians worry about the second possibility.
“There are attempts to take control of all state institutions,” said Karam Ghobrial, an activist with the Coalition of Egypt’s Copts, “and the biggest proof is Morsy’s decision to bring back parliament.” Ghobrial is one of many lawyers who filed an injunction against the president’s ruling. Ghobrial’s comments reveal a deep-seated Coptic distrust of Islamists. “There should be international attention from the United Nations to protect minorities,” he said, “because Morsy broke his oath to respect and uphold the law.”
Morsy’s presidency did not start off this way. “We as Egyptians, Muslims and Christians,” he proclaimed in his victory speech…
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