CSID EMAIL BULLETIN - October 08, 2007
|Tuesday, October 9,2007 09:25|
CSID Iftaar and Fundraising Dinner
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The Middle East Program of the Woodrow Wilson Center and the Muslim World Initiative of the United States Institute of Peace Present:
CHALLENGES AND DILEMMAS FACING LIBERAL MUSLIM THINKERS
Abdou Filali Ansari
Director of the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilizations (AKU-ISMC),
Aga Khan University, United Kingdom
Acting Director, Muslim World Initiative, United States Institute of Peace
Thursday, October 18, 2007
9:00am – 10:30am
5th Floor Conference Room
Woodrow Wilson Center
Please RSVP to [email protected] or fax 202-691-4184
Seating is limited. Seats available on a first-come, first-served basis.
A photo ID is required for entry. The Woodrow Wilson Center is located in the Ronald Reagan Building (Federal Triangle stop on Blue/Orange Line). Public parking is available underneath the Reagan Building, however we recommend metro or taxi. www.wilsoncenter.org/directions
GETTING OVER THE FEAR OF ARAB ELECTIONS
By Michele Dunne
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Concern about chaos in Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon and fear of Islamist political victories have led many American commentators to identify Middle East democracy promotion as unwise. The Bush administration should not have insisted on elections in Arab countries, according to the new conventional wisdom, but instead should have patiently promoted the growth of institutions, civil society, and the rule of law. This new canon seems utterly reasonable, and indeed has already found its way into the foreign policy pronouncements of several candidates for the presidency of the United States.
But there are three flaws in the new anti-elections thinking about democracy in Arab countries. First, it ignores what is happening in the region. Second, it is out of touch with how democracy typically emerges. And third, it leads to a harmful instrumentalist approach to democracy promotion - one that has already done damage in American policy toward the Palestinians.
Instead, we need to recognize four things: First, Arab elections are here to stay. Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority held elections not because the US insisted that they take place, but because important political forces in those countries demanded them. More and more Arab countries are holding regular elections of various kinds and those elections, while imperfect, are improving gradually. Morocco, Egypt, Palestine, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Yemen all offer examples. So the real choice for the US today is whether to begin discouraging Arab states from holding elections, or perhaps withholding assistance or advice designed to promote freeness and fairness. Clearly such a cynical course is inadvisable.
Second, democratic institutions will not grow without political competition. Democracy is more than elections. But the US cannot promote democratization purely through low-risk efforts to develop civil society and the rule of law. Thomas Carothers and other scholars have shown that the infrastructure of democracy does not develop in states where rulers face no political competition and therefore have no incentive to create institutions that limit their power. Visionary leaders who initiate democratization of their own accord are rare exceptions. Generally, transitions to democracy occur only when competition from an opposition and pressure for change become so strong that rulers must compromise.
Third, Arab societies benefit when Islamists participate in politics. Islamists are the most organized opposition force in most Arab countries, and often the first to show electoral gains. But they are not the only beneficiaries. In Morocco, Yemen, Egypt, Bahrain, and Jordan, experience shows that when Islamists are allowed to compete in elections within a clearly defined set of laws, they begin to adopt more pragmatic positions on key issues and to compromise with other political forces. And the competition from Islamists motivates secular parties to try harder to mobilize support and define policy agendas that make sense to voters. This happened, for example, with the secular Independence Party in Morocco, which won far more seats than its Islamist competitor in parliamentary elections there in early September.
And fourth, elections reflect political realities; they do not create them. The January 2006 victory in Palestinian legislative elections of the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, revealed a truth that the US would rather not have seen. Over the nearly 20 years since Hamas was established, it has been gradually taking over leadership of the Palestinian cause from the increasingly discredited Fatah movement - an unfortunate situation for which Washington bears a share of the blame. Between 1994 and 2005, the US could have demanded reasonably clean and efficient governance from Fatah while it was in power (funded largely by the European Union and the US). Instead, it contorted democracy promotion efforts in a vain attempt to control political outcomes and produce a leadership to its liking. The harsh and violent power struggle between Palestinian groups, like the Hamas takeover of Gaza, was inevitable with or without elections.
Democratization should be a long-term, strategic goal in the Middle East. It is a goal that the US can pursue, prudently but seriously, while still enjoying cooperation with non-democratic Arab governments. But let us not fool ourselves that any meaningful promotion of democracy is risk free; the growth of political competition through free and fair elections has to be a part of picture.
Michele Dunne is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.
UNDERSTANDING THE MANY FACES OF ISLAMISM AND JIHADISM
A scholar of Islam shares insights to help journalists confront the challenges involved with reporting on the political Islamic movement.
By Fawaz A. Gerges
From the Nieman Reports - Summer 2007 Issue
Since the September 11th terror attacks, Americans have come increasingly to believe that Islamism, not just jihadism, is a mortal threat to the West, an aggressive and totalitarian ideology dedicated to random destruction and global subjugation. Fueling American fears is the military debacle in Iraq and the ferocity of armed resistance and suicide attacks against U.S. troops and their Iraqi allies. Ratcheting the rhetoric, President Bush gathers all mainstream and militant Islamists together under the phrase "Islamo-fascists" and calls on Americans to be prepared for a long struggle.
Disentangling myth from reality about the political Islamic movement—whose goal is to establish governments based on shari"ah (Qur"anic law)—is a challenge fraught with difficulties. For journalists, this challenge involves a willingness to recognize the complexity and diversity within this movement, which encompasses a broad spectrum of mainstream and militant forces, as they try to place their coverage of news and events (often involving violence and threats of violence) within a broader, more meaningful and accurate context.
Mainstream Islamists—that is, Muslim Brothers and other independent activists—represent an overwhelming majority of religiously oriented groups (in the upper 90th percentile), whereas militants or jihadists are a tiny but critical minority. The mainstream Islamists accept the rules of the political game, claim to embrace democratic principles, and renounce violence.
From the 1940"s through the early 1970"s, the Muslim Brotherhood—the most powerfully organized of all Islamists, with local branches in the Arab Middle East and Central and South and Southeast Asia—flirted with violence. Since then, however, they have increasingly moved to the political mainstream and aim to Islamize state and society through peaceful means. Although Muslim Brothers are often targeted and excluded from politics by ruling autocrats, they no longer use force to attain their goals.
Mainstream and enlightened Islamists also play an active role in expanding political debate in Muslim societies. They have forced existing secular dictatorships, such as those in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Turkey, Jordan, Pakistan and even Saudi Arabia, to respond to their challenge to open up the closed political system and reform government institutions. Without such pressure, these authoritarian Muslim rulers would have no incentive to respond to demands for inclusion and transparency.
Despite their historic opposition to Western-style democracy, Islamists have become unwitting harbingers of democratic transformation. They have formed alliances with their former sworn political opponents, including secularists and Marxists, in calling upon governments to respect human rights and the rule of law. Mainstream or traditional Islamists are not born-again democrats and never will be. They are deeply patriarchal, seeing themselves as the guardians of faith, tradition and authenticity. In Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, Islamists vehemently oppose efforts to give women the right to vote or to drive cars. In Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, Pakistan and other Muslim countries, they denounce any legislation that would enable women to divorce abusive husbands, travel without male permission, or achieve full representation in government.
Nevertheless, many Islamists are gradually becoming initiated into the culture of political realism and the art of the possible. They are learning to make compromises with secular groups and rethink some of their absolutist positions. Events have forced them to come to grips with the complexity and diversity of Muslim societies, though they still lack a well-delineated vision to solve their countries" socioeconomic challenges. More and more, they recognize the primacy of politics over religion and the difficulty, even futility, of establishing Islamic states.
The jihadist represents a tiny fraction of the larger mainstream Islamist movement, which dominates the social space in most Muslim societies. Although jihadism is lethal, it does not possess a viable broad social base like the Muslim Brotherhood. From the late 1960"s until the mid-1990"s, militant Islamists or jihadists were preoccupied with the fight against Al-Adou al-Qareeb (the "near enemy") Muslim rulers. The primary goal of modern jihadism is and always has been the destruction of the atheist political and social order at home and its replacement with authentic Islamic states.
Despite their historic opposition to Western-style democracy, Islamists have become unwitting harbingers of democratic transformation.
They changed its direction away from attacking the Muslim "apostates" and "renegades" and toward attacking Israel and the Western powers, particularly the United States. As a result, an intense internal struggle ensued between local jihadists and their international counterparts led by bin Laden and Zawahiri. Waged for the soul of the jihadist enterprise, the reverberations of this internal struggle have been felt far beyond the region"s borders—in New York, Washington, Madrid, London and Paris.
The vast majority of militant Islamists, whom I call local jihadists, did not join al-Qaeda jihadists or global jihadists. In fact, September 11th showed how deep the fissures within the jihadists were, and this internal struggle has escalated now into an open civil war. Many former jihadists, whom I interviewed in the late 1990"s and after 9/11, said that while delighted at America"s humiliation, they also feared that bin Laden and Zawahiri recklessly endangered survival of the Islamist movement. Instead of a river of recruits flowing to Afghanistan, only a trickle of volunteers signed up to defend the Taliban and al-Qaeda after the September 11th attacks.
Western Views of Islam
It is a pity that some Western commentators still perpetuate the myth that the September 11th attacks were widely embraced by all mainstream and militant Islamists and even the ummah (the worldwide Muslim community). Far from condoning the September 11th attacks, mainstream Islamists might serve as a counterweight to ultramilitants like al-Qaeda. Immediately after September 11th, leading mainstream Islamists—such as Hassan al-Turabi, formerly head of the National Islamic Front and now of People"s Congress in Sudan who, in the early 1990"s, hosted Osama bin Laden and Sayyid Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah (spiritual founding father of Lebanon"s Hizbullah)—condemned al-Qaeda"s September 11th attacks on the United States as harmful to Islam and Muslims, not just to Americans.
Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian-born conservative Islamic cleric based in Qatar, issued a fatwa denouncing al-Qaeda"s "illegal jihad" and expressed sorrow and empathy with the American victims: "Our hearts bleed because of the attacks that have targeted the World Trade Center, as well as other institutions in the United States," wrote Qaradawi, who is widely listened to and read by a huge Muslim audience. He went on to write that the murders in New York could not be justified on any ground, including "the American biased policy toward Israel on the military, political and economic fronts." (It is little wonder why al-Qaeda"s leaders, including bin Laden, Zawahiri, and the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, often attack mainstream Islamists and accuse them of treachery.)
Since September 11th, some critical questions have not been fully addressed in the United States. They include:
• Why did bin Laden and his associates suddenly turn their guns on the "far enemy" after having been in the "far enemy" trenches with other Islamists during the 1980"s and 1990"s?
• Are Islamists and jihadists united over attacking the far enemy, or are they splintered and divided over tactics and strategy?
• What is the relative weight and influence of al-Qaeda jihadists within the Islamist movement and the jihadist at this time?
• Would it be more effective to try to internally encircle al-Qaeda instead of expanding the so-called "war on terror" and declaring an all-out war against real and imagined enemies?
Rarely, it seems, do journalists approach their coverage of the so-called "war on terror" with any of these questions in mind. It is certainly possible that a political approach would have been more effective in combating extremism, and terrorism could have been reduced to an inconsequential phenomenon.
What has happened instead is that militarism has radicalized mainstream Muslim public opinion and provided ideological ammunition to militants. In particular, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and subsequent violations of human rights have created a new generation of radicals who search for ways to join the jihad caravan. By exacerbating regional fault lines already shaking with tension, the militaristic responses may have caused irreparable damage, not just to U.S. global strategy, but also to international peace and security.
Instead of taking the easier, more simplistic approach of lumping all Islamists and jihadists together, journalists ought to adopt a more nuanced and constructive approach—one that draws distinctions among the many faces of political Islam.
European and U.S. intelligence communities that the Iraq War is strengthening global jihadists. Tragically, the Iraq War has given rise to a new generation of militants who use terrorism as a rule, not an exception. More youngsters are deeply affected by what they see as external aggression perpetrated against their community and religion. In my travels in the Arab world, I"ve met young Muslim teens, with no prior Islamist or jihadist background, desperately trying to raise a meager sum of money to take a bus ride or an airline flight to the Syrian-Iraqi border and join the fight.
Instead of taking the easier, more simplistic approach of lumping all Islamists and jihadists together, journalists ought to adopt a more nuanced and constructive approach—one that draws distinctions among the many faces of political Islam. Acknowledging these complexities as a routine part of news coverage not only fulfills a professional responsibility but it also contributes to national security and a civil dialogue.
Fawaz A. Gerges, who holds the Christian Johnson Chair in Middle East and International Affairs at Sarah Lawrence College, is a Carnegie Scholar and visiting professor at the American University in Cairo. His most recent books are "Journey of the Jihadist: Inside Muslim Militancy" (Harcourt Press in 2006), and "The Far Enemy: Why Jihad Went Global" (Cambridge University Press, 2005).
A "POLITICAL" CIVIL WAR IN EGYPT
Bahey eldin Hassan
Director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
The constitutional amendments endorsed through the public referendum held on March 26, 2007, constitute the peak of the political, security, media and legislative counter-attack against the limited political mobility, which has been taking place in Egypt during 2004-2005. The ruling system was forced, at that time, to, temporarily, retract from the adamant rejection of undertaking political reform, under the US and European pressures calling for reform within the framework of their anti-terrorist strategy. Such temporary retraction did not entail any compromises, on the part of the ruling system, of an institutional or legislative nature. It was confined, however, to a wide-scale political manoeuvre, which basically aims to ease down and mitigate the international pressures.
A Clever Manoeuvre
The manoeuvre ramified into three courses:
1- An implication that the ruling system has comprehended the message and that has it decided to actually embark on reform. This was represented in the initiative taken to amend Article 76 of the Constitution, organizing the Alexandria Conference on Reform, and permitting that conference to issue a proper document, insinuating, in the meantime, that the system will adopt this document at the national and regional levels before the Arab Summit. This manoeuvre has, indeed, succeeded in mitigating international and foreign pressures, causing a rift among those calling for political reform within the country, and dampening the enthusiasm and motivation of the others, a matter which will, eventually, mitigate local pressure, which is originally limited. Such local pressure has not effected any essential change in the process of choosing /electing the President of the Republic, which was clad in the form of elections, whereas it maintained in essence the nature of a referendum, similarly like other Arab countries that have started applying this pattern several years ago, such as Tunisia and Yemen.
2- The second track is the continuation of security oppression and suppression, yet in a calculated manner. As not all forms of peaceful collective movement have been aggressively and violently dealt with, except on meaningful political occasions, such as the referendum made on the initiative taken to amend Article 76,or the declaration made by President Mubarak of his intention to run for a fifth term of presidency. Excessive security suppression in specific occasions was more of a practical test of the coherence of the stance taken by the international community as regards the issue of reform in Egypt. It was noticed that the security-related decision taken on the day following such occasions, by continuing the aggressive oppression or refraining from, or mitigating it, is concretely and unmistakably related to the nature of the US and European reaction to the security behavior undertaken on the previous day.
3- The third track is manipulating the Islamists scarecrow, to cause a rift among those calling for reform both nationally and internationally. This was most apparent in the aftermath of the parliamentary elections conducted during the last three months of 2005. Accompanied by the increasing gains realized by the Muslim Brotherhood and the parliamentary seats secured by them in the first phase, and the first round of the second phase, and the entrenchment of the sense of concern experienced by some of those calling for reform nationally and internationally, the security grip started practicing its role without consideration, until it reached its peak in the third phase, without serious objection on the part of the international community.
If the year 2005 was the year of manoeuvre and containment of opponents and causing rift among them inside the country and abroad, the year 2006 has marked the year of unveiled oppression par excellence, in order to silence the political mobility, after neutralizing the international community, and the "national liberation" of the internal political mobility from the reins of foreign effects.
That year started earlier than its due time, as it started in December 2005, by the farce of the second round of the last phase of parliamentary elections, and the declaration made by the prosecutor general to keep the investigation conducted in the incidents of sexual harassment against the woman opposing the 25 May 2005 referendum, motivating the lawsuits filed against the figures of judiciary calling for reform, and sentencing Ayman Nour to imprisonment. The latest of these events was the atrocious massacre against the Sudanese refugees in one of the most significant squares of Greater Cairo, which was in its essence a message to Egyptians, conveyed by the blood and bodies of the Sudanese, signifying that the time of security tolerance with peaceful movement is over.
This message was well confirmed, as during 2006 no collective demonstration or movement was permitted in the streets. On the contrary, the Emergency Law was used for the first time since the declaration of the state of emergency a quarter of a century ago, in a collective manner against hundreds of demonstrators, who were arrested for their solidarity with the Judges Club as well as the judges condemning the process of rigging public elections.
During this year, the security grip exercised its role "free" of any international restriction. Before this year started, the Muslim Brotherhood members in Egypt have already gained 20% of the parliament seats. In the following month, their siblings in "Hammas" yielded the majority of votes in Palestine, and they constituted the government. This eventually caused the suspension of international calls for reform, which have actually started to subside gradually since the middle of 2005.
The year 2007 is the year of suppression by way of the Constitution, as the road has been paved from the international and security perspectives; i.e. "freeing" Egypt from the international interest in reform, and "freeing" the Egyptian street from the political mobility. However, before this year comes to its close, the campaign of legislative assault will have been started, and it will continue relentlessly during 2008. This campaign aims to translate a number of the worst constitutional amendments into new legislations and amendments to be introduced to the laws in force, topped, of course, by the anti-terrorism law. However, developments in the course of events might bring the amendments introduced to the NGOs Law and the Journalism Law as well as other laws to the forefront, a matter that guarantees lending more legislative protection to the acts of political, security and administrative oppression. These acts were likely to continue on a wider scale, but may be in a tone lower than the commotion of protest, after terrorizing independent press and human rights organizations, two of them have been, recently, shut down within a few weeks for the first time in Egypt.
Chess and "Noughts and Crosses"!
The ruling system has known very well how to manage its battle in a clever and efficient manner, which is not manifest except in battles of destiny. Had political, economic and social development issues of Egypt been managed by only a tenth of this efficiency, the status in Egypt would have altered deciseively.
The ruling system"s mind was not deluded, as it has, from the very first moment, realized that the centre of weight in its battle does not reside in "Abdel-Khaleq Tharwat" street, or Cairo, or Egypt at large, but rather resides in Washington, Paris, London, Rome and Berlin. It has realized, early enough, that its safe exit from this life challenge will depend on its ability to convince these capitals of reviewing their stance as regards the issue of reform. It has also managed to make use of the contradictions within each capital, and between each capital and the other. It has also mastered the art of "authoring" democratic initiatives and marketing them internationally, and employing the regional developments in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and Iran to serve this goal. In the meantime, it has shown generosity and persistence in offering security and strategic services on every international table, where the political reform is raised, as rightly stated in the "Newsweek".
The system was acting by the mentality of a chess player, with his feet in Cairo, but his eyes fixed on the chess board of the whole world, moving the king, the queen and the remaining major chess pieces in the international arena, and suffices with the "pawns" to play in Abdel-Khaleq Tharwat street with the reformists, who were and are still being trained to play the naive " Noughts and Crosses "!
In fact the mentality of the reform forces has besieged itself in Abdel-Khaleq Tharwat street before it was besieged by the security "pawns", and it has not, seriously, sought to form an international, or regional, or even Egyptian civil coalition, although the stage was completely set for that. Some of the figures of this mentality were busy supporting the most prominent figures of despotism in the Arab world, from Bashaar to Al-Bashir, passing by the martyr Saddam Hussein! They were busy reproducing the security and media discourse for the Arab governments against the civil society organizations. Reform groups believed their image reflected over satellite channels to be true, after they have, already, realized media "victories". Nevertheless, on the ground, the battle ended in a crushing defeat for the reformists, a political defeat, before being a security defeat.
While the ruling system was stressing, in its political and media discourse, the coherence of the ruling elite, and widening its social base, reform groups were swayed by media victories, whereas these groups have drastically failed to expand their social base, and attract the public and the social spectra that they have targeted by their slogans, stances and demonstrations. On the contrary, these groups have contributed to the expansion of social base of the ruling system, as expressed by Dr. Mohammad Al-Sayed Sa`eed, in a conference organized by the CIHRS to evaluate the movements of change in 2007, which came out of the commotion of the "battle" of change more powerful. In that battle it has gained - or has been joined through the reformists by- panicked social strata and categories, either by the reason of slogans that drive toward chaos and the unknown, or toward political goals that have not been comprehended by a people that is still brushing long political sleep away from its eyebrows after a coma that lasted for half of a century; slogans such as those calling for civil riot and the million demonstrations which topple the ruling system in a happy evening! This might have been also due to the abrupt political emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the apprehensions raised by this development as regards the Copts and certain parties of reform between the Secularists, Leftists and Liberals.
While the reformists failed to introduce themselves to the local and international parties as a convincing alternative for the current ruling system, the ruling system succeeded in convincing local and international basic parties that it is the most capable to realize their interests, or at least to save them the damage entailed by any other alternative. The ruling system succeeded, in this context, to free the political arena, by way of political manoeuvering, security oppression and finally imprisoning Ayman Nour, from any other true alternatives, save for the Muslim Brotherhood, as it has discovered a major interest in their existence by its side, as the exclusive/scaring alternative. In this case, most likely there is no choice. If the ruling system has failed to convince the local and international parties that it is the solution, undoubtedly, it managed to convince them that it is the only and exclusive and irreplaceable safety valve.
The Brotherhood "Trance"!
The ruling system received assistance from the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood did not stand up to this historical moment, as they failed to infer the logical conclusions from it, after they had let the trance of the parliamentary victory to sway their heads. The Brotherhood should have worked toward producing a new political discourse and platform, which addresses the deep obsessions and apprehensions entertained by the political and informed elite regarding the project of the religious state; and their stance as regards the freedom of thinking, belief and literary and artistic creativity, and the enjoyment by non-Muslim Egyptian citizens of the rights of full-fledged citizenship. They have rather helped, through a number of the stances, statements and reactions undertaken by them, to deep-root and confirm these apprehensions, even amidst the sector of the intellectuals who have, always, defended the right of the Muslim Brotherhood to political recognition. On the other hand, the Brotherhood have never, at any moment, offered the political opposition parties and groups to be an equivalent partner within the framework of coalition with them, and they gave them the role of the "silent actors", exactly as presupposed by the ruling system.
Therefore, paving the way toward oppression using the Constitution was not only a culmination of the international retraction, the Machiavellian ruling system, the aggression of the security systems, but it was also a result of the supplementary role played by basic parties in the reform forces toward creating a conducive environment.
It is remarkable in this context that among the most prominent figures that have politically supported the constitutional amendments, from without the ruling elite, or who have refrained from taking any serious position to criticize it, were Copts, Secularists, Liberals and Leftists.
The goals of this ongoing constitutional and legislative process do not stop short at settling the account with the parties of the limited and rapid political movement which took place during the years 2004-2005, they rather aim to obstruct the path which creates the probability for its re-emanation anew in any form whatsoever, especially in case of occurrence of any new variations in the international community, to reinstate the issue of community reform in the Arab World on its agenda.
The enforcement of the constitutional, legislative and political pillars of the current ruling system persistently stress that it is going through a transitory period, the starting point of which is known to all parties, whereas the timing and method of its end is unknown! taking into account all the probabilities of bringing the secret and restrained conflict within the ruling elite out to the public, or of an open conflict between parties having a common desire to keep all other local and international parties in the audience position, especially the Egyptian people.
In the balance of history, the latest constitutional amendments are considered as the greatest constitutional set-back in Egypt"s modern history, or at least since the coup d"etat of July Revolution against the constitution of the liberal era, through its preliminary constitutional declarations, leading to the declaration of its first constitution in 1956, and then having buried, in this context, the draft constitution of 1954, which was drafted by a committee formed by the July Revolution Commanding Council itself.
The constitutional amendments endorsed last March constitute an aggression and assault against the relative and limited development achieved by Al-Sadat"s 1971 constitution, especially in its third part which addresses rights and freedoms, and constitutionalizes the police-like nature of the state, whose corner stone has been laid down since the very early years of the July system, followed by the continuous applicability of the state of emergency for a number of decades. These amendments vest exceptional absolute powers upon security bodies, not only at the expense of public freedoms and human rights, but also it impairs the principle of the rule of law and independence of judiciary, and lends constitutional protection to the actual assault on them in our daily reality.
The amendments also waste what remains of the marginal role played by the judiciary to minimize the outrageous phenomenon of rigging public elections, to let the door wide-open before such practices without any restrictions, as observed and monitored by the various parties in the first public elections conducted after these amendments, the Shura council elections.
The amendments did not respond to the claims of those calling for rectifying the aggression performed by the late President Sadat against the 71 Constitution in Articles 2 and 77, through a doubtful "constitutional" deal, which brought about in a single basket an amendment that permits the President"s absolute right to a life-term of ruling, and an amendment that makes the principles of the Islamic Shari`a the main source of legislation.
A Declaration of War against Islamists and the Civil State too..
No doubt that the amendment of the fifth Article of the Constitution, prohibiting the formation of parties having a religious background, marks a declaration of war against Islamists in general, and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular, notwithstanding the fact that the NDP and other parties could, theoretically, come under the same prohibition, not to mention also that the provision of the second articles stating that the State is Moslem, and that the principles of that religion are the main source of legislation, totally abridges all traces of such amendments, and renders it theoretical and totally restricted to parties having a non-Islamic religious background.
This amendments aimed to unsheathe constitutional swords within a cheap political competition between the ruling NDP and the Muslim Brotherhood to monopolize the employment of Islam in politics, and on the public itself, even if one of the victims of this competition is the ethical and spiritual position of Islam or religions in general, which must remain away from the Machiavellian nature of political competition.
Although the announced goals of this amendments and the other relevant amendment in Article One which glues the word "citizenship" to the Constitution, is to attach high value to equality among citizens, notwithstanding their religious belief, these amendments have resulted and will result into practices aiming to realize goals, and stress political inputs which are totally to the contrary to the announced goals, exactly like most of the constitutional amendments.
The amendment which closes the door of forming a political party before the Islamists, does not close the door of the party only, but also the door of comprehending and containing a deeply rooted political trend in the society, i.e. it closes the door of politics and again opens, in the meantime, the door widely before the security grip. This has actually taken place during the few months following the endorsement and enforcement of the amendments. However the door closed in the face of the political comprehension and containment of the Islamists, is not, on the other hand, opened before the security grip alone, but also in front of the likely transformation of a sector of Islamists to the way of political violence and terrorism, so long as the gates to legislative peaceful participation is shut in their faces.
This political competition which is expected to become more ferocious between the ruling system and its party on the one hand and the Muslim Brotherhood on the other, going in tandem with the security blows, does not bring about any harbingers of good news to those who believed the promises of citizenship and the civility of the state, and the intellectual openness transcending the Islamists" religious shutting-off.
Within the framework of this cheap competition, which will become fiercer after the amendments and security blows, on the ground and the people themselves, it will become impossible for the ruling system and its party to embark on adopting any stances or policies or practices that might be predicated by the Muslim Brotherhood to prove to the public opinion that the ruling system"s belief in Islam is less than theirs. The most prominent victim of this cheap Machiavellian competition are the "velvet" goals promised by the constitutional amendments, namely citizenship and the civility of the state, which will bring about the Copts, secularists, leftists and liberals to join the long queue of the victims of these amendments, topped by human rights and the independence of judiciary.
That is why it was no coincidence that the government General Egyptian Book Authority has, recently, taken the initiative of confiscating the "Ibdaa`" magazine, because it had published a poem that could be used by the Muslim Brotherhood to prove the system"s disrespect of Islam! Or lest the government, and not the Muslim Brotherhood, should challenge a court verdict endorsing the conversion of Christian citizens to their religion after declaring their Islam! Or lest the government should become an accomplice in the process of forcing Coptic children to convert to Islam, and considering them to have failed in the subject of Islamic religion! Or fabricating security, media and criminal cases, to prove that the ruling system and its party constitute the first and foremost guard of Islam against Christian citizens, or Muslims who entertain different Islamic view points, as was the case with the "Quranists" who have been categorized as a danger threatening the "State security"! Or lest the government, and not the Muslim Brotherhood, should challenge a court ruling permitting the Bahaa’is to mention their religion in the ID, although they were permitted to do so before! In all those cases the Muslim Brotherhood kept silent because this is an implementation of their own agenda.
The foregoing practices are not the most dangerous stabs to "citizenship" and the citizens. The slay of citizenship, a word which remains hanging in space, is manifest in its most impertinent forms, when the Constitution provides in the amendment of Article 179 for the permission and protection of wasting the minimum and simplest citizen"s rights, namely the citizen"s right to personal safety and security, and his/her right not to be arrested arbitrarily, the inviolability of his/her house and private possessions, and his/her right to resort to his/her natural judge.
The constitutional amendments do not constitute a war against the Islamists, exclusively, but also against the principle of citizenship and citizens themselves.
It is hard to predict the life-time of these amendments; however, the life of these amendments is closely related to the life-time of the current political system. Unlike what the tailors of the philosophy of these amendments have thought, namely that these amendments will reinforce the pillars of stability of the current system, they will instill more chaos and instability in the pillars of the system.
No political system has ever been able to maintain its pillars or the rules of the political game, after a civil war comes to an end; and the constitutional amendments are but a declared civil war, even if it remains "political".
CAIRO MOVING MORE AGGRESSIVELY TO CRIPPLE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD
Government Seen Eliminating Opposition as Transition Looms
By Ellen Knickmeyer | Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, October 1, 2007; A14
CAIRO -- After imprisoning or prodding into exile Egypt"s leading secular opposition activists, the government is using detentions and legal changes to neutralize the country"s last surviving major political movement, the Muslim Brotherhood.
Brotherhood leaders and rights groups contend the government is clearing the stage of opponents in politics, civil society and the news media ahead of the end of the 26-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak, who is 79. Egyptians widely expect the transition to be tense and that Mubarak"s son Gamal will be a top contender.
"Tyranny has reached unprecedented limits from any previous regime," said Mohammed Mahdi Akef, the supreme guide, or highest leader, of the Brotherhood, which the government has outlawed for decades but allowed to operate within narrow limits. "This is insane tyranny."
Egyptian officials point to the group"s high level of organization and violent past, and insist it remains the most dangerous force in Egypt. "The Muslim Brotherhood represents the framework for future violence," said Mohamed Abdel-Fattah Omar, a lawmaker from the ruling party and a former head of the state security apparatus.
In August and September, police raided the homes and meetings of Brotherhood leaders, putting behind bars five of the 12 officials in the group"s decision-making guidance council. Two have since been released for health reasons.
Prosecutors have also accused two Brotherhood members of parliament of seeking to revive the group, and police jailed 14 mid- and top-level managers vital to communications in an organization that some Brotherhood officials estimate includes 200,000 members. Egyptian security forces have jailed more than 1,000 rank-and-file members over the past year, according to the Brotherhood; 167 remain in prison.
The architects of the Muslim Brotherhood"s surprise success in 2005 elections -- when members, running as independents, shocked Mubarak"s National Democratic Party by winning one-fifth of the seats in the lower house of parliament -- now sit in prison.
They include Essam el-Erian, head of the movement"s political division, and one of the group"s most moderate and yet most outspoken leaders. "What we want is to try our best toward changing this regime peacefully, by lawful and constitutional means," Erian said a few weeks before his arrest. "We may absorb a kick, but we will come back more powerful."
Police arrested Khayrat el-Shater, the group"s third-ranking leader, chief strategist and main overseer of its finances, late last year. Soon after, Mubarak declared the Brotherhood a threat to national security.
Egyptian authorities charged Shater and 39 other Brotherhood members with money-laundering and financing a banned group. After civilian courts cleared the men, Mubarak ordered the cases moved to military courts.
The Brotherhood was founded in 1928, the year Mubarak and Akef were born, and the government banned it in 1954. Egyptian administrations have alternated between trying to co-opt the group and trying to crush it. Imprisonment during crackdowns in the late 1960s helped radicalize Ayman al-Zawahiri and others, who split from the group in the 1960s and 1970s to start violent movements including Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which later merged with al-Qaeda.
Since the 1970s, the Brotherhood has sought to position itself as a moderate force in Egypt"s political life. Its leaders say Egypt should be a civil rather than religious state.
Mohammed Habib, the Brotherhood"s deputy supreme guide, said that by offering an alternative, peaceful outlet for political Islam, "We have protected Egypt from waves of violence that possibly would have attracted thousands of young people."
Despite the ban, the Brotherhood has provided clinics, youth camps and other services that have won the organization support among the poor and provided a civic model for the armed Islamic movements Hezbollah and Hamas. The Brotherhood draws support among Egypt"s middle class through its strong presence in technical and professional unions.
Brotherhood members are divided on how to react to the crackdown. In the Brotherhood"s headquarters in a nondescript neighborhood of Cairo, Habib said he counseled calm.
"We don"t want to be provoked, as plainly the government wants to do," said Habib. Like most Brotherhood leaders, Habib presented the avuncular demeanor, clean-shaven face and Western attire of a middle-age engineer or doctor. Short-sleeve shirts with plastic pocket protectors are popular among the Brotherhood.
"We do not function by an action and reaction policy," Habib said.
But some younger members are chafing. "The group remains silent and eventually we get rounded up," said Abdel Monem Mahmoud, a 27-year-old blogger.
Mahmoud courted his own arrest in August by publishing the name of a security official who Mahmoud alleges tortured him during his imprisonment in 2003 on a charge of belonging to the Brotherhood. "Silence does not stop the arrests," Mahmoud said. "We have to expose them because they are unfair and unjust, they are a bunch of thieves. Our long silence led to what we are facing today."
The government is also writing its crackdown into law. Constitutional changes pushed through by the government after the Brotherhood"s strong showing in 2005 shut out its members in upper house elections this June. Next year, the government promises to present a new anti-terrorism code that the Brotherhood expects to be used for further crackdowns against it.
The administration"s moves are "designed to basically institutionalize the campaign against the Brotherhood and make sure it will not be allowed to either compete with the ruling party or threaten Mubarak"s new successor," said Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert at Sarah Lawrence College in New York.
Mubarak"s age makes the matter urgent. Rumors that the Egyptian leader was dying or dead swept the country in recent months, forcing him to leave his Mediterranean villa for impromptu televised tours of a factory and office park.
Egyptians cite U.S. pressure in 2005 as the stimulus for a short-lived flourishing of democratic opposition. That year, President Bush challenged Egypt in his State of the Union address "to show the way toward democracy in the Middle East." Since making peace with Israel in 1979, Egypt has been the No. 2 recipient of U.S. foreign aid.
Mubarak allowed other candidates to challenge his 2005 reelection bid. Egypt"s fragmented secular opposition groups made tentative alliances with one another, and with the Brotherhood.
By 2006, with Hamas"s victory in Palestinian elections leading U.S. officials to have second thoughts about democracy in the Middle East, and the U.S. military presence in Iraq growing ever more troubled, American priorities in the Middle East shifted again, from promoting democracy to maintaining allies.
That year, Egypt picked off the secular opposition through arrests and intimidation. Ayman Nour, who came in a distant second to Mubarak in the 2005 presidential election, was sentenced to five years in prison on what supporters said were trumped-up charges of forging signatures on campaign documents. The third-place finisher in the race also was jailed but released.
Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Egypt"s best-known democracy advocate, went into exile this summer, saying he feared arrest after urging Bush to tie the more than $1.3 billion in annual U.S. aid to Egypt to the release of Nour and to democratic reforms.
The government is concentrating now on the Brotherhood, and on civil society.
Last month a judge ordered a year"s hard labor for the editors of four leading opposition newspapers, saying they had made the ruling party, Mubarak and his son Gamal appear dictatorial. A judge last Monday ordered three more opposition journalists imprisoned for two years on grounds that their coverage had impugned Egypt"s justice system.
One of the editors, whose newspaper reported on the pervasive but unproven rumors about Mubarak"s ill health, is to stand trial in criminal court on Monday. The government last month also closed an Egyptian human rights organization that had been active in exposing allegations of police torture. This spring, it shut a labor organization involved in what rights groups said has been the biggest wave of strikes in Egypt in a half-century.
Egypt"s leaders "feel that democratization means that they will leave their chairs and leave their positions, and they are not able to pay this cost," said Hafez Abu Seada Abu Se"da, of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights.
Habib denied that the Brotherhood had any desire to lead the country after Mubarak. "Presidential candidacy is not on our agenda," he said.
But at the height of the arrests in August, Habib allowed himself to relish the suggestion that Mubarak"s age meant Egypt would soon face a succession. "Maybe months!" Habib said, and laughed.
Special correspondent Nora Younis contributed to this report.
I WILL STAND UP FOR THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD
Mona Eltahawy | Wed. Sep 19, 2007
The first time I went to interview the Muslim Brotherhood, in 1995, an officer manager at their headquarters on the Nile opened the door with one hand and gave me a headscarf to wear with the other. The second time I went to interview the Muslim Brotherhood, in 2005, no headscarf awaited me.
I was intrigued. I had been living in the United States since 2000, but had heard during visits to Egypt that the Brotherhood, or Al-Ikhwan as they’re known in Arabic, were changing. They’d become fluent in the lingo of reform and democracy. Phrases like “political pluralism” were creeping into interviews they gave to the press.
Was this new Brotherhood for real? The story, as the good ones always are, was a bit more complicated — something worth keeping in mind while reading the seemingly daily reports of government crackdowns against the Muslim Brotherhood and other Egyptian opposition figures.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s leader, Supreme Guide Mohammed Mahdi Akef, started our meeting two years ago by saying all the right things about rejecting violence and choosing instead to take part in elections and other “peaceful ways of bringing about change.” I admit, I was impressed — until I asked him whether the Muslim Brotherhood, if it ever came to power, would change anything in the Egyptian constitution regarding women’s rights.
Arab Islamists may face different challenges, but when it comes to women’s rights, they’re fairly united in their conservative views. In Kuwait they blocked women’s right to vote and run for office until last year. In Jordan they struck down legislation giving women the right to initiate divorce and stood in the way of laws that would toughen sentences handed down for so-called honor crimes. So, I asked the Brotherhood leader, would the Egyptian Islamists be just as bad for women?
“No,” Akef replied, “and my proof is that although you’re naked, you were allowed to enter my office.”
I was wearing a short-sleeved t-shirt and pants.
The word “naked” was particularly grating to my ears because I had worn a headscarf, or hijab, for nine years as a young woman. I chose to wear a hijab at the age of 16, thinking it was a religious requirement, but chose to take it off at 25 after my reading into the issue had convinced me that it was not.
Nevertheless, it took me years to shake off the guilt at rejecting a way of dressing that over the past 15 years has become the uniform of Muslim womanhood in Egypt — thanks in no small part to the Muslim Brotherhood’s efforts. As many as 80% of Egyptian women wear the hijab today.
Maybe if I hadn’t had my own experience with the hijab I might’ve demurred and brushed off Akef’s “naked” jab with a common utterance of many Muslim women who have never covered their hair but believe they should: “When God enlightens me.” But I’d been there, done that, and I was supposedly in the presence of the new and improved Muslim Brotherhood, political pluralism and all. The guilt-trip wasn’t going to work on me.
“I am not naked,” I reminded him. “The verses in the Koran concerning women’s dress have been interpreted differently.”
“According to God’s law, you are naked,” he replied. “Your arms are naked, your head is naked. There is only one interpretation.”
One interpretation? So much for pluralism. Clearly, the Muslim Brotherhood had quite some way to go.
Akef’s position struck at the heart of my concerns over the process of reform and political openness in Egypt. As a secular, liberal Egyptian Muslim who defends the right of everyone to take part in the political process, I am painfully aware of the irony of defending the rights of someone whose principles do not extend me such a courtesy. That “one interpretation” that Akef mentioned was clear proof to my ears that the Muslim Brotherhood continue to act as the guardians of Islam and that anyone who dares to criticize them stands accused of criticizing the religion itself.
But as that same secular, liberal Egyptian Muslim, I believe I must defend the Brotherhood’s presence on Egypt’s political stage. If I don’t, then I am just as guilty as the regime that has for decades sucked the oxygen out of the body politic — and with Gamal Mubarak being groomed to take over the presidency from his aging father, the regime seems set to rule for another generation.
Besides the state, the Brotherhood is the last man standing in Egypt. We’re down to the state and the mosque. The Muslim Brotherhood must remain on Egypt’s political stage, not least so that its ideas are out in the open and can be challenged.
I was in Egypt in 2005 when the Muslim Brotherhood won 88 seats in parliamentary elections, and I remain unconvinced that the majority of Egyptians would vote for them in free and fair elections. Less than 22% of Egyptians turned out to vote in 2005, which to me says most Egyptians want neither the state nor the mosque. They want a real choice.
Those elections capped a year of frenetic activity on the reform front in Egypt, the likes of which I’d never seen in my lifetime. I moved back to Egypt for four months to be a part of it.
Pressured internally by various opponents and street demonstrations and externally by a Washington bent on Arab democratization, the Egyptian regime seemed to bend ever so slightly. But as soon as the Muslim Brotherhood secured a fifth of the seats in parliament, President Hosni Mubarak played his bogeyman card, to great success.
The electoral success in 2005 of the Muslim Brotherhood and in 2006 of its offshoot in Gaza, Hamas, were two main reasons behind the Bush administration’s shelving its push for democracy and reform in the Middle East. With Washington off its back, the Egyptian regime no longer had to play the reform game.
It has spent the past two years imprisoning and hounding its critics. Just this week, it banned the Muslim Brotherhood’s largest annual social gathering — a gala dinner during Ramadan, the month when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset — for the first time in 20 years. Some 40 members of the group are currently on trial in military court on terrorism and money laundering charges.
That bogeyman card will continue to be a sure bet for the Egyptian regime, so long as there’s not enough room for everyone on Egypt’s political stage. So, “naked” as I am, I’ll continue to defend the Muslim Brotherhood’s right to be on that stage.
Mona Eltahawy is a New York-based writer.
THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD WILL STAND UP FOR ALL EGYPTIANS
Ibrahim El Houdaiby | Wed. Sep 26, 2007
Reading Mona Eltahawy’s September 21 opinion article, I felt more than ever that all Egyptians — regardless of their ideological orientation, gender or age — have a lot in common (“I Will Stand Up for the Muslim Brotherhood”). Eltahawy and I differ on much, yet we share a common objective and we struggle for the same cause of bringing real democracy, justice and freedom to Egypt.
Eltahawy is critical of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political orientation and stances on a number of issues, yet she stands with us in solidarity against the Egyptian government’s crackdowns. It is important that Egyptians of different political views defend each others’ political rights, as Eltahawy has done — and as several Muslim Brotherhood members, myself included, have previously done on behalf of opposition leaders Ayman Nour and Talaat El Sadaat and bloggers Kareem Amer and Sandmonkey.
Nor is that the only point on which we agree.
In her opinion article, Eltahawy criticizes the Muslim Brotherhood’s leader, Mohammed Mahdi Akef, for calling her “naked” because she was wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt and pants. I could not agree more with her.
Not wearing the hijab, or headscarf, makes a woman unveiled, not naked. I realize how offensive it is to call someone “naked” for not wearing a headscarf, and I find Akef’s comment unjustifiable.
To be clear, I support Akef’s stance on wearing the hijab, and like him view it as a religious obligation. There has been consensus on that among Islamic scholars for centuries.
Yet this has got nothing to do with the Muslim Brotherhood as a political group. While we believe that wearing the hijab is an obligation, we believe it is an individual woman’s choice to uphold it — a choice that the state should not interfere in.
There is a difference between what Islamists, and Muslims in general, regard as correct, and what they regard as enforceable by the state. This difference has unfortunately been blurred by the misguided practices of some contemporary Islamist systems, and in order to clear up any misconceptions the literature of moderate Islamist scholars needs to be scrutinized further.
Where I do disagree with Eltahawy is on the Muslim Brotherhood’s commitment to democracy, which she calls into question. Akef’s refusal to recognize different interpretations of quranic verses concerning women’s dress makes Eltahawy cynical about his ability to accept pluralism.
Not accepting another interpretation as authentic, however, does not mean attempting to silence it.
Every person is entitled to believe in the correctness or incorrectness of an idea, but he or she has no right whatsoever to enforce that belief on others. Akef, who told Eltahawy there are no other interpretations of the verse, never tried to force his beliefs on her.
As she herself writes, in 2005 she walked into the Muslim Brotherhood’s headquarters and no one asked her to wear a headscarf, as they had when she visited the offices a decade earlier. This should give a strong indication of the positive changes taking place within the Muslim Brotherhood.
More importantly, acceptance of political pluralism is much easier than accepting pluralism in text interpretation. In the world of politics, Shariah only sets objectives to be achieved and core values to be taken into account. This leaves large room for dynamism, even among Islamist lines of thought.
We understand the rules of democracy, and realize that people have the right to choose to do whatever they want, even if we view their choice as incorrect. At the end of the day, what matters should be neither the Muslim Brotherhood leaders’ opinion nor that of President Hosni Mubarak, but rather the Egyptian people’s opinion, as manifested in ballot boxes in free and fair elections — given, of course, that their decision does not undermine the basic rights or civil liberties of any group or individual.
I agree with Eltahawy when she writes that the Muslim Brotherhood is “the last man standing in Egypt.” I sincerely believe this puts an additional responsibility on the group, as it must shoulder the burden of helping others to stand.
As declared several times by leaders including Deputy Chairman Khayrat El Shatir (who is currently being tried by a military tribunal), the Muslim Brotherhood realizes that no single party or group will be able to solve Egypt’s economic, political and social problems. It is for this specific reason that Muslim Brotherhood members need to hear constructive criticism and advice from their political rivals, so we can all help each other move forward in pushing for genuine reform in Egypt.
Eltahawy says she is unconvinced that a majority of Egyptians would vote for the Muslim Brotherhood in free and fair elections. I agree, as it was the regime’s harsh crackdowns and unsuccessful distortion campaign in the media that helped deliver the elections to the Muslim Brotherhood, along with a clear maturity in the group’s political and organizational capabilities.
If contested in free and fair elections, the Muslim Brotherhood would at most win around 45%-50% of votes. Yet the silent majority that would not vote for the Muslim Brotherhood would, if given the chance, vote against the extralegal measures used by Mubarak’s regime to silence the group. Most Egyptians know that these suppressive measures only contribute to boosting radicalism, with consequences that may be devastating to all of us.
It is true, as Eltahawy notes, that Mubarak and his regime have played the bogeyman card. They have been able to do so in part because the Muslim Brotherhood has failed to reach out to the world and convey a better understanding of what the group stands for.
More effort has been put into dialogue in recent years, particularly after the parliamentary success in 2005, and a notable number of Western intellectuals and policymakers have come to see the real face of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hopefully these efforts, along a sincere and evenhanded defense of human rights, will help Egypt move forward toward becoming an inclusive democracy.
I wholeheartedly salute the positive spirit exhibited in Eltahawy’s opinion article. I salute her pragmatism, I salute her willingness to overcome ideological disputes and work with political rivals for a common cause, and I salute her uncompromising position on human rights and her defense of freedom for all.
It is through this kind of spirit that dialogue becomes fruitful — and it is such spirit that makes one confidently say that we are capable of standing up united for Egypt.
Ibrahim El Houdaiby is a Cairo-based board member of Ikhwan Web, the Muslim Brotherhood’s English-language Web site.
EGYPT - READING THROUGH THE FUTURE
Who Will Pay the Price?
By Ibrahim El-Houdaiby
Freelance Writer - Egypt
It is now clearer than ever that Mubarak"s regime has decided to escalate its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood like it has never done before.
For the first time ever, security forces have banned the Annual Iftar (breaking the fast) Ceremony organized by the group at a time when hundreds of MB members are behind bars, 40 of whom are standing before a military tribunal. Although previously cleared and acquitted from the same charges by civilian courts four times already, they are expecting harsh verdicts from the military tribunal very soon.
Escalation started over a year ago, a few months after the November 2005 parliamentary elections in which the regime realized its incapability to compete with MB in free or semi free elections. The growing popularity of the MB, stemming from its adoption of moderate stances and ability to forge political alliances to push forward for reform, sent alarming signals to the regime, which suffers eroding internal popularity. All this came at a time when the inheritance plan, by which Gamal Mubarak is expected to take over his 80-years-old father"s presidency, should have been moving forward fast.
The regime has consequently decided to undermine its main opposition group through resorting to three streams of extralegal measures.
First, it used its media outlets for a huge deceiving campaign that distorts the MB image and portrays it as a radical group that would threaten social tranquility, undermine civil liberties, and violate minority rights.
Second, the regime attempted to paralyze the Brotherhood by arresting a large number of its influential leaders and keeping them behind bars. This includes Deputy Chairman Khayrat el Shater, Executive Council members Mohamed Ali Beshr and Mahmoud Ghozlan, and Political Bureau Chief Essam El Erian.
Finally, the regime attempted to disintegrate Brotherhood members from the society by cracking down on their businesses and hence economically isolating them.
This crackdown, which is certainly the harshest since Nasser"s assault on the Brotherhood, could partially achieve its objectives by stagnating and disempowering the group. It is only natural that such attitude would put the MB on the defensive, and would cause its withdrawal from several fronts. Yet the MB"s loss would only be partial and temporary. Over its long historical journey, the MB has learned how to survive such crackdowns with minimal losses, and has become an integral part of the Egyptian society in a way that makes it impossible to abolish.
It is rather Egypt"s loss resulting from this crackdown that should matter. The MB is a mainstream Islamist movement with a moderate orientation and a peaceful and gradual approach. Its presence is of vital importance to the healthiness of the Egyptian political system for a few reasons.
First, it is a strong opposition movement that plays an important role in bringing opposition groups together and negotiating a reform agenda, and standing up against the regime that has been ruling the country for more than half a century. Its absence would therefore mean an absolute monopoly in Egyptian political life; monopoly that would further undermine civil liberties, restrict freedom of speech, and intensify political and economic corruption.
Second, the MB"s presence is important for the moderation of the Islamist trend in Egypt. Being a strong, influential movement, the MB could always win the hearts and minds of young Islamists, and drag them away from the lines of radicalism. It could always win the battle of ideas amongst Islamists for moderation, provided that it is granted an equal opportunity in the political system so as to provide a democratic alternative for political integration for these young Islamists.
The MB"s presence in the political system would therefore mean overshadowing the marginal outlawed radical groups, while undermining it would mean empowering these groups and making their sentiment and discourse more relevant.
Third, MB"s presence is of regional importance as well. Being the oldest, most powerful, and most influential of all contemporary moderate Islamist movements, MB has a significant impact on the orientation of Islamist movements in the region. Undermining it would cause despair to moderate movements, and would give credit to Ayman El Zawahiri"s arguments against the MB"s stances on democracy, as well as its moderate orientation and peaceful approach. For many young Islamists, it would simply prove these stances to be unfruitful, and they will be consequently dragged into the lines of radicalism.
End of The Struggle
The political struggle between the Egyptian regime and the Muslim Brotherhood will come to an end one day or another. Sooner or later, opposition forces and balance of powers will force the Egyptian regime to quit resorting to extralegal measures in dealing with its political opponents. Yet the ideological struggle between moderate and radical streams of thought is a battle of ideas, and is therefore expected to last for longer. The ongoing crackdown on moderate groups serves radicals and lays the necessary foundations for the empowerment of their discourse.
While I never find radicalism justifiable, I find it important to scrutinize its roots to understand its reasons and eliminate it. Most contemporary radical groups are products of the crackdowns, tyranny, and oppression that took place under Nasser"s regime. Tyranny and oppression from an authoritarian domestic regime has caused Zawahiri and others to become terrorists, and threaten the very peace and security of innocent souls all over the globe. I am positive that if the ongoing crackdown on moderates continues, next generations will blame Mubarak and his regime for new waves of terrorism more than we blame Nasser and his regime today.
Ibrahim El-Houdaiby ([email protected]) is a board member and columnist in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood"s official English website, IkhwanWeb.com. A graduate of the American University in Cairo, he holds a bachelor"s degree in political science, and is working towards a master"s in Islamic Studies at the Islamic Studies Institute.
INTERVIEW - EGYPT DISSIDENT WANTS AID CONDITIONAL ON REFORM
Tue Sep 25, 2007 10:49am EDT
By Cynthia Johnston
CAIRO, Sept 25 (Reuters) - One of Egypt"s most prominent political dissidents said on Tuesday that foreign donor aid to Cairo should depend on U.S. ally Egypt granting greater political freedoms.
Sociologist Saadeddin Ibrahim said he was lobbying Washington and the European Union to demand progress toward more judicial independence, greater media and civil society freedoms, and internationally supervised elections in exchange for aid.
He also wants to see an end to emergency laws put in place after the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat.
"All of the aid should be conditioned on benchmarks and a roadmap for democratic reform in Egypt," he told Reuters by telephone from Doha, the Qatari capital. Ibrahim has been abroad for the past four months and said he feared arrest at home.
"My agenda is reform and democratisation of my country. I want everything done to bring about that objective."
Ibrahim"s remarks came as Egypt faced sudden U.S. fire over setbacks to press freedom and civil society.
A White House spokeswoman said on Monday that recent steps by the authorities "appear to contradict the Egyptian government"s stated commitment to expand democratic rights".
Over the past month, Egypt has forcibly closed a human rights group that aided torture victims and sentenced seven journalists to jail over their work, including four convicted of defaming President Hosni Mubarak.
Ibrahim, a U.S.-Egyptian dual citizen who met U.S. President George W. Bush in Prague in June as part of a group of dissidents from around the world, said he believed Washington had been trying to press Egypt on reforms "informally behind closed doors", but that Egypt misread the signals.
Still, he said, the rare U.S. public criticism of its Arab ally was coming "pretty late". An Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
Ibrahim, who was imprisoned in 2002 on charges including damaging Egypt"s reputation abroad, said he again faced possible arrest should he return to Cairo as old accusations against him were revived, this time in the form of private legal complaints.
"My lawyers have advised me not to come back because there are nine filed requests with the attorney general in Egypt to investigate me," he said, adding he had no immediate plans to return to Egypt.
He said he believed the complaints, which he said were brought by members of the ruling party, were filed partly in response to his campaign to press the United States over aid to Egypt. Egypt is among the top recipients of U.S. foreign aid, receiving nearly $2 billion a year.
But the U.S. Congress has considered a bill that would hold back $200 million in military funds for Egypt unless it takes steps on reforms. Cairo views the proposal as interference in its domestic affairs.
Analysts say waning U.S. public pressure on Egypt has given the state a freer hand over the past year to act against critics in the run-up to an eventual transition of power from Mubarak, who, at 79, has been in power for a quarter of a century.
The most obvious successor is Mubarak"s 43-year-old son Gamal, although he denies having presidential ambitions.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Amanda Abrams, 202-747-7035
DESPITE ECONOMIC GROWTH, POLITICAL FREEDOM IN NORTH AFRICA IS STAGNANT OR DECLINING
October 1, 2007 -- Although North Africa has experienced some economic progress over the past two years, the leaders of Algeria, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia remain fundamentally undemocratic and, in some cases, have reversed earlier gains in freedom, according to a report released by Freedom House.
Countries at the Crossroads, an annual survey of government performance in 30 strategically important countries worldwide, reported that despite some success in implementing economic reforms, North African leaders’ rhetoric about increasing political freedoms remains empty, and civil liberties remain extremely restricted.
The narrative and scores from Countries at the Crossroads 2007 for Algeria (Arabic version), Egypt (Arabic version), Libya (Arabic version), and Tunisia are available online in English and Arabic at: http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=380
“Government officials across North Africa have placed an emphasis on economic growth in their countries, and have had some success,” said Thomas O. Melia, deputy executive director of Freedom House. “However, those same leaders are doing very little to achieve political reform, which imposes limits on how far economic progress may go. Many have been in power for years—in some cases decades—and yet haven’t achieved significant reforms.”
Most of the countries in the region have made strides economically in the past two years. In Tunisia, the government continues to have some success with new economic strategies, as well as with education and anti-poverty policies. Nonetheless, political conditions remain extremely restricted. President Zine Al-Abidine Bin Ali continues his policy of “institutionalization,” creating the appearance of democracy without the substance. There is no opportunity for the rotation of power among political parties or leaders representing competing interests and policy options.
In Libya, the government finally succeeded in ending its isolation and has re-joined the international community. Although the government has taken some tentative steps in the direction of economic reform, political change has remained largely off the agenda. President Muammar Qadhafi continues to impose his own ideology on the population and maintains control over virtually all aspects of life inside the country, as he has for the past 38 years.
Algeria also has made considerable progress toward reducing internal violence, improving economic conditions, and reforming some public institutions. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been unwilling, however, to spend political capital on democratizing the country’s political process and moving toward a market-propelled economy. He continues to bid for greater authority, contradicting his spoken commitment to democracy.
“Prospects for political freedom in the region are not completely hopeless,” said Richard Eisendorf, senior program manager for the Middle East and North Africa at Freedom House. “The Tunisian and Libyan governments both released a number of political prisoners last year, and both are supporting women rights. Additionally, Algeria’s charter on truth and reconciliation helped move that nation forward and away from violence. But when one examines the big picture, it is clear that the ability of people in the region to enjoy universally-accepted political and civil rights is still extremely limited,” added Mr. Eisendorf.
Only in Egypt has the government been both economically unsuccessful as well as politically repressive. In 2006 and 2007, President Hosni Mubarak turned his back on his 2005 campaign promises of enacting political reforms; instead, he waged a national campaign to crack down on dissidents.
The Freedom House survey, Countries at the Crossroads, provides a comparative evaluation of government performance in four touchstone areas of democratic governance: Accountability and Public Voice, Civil Liberties, Rule of Law, and Anticorruption and Transparency. This survey examines these areas of performance in a set of 30 countries that are at a critical crossroads in determining their political future.
Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom around the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in North Africa since 1972.
PAKISTAN"S TAINTED ELECTION
Gen. Pervez Musharraf is likely to be reelected as president today; whether he can maintain power is another question.
Washington Post Editorial
Saturday, October 6, 2007; Page A20
GEN. PERVEZ Musharraf will almost certainly succeed in orchestrating his "reelection" today as president of Pakistan -- but it will be an ugly victory. The national Parliament and provincial legislatures that will convene as an electoral college have little legitimacy, because they were chosen in rigged elections four years ago. In a genuine democratic election, Mr. Musharraf would have no chance of extending his eight years in power, which began with a military coup. Already tainted, the general"s mandate will also be tenuous: Pakistan"s Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the result cannot be certified until it rules on whether Mr. Musharraf is violating the constitution by entering the election without stepping down as Army commander in chief.
The good news is that Pakistan"s autocratic but ineffectual leader will probably surrender a large share of power in the coming weeks. He has promised that if granted a new mandate as president, he will give up his military command -- something that may cause the Supreme Court to overlook the legal problems with his election. Yesterday he also, at last, struck a deal with one of the country"s two principal secular political party leaders, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Under its terms, corruption charges against Ms. Bhutto and her husband will be dropped and she will be allowed to return to Pakistan this month. Her party hopes to win parliamentary elections due by early next year and return her as prime minister.
In a few months Pakistan could be governed by a troika of Mr. Musharraf, Ms. Bhutto or another civilian prime minister, and the likely new army commander, Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani. The Bush administration, which has been quietly pushing for just such an outcome while publicly proclaiming disinterest in Pakistan"s internal affairs, is hoping that it will strengthen the government both politically and militarily in what, right now, is a losing battle against Islamic extremism -- including Taliban and al-Qaeda forces that have gained control over a large and growing chunk of western Pakistan.
The problem with this convoluted process is that it may involve very little democracy. Though Ms. Bhutto says her deal with Mr. Musharraf is meant to ensure that parliamentary elections will be free and fair, it appeared yesterday that another major Pakistani political figure, Nawaz Sharif, could be excluded. Though relatively popular while in exile, Ms. Bhutto could quickly be discredited if she is seen to be gaining power through backroom dealing with Mr. Musharraf. The government has recently conducted a crackdown on opposition leaders from Mr. Sharif"s party, as well as on the media. Unless the crackdown is reversed and a credible parliamentary election is held, Pakistan"s moderate and secular center will continue to be at war with itself while its enemies grow steadily stronger.
MOROCCO: WHITEWASH AND RESIGNATION
Kristina Kausch Researcher,
Democratisation programme, FRIDE
In July 2007, FRIDE published a background document on the Moroccan legislative election of September 7th (‘An Islamist Government in Morocco?’), analysing the prospects of the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) to form part of the next government, and the possible implications this might have for Moroccan democracy. Many of the concerns identified in this backgrounder were borne out when the elections were held.
No Moroccan election before has generated such excitement and international attention as the 2007 legislative elections. Election observers, foreign correspondents and analysts alike headed to Rabat to witness what was expected to become the day that would seal Morocco’s shift to an ‘Islamist government’. But polls and forecasts were proven wrong: while the PJD did gain a few seats, it achieved anything but a ‘raz de marée’ and did not see its expectations of becoming the strongest political force in the country come to fruition. No less surprising, the old, established Istiqlal (Independence) Party overtook the PJD in a leap of popularity that analysts are having trouble explaining.
The most striking feature of this election, however, has been neither the PJD’s relative failure nor Istiqlal’s sudden boost, but the miserably low voter turnout of 37 per cent, according to the official figures. Real participation, however, is estimated to have been even lower (around 24 per cent), given that the official figures refer to registered voters and still include void and blank votes, which account for 19 per cent of the vote cast. In other words, at least two-thirds of Moroccans abstained, and of those who did cast the ballot, one out of every fi ve was blank or void. In addition, Moroccan media report that many of the blank votes were adorned with protest messages blatantly expressing disenchantment with the governing elite.
After learning about the results of the election in their neighbouring country, Spanish media let out a big sigh of relief after having been spared the frightening prospect of an Islamist-run country on the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar. Largely echoing the Moroccan government’s rhetoric, most of the media coverage focused on the technical aspects of the election, the PJD’s surprising result was proscribed to the party’s ultimate failure to gain the confidence of the voters, and hardly anybody wondered how the dusty, co-opted Istiqlal had suddenly managed to overhaul a popular, untainted party that had been topping the polls for months. The political message of the lowest voter turnout in Morocco’s short electoral history was largely dealt with in a footnote. Such evaluations miss the point, for several reasons.
First of all, the PJD’s failure to secure its participation in government is not necessarily a reason for relief at all. A lot of adjectives can be used to characterise the party led by secretary general Saad Eddine El Othmani, but ‘radical’ is certainly not one of them. In the Moroccan political landscape, the PJD could be said to represent the moderate, flexible branch of an increasingly split Islamist community. Throughout its political trajectory since 1999, the PJD has been gradually adapting not only its rhetoric and appearance but also its political demands and consensus-building capacity to the requirements of democratic governance and competition – and, of course, to the Palace’s rules of the game.
An Istiqlal-led government will basically mean more of the same, changing the face but not the course of the political elite in a largely powerless parliament, and a governing coalition composed of co-opted, lethargic parties which do not even think of challenging the unofficial but well-known rules of the game, set by the King’s entourage. Arguably, PJD participation in the governing coalition (which due to the fragmented party landscape always requires a composition of four or five parties at least) would almost certainly have failed to bring about substantive change, too. However, as a fresh, untainted opposition party with the wish to prove its ability to govern and deliver, the PJD might at least have blown fresh wind into the ranks of the established elite, including at least a slight chance of providing new impetus for political change.
Secondly, in terms of political momentousness, the most significant feature of this election has not been the distribution of seats. One can be disappointed by the fact that there will be no fresh wind in the Moroccan governing coalition. By contrast, the low voter turnout and the high percentage of blank votes can only be called worrying, because they display how very disconnected the Moroccan government is from its electorate. The Moroccan authorities did express their concern over the low voter turnout, but showed no sign of self-reflection. On the contrary: as if to preemptively shake off the blame, they point towards the considerable effort of voter information and awareness campaigns that had been undertaken in the run-up to the elections. To be sure, these activities have been valuable and constitute an important effort by both government agencies and civil society to enhance awareness about the electoral process and citizen’s rights in a country where almost half of the population is illiterate. However, seen in the light of the evolution of voter participation during the last three elections (dropping sharply from 58 per cent in 1997 to 52 in 2002 and 37 per cent in 2007), the figures suggest that the low turnout in 2007 is not mainly an issue of information but rather has deeper structural reasons. First and foremost, what lacks is not information, but trust.
The increasing alienation between the ruling elite and the people, and the apparent impossibility of breaking into the established power structures, may have even further reaching implications for both Morocco and its international partners. To the extent that the continuity of the existing power structures remains cemented, checks and balances remain entirely ineffective and meaningful change that establishes a separation of powers is not even to be hoped for, increasing popular disenchantment with the ruling elite is likely to push moderates, and particularly the youth, towards the radical edge of the Moroccan Islamist spectrum. Today, the de-facto outlawed Islamist movement Al Adl Wal Ihsane (Justice and Charity), which is by no means afraid to challenge Makhzen and the Monarchy, is already considered the true opposition in Morocco, and by far more influential than the PJD. The defeat of moderate Islamism gives Europe no reason to cheer. On the contrary: denying radicalism its platform by strengthening the moderates and helping them to deliver should give neighbouring Spain far more reason for relief.
It would be misleading, however, to put all the blame on the Palace and its entourage for the voters’ apathy. The political parties, both government and opposition, also have their share as they have been largely absorbed by the power apparatus, do little to push for change, are strained by an image of corruption and have thus been suffering from eroding credibility for quite some time. So maybe, with two-thirds of the population casting a silent vote of disapproval, resignation, or at best indifference, the Moroccan leadership and political parties, as well as those European media that so readily echo the regime’s rhetoric, might want to start asking certain questions. For example, whether the harshly dropping participation levels might not be connected to the lack of government accountability that derives from the parallel existence of formal democratic procedures and informal de-facto rules of the game? Whether in a slowly but increasingly liberalising society, respect for the almighty Makhzen power apparatus – the country’s true decision makers in all strategic areas, regardless of elections, seat distribution or government composition – will not slowly give way to growing civil disobedience? And whether abstention in many cases might not simply display an unwillingness to indirectly support an unaccountable regime by providing it with formal domestic and international legitimacy through the cast of the ballot? The most important question for the Moroccan regime should of course be how to stop the decline and enhance voter turnout in the elections to come. A mere focus on the formal and technical aspects of elections, however, is not going to solve the issue. Election observers have acknowledged the Moroccan authorities’ advances in transparency, freedom and fairness of the elections, which is doubtlessly a respectable development. As great an achievement as that is in itself, however, what difference does it make if an election is free and fair if the body that is elected does not rule the country? On the contrary, elections without true representation can serve to provide semi-autocratic regimes with a convenient democratic gloss. The Moroccan leadership has tangible reasons for wanting to maintain its hard-won image as the relative leader of political liberalisation in the region, and has little interest in openly displaying any lack of democratic commitment. European policy-makers and media should not, therefore, provide external legitimacy to the Moroccan regime’s apparent attempt to replace a debate on democracy with one on elections.
MOROCCO: DEMOCRACY, ISLAM, AND MONARCHY
Democracy"s role in ensuring freedoms in Morocco is limited as power still rests with the monarchy, and the rise of Islam and low voter turnout for Friday"s polls shows increasing disillusionment.
By Adam Wolfe
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
A week before Moroccans went to the polls for last Friday"s parliamentary elections, the US government signed a deal with Morocco to provide US$700 million in grants under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which supports emerging democracies.
It was the largest grant the MCC has announced since the organization was created by President George W Bush in 2004.
The grant was another example of Morocco"s blend of Islam and democracy being held up as an example for the rest of North Africa and the Middle East. Morocco is praised for its free press, the free reign allowed to non-governmental organizations, the freedom of religion granted to its small Jewish minority and the legal protections given to women.
Still, democracy"s role in ensuring these freedoms is limited. Power still rests with the monarchy, and the non-representative parliament has limited powers. The parliamentary elections held here on 7 September were an excellent example of how the limits of Morocco"s democratic reforms have led to widespread voter dissatisfaction with the current system. This ultimately has helped to fuel an Islamist opposition, a potentially alarming prospect in a country that has seen at three suicide bombings carried out by Islamists this year.
Drift toward democracy
After ascending to the throne in 1999, King Mohammed VI began implementing reforms to increase democracy"s role in Morocco. He fired Driss Basri, the powerful interior minister who was responsible for much of the political repression under his father, King Hassan, and allowed exiled dissidents to return to the country. The reforms led to parliamentary elections in 2002, which were deemed free and fair by local observers.
While the elections themselves were acceptable, the laws governing the elections ensured that the parliament would not be representative. The first-past-the-post, with single-member districts, system was changed before the elections to a system of proportional representation, with multi-member districts. Each party put forth a list of candidates equal in number to the available seats in the district, and voters chose which party they preferred. Then the party leaders determined who from the list got the seats allotted to their party.
The practical effect of the system was to ensure that no single party dominated any districts, skewing the popular vote in many cases and limiting the power of any party in the parliament.
Even if representation in the parliament was more closely correlated with election results, it is the king who ultimately controls most government decisions. He appoints most of the cabinet members, and after the 2002 elections he appointed a prime minister from outside of the political system.
Because of regulations like this, voter turnout in 2002 was around 50 percent, and reportedly more than 17 percent of voters cast blank ballots to show their opposition to the electoral laws. The turnout for local elections held since has been even lower.
In response, the government passed a new law in December 2005 to strengthen political parties. This was designed in part to focus electoral campaigns around party lines, rather than individual personalities. Further reforms enacted in early 2007 did little to change the system, but did raise the threshold required to take seats in parliament from three percent to six. However, this should strengthen the position of the main parties, where more than 30 parties competed in the elections.
Nevertheless, a pre-election report from the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a democracy advocate group that sent a delegation to monitor this year"s election, warned "there could be a significant disconnect between the popular vote totals garnered by the various parties and their representation in the elected parliament."
In the run up to this year"s elections, the government launched a huge campaign to sign up new voters to increase participation. Voters could even find out via SMS messaging whether they were registered and where they needed to go to vote, according to the NDI.
A speech given by the king to open parliament in 2004 is often cited as evidence that he will entrust the government to a parliamentary majority after this year"s elections, but no guarantees were made prior to the polls.
Still, the turn out for Friday"s elections was an all-time low in Morocco. Only 37 percent of registered voters turned out, with less than 20 percent voting in Casablanca. There have been no reports of blank ballots being cast in protest yet.
Rise of Islamist parties
Widespread disaffection with the current democratic system has helped to push voters to Islamic parties, who have formed the most organized opposition to the current regime.
Many observers believe that the Islamist parties" support is derived more from protest than ideology. Toufik Benqaraach, a member of the International Centre of Strategic Studies and Global Governance, told Al Jazera the support for Islamist parties "reveals a weariness among the population towards the traditional parties, and a desire to test those who have yet to win power."
The largest of these parties is the moderate Justice and Development Party (PJD), a grouping of conservative "monarchist" Islamists, which was projected to win as many as 70 to 80 of the 325 seats in last Friday"s election. The PJD was formed from the strands of several Islamist groups in 1998, and it is easily the fastest-growing party in Morocco - and one that represents itslef as a bulwark against extremism. However, with early results in on Monday, the PJD won only 47 seats, up from 42 in 2002, but a far cry from what it expected.
The PJD has encouraged comparisons with Turkey"s Justice and Development Party, claiming that it supports the current system and will play by the rules that govern Morocco"s democracy if given power in the new government. But the divide in Morocco is not the same as the Islamic-secular debate in Turkey. King Mohammed VI is the spiritual leader of Morocco, and he often cites the Koran to support his reforms. Additionally, the Islamist parties that are allowed to participate in Morocco"s elections must accept the king"s position as the leader of the faithful.
So far, the PJD has been true to its word. It has respected the role of the king and participates actively as the opposition party in the parliament (often even when the governing coalition does not bother to show up).
Still, some are worried the PJD would harden its line if given real power in the parliament. Some of the party"s original founders came from Chabiba Islamia, a violent group that sought to impose Shari"a on Morocco. The PJD maintained a more hardline stance until Islamist bombings in 2003 led the party"s leaders to curtail its Islamic rhetoric.
In 2002, just after the elections where the PJD more than doubled its representation in the parliament, Mustapha Ramid, a senior party leader, told the Associated Press that the PJD would like Islamic Sharia law to be applied in Morocco. "Long-term, we want Shari"a applied completely," he said at the time.
After the 2003 bombings, the government flirted with banning Islamic parties. It ultimately decided against this, in large part because it feared that it would only further radicalize the sizable portion of the population that backs the Islamists. The PJD has since advocated incremental steps toward Islamic reforms. Its current platform, labeled "Together for a Just Morocco," focuses on the promotion of "integrity, transparency and credibility in public life."
However, the PJD"s move toward incrementalism has caused some supporters to abandon the party. Abdelbarii Zemzami, a former imam in the Casablanca-Anfa district, formed the Renaissance and Virtue Party (PRV) to run against the PJD. He told a local newspaper, "It seemed to me that there was no difference between them (PJD) and the other parties which they have been criticizing."
The moderate stance, however, has allowed the PJD to remain a powerful opposition force. It has even gained some support from the US government. In May 2006, Saad Eddine el-Othmani, the PJD secretary general, came to Washington to meet with congressmen and think tanks as part of a tour arranged by the State Department.
Still, some analysts wonder if the PJD would maintain this moderate stance if it gained power. Daniel Lav of the Middle East Media Research Institute points to several media reports which seem to imply that the PJD is still working to apply Shari"a in Morocco. For example, an editorial written by Bilal Al-Talidi, a PJD member and journalist, for the Al-Jazeera website argues that the PJD is not a political party but a Da"wa (religious outreach). "Whenever, thanks to the harvest of Da"wa a value comes to enjoy social legitimacy, it becomes incumbent on politics to fortify it by enacting clear policies and laws around which the people will rally," Al-Talidi wrote.
Down but not out
Because the PJD failed to win the most seats in this years election, the moderate Islamic party will most likely be kept out of the governing coalition. However, some experts think the disapointing results for the PJD do not represent a significant setback for the growth of political Islam in Morocco.
"Political Islam is still a growing force, even if voters were not as enthusiastic about the PJD as they had wanted," Mohamed Darif, a professor at Mohammedia University and expert on Islamic groups and extremism, told the Associated Press.
By avoiding the governing coalition, the PJD can dodge blame for the corruption that still plagues Morocco. Morocco sank to 79th out of 163 countries surveyed in Transparency International"s 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index, down from 45th out of 100 in 1999. Because ultimate power still rests with the king, the PJD would have found it difficult to affect change as part of the government.
While the PJD was hopeful to join the government before the elections, its leaders were prepared to remain in opposition. Saad Eddine El Othmani, PJD Secretary-General, told Magharebia.com, a local news organization, "Our opposition, just like our team in parliament, was strong and will be strong and able to have greater influence in imposing amendments in draft laws submitted by the government."
With record low turn out at Friday"s polls, Morocco"s king will likely need to enact further reforms to address the dissatisfaction. In a way, the PJD"s relatively poor showing may make this easier. Because the secular Independence party will remain the largest party in the government, the king may move to give the parliament more power, knowing that it will support his initiatives. If the king does not move to empower the elected branch of government, democracy, secular or Islamic, will likely continue to wain in Morocco.
Adam Wolfe is an editor and a senior analyst with the Power and Interest News Report, PINR. The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not the International Relations and Security Network (ISN), which published this article.
THE ISLAMIC CASE FOR A SECULAR STATE
The revived Medina Constitution idea was an important experience, because it underlined that Islamic law can’t be imposed on people who don’t want to live by it
Thursday, October 4, 2007
There are some myths that many well-educated Turks believe to be true. One of them is the idea that the Ottoman Empire"s modernization efforts were continuously resisted and crippled by religion. Italian scholar Rossella Bottoni summarizes the falsity of this cliché well in her article titled, “The Origins of Secularism in Turkey.” “According to received wisdom,” she notes:
“In the Ottoman Empire there was a Manichaean struggle between, on one side, the reformers who were Westernizers, liberals, secularizers and modern, and, on the other side, the opponents, especially the ulema (Islamic scholars), who were obscurantist, backward-looking and hooked on the most obsolete customs dictated by religion.”
“However,” Dr. Bottoni adds, “some studies prove that the religious class... was divided over the reform issue and that many ulema did collaborate on the modernization and secularization program.” In fact “some ulema were reformers themselves,” while “the protest against secularizing reforms was mainly expressed by the lower echelons of the religious class, such as preachers of small mosques and softa ( medrese students and aspiring ulema).”
One great irony of history would be the wiping out of the open-minded ulema by the ultra-secular reforms of the early Turkish Republic. This, unintentionally of course, left religion in the hands of the close-minded softas who dominated rural areas, whereas the cities became secular citadels. That"s why, again despite common wisdom, the ultra-secularist project in Turkey did not help the modernization of the country"s Islamic heritage. It actually halted its progress.
Back to Medina?:
Yet still Turkey"s Islamic circles started to reform themselves thanks to their roots in the Islamic-modernist synthesis of the Ottoman Empire, and their growing engagement with democracy, capitalism, and more lately, globalization. That"s why since the "90s, many remarkable ideas emerged among Turkey"s Islamic intellectuals on the compatibility of Islam and secular law.
One interesting -- but not very promising — effort was the idea of “multiple legal systems” proposed by a group of Islamic pundits including Ali Bulaç. They referred to the “Medina Constitution” of the prophet and argued that there should be a plurality of legal systems in Turkey. Practicing Muslims would be able to choose the Islamic code, whereas others would be free to continue with the current one.
However other intellectuals soon reminded that multiple legal systems would be practically impossible in a modern society, and that was precisely why the Ottoman Empire had to unify them in the late 19th century. But the revived Medina Constitution idea was an important experience, because it underlined that Islamic law can"t be imposed on people who don"t want to live by it.
The real groundbreaking thought would be the “historicity” of Islamic law. The theologians who emphasized this view were inspired by the works of Fazlur Rahman, the Pakistani-born Islamic scholar who used to be professor of Islamic thought at the University of Chicago. Rahman emphasized the difference between the principles of Islamic law (such as justice, freedoms and rights) and the way these principles were applied during the history of Islamic civilization. Rahman argued that Islam"s principles are eternally valid, but they could take different forms in different ages and societies. Thus, he concluded, Muslims don"t need to insert the tribal customs and laws of seventh century Arabia into the life of the 21st.
The Turkish theologian who was very influential in introducing Fazlur Rahman"s thinking to Turkey was Dr. Mehmet Aydın. Since 2002, Dr. Aydın has been in politics and has been a minister in both of the successive governments of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). I think this implies that the AKP"s peace with the secular system, which the ultra-secularists believe to be a ploy, has indeed serious theological justifications. And I will continue to explore them in my next column.
9/11 IS OVER
By Thomas L. Friedman
Published: September 30, 2007
Not long ago, the satirical newspaper The Onion ran a fake news story that began like this:
“At a well-attended rally in front of his new ground zero headquarters Monday, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani officially announced his plan to run for president of 9/11. ‘My fellow citizens of 9/11, today I will make you a promise,’ said Giuliani during his 18-minute announcement speech in front of a charred and torn American flag. ‘As president of 9/11, I will usher in a bold new 9/11 for all.’ If elected, Giuliani would inherit the duties of current 9/11 President George W. Bush, including making grim facial expressions, seeing the world’s conflicts in terms of good and evil, and carrying a bullhorn at all state functions.”
Like all good satire, the story made me both laugh and cry, because it reflected something so true — how much, since 9/11, we’ve become “The United States of Fighting Terrorism.” Times columnists are not allowed to endorse candidates, but there’s no rule against saying who will not get my vote: I will not vote for any candidate running on 9/11. We don’t need another president of 9/11. We need a president for 9/12. I will only vote for the 9/12 candidate.
What does that mean? This: 9/11 has made us stupid. I honor, and weep for, all those murdered on that day. But our reaction to 9/11 — mine included — has knocked America completely out of balance, and it is time to get things right again.
It is not that I thought we had new enemies that day and now I don’t. Yes, in the wake of 9/11, we need new precautions, new barriers. But we also need our old habits and sense of openness. For me, the candidate of 9/12 is the one who will not only understand who our enemies are, but who we are.
Before 9/11, the world thought America’s slogan was: “Where anything is possible for anybody.” But that is not our global brand anymore. Our government has been exporting fear, not hope: “Give me your tired, your poor and your fingerprints.”
You may think Guantلnamo Bay is a prison camp in Cuba for Al Qaeda terrorists. A lot of the world thinks it’s a place we send visitors who don’t give the right answers at immigration. I will not vote for any candidate who is not committed to dismantling Guantلnamo Bay and replacing it with a free field hospital for poor Cubans. Guantلnamo Bay is the anti-Statue of Liberty.
Roger Dow, president of the Travel Industry Association, told me that the United States has lost millions of overseas visitors since 9/11 — even though the dollar is weak and America is on sale. “Only the U.S. is losing traveler volume among major countries, which is unheard of in today’s world,” Mr. Dow said.
Total business arrivals to the United States fell by 10 percent over the 2004-5 period alone, while the number of business visitors to Europe grew by 8 percent in that time. The travel industry’s recent Discover America Partnership study concluded that “the U.S. entry process has created a climate of fear and frustration that is turning away foreign business and leisure travelers and hurting America’s image abroad.” Those who don’t visit us, don’t know us.
I’d love to see us salvage something decent in Iraq that might help tilt the Middle East onto a more progressive pathway. That was and is necessary to improve our security. But sometimes the necessary is impossible — and we just can’t keep chasing that rainbow this way.
Look at our infrastructure. It’s not just the bridge that fell in my hometown, Minneapolis. Fly from Zurich’s ultramodern airport to La Guardia’s dump. It is like flying from the Jetsons to the Flintstones. I still can’t get uninterrupted cellphone service between my home in Bethesda and my office in D.C. But I recently bought a pocket cellphone at the Beijing airport and immediately called my wife in Bethesda — crystal clear.
I just attended the China clean car conference, where Chinese automakers were boasting that their 2008 cars will meet “Euro 4” — European Union — emissions standards. We used to be the gold standard. We aren’t anymore. Last July, Microsoft, fed up with American restrictions on importing brain talent, opened its newest software development center in Vancouver. That’s in Canada, folks. If Disney World can remain an open, welcoming place, with increased but invisible security, why can’t America?
We can’t afford to keep being this stupid! We have got to get our groove back. We need a president who will unite us around a common purpose, not a common enemy. Al Qaeda is about 9/11. We are about 9/12, we are about the Fourth of July — which is why I hope that anyone who runs on the 9/11 platform gets trounced.
DEMOCRACY, NOT TERROR, IS THE ENGINE OF POLITICAL ISLAM
Neocon policies designed to promote liberal opinion in the Middle East have in fact played into the hands of the religious parties
Friday September 21, 2007 | The Guardian
Six years after 9/11, throughout the Muslim world political Islam is on the march; the surprise is that its rise is happening democratically - not through the bomb, but the ballot box. Democracy is not the antidote to the Islamists the neocons once fondly believed it would be. Since the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, there has been a consistent response from voters wherever Muslims have had the right to vote. In Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey and Algeria they have voted en masse for religious parties in a way they have never done before. Where governments have been most closely linked to the US, political Islam"s rise has been most marked.
Much western journalism in the six years since 9/11 has concentrated on terrorist groups, jihadis and suicide bombers. But while the threat of violence remains very real, those commentators who have compared what they ignorantly call "Islamofascism" to the Nazis are guilty of hysteria: the differences in relative power and military capability are too great for the comparison to be valid, and the analogies that the neocons draw with the second world war are demonstrably false. As long as the west interferes in the Muslim world, bombs will go off; and as long as Britain lines up behind George Bush"s illegal wars, British innocents will die in jihadi atrocities. But that does not mean we are about to be invaded, nor is Europe about to be demographically swamped, as North American commentators such as Mark Steyn claim: Muslims will make up no more than 10% of the European population by 2020.
Yet in concentrating on the violent jihadi fringe, we may have missed the main story. For if the imminent Islamist takeover of western Europe is a myth, the same cannot be said for the Islamic world. Clumsy and brutal US policies in the Middle East have generated revolutionary changes, radicalising even the most moderate opinion, with the result that the status quo in place since the 1950s has been broken.
Egypt is typical: at the last election in 2005 members of the nominally banned Muslim Brotherhood, standing as independents, saw their representation rise from 17 seats to 88 in the 444-seat people"s assembly - a five-fold increase, despite reports of vote-rigging by President Mubarak"s ruling National Democratic Alliance. The Brothers, who have long abjured violence, are now the main opposition.
The figures in Pakistan are strikingly similar. Traditionally, the religious parties there have won only a fraction of the vote. That began to change after the US invasion of Afghanistan. In October 2002 a rightwing alliance of religious parties - the Muttahida Majlis Amal or MMA - won 11.6% of the vote, more than doubling its share, and sweeping the polls in the two provinces bordering Afghanistan - Baluchistan and the North West Frontier Province - where it formed ultra-conservative and pro-Islamist provincial governments. If the last election turned the MMA into a serious electoral force, there are now fears that it could yet be the principle beneficiary of the current standoff in Pakistan.
The Bush administration proclaimed in 2004 that the promotion of democracy in the Middle East would be a major foreign policy theme in its second term. It has been widely perceived, not least in Washington, that this policy has failed. Yet in many ways US foreign policy has succeeded in turning Muslim opinion against the corrupt monarchies and decaying nationalist parties who have ruled the region for 50 years. The irony is that rather than turning to liberal secular parties, as the neocons assumed, Muslims have lined up behind parties most clearly seen to stand up against aggressive US intervention.
Religious parties, in other words, have come to power for reasons largely unconnected to religion. As clear and unambiguous opponents of US policy in the Middle East - in a way that, say, Musharraf, Mubarak and Mahmoud Abbas are not - religious parties have benefited from legitimate Muslim anger: anger at the thousands of lives lost in Afghanistan and Iraq; at the blind eye the US turns to Israel"s nuclear arsenal and colonisation of the West Bank; at the horrors of Abu Ghraib and the incarceration of thousands of Muslims without trial in the licensed network of torture centres that the US operates across the globe; and at the Islamophobic rhetoric that still flows from Bush and his circle in Washington.
Moreover, the religious parties tend to be seen by the poor, rightly or wrongly, as representing justice, integrity and equitable distribution of resources. Hence the strong showing, for example, of Hamas against the blatantly corrupt Fatah in the 2006 elections in Palestine. Equally, the dramatic rise of Hizbullah in Lebanon has not been because of a sudden fondness for sharia law, but because of the status of Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbullah"s leader, as the man who gave the Israelis a bloody nose, and who provides medical and social services for the people of South Lebanon, just as Hamas does in Gaza.
The usual US response has been to retreat from its push for democracy when the "wrong" parties win. This was the case not just with the electoral victory of Hamas, but also in Egypt: since the Brothers" strong showing in the elections, the US has stopped pressing Mubarak to make democratic reforms, and many of the Brothers" leading activists and business backers, as well as Mubarak"s opponent in the presidential election, are in prison, all without a word of censure from Washington.
Yet on a recent visit to Egypt I found everywhere a strong feeling that political Islam was there to stay, and that this was something everyone was going to have to learn to live with; the US response had become almost irrelevant. Even the Copts were making overtures to the Brothers. As Youssef Sidhom, who edits the leading Coptic newspaper, put it: "They are not going away. We need to enter into dialogue, to clarify their policies, and end mutual mistrust."
The reality is that, like the Copts, we are going to have to find some modus vivendi with political Islam. Pretending that the Islamists do not exist, and that we will not talk to them, is no answer. Only by opening dialogue are we likely to find those with whom we can work, and to begin to repair the damage that self-defeating Anglo-American policies have done to the region, and to western influence there, since 9/11.
William Dalrymple is the author of The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi 1857.
RAMADAN SHOWS MORE WEST BANKERS TURN TO GOD
By Wafa Amr
Reuters - Tuesday, October 2, 2007; 8:54 PM
RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Five years ago restaurants in Ramallah would stay open all day and serve beer throughout Ramadan. This year virtually all removed alcohol from the menu completely and many closed during the fasting hours.
The change highlights what some see as a trend: faced with a sluggish economy, infighting between rival factions and low hopes for peace with Israel and a state of their own, thousands of Palestinians seem to be turning to God.
The evidence is patchy and anecdotal, and for some there is a hint of coercion. But 24-year-old Huda, who declined to give her last name, said her friends could hardly believe it when, as a liberal young Palestinian woman, she decided to observe the fast.
"I"m not a fanatic but I have some religious feelings inside me and I wanted to try fasting this year," she said. "My friends are astonished at this sudden change."
Not all Palestinians have turned religious -- indeed what many see as the politicization of Islam by the factions, whose warfare in the Gaza Strip gave Hamas control of the enclave in June, is driving some away from mosques.
But university professor Marwan Abu Khalaf, 50, says the number of young men attending the mosque next door to his house has grown steadily.
"I have prayed regularly for the past 10 years and I can say there has been a rise of about 25 percent in the number of young men who come to pray," Abu Khalaf told Reuters.
In traditionally conservative West Bank cities like Hebron, Qalqilya or Tulkarm women have generally worn headscarves. But some say the rise of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and in large West Bank cities like Nablus has prompted more women to wear veils and men to grow beards.
In Ramallah -- the West Bank"s economic hub and for years a thriving secular city -- some women are adopting more modest dress. Fewer wear short skirts or sleeveless shirts in central Ramallah while more also don a headscarf and long robes.
"Women who do wear short skirts feel out of place or are harassed by comments from men on the streets," said Eman Hammouri, director of the city"s Popular Arts Centre.
Both Fatah and Hamas are trying to exploit Palestinians" new-found piety for their own gain. Hamas has used mosques and schools to spread its political views while Fatah has been using Friday prayers in the Gaza Strip to protest against Hamas" rule.
Some Palestinians say militant groups are using religion as an excuse to force their will on people.
Osama Khalaf, owner of Darna, one of Ramallah"s best known and most fashionable restaurants, said he stopped serving alcohol during Ramadan for fear of retaliation by secular armed groups using religion as an excuse to throw their weight around.
Khalaf said both Muslim and Christian West Bankers, who make up about 2 percent of Palestinians, were becoming more religious amid tougher living conditions. Crucifixes are worn more widely and church attendance appears up.
"Not only the Muslims are becoming more religious," Khalaf said. "But the Christian minority are also adhering much more strictly to Christianity as a reaction to the more religious environment around them."
Last month, a woman wearing the hijab and covering her face with a black veil in a doctor"s waiting room shouted at the secretary for watching Arab music videos on television -- many Muslims consider such material to be prohibited by Islam.
"This has never happened before in my clinic," said the doctor, who asked to remain anonymous.
Some analysts said a new sense of despair may have prompted more Palestinians to seek comfort in religion.
Fed up with corruption within the secular Fatah faction that for decades dominated the political scene, Palestinians elected a Hamas government in 2006 parliamentary elections, hoping the Islamist group would rid local politics of sleaze.
Hamas seized control of the more conservative Gaza Strip in June after violent clashes with Fatah, prompting President Mahmoud Abbas to sack the government and appoint a new Fatah-backed administration.
Despite a new U.S.-led drive for peace with Israel, the internal strife and the split between Gaza and the West Bank has for most Palestinians jettisoned hopes for an independent Palestinian state, at least for now.
"In the absence of alternatives, they turn to God for spiritual stability and security," said Mahmoud Habbash, agriculture minister in the West Bank"s Fatah-backed government.
(Additional reporting by Wael al-Ahmad in Jenin and Atef Saad in Nablus)
MONK IF YOU LOVE FREEDOM
Burma"s Buddhist monks carry the torch for democracy, as many religions have done in history.
Christian Science Monitor
September 27, 2007 edition - EDITORIAL
Revered for self-sacrifice, Buddhist monks in Burma are standing up to the guns of a selfish regime. But these holy men in saffron robes are serving more than a people"s desire for freedom. The protests also serve as a reminder of religion"s historic role in shaping the kind of moral concern for others that is the root of democracy.
Democracy, after all, is simply the best way to bestow legitimacy on the few to rule the many for the care of all. In Burma (also known as Myanmar), any legitimacy of the military to govern ended long ago. Decades of repression, rather than caring, have left poverty and fear.
Last month, when the junta was forced by its bungling to double fuel prices, the people"s economic suffering was intimately observed by the monks, who daily interact with the faithful in acts of humility and kindness. Their natural legitimacy has propelled them to lead nonviolent demonstrations aimed at withdrawing support from the regime and to demand democracy. Worldwide, religious leaders from the Dalai Lama to South Africa"s Archbishop Desmond Tutu have offered moral support.
Events in Burma are a model, repeated throughout history, of religious movements helping overthrow colonial powers and dictators. Protestant clergy helped spark the American Revolution, with one British commander complaining that "sedition flows copiously from the pulpits." The Vatican II changes of the Roman Catholic Church in the 1960s helped followers in many countries stand up to tyranny. Catholic nuns and priests were on the front line of a "people power" revolution in the Philippines that overthrew a dictator in 1986. Pope John Paul II helped his native Poland lead the way to free Eastern Europe of communism. Soviet dissidents were spiritually nurtured by a few Russian Orthodox priests, helping bring about the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. In Indonesia, a 30-million-strong Islamic group called Nahdlatul Ulama gave moral support for the 1998 overthrow of dictator Suharto.
Not all religious movements lead to democracy. The ruthlessness of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the social power of the Wahhabi clergy in Saudi Arabia, and the claim to rule by Iran"s clerics reveal a type of Islam that imposes religious values by dictate rather than by the kind of mutual respect that breeds democracy.
Such tendencies of faith leaders to impose their way on others – such as attempts to brand the United States a Christian nation – has led many democracies to reinforce legal walls between the state and religions. Such separation helps ensure the liberties that allow religion to flourish.
In Iraq, Sunni fears of domination by the majority Shiites have stymied efforts to form a united, democratic government. But any democracy relies on the majority caring enough to have laws that protect minority interests. That way, the minority won"t simply opt out of democracy. That"s a value straight from the golden rule.
Burma"s monks probably know they can"t rule. Their power lies in being living examples of compassion. Ultimately, as history has shown, these individual expressions of such higher values win the day over tyranny.
How else to explain the spread of democracy?
IMAM TALAL EID - THE WORLD IS HIS MOSQUE
Quincy resident’s star is rising around the globe ahead of Vietnam visit
By LANE LAMBERT
The Patriot Ledger
QUINCY - There he was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at a lavish reception marking the nation’s 50th anniversary of independence. Britain’s Prince Andrew was seated to his right, Australia’s ambassador to his left, and Brunei’s foreign minister across the table.
‘‘And they were asking me about Muslims in America,’’ said Imam Talal Eid, recalling the event a month later.
The 56-year-old Lebanon native and Quincy resident is fielding such questions more often than ever these days, in farther-flung places. Four months after he became the first Muslim cleric appointed to the high-profile U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, he is traveling the globe acting as something of a U.S. ambassador to the Islamic world.
Before he went to Malaysia, he was in commission delegations to Saudi Arabia and the former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan, two countries where religious minorities of all denominations are harassed and suppressed. His next trip comes in October, when a commission group will visit Vietnam to investigate similar issues there.
His efforts have drawn praise from commission Chairman Michael Cromartie.
‘‘Imam Eid brings a vast store of knowledge on issues related to Islam,’’ Cromartie said. ‘‘He gives us wonderful credibility. He can press the points better than we can.’’
Two years ago, the imam’s prospects didn’t seem so promising. He left the Islamic Center of New England in July 2005 amid a bitter dispute over his role there after 23 years as spiritual director. Despite growing national recognition and the loyalty of many Muslims south of Boston, he was a man without a mosque.
As it turned out, he didn’t need one. He has remade himself into a freelance imam - a pastoral counselor, hospital and university chaplain and more - marrying Muslim couples, conducting funerals and advising the devout.
A chaplain at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brandeis University, he has a Web site, iiboston.net, for his one-man Islamic Institute of Boston. Invitations to White House Ramadan dinners in 2005 and 2006 gave him national prominence. He regularly gets job offers from other mosques, but he says he’s not interested.
‘‘My work never changed,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m doing the same thing, except with less stress. ... I’m happy in my situation here. No headaches.’’
As for his departure from the Islamic Center, ‘‘I don’t feel that I lost something,’’ he said. ‘‘I gained.’’
‘‘An American Muslim’’
At the time, he wasn’t so willing to leave - at least not as it happened.
Imam Eid had off-and-on skirmishes with the Islamic Center’s board of directors for more than a decade, often over administrative issues. Tensions sharpened in 1998, when the board hired a second imam for the Sharon mosque without first consulting Imam Eid.
In January 2005, board officers divided duties at the Quincy and Sharon mosques between Imam Eid and Imam Muhammad Masood, in effect demoting Imam Eid as overall spiritual director.
‘‘They treated me like a janitor,’’ he said then.
He resigned in protest, then tried to take the resignation back, saying board officers had pressured him into it. The board majority refused to reconsider, blocking his entrance to the Quincy mosque in July of that year.
But Imam Eid had extensive experience and connections to fall back on. Trained in Islamic law at prestigious Al-Azhar University in Cairo, he had served mosques in Lebanon before he and his wife, Hend, immigrated to America in 1982.
As he continued performing his traditional duties, he became increasingly involved in Boston-area interfaith programs. He has said that Lebanon’s civil war between Sunni, Shia and Christian factions in the 1970s shaped his interest and views.
Before his departure, by some accounts, conservatives at the Islamic Center complained that he had gotten too active with interfaith programs and was spending too much time outside the Quincy-Sharon community - a charge Imam Eid tersely disputes.
‘‘I wasn’t neglecting the community,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s not true.’’
Masood, a Pakistan native, currently faces criminal charges he lied to immigration officials. He and his family still live on the grounds of the Sharon mosque but he is no longer the recognized spiritual leader there.
Rather than withdraw, as many U.S. Muslims have done since the 2001 terrorist attacks, Imam Eid said more of his fellow believers need to fully embrace America’s diversity, ‘‘to say I am an American Muslim and proud to be’’ - as he has been since becoming a U.S. citizen in 1985.
University of North Carolina religious studies professor Omid Safi says Imam Eid is forging a path that other Muslims will have to follow if they wish to be fully a part of this country.
‘‘The types of interfaith journeys this imam is engaged in are a crucial part of coming to terms with the challenge and opportunity’’ of being Muslim in America, said Safi, the author of ‘‘Progressive Muslims.’’
In his travels, Imam Eid has pushed religious tolerance and diversity.
In Turkmenistan in August, he spoke with the new president, the chief Muslim mufti and other government ministers in an effort to persuade them to remove nonreligious sayings from the walls of a huge new mosque and replace them with proper Quran quotations. He also met with evangelical Christians at the U.S. embassy, then urged Turkmenistan ministers to reach out to them, as the Prophet Muhammad by tradition did to Jews and Christians in 7th-century Arabia.
By the time the U.S. delegation departed, the government there had pledged to study the mosque issue and establish the country’s first human-rights commission.
‘‘The job is tough,’’ Imam Eid said. ‘‘Then things happen, and you feel that you’re accomplishing something. You say: ‘Now there is hope.’’’
Lane Lambert may be reached at [email protected]
ANTI-ISLAMIC MOVEMENTS IN GERMANY
"Islamophobic – and Proud of It"
Fundamentalist Christians are using populist slogans to incite against Muslims, whom they see as the new source of danger for Europe. The number of internet users who visit their websites is alarmingly high. Claudia Mende reports
Ever since Muslims have begun to assert their presence in German society by building mosques, reactions have ranged from irritation to abuse | The group calls itself "Deus Vult Caritatem" – Latin for "God wants love." But it disseminates a fair amount of bad feeling. "Deus Vult Caritatem" caused uproar at a series of Munich city council information events in July. The Islam expert and lawyer Matthias Rohe held a talk on "The German constitution and sharia" which had to be broken off in a tumult. Several days later Rohe received a death threat via e-mail, and he published it on his homepage.
"Deus Vult Caritatem" was the title of a document issued by Pope Urban II in 1099, calling on the faithful to join the first Crusade and expel the Muslims from the Holy Land. The website of Deus Vult, which was launched at Easter 2007 to mark Pope Benedict XVI"s 80th birthday, issues a modern version of the same call to arms: "It is now high time to react once again and defend western civilisation as well as everything else which is threatened by radical Koran-Islam."
"They do plenty of damage"
The modern crusaders plan to save western civilisation from Islamisation by "an attempt to re-evangelise our own country, and a careful mission towards Mohammedans, whom we should try, in a peaceful and amicable way, to liberate from the embrace of "The Prophet.""
Radical Christians are mobilising against Islam. "The groups may be small," says Andreas Renz, in charge of interreligious dialogue at the Catholic Archdiocese of Munich, "but they exert an enormous amount of pressure with letters to newspapers, with telephone calls to the archdiocese and with their activities at public meetings. They create an atmosphere of insecurity and they do plenty of damage."
While the two big churches in Germany, the Catholic and the Lutheran-reformed, aim to teach about Islam objectively, and while many communities are active in interreligious dialogue, fundamentalist Christians see Islam as the new threat to Europe. Andreas Renz believes they represent a broad spectrum, which stretches from the far right to the very centre of society.
Trying to stop the distribution of the Koran
Deus Vult is a small player. Better known nationally is the "Federal Association of Citizens" Movements to Protect Democracy, Homeland and Human Rights" or BDB ("Bundesverband der Bürgerbewegungen zur Bewahrung von Demokratie, Heimat und Menschenrechten"). Its objective, according to its own information, is to work "against the development of fundamentalist Muslim parallel societies in Germany," and against Muslims "who make ever more demands intended to force European citizens to accept parts of the sharia."
Among the demands of the BDB are "the examination of Article 4 of the German constitution (religious freedom) in respect of its application to the political religion of Islam." It also want to see a ban on the building of minarets and "the outlawing of banks and financial services providers offering investments in Europe which conform to sharia and thus permitting the sharia economic model to be introduced into our economic model."
One member of the organisation tried to gain an injunction from a court in Hamburg to stop the distribution of the Koran, on the grounds that it was guilty of the offence of "offering insult to confessions, religious groups and associations representing world views," as well as "the offence of racial incitement." The court refused to hear the case.
The BDB sees the East German priest Roland Weisselberg as a fine role model: he burnt himself to death on Reformation Day 2006 to protest against the threat of Islamisation in Germany.
Plans for an anti-Islamic party
The most prominent figure in the Anti-Islamic movement is a former journalist with the Frankurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, Udo Ulfkotte, who wrote a book called "The War in our Cities" ("Der Krieg in unseren Stنdten"), and who runs an organisation called Pax Europa. Ulfkotte intends to found an anti-Islamic party to unite all the forces critical of Islam under his leadership.
The mayor of Brussels Freddy Thielemans banned the demonstration, so the organisers planned to hold it in Cologne instead, with the writer Ralph Giordano as the main speaker. But Ulfkotte cancelled the event. Apparently it was because the security of the demonstrators could not be guaranteed – but could it have been because Ulfkotte couldn"t find that many prominent supporters?
Although these right-wing populist opponents of Islam deny that they have anything to do with right-wing extremism, their websites include uncensored views which pander to the lowest possible instincts.
Hatred of Muslims
The site www.politicallyincorrect.de is run by Stefan Herre, a Catholic primary school teacher from Bergisch-Gladbach near Cologne. The site has had over four million visitors. It includes an internet shop in which you can buy buttons and mugs with the slogan "Islamophobic – and proud of it."
Among the comments posted on the site is this one about a recent scandal concerning spoiled meat which was traded illegally, much of it ending up in Dِner Kebabs, the traditional Turkish fast food which is very popular in Germany. Of course the Muslims are to blame: "The incest committed against the German sandwich must be stopped!"
Andreas from Montbard asks in his post: "Can the systematic provision of the population with filth be described as a nutritional jihad?" There is no administrator controlling the posts, which bubble over with hatred of Muslims. "Why shouldn"t I hate the Muslims as much as I hate the Nazis?" asks someone going by the name of Capt. "Both are fascist ideologies dressed up as religions."
Among the Christian opponents of Islam is the Evangelical Alliance, which is the umbrella organisation for 1.3 million evangelical Christians in Germany. Ulfkotte writes for their magazine Pro.
The General Secretary of the Evangelical Alliance, Hartmut Steeb, describes Ulfkotte"s campaign against the Islamisation of Europe as "an important matter." He adds, "I think that the Islamisation of Germany is possible. For Islam it"s just a demographic issue. In principle, Islam seeks domination – I think it"s realistic to say that."
Christianity as the only truth
The two large churches are also not totally free of the influence of the evangelicals. New guidelines on the relationship with Muslims issued by the Lutheran-reformed church have been influenced by them. The Islam expert and head of the Evangelical Alliance"s Islam Institute, Christine Schirrmacher, was involved in preparing the text on "Clarity and Good Neighbourliness."
Schirrmacher proposes a dissociation from Islam which is controversial at the grass roots. But if you ask her what Islam is, you won"t get an answer. On the phone, she avoids the question: "I can"t really say," she parries. "But it"s not an aggressive position if one says that the Christian faith is the only truth." In accordance with that view, she prepares calendars of prayer which include prayers for Muslims, that they should finally know Jesus.
Sabine Schiffer of the Institute for Media Responsibility in Erlangen says, "Evangelicals use the anti-Islamic movement for their own ends." She"s been observing the picture of Islam presented in the media for years. "The arguments used by the Citizens" Movements are filled with fundamentalist Christian content," she explains.
The atmosphere has become more difficult. Ever since Muslims have begun to assert their presence in German society by building mosques, reactions have ranged from irritation to abuse. Critical Islam experts like Ursula Spuler-Stegemann of Marburg are horrified at how the debate about Islam has become so emotional that even the death threats against her colleague Matthias Rohe have become possible.
Spuler-Stegemann is known for her sometimes tough criticism of the Muslim organisations in Germany, but she warns against populist exploitation of people"s fears. "It"s all right to be critical," she says, "but the way the situation is being ratcheted up is not acceptable."
MUSLIMS IN THE US AND IN EUROPE: THE TALE OF TWO CONTINENTS
Although the US is the prime target of Islamist extremists, it is Europe"s less integrated Muslims who provide more recruits to the terrorist cause, says Shada Islam in her analysis
Unlike many Muslim in Europe, Muslim immigrants in the US are usually well educated and economically well-off | Muslims in Europe are once again in the spotlight – this time because of German police foiling a terrorist plot hours after Danish authorities arrested Muslim youth for plotting attacks. These also follow a failed plot in June, to explode car bombs in central London and Glasgow International Airport.
The botched attacks, following the terrorist scare at British airports in summer 2006 and suicide attacks on London"s transport system in 2005, prompted British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to promise tighter border controls and resurrect controversial proposals to extend pre-charge detention times for terrorism suspects.
Alienated young Muslims in the EU
Significantly, Brown also promised to eradicate extremism among increasingly alienated young British Muslims, an initiative that echoes wider-ranging European Union efforts to counter violent radicalization of young Muslims across the 27-nation bloc.
Brown and other EU leaders face a tough task. While most of Europe"s estimated 20 million Muslims are fully integrated, law-abiding citizens with little sympathy for radical views, others are frustrated with government policies that keep them on the fringes of the mainstream.
Originally from poor, rural backgrounds, a high proportion of Europe"s Muslims came to the continent to labor in coal mines and steel mills during the 1960s and 1970s and remained at the bottom of the economic pile, ignored by politicians and business leaders while facing discrimination in housing, schools and labor markets.
European governments" failure to tackle these problems, combined with tough counter-terror measures and the rise of xenophobic parties, have heightened the sense of alienation felt by many Muslims in Europe.
Muslims" search for refuge in conservative Islamic values has prompted friction with Europe"s traditional secular liberalism and, in some cases aided by foreign-trained radical imams, created fertile ground for the spread of extremism in Islamic communities.
America"s "model Muslims"
Europe"s predicament causes concern across the Atlantic. Many US policymakers accuse EU governments of ignoring the security implications of young Muslims" radicalization and suggest that Europe could learn from America"s 7 million Muslims who, measured by educational and income levels, are far more integrated than their European counterparts.
Muslim communities in the US and Europe certainly share some similarities, and a transatlantic dialogue would be useful in promoting best practices on integration. However, American and European Muslims face different challenges, reflecting their distinct composition, history and experience.
After the devastating 9/11 terror attacks in 2001, Muslims in both the US and Europe fell under close scrutiny, a condition that binds the two communities together. Muslims on both sides of the Atlantic tackle hard-line policies of suspicious governments, combat public prejudice and counter criticism of their faith as repressive and cruel.
This in turn has prompted an eagerness among Muslims in both the US and Europe to assert their "Islamic identity."
Despite their common struggle against prejudice, however, US and European Muslims live in two markedly different worlds, largely because of income. Most American Muslims are well-educated, affluent and politically active. "They are better off than the average US citizen," notes Philippa Strum of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.
Almost 60 percent are college educated, 52 percent have an income of $50,000 or more and 82 percent of those eligible say they are registered to vote. In contrast, "Muslims in Europe belong to the underclass of Europe," says Jocelyn Cesari, an expert on Islam in Europe.
America"s melting pot of religions
Savvy American Muslims are way ahead of their European co-religionists in terms of social standing and political clout. More active as a community, they engage in energetic, often heated debate on reconciling Islam and modern America. As a result, they"re better equipped to fight discrimination and gain respect as a minority.
America"s tradition of embracing immigrants has made it easier for the diverse Muslim community – including Arabs, South Asians as well as white and African-American converts – to become part of a vast melting pot of religions, cultures and ethnic groups. Europe"s nations still find it difficult to extend a warm welcome to immigrants who, for their part, tend to retain native languages and customs, clustering in small enclaves with compatriots.
For many Muslims, practicing their faith is easier in the US than in Europe. More religious than mainly secular Europeans, Americans are less uneasy about public displays of faith and religious symbols like headscarves, banned in French state schools and some German regional government offices.
The debate over the role of women in Islam raging among US Muslims – with some women fighting segregation in mosques and using faith-based arguments to reclaim women"s rights – has yet to reach Europe.
Hate preachers in Europe"s mosques
Most significantly, under the watch of moderate, thoughtful religious and community leaders, American Muslims show little sympathy for radical views. In contrast, European security services have identified mosques as central in the spread of radical Islamist ideologies and the recruitment of homegrown and foreign-born terrorists in Britain, France and the Netherlands.
One problem is that EU governments have traditionally allowed Saudi Arabia and other conservative governments to fund mosques and imams in Europe, and evidence suggests that Al Qaeda recruiters infiltrated some mosques.
As highlighted by a recent BBC survey, a majority of imams in Britain, from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan possess limited English and fail to provide a modern interpretation of the faith suited to a Western multicultural democracy.
Given such divides, EU policymakers and European Muslims often insist they can learn little from the US experience. Certainly, America"s tradition as an immigrant melting pot cannot be transposed to Europe. As evidenced by heated EU debate on membership of mainly Muslim Turkey, most Europeans are also unlikely to lose their chronic fear of Islam.
But to avoid further alienation and violence, EU governments and Muslims in Europe must step off the beaten track and chart a new course for speeding Muslims" integration into the mainstream.
BRAINS NOT BODY CRITERIA FOR TATARSTAN "MISS MUSLIM"
By Damir Ahmed, IOL Correspondent
MOSCOW , January 21, 2006 (IslamOnline.net) – Morality and impressive knowledge of Islam and other subjects were the basic criteria for choosing Dilar Sadiqova as "Miss Muslim" in the eastern European country of Tatarstan.
"I decided to take part in the competition to convey the message that you can be a Muslim and still do whatever you want as long as it is moral and respectable," Sadiqova told reporters after her acceptance speech.
"Thus, non-Muslims can have an undistorted vision of our religion," added the 17-year-old high school student, who wish to be a school teacher.
There was no room in the competition for girls in swimsuits like the traditional beauty pageants, but modestly-dressed and hijab-donned girls in demure smiles, the organizers told IslamOnline.net.
Brains and religiosity set the tone for the unprecedented contest in Tatarstan, where Muslims make up 60 percent of the country’s four million population.
The competition included Qur’an memorization and recitation tests, as well as a set of questions, testing cultural mettle of the 56 contesters.
They also took cooking and sewing tests for more points.
Only eight girls, aged 15-19, made it to the finals of the cut-throat competition.
The ceremony was held at the Celebrations Hall of the Grand Mosque in the capital city of Kazan . The audience were all females.
Saida Abukofa, the head of the jury, said the competition aims to encourage more Muslim girls who do not wear hijab to take on the Islamic dress code.
"They see their Muslim peers who wear hijab as beautiful, well-educated and religious," she added.
"We want to show that beauty has nothing to do with nudity and obscenity."
Under Islam, beauty contests in which women’s `awrah (parts of the body which should not be exposed in front of others) is uncovered, are prohibited.
Muslim scholars have called on Muslim countries to organize a "Miss Morality" competition to offset the increasing interest by Muslim nations in Western-styled beauty contests.
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For further information, please contact Aly Abuzaakuk at (202) 265-1200.
CALL FOR APPLICATIONS: REAGAN-FASCELL DEMOCRACY FELLOWSHIPS
The Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellows Program at the Washington, D.C.-based National Endowment for Democracy invites applications from candidates throughout the Middle East and North Africa for fellowships in 2008–2009. Established in 2001, the program enables democracy activists, practitioners, scholars, and journalists from around the world to deepen their understanding of democracy and to enhance their ability to promote democratic change. The program is intended primarily to support activists, practitioners, and scholars from new and aspiring democracies. Projects may focus on the political, social, economic, legal, and cultural aspects of democratic development and may include a range of methodologies and approaches. Please note that the program is not designed to pay for professional training or to support students working toward a degree. A working knowledge of English is required. The application deadline for fellowships in 2008–2009 is Thursday, November 1, 2007. For more information and application materials, please visit www.ned.org/forum/reagan-fascell.html.
SIX TIPS FOR TACKLING "ISLAMO-FASCISM" EVENTS AT UNIVERSITIES
(Los Angeles - 10/4/07) -- The Muslim Public Affairs Council today released a guide for Muslim student and community groups in response to an upcoming series of highly controversial and provocative events on college campuses organized by extreme right wing activist David Horowitz.
SEE: "WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ISLAMO-FASCISM AWARENESS WEEK"
Under the banner of "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week" (IFAW), Horowitz"s Freedom Center is organizing speaking engagements at colleges and universities for the likes of Ann Coulter, Daniel Pipes, Dennis Prager, Sean Hannity, Robert Spencer, Rick Santorium and Wafa Sultan. Organizers are billing the event as the "biggest conservative campus protest ever." To date, IFAW events have been canceled at a handful of universities, where administrators and student groups called the event divisive and hateful.
The guide includes information about the need for student groups to:
.:. demonstrate Islamic ethics and restraint
.:. support free speech
.:. do not respond
.:. contact campus administrators
.:. talk to other student groups
.:. report hate crimes and hate incidents
MPAC has consulted with MSA National and Muslim student leaders across the country to provide tools for dialogue and constructive engagement with campus administrators and other student groups and to prevent negative fallout from IFAW events.
CONGRESS PASSES NEW RESOLUTION ON RAMADAN
110th CONGRESS 1st Session - H. RES. 635
Recognizing the commencement of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting and spiritual renewal, and commending Muslims in the United States and throughout the world for their faith.
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES September 5, 2007
Ms. EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON of Texas (for herself, Mr. MEEKS of New York, and Mr. KEITH ELLISON) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs
Recognizing the commencement of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting and spiritual renewal, and commending Muslims in the United States and throughout the world for their faith.
.:. Whereas since the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, threats and incidents of violence have been directed at law-abiding, patriotic Americans of African, Arab, and South Asian descent, particularly members of the Islamic faith;
.:. Whereas, on September 14, 2001, the House of Representatives passed a concurrent resolution condemning bigotry and violence against Arab- Americans, American Muslims, and Americans from South Asia in the wake of the terrorist attacks;
.:. Whereas it is estimated that there are approximately 1,500,000,000 Muslims worldwide;
.:. Whereas Ramadan is the holy month of fasting and spiritual renewal for Muslims worldwide, and is the 9th month of the Muslim calendar year; and
.:. Whereas the observance of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan commences at dusk on September 13, 2007, and continues for one lunar month: Now, therefore, be it
(1) during this time of conflict, in order to demonstrate solidarity with and support for members of the community of Islam in the United States and throughout the world, the House of Representatives recognizes the Islamic faith as one of the great religions of the world; and
(2) in observance of and out of respect for the commencement of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting and spiritual renewal, the House of Representatives acknowledges the onset of Ramadan and expresses its deepest respect to Muslims in the United States and throughout the world on this significant occasion.
The Congress passed the resolution unanimously 376-0 on October 2,2007